Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Susan Boerckel, Ph.D.


Arthurian poetry, Christian poetry, Pentad, Identification, Substance


What the Spirit Knows: Charles Williams and Kenneth Burke examines the Arthurian poetry of Charles Williams using a methodology derived from Kenneth Burke. This is an experiment in literary criticism of a Christian poet using a methodology that is not specifically Christian. Key critical ideas found in Burke are utilized in reading poems from Taliessin Through Logres and Region of the Summer Stars. Burke's work on form and symbol (primarily from Counter-Statement) is addressed first. Form in an individual poem (using "Taliessin's Song of the Unicorn) and in an entire cycle is examined. Burke lists several uses for symbol in Counter-Statement, and an example of each of these from Williams' poetry is described. Burke relates the ideas of substance and scapegoat (with the latter being a special case of the former). Williams also had much to say poetically about substance and the relations of people within Cities, Kingdoms, and other normal social groups.

Scapegoating occurs in Burke when a victim is at once identified substantially with a group, yet symbolically cast from the group to bear some punishment that symbolically expiates the sin of the entire group. Williams does not treat the scapegoat as traditionally as he might, chiefly due to his Christian orientation.Burke is perhaps most famous for his introduction of the Pentad: five elements present in motivation within a work. Williams is able to mold the Arthurian myth to his own purposes through his manipulation of the elements of the Pentad. For Burke, rhetoric is largely a question of identification. He also shows that the poet's identification with his own creation often betrays itself within the text. Since Williams strongly identified himself with Taliessin, several examples of the narrator betraying the beliefs and feelings of the poet are discussed.

Burke's use of the hierarchical dialectic as a form of entelechy is compared to Williams use of dualism within the Christian belief system.