Dannie Abse was one of the most prolific Anglo-Welsh writers of recent times, best known for his poetry and also the author of plays, novels and memoirs. However, the full scope of his writing has yet to be widely acknowledged and some commentators have suggested that his work lacks depth and commitment. The present article provides an exploration and analysis of Abse’s poetry, proposing an understanding of how he did indeed achieve profundity, though not within an explicit, abstract metaphysical framework. Two major aspects of his mature work are considered in detail: his engagement with his Jewish heritage, particularly through its literature; and the sensitive portrayal of his professional medical experiences and the insights that arose from them. His writing offers no totalizing conceptual perspective, but rather a convincing expression of the continued value of the literature of religious traditions for making sense of our lives, a perceptive account of the fragile, bodily nature of our existence, and a timely reminder that science has more limitations than is commonly assumed. The depth – ethical, intellectual and philosophical – and commitment which Abse thus expressed are consonant with the insights of two of the twentieth century’s most original and influential philosophers, Emmanuel Levinas and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Keywords: religion, Judaism, Levinas, medicine, philosophy, science, Wittgenstein
How to Cite: Bowen, W . (2019) “Nourished by experiences: meaning without metaphysics in the poetry of Dannie Abse”, International Journal of Welsh Writing in English. 6(1). doi: 10.16995/wwe.579