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Rhythm as spiritual pursuit in the poetry of George Mackay Brown

Dominique Delmaire, Université Lumière Lyon 2

According to Scottish poet George Mackay Brown (1921-1996), patterning (of structure, rhythm, sounds, syntax, words, images, etc.) is what makes a poem an icon of the Fable the spiritual dimension of reality and itself a divine order and pattern beyond the range of the five human senses , which it is the poet's task to celebrate by giving the words a ritual quality and willingly surrendering his own voice. The resulting poetry, the author claims, contains only one or two unimportant shreds of [him]self and seems to leave little room indeed for the inscription of the poet's own rhythm  in the comprehensive sense of the passing of the subject into the language (Meschonnic, Critique du rythme, p. 225).
This view, however, leaves out the fact that rhythm, like desire, is unknown to the writing subject; he does not control it (ibid.). Unsurprisingly, then, even his most highly-wrought pieces (including the narrative and dramatic ones told or spoken by mythic personae) will evince rhythmic traces of the subject; conversely, the more self-expressive prose or non-metrical poems get patterned in subtle ritualized ways. Questing for the spiritual does not entail the eradication of one's personality. Somewhere between numinous formalization and loose word structures (Brown) lies the rhythmic subject's identity, a marriage in its own way between tradition and the individual talent.

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