The centuries-long connection between ancient Rome, the Roman occupation of Britain, and modernist poetry by T.S. Eliot and poets of Wales and Scotland will be the focus of a lecture next week by Nancy K. Gish, University of Southern Maine professor of English and Women and Gender Studies.
In a lecture titled "Traditions and Talents: Rome, Britain, and World War I," Gish will discuss the influence of Roman literature and the Roman occupation on three post-War poets as they grappled with the intense loss and pain felt by society after the horrors of World War I.
Eliot, described as "one of the 20th century's leading poets," also was a significant influence on major poets from alternative British traditions in Scotland and Wales, according to the USM professor.
"The psychological, economic and cultural impact of The Great War is especially significant in this year, the centenary of its beginning,” Gish pointed out. “We share not only many comparable world conflicts but also the devastation of wounded veterans and PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] -- called ‘shell shock’ in World War I.
“In poetry, we find the way it felt at the time and a greater understanding of our own experience," she said.
The details of the lecture are as follows:
“Traditions and Talents: Rome, Britain, and World War I”; a lecture on T.S. Eliot, David Jones, Hugh MacDiarmid, and post-World War I poetry by Nancy K. Gish, University of Southern Maine professor of English and Women and Gender Studies; 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 26, 213 Abromson Center, 88 Bedford St., Portland; Free and open to the public.
Born in Missouri and later becoming a naturalized British subject, T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) was a major English-language poet, playwright and essayist and a principal in the modernist literary movement. Eliot first became known for his poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and gained international fame for the poem, “The Waste Land,” which focused on post-World War I disillusionment. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948 “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry.”
Both David Jones of Wales and Hugh MacDiarmid of Scotland served in World War I and wrote long poems in response. Both were influenced by Eliot's modernist style, but both used it to write poems that challenged Eliot's idea of a tradition deriving almost entirely from ancient Greece and Rome. The different effects of the Roman occupation on Britain – the Romans never occupied Scotland and did not erase the Welsh sense of separate identity -- affected how three great post-World War I poems were written.
Gish has been teaching at USM since 1980. She is an authority on Eliot and modernism, and three of her five published books focus on his work: "Gender, Desire, and Sexuality in T.S. Eliot (2004)," “The Waste Land: A Poem of Memory and Desire (1988),” and “Time in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot (1981).” In addition she has published numerous articles on Eliot and has made a number of scholarly presentations on the poet in the U.S. and Europe.
Her other major work, including two books on Hugh MacDiarmid, focuses on Scottish modernism. Gish now is working on studies regarding the effect of World War I on English, Welsh and Scottish poetry.