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ROBERT F MCEWEN, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation consists of a long narrative poem and thirty-two shorter but often very substantial poems. The narrative poem, Heartwood, in a little over 2,000 lines of blank verse tells the story of a tree trimmer and his family. Using overlapping chronology, it covers about thirty-five years of his life and concentrates on a series of conflicts, disasters, and reconciliations among some three generations. The protagonist is torn between devotion to dangerous but fascinating work and safer but duller jobs, and he suffers inner and outer disasters in his own and his family's life, striving always for loyalty and healing, and preserving hope that his way of life will do more good than harm. The poem uses a variety of geographical settings and makes symbolic use of the lore and technique of tree trimming. The shorter poems usually have some narrative basis and many are written in blank verse. Of those that are not, a few are in ballad stanzas, using loosened metrical patterns and partial but systematically patterned rhymes. Several poems narrate brief incidents in the lives of tree trimmers and grounds keepers. Many are set in large cities, particularly in rundown neighborhoods, and show passionate tensions in the lives of ordinary people. Others show near-heroic characters in rural settings, or depict cultural tensions among displaced people. The general tendency is to portray depth of feeling and imagination in people who are often seen as outcasts or whose imaginative powers go unobserved. A very few of the poems approach the personal lyric form, and these tend to be written in shorter lines that resemble free verse but are still partly dependent on metrical norms.

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

MCEWEN, ROBERT F, "HEARTWOOD AND OTHER POEMS. (ORIGINAL WRITING)" (1985). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI8526625.