Department Chair

Dr. Lisa Berglund, Chair and Professor of English

Date of Award


Access Control

Campus-Only Access

Degree Name

English, M.A.


English Department


Dr. David Ben-Merre, Assistant Professor of English

Department Home page

First Reader

Dr. David Ben-Merre, Assistant Professor of English

Second Reader

Dr. Jennifer Ryan, Associate Professor of English


In my thesis, I analyze the poetry of Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and Elizabeth Bishop by emphasizing the gap between referential and sonic elements of language. While Stevens, Moore, and Bishop strive to attain precise meaning in their poetry, they also interrogate this possibility. Stevens believes that language has a metaphorical basis, so any attempt to articulate the literal essence of a thing is problematic. In “The Man on the Dump,” the speaker tries to pare down language to its essence but can only do so through metaphors. Moore presents a static scene in “The Steeple-Jack,” but, as she incorporates simultaneously differing perspectives and subjectivities, she obscures the scene’s fixity and shows the dynamism of language. Bishop ostensibly presents real childhood memories in “Manners” and “First Death in Nova Scotia,” but, as she does so, she figures her own life as literary. Each of these poets infuse their individuality into their poetry, but also sink into the generality of the lyric “I,” which must be both individually specific and communally general. Because of these contradictory elements of language, Stevens, Moore, and Bishop show how fixed, precise meaning is hardly possible.

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