The essay provides an overview of Tony Harrison’s career, examining the Collected Poems and the Collected Film Poetry. Starting from the sonnets of the School of Eloquence, the essay reveals how Harrison has taken upon himself the task of giving a tongue to the tongueless working-classes, turning their stutterings and sputterings into artful speech, bestowing upon them “tongues of flame”. He brings the voices of the northern working-classes into the classical forms of English poetry. The essay examines the paradox of his devotion to the classical literature of Ancient Greece and Rome while privileging in his own poetry the Anglo-Saxon roots of the English language. The paradox is a social and political one as well as a linguistic one; Harrison could be said to be endeavouring to take the class out of the classics, to make it clear that classical literature need not be considered as inevitably a “prop to the status quo”.
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