Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Brian McHale.


The long poem is often seen by critics as beginning in the nineteenth-century with the publication of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself. It is generally agreed, however, that the form did not come of age until the following century when it became a premier poetic endeavor. Although the long poem has been used to various ends, one theme identifiable among a variety of twentieth-century texts is a concern with origins. In this dissertation poets are seen as seeking to evaluate the societies in which they live by looking into the past to find originary cultures from which their own descend. Employing the insights of Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, and Edward W. Said, an overview of the concept of the origin in contemporary critical theory is offered. Three specific "originary moments" are then discussed: the Sumerian, the Homeric, and the Anglo-Saxon. Poets such as Ezra Pound, Louis Zukofsky, Charles Olson, Louise Gluck, H.D. and Basil Bunting who examine these originary moments are surveyed in the introduction. The main contention is that the search for origins common among modernist poets from the first half of the century is reenvisioned by writers from the latter decades of the century. Although the relatively unguarded appropriation of originary moments among modernists is scrutinized by postmodernists, origins are clearly still a serious consideration in postmodernism and thus there can be seen to be some continuity in the last century's poetic practices. The body chapters include an analysis of Judy Grahn's use of Sumerian myth and contemporary popular culture in A Chronicle of Queens to construct her own origin story, a reading of Derek Walcott's Omeros that explores his ambivalence for European origins in light of the postcolonial situation of his native Caribbean island of St. Lucia, and Geoffrey Hill's repudiation of origin-seeking in attempts to view Anglo-Saxon England as the origin of the modern British nation in his Mercian Hymns. These three writers are taken to represent the tendency in postmodern poetics to evaluate the implications of originary thinking in modernism.