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Intertextuality, Christianity and Death: Major Themes in the Poetry of Stevie Smith

Department of English and Related Literature, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 174; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040174
Received: 8 September 2019 / Revised: 14 October 2019 / Accepted: 30 October 2019 / Published: 1 November 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Modernist Women Poets: Generations, Geographies and Genders)
Stevie Smith, one of the most productive of twentieth-century poets, is too often remembered simply as the coiner of the four-word punch line of a single short poem. This paper argues that her claim to be seen as a great writer depends on the major themes which—in addition to “death by water”—she shares with T.S. Eliot: Anglicanism and the modern reworking of classical literature, with a strong, and in her case sometimes autobiographical, emphasis on female protagonists. Where the female figures in Eliot’s The Waste Land are seen as parodic and diminished contemporary versions of their classical originals, Smith enters and reimagines her classical sources, testing the strength of the narrative material which binds Phèdre, Antigone, Persephone and Helen of Troy to their fates. In contrast to Eliot’s adult conversion to Anglo-Catholicism, Smith became a convert to agnosticism, engaging in a passionate poetic argument with the faith of her childhood, which led her to challenge Eliot himself. She brings both of these themes together in the most personal of her poems, which celebrate, and ultimately invoke, Thanatos, “the only god/Who comes as a servant”, and who puts a merciful end to all stories by “scattering... the human pattern altogether”. View Full-Text
Keywords: Stevie Smith; T.S. Eliot; The Waste Land; Greek gods; female protagonists; Christianity; suicide; death Stevie Smith; T.S. Eliot; The Waste Land; Greek gods; female protagonists; Christianity; suicide; death
MDPI and ACS Style

Woolf, J. Intertextuality, Christianity and Death: Major Themes in the Poetry of Stevie Smith. Humanities 2019, 8, 174.

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