'Keeping to its clock'
: Temporality and Ecology in the Poetry of Alice Oswald

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy (MPhil)


This dissertation examines how Alice Oswald presents time in a selection of her poetry, arguing that Oswald’s temporalities are integral to her ecological poetics. Ecocritical scholars of time such as Barbara Adam, Michelle Bastian and Paul Huebener argue that industrial, Western perceptions of time impair humanity’s ability to perceive and respond adequately to the climate and ecological crisis. Poetry is uniquely placed to help us to develop our temporal literacy in the Anthropocene, since multiplicity, iteration and resonance characterise its dense fabric and trouble simplistic representations of time. In this study, a selection of Oswald’s poetry published between 2009-2016 has been chosen to provide diverse discussion of ecological temporalities. Opening with A Sleepwalk on the Severn, I consider Oswald’s use of embodied, material and planetary temporalities to present an ecocentric view of place brimming with more-than-human rhythms and times. Next, Memorial is investigated for its complex and multiple ecological temporalities. Drawing upon Carolin Hahneman’s reading of the anti-heroic stance of the poem, I consider how Oswald replaces the heroic temporalities of the epic with the iterative and disjunctive times of loss grief and mourning. Reading these in the light of species extinction, I build upon David Farrier’s work on this important poem to explore Oswald’s use of ‘ethical time’. Finally, I explore Falling Awake’s preoccupations with decay, decomposition, and resonance alongside the temporal torsions of the Anthropocene. Multiple timescapes are examined to reveal complex scalar shifts and distortions in time which are characteristic of the Anthropocene’s disjunctive temporalities. It is hoped that this dissertation will offer a fresh, time-focussed perspective on some of Alice Oswald’s work, and further develop the potential for the study of eco-temporal poetics.
Date of Award25 Jan 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorRalph R G Pite (Supervisor) & Michael Malay (Supervisor)

Cite this