Modernism Revisited

Transgressing Boundaries and Strategies of Renewal in American Poetry

40 DQR

STUDIES IN LITERATURE

Series Editors C.C. Barfoot - A.J. Hoenselaars W.M. Verhoeven

Modernism Revisited
Transgressing Boundaries and Strategies of Renewal in American Poetry
Edited by Viorica Patea and Paul Scott Derrick

Amsterdam - New York, NY 2007

Cover image: Alfredo Hernández “Classified Menina” (2007) © Alfredo Hernández, Salamanca, 2007 Alfredo Hernández is a Spanish painter, illustrator and artist who lives in Salamanca. His large collections are in chalk, acrylic, ink and watercolour. “Classified Menina” belongs to a larger collection called “Las Meninas”. He is married to the linguist Pilar Alonso with whom he has a daughter, Rebecca, a promising scholar of Portuguese Philology and Translations. Cover design: Aart Jan Bergshoeff The paper on which this book is printed meets the requirements of ‘ISO 9706: 1994, Information and documentation - Paper for documents Requirements for permanence’. ISBN-13: 978-90-420-2263-8 ©Editions Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam - New York, NY 2007 Printed in The Netherlands

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The idea of putting together a collection of essays on American Modernist poetry, its transgressions of boundaries and strategies of renewal, originated in a Conference that took place at the University of Salamanca several years ago. Since then, research in this direction developed into a larger project that outgrew its initial scope and inspired new essays on the subject. The editors have benefited from a research grant from the Consejería de Educación y Cultura de la Junta de Castilla y León (Reference Number SA 072/04). We also wish to thank all the contributors who have made this book possible for their patience and enthusiasm for a project that should generate new insights and further the vitality of current critical debate in American poetry.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Acknowledgements Paul Scott Derrick Introduction I. Reflections on Modernity: The Aura of Modernism Marjorie Perloff The Aura of Modernism II. Transgressing Boundaries: Some Modernists Revisited Barry Ahearn Frost’s Sonnets, In and Out of Bounds Hélène Aji Pound and Williams: The Letters as Modernist Manifesto Zhaoming Qian Pao-hsien Fang and the Naxi Rites in Ezra Pound’s Cantos Viorica Patea T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and the Poetics of the Mythical Method Isabelle Alfandary Poetry as Ungrammar in E. E. Cummings’ Poems Bart Eeckhout Wallace Stevens’ Poetry of Resistance III. Strategies of Renewal: Modernism in a Broader Context Gudrun M. Grabher In Search of Words for “Moon-Viewing”: The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language in Modernist American Poetry

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Ernesto Suárez-Toste Spontaneous, not Automatic: William Carlos Williams versus Surrealist Poetics Manuel Brito Instances of the Journey Motif through Language and Selfhood in some Modernist American Poets Heinz Ickstadt For Love and Language: The Poetry of Robert Creeley Charles Altieri Modernist Realism and Lowell’s Confessional Style Notes on Contributors Index

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INTRODUCTION PAUL SCOTT DERRICK
The task of an author is, either to teach what is not known, or to recommend known truths by his manner of adorning them; either to let new light in upon the mind, and open new scenes to the prospect, or to vary the dress and situation of common objects, so as to give them fresh grace and more powerful attractions, to spread such flowers over the region through which the intellect has already made its progress, as may tempt it to return, and take a second view of things hastily passed over or negligently regarded.1

One of the keys to the success – at least until now – of that historical experiment which is the United States has been an energizing tension between two fundamental and opposed drives. There is the restless need, on the part of innumerable individuals, to seek the new, to challenge external limitations, to transgress all kinds of spatial, political, aesthetic and cultural boundaries. At the same time, there is the much more conservative drive of the group, the collective need for stability, the certainty of socially-accepted beliefs and received customs, which all make up a tradition. The tension between these drives is one source of the peculiar dynamism of American life and constitutes, in itself, a complex strategy of continuing renewal. All such forces and tensions are, to varying degrees and depths, projected in our works of art, which thereby become the locus where
1

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, III (March 27, 1750), 14.

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this evolutionary process can be beneficially experimented with (by the artist) and contemplated (by the perceiver of the artwork). This collection of essays, written by a number of leading academics in the field of American literature, is intended to interrogate this phenomenon from the perspective of twentieth-century American poetry. It focuses primarily on that critical period in the development of occidental culture that we usually refer to as Modernism. The will to cultivate tradition and the drive to “make it new”, the need to assimilate established forms and conventions and the equally powerful need to alter them are essential to the Modernist aesthetic. The contributions fall into two general groups: studies concerning individual figures (Section II) and those considering the phenomenon of Modernism within a broader cultural context (Sections I and III). In Section I, an essay that serves as an effective introduction to the theme of revisiting the Modernists, Marjorie Perloff reflects on the fate of Modernism in the twentieth century, focusing in particular on claims that it was either elitist and authoritarian, and therefore politically reactionary, or was caught up in processes of capitalist commodification, and therefore unable to resist the alienation it diagnosed. She also draws attention to the non-academic interest in Modernism that is rife on the internet, where, in fulfillment of Benjamin’s prophecy, the distinction between artist and public has broken down and the “pleasure of the text” takes precedence over concerns with ideology. Perloff suggests that although genres such as poems, paintings, and novels have to some extent been displaced by “differential text”, Modernism’s established artefacts continue to “stay news” and to exert their strange auratic power. Section II begins with a perceptive analysis by Barry Ahearn of how those two fundamental American drives toward expansion – the breaking down of established boundaries – and containment – the maintenance of definite limits – are manifested in Robert Frost’s subtly original renovations of the traditional sonnet form. Next Hélène Aji provides a new insight into the problematic friendship between Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, as reflected in their correspondence. Her discussion of their letters reveals the extent to which their political and aesthetic differences strained against deep bonds of affection and mutual respect, and how their life-long exchanges affected the development of each one’s poetry. In the following contribution, Zhaoming Qian brings to light the practically

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unknown correspondence between Pound and the “Na-khi boy”, Paohsien Fang, a native of Likiang, in Yunnan. At the same time, Qian introduces us to the culture of the Naxi, Tibeto-Burman-speaking people who live in China's southwest Yunnan province, and elucidates the influence that Fang’s informative letters had on specific aspects of Pound’s Cantos. The next three essays offer detailed considerations of the work of T. S. Eliot, E. E. Cummings and Wallace Stevens. Viorica Patea explores Eliot’s sense of tradition as a search for anthropological origins of the modern self and as a trans-cultural dialogue with the other across time in what is generally thought to be the “centre piece” of Modernist poetic accomplishment, The Waste Land. She argues that Eliot’s mythical method and his poetics of fragmentation constitute a quest for an open form and an attempt to bring forth the common language of Eastern and Western spirituality. Isabelle Alfandary argues that E. E. Cummings’ poetic revolution consists in focusing on items of apparently minor importance such as punctuation or typography and dramatizing what has been called “ungrammaticality”. Cummings’ “ungrammar”, far from resulting in nonsense, turns out to be lyrical and constitutes one more strategy of renewal in American poetry. To end the section, Bart Eeckhout gives a profound consideration of the role of “intelligence” – that is, conscious control, intentionality – versus its opposite – spontaneity, a refusal of conscious control, “inspiration” – in both the composition and the reading of Wallace Stevens’ poetry. This issue, by the way, as is also implied in other contributions to this volume, clearly links the underlying concerns of Modernists with those of the Romantics. A full century has passed since the beginnings of what we think of as the Modernist Period, but we are still a long way from digesting the overwhelming significance of the legacy of that first generation of poets and properly placing their accomplishment in both the American and the Western cultural heritage. The essays included in Section III were written to address that need. In this respect, the influence of Eastern cultures on Modernist writers must not be overlooked. Gudrun M. Grabher gives us an insightful and well-documented account of the Japanese mentality and explores the inherent spiritual qualities of the Haiku. On the basis of those qualities, she discusses the presence of oriental thought and poetry on the primarily Imagistic work of figures such as Pound, Amy Lowell and Stevens. Along similar lines, Ernesto

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Suarez-Toste offers a stimulating comparison between Modernist and Surrealist poetics from the perspective of the concept, once again, of spontaneity, as reflected in Surrealism through the practice of automatic writing and painting. He focuses mainly on the theories and works of Williams, Stevens, André Breton and Giorgio de Chirico. The next essay, by Manuel Brito, considers how the most significant American Modernist poets appropriated the concept of the journey. The works discussed, by Pound, Williams, Marianne Moore, H. D., Hart Crane and Stevens, all make use of a journey, through space and language, that facilitates new knowledge and a renewed sense of the self. The last two essays in the book reflect upon the heritage of the Modernist experiment in two important younger figures. In a contemplative discussion of Robert Creeley’s work, Heinz Ickstadt argues that this poet develops two strains, often thought to be mutually exclusive, inherited from the Modernists: the American tradition which saw poetry as rooted in common speech, (Whitman, Pound, Williams, Ginsberg) and the more cosmopolitan formalist tradition (French Symbolism, Stevens, Ashbery and the Language Poets). His essay induces us to appreciate Creeley’s poetry from a new perspective and to reconsider our attitudes toward critical categories and generalizations. And finally, Charles Altieri convincingly locates confessional poetry within a larger conceptual framework, as a reaction to what he terms Modernism’s attempt to evade the imaginary. This complex approach to the semantic construction of the self, which he calls “new realism”, provides the basis for surprising readings of some of Robert Lowell’s best-known poems. This book offers an interesting mixture of deeply considered revisions of our ideas about Modernism and our received approaches to the phenomena of writing and reading poetry (Altieri, Aji, Brito, Eeckhout, Ickstadt, Perloff, Suarez-Toste) and original, insightful illuminations of many familiar Modernist poems (Ahearn, Alfandary, Grabher, Patea, Qian). The editors hope it will tempt the reader to return and take a second view of an altered prospect of a century-old phenomenon. Modernism revisited: this is not another exercise in ingenious critical positionings. It could be that the more we think about a thing –

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especially something as slippery and ambivalent as whatever it is that equivocal term Modernism is supposed to denominate, the less we know. But then, maybe that kind of broad, variously informed uncertainty is a condition worth pursuing. What is Modernism? When and how did it begin? And has it ever really ended? The essays that follow do not attempt to answer these questions (which are probably ultimately unanswerable anyway). They do attempt, however, to add some unexpected knowledge to the mix and to help us to undo much of what we thought we knew before. The more we think about the Modernists, for example, the more we might perceive of what they share, in their deepest concerns, with their Romantic predecessors. If there ever really was a break between them, as Eliot, Pound and others were quite keen to profess, it was on the visible surfaces. And like the break, or boundary, between the surface of the skin and the surrounding air, the closer we get to it, the more porous and indefinite it appears. But what about what lies beneath? I would suggest that it could be just as useful for us to investigate the deeper continuities between the Modernist undertaking and the Romantic revolution, as to emphasize the differences. Modernist stylistic discontinuity encourages us to solve the puzzle, somehow or another to put the pieces back together again. And that strong urge to reconstruct the fragments should induce a corresponding urge to reconstruct ourselves, that is, to reformulate our generally-accepted notions of what we are and how we fit into the puzzle of the world. This is what the physicist David Bohm, reflecting on the constant metamorphoses in the overall context of science, refers to in a felicitous phrase as any group or society’s “underlying tacit infrastructure of concepts and ideas”. What the early Romantics vaguely sensed was that contemporary constructs of the nature of human being – so strongly determined by models from the physical sciences – were, on many levels, inadequate and would therefore eventually become dysfunctional. They seem to have been right; and as that dysfunction gradually emerged over time, Romantic style transposed into Modernist discontinuity. Bohm’s description of the virtually unconscious mechanisms of resistance to change in science is compatible with the Modernist generations’ understanding of the set of problems inherited from the Romantics
… because scientists are accustomed to using their tacit skills and knowledge in subliminal and unconscious ways, there is a tendency of

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the mind to hold on to them and to try to go on working in old ways within new contexts. The result is a mixture of confusion and fragmentation.2

Modernist innovations in style address the confusion that inevitably arose from our culture’s subliminal tendency to go on working in old ways within a profoundly altered context. “A painting”, Picasso is said to have said, “is a horde of destructions”. By the beginning of the twentieth century, it was necessary for art to indicate that we needed to destroy our antiquated unconscious assumptions about what the human being is and how it functions in a universe that creates and sustains it. Because when that destruction occurs on the plane of art, it gives us an opportunity to practice how to put the broken eggshells together again – in other words, to rehearse the skills we need to restructure and reformulate the fundamental ideas that determine how we behave toward and within the world. Our Modernist forebears offered us a chance to begin to repair the real fragmentation and destruction that our dysfunctionality is presently engendering. There is a passage, written by Emerson in 1836, that I never tire of pondering on, and quoting. It comes from his essay “Nature”, which was a remarkably coherent set of instructions for the dismantling of the previously agreed-upon sense of coherence and reformulating our basic concepts of how we are related to the world. It demonstrates how prescient he was. Even then, as a result of his deep study and assimilation of the bases of Romantic thinking, he was aware of what was at stake:
The ruin or the blank, that we see when we look at nature, is in our own eye. The axis of vision is not coincident with the axis of things, and so they appear not transparent but opake. The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself. He cannot be a naturalist until he satisfies all the demands of the spirit. Love is as much its demand, as perceptions. Indeed, neither can be perfect without the other. In the uttermost

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David Bohm and F. David Peat, Science, Order, and Creativity, New York: Bantam Books, 1987, 21.

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meaning of the words, thought is devout, and devotion is thought. Deep calls unto deep.3

As Emerson was trying to explain, thought is not only a response to world; world is a response to thought. We are still wriggling in our culture on the terms of this apparent dilemma, still struggling fully to acknowledge what it means and to accommodate all of its ramifications. “This no doubt implies”, says Stanley Cavell, “that we do not have a universe as it is in itself. But this implication is nothing: we do not have selves in themselves either. The universe is what constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions. It is what can be all the ways we can be.”4 This is a radical reversal of so much we had worked for, so much we believed we knew. The deepest acts of thought are devout, because they also are obedient, and keep the circular energy intact. This Romantic use of the mind participates in and fosters the on-going processes that insure the conditions that produce the miracle of thought. It might be suggestive to read this quote together with a passage by Samuel Beckett, who entered much later in the Romantic continuum. It comes from a text called “Three Dialogues”, that he published in 1949 with Georges Duthuit. In the first dialogue he is reflecting on the painting of Pierre Tal Coat, a contemporary who was one of the founders of the French Tachisme movement, and one of the Modernist pioneers, Henri Matisse. All three dialogues – the other two deal with André Masson and Bram van Velde – are a reflection on Beckett’s own writing at the time. He had completed the first two novels of his trilogy and was feeling his way toward the third, The Unnamable. His effort to comprehend what Matisse and Tal Coat had done (and what he himself was trying to build on) leads him to pronounce the following telegraphic description:
Total object, complete with missing parts, instead of partial object. Question of degree .… In any case a thrusting towards a more adequate expression of natural experience, as revealed to the vigilant coenaesthesia. Whether achieved through submission or through
3

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”, in Emerson: Essays and Lectures, ed. Joel Porte, New York, The Library of America, 47. 4 Stanley Cavell, “Thinking of Emerson”, in Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Lawrence Buell, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993, 193.

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mastery, the result is a gain in nature …. By nature I mean here, like the naivest realist, a composite of perceiver and perceived, not a datum, an experience.5

Both Emerson and Beckett, each in his own way and from the perspective of the moment in time in which he lived, hit the nail on the head. What we need to recover, Beckett is clearly (or not so clearly) saying, is an apprehension of all the ways we are intimately connected with the world, instead of acting on assumptions that we are separated, isolated fragments. And even though he claimed that his was an art of failure, that urge to comprehend the total object, the composite of perceiver and perceived, which Beckett was still responding to in 1949, is part of an alternative pathway in Western thinking that can be traced all the way back through Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807) to Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism (1800) and at least to Herder’s On the Knowing and Feeling of the Human Soul (1778), if not still further to the psychology of Leibniz. It has been a tortuous journey from there to here: “a thrusting towards a more adequate expression of natural experience, as revealed to the vigilant coenaesthesia.” Not a bad summary of the progress of Western art since the Enlightenment. It could be that the present condition of the world bears witness to a larger failure, that Beckett also foresaw. The Modernists were warning us, as had the Romantics before them, to reconstruct our sense of the self (and in so doing, to put the world back together again) before the most serious breakage had even begun to occur:
It looked as if a night of dark intent Was coming, and not only a night, an age. Someone had better be prepared for rage. There would be more than ocean-water broken Before God’s last Put out the Light was spoken.

This is a long and daunting historical process, which, as many of the essays in this volume might suggest, is still unresolved today. The underlying tacit infrastructure of concepts and ideas that has
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Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit, “Three Dialogues”, in Samuel Beckett: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Martin Esslin, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, 16.

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determined our culture has always rested on a fundamental schism: “what marks the West is its troubled sense that its cognition goes one way and its spiritual life goes in quite another. We have no ways of thinking that are not Greek, and yet our morality and religion – outer and inner – find their ultimate sense in the Hebrew Bible.”6 Are we now living out the final consequences of that split in our collective consciousness? The Romantics began to realize how significant it could be when its cognitive side, as a result of the more evident and immediate success of Enlightenment rationality, threatened to become preponderant. We cannot be naturalists, Emerson tells us, until we satisfy all the demands of the spirit. Love – emotional response, empathy, protective and nurturing care – is as much its demand as perceptions. Eliot may not have wanted to acknowledge it, but this Romantic prescription to heal a world lying broken and in heaps is not that different from the remedy he offers to restore the broken health of The Waste Land: “Give, Sympathize, Control.” For both Romantics and Modernists the fragment implies the notion of the whole. What unifies them in a larger continuum is their essentially subversive effort to find new formulas for what we are (or to rediscover old ones), to establish a more functional, less delimited model of human identity. This complicated strategy of renewal may be thought of as a quest for psychic wholeness; it is also a quest to save us from ourselves. The diverse speculations on the nature and evolution of Modernist poetics that this book offers just might help us to alter the axis of our vision and to see that process a little more clearly.

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Harold Bloom, Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?, New York: Riverhead Books, 2004, 68.

THE AURA OF MODERNISM MARJORIE PERLOFF

In a discussion of Walter Benjamin’s famous “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility”, Andreas Huyssen writes:
In the context of social and cultural theory Benjamin conceptualized what Marcel Duchamp had already shown in 1919 in L.H.O.O.Q. By iconoclastically altering a reproduction of the Mona Lisa and ... by exhibiting a mass-produced urinal as a fountain sculpture, Duchamp succeeded in destroying what Benjamin called the traditional art work’s aura, that aura of authenticity and uniqueness that constituted the work’s distance from life and that required contemplation and immersion on the part of the spectator.1

Duchamp against auratic art? Against the unique art object? He certainly professed to be. But almost a century after Duchamp made Fountain and L.H.O.O.Q, these ready-mades are enshrined in the Philadelphia Museum of Art in a room of their own, where pilgrims from around the world may be found in quiet contemplation of the artist’s bold and unique conception. Indeed, the countless photographic reproductions, far from diminishing the aura of these originals, most of them not “originals” at all but Duchamp’s own later copies, seem only to have enhanced it. Duchamp’s ready-mades now
This is a revised version of an article that first appeared in an e-journal, Modernist Cultures, I/1 (Spring 2005), 1-14. 1 Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide, Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986, 9-10. For Benjamin’s definition of “aura”, see “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, in Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, New York: Schocken, 1968, 217-52, especially 220-24 and “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire”, 186-89.

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command sky-high prices, and when I recently applied for permission to reproduce these and related images in a scholarly book on Modernism, I was charged more than $200 apiece. Chronologically, Duchamp was, of course, an artist of the Modernist era, Fountain dating from 1917. As a Modernist, he was part of a larger movement that is now undergoing an astonishing revival. Duchamp exhibitions, conferences, websites, books, and articles are a boom industry.2 But so is the High Modernism Duchamp ostensibly deconstructed in his experimental art. Consider the following events of 2003-2004 alone: (1) The Library of America published Ezra Pound’s Poems and Translations, a volume of nearly 1400 pages that does not include the poet’s central work, The Cantos, presumably because it will get a volume of its own. Its editor, Richard Sieburth, has also just brought out a superb annotated edition of The Pisan Cantos for New Directions. No longer, evidently, will a Selected Cantos do; the Pisans, it is assumed, must and will be read whole in courses as well as by Pound readers at large. (2) The Cambridge Edition of the Letters and Works of D. H. Lawrence, now running to some forty volumes, has published a 700page edition of Studies in Classic American Literature, that supplements the short 1923 text most of us first read in a small Viking paperback. The Cambridge edition includes all the earlier versions of Studies, drafts, and very full notes and introductory material. (3) The second volume of R. N. Foster’s magisterial biography of W. B. Yeats was published by Oxford, receiving many reviews like the following by John Banville in the New York Review of Books: “W. B. Yeats: A Life is a great and important work, a triumph of scholarship, thought, and empathy such as one would hardly have thought possible in this age of disillusion. It is an achievement wholly of a scale with its heroic subject.”3 (4) Gertrude Stein’s writings, long considered too eccentric and incomprehensible to discuss in detail, are the subject of Ulla Dydo’s

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The Duchamp websites are especially remarkable, for example, Tout-Fait, which contains scholarly essays of unusually high caliber, archival material, illustrations, and so on. 3 John Banville, “The Rescue of W. B. Yeats”, New York Review of Books, 51 (26 February 2004), 14.

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600-page study The Language that Rises,4 which examines “the process of making and remaking of Stein’s texts as they move from notepad to notebook to manuscript”, focusing on the single decade (1923-34). Dydo’s book lays to rest, once and for all, the myth, recently regurgitated in Janet Malcolm’s5 long New Yorker profile, that Stein’s colorful persona deserves discussion but that, with the exception of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and one or two other prose texts, the work itself is unreadable. (5) The University of Connecticut organized a large conference called “Celebrating Wallace Stevens” held in April 2004 and including poets as well as academics. A call for papers to supplement those by invited speakers produced, according to the organizer, Glen MacLeod, hundreds of submissions from eager young Modernists. (6) Joseph Roth’s The Radetsky March (1932), newly translated by Joachim Neugroschel for Overlook Press in 2002, has become, after decades of neglect, something of a best-seller. In The New Yorker Joan Acocella6 devoted a large portion of her essay “Rediscovering Joseph Roth” to this great novel on the decline of the Hapsburg empire, as seen through the eyes of its military, stationed in the small garrison border towns on the Eastern frontier. What makes Roth so unusual – and no doubt accounts for his earlier neglect – is that this Jewish writer from Galicia was a fervent admirer of the monarchy, indeed of the Emperor Franz Joseph. (7) In 2003, Viking published Lydia Davis’ new translation of Du Côté de chez Swann, with the remaining volumes of A la recherche du temps perdu to come in translations by different authors. Widely reviewed in newspapers and magazines, this, perhaps the most difficult of Modernist novels, is evidently selling astonishingly well to what is largely a new audience. In Search of Lost Time, or Remembrance of Things Past as it was called in the Scott Moncrieff translation, is the subject of sixty-nine customer reviews on amazon.com, of which more later. (8) The journal Modernism/Modernity, now in its twelfth year of publication, won the 2004 Phoenix Award for significant editorial
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Ulla Dydo, The Language that Rises, Evanston, IL.: Northwestern University Press, 2003. 5 Janet Malcolm, “Gertrude Stein’s War”, The New Yorker, 2 June 2003, 58-81. 6 Joan Acocella, “Rediscovering Joseph Roth”, The New Yorker, 19 January 2004, 8186.

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achievement. M/M is the official journal of the Modernist Studies Association (MSA), which held its first annual convention in 1999 and is now a major fixture on the conference scene, having grown so large it can hardly accommodate all those who wish to attend its meeting and give papers. In 2003, the MSA put out a call for papers for a special double issue on a topic that would have been declared reactionary a mere decade ago – namely the poetry and prose of T. S. Eliot. These are just random examples of Modernist activity on the academic and publishing front today. It can be argued, of course, that the great artists of the early century never disappeared, that what we are witnessing today is more accurately survival rather than revival. Throughout the past century, there have always been scholars, poets, and even general readers committed to Yeats and Eliot, Pound and Stevens, Proust and Lawrence, and who were passionate about the avant-garde as represented by Duchamp or Stein. But the fact is that from the 1960s well into the 90s, the word “Modernism” was a term of opprobrium, even as the avant-garde was pronounced a failure, given its inability, so Peter Bürger famously told us, to destroy “art” as a bourgeois institution. The critique of Modernism, for that matter, came not only from the Left that questioned its elitist, patriarchal, imperialist, and colonialist tendencies, but could be found in such bourgeois venues as The New Yorker, where Cynthia Ozick first published her scathing piece on T. S. Eliot. “We no longer live”, Ozick declared, “in the literary shadow” of Eliot, whom she dismissed as so much “false coinage” – an “autocratic, inhibited, depressed, rather narrow-minded, and considerably bigoted fake Englishman”. “High art”, moreover, “is dead. The passion for inheritance is dead. Tradition is equated with obscurantism. The wall that divided serious high culture from the popular arts is breached.” In this context, “Eliot’s elegiac fragments appear too arcane, too aristocratic, and too difficult for contemporary ambition”.7 This essay appeared in 1989, a mere fifteen years ago. Extreme as Ozick’s argument may seem today, its reservations about Eliot’s politics were voiced as early as 1967 by a critic who had himself written sympathetically on Eliot and edited his critical prose. I am thinking of Frank Kermode, who observed, in The Sense of an Ending,
7

Cynthia Ozick, “T. S. Eliot at 101”, The New Yorker, 20 November 1989, 121, 15254.

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that there was a “correlation between early modernist literature and authoritarian politics”, that “totalitarian theories of form”, which he found in such key texts as Yeats’ A Vision, Eliot’s critical essays, and everywhere in Pound’s writings, were “matched or reflected by a totalitarian politics”:
It appears in fact, that modernist radicalism in art – the breaking down of pseudo-traditions, the making new of a true understanding of the nature of the elements of art – this radicalism involves the creation of fictions which may be dangerous in the dispositions they breed towards the world …. Instead of [a commonplace view of reality] there is to be order as the modernist artist understands it: rigid, out of flux, the spatial order of the modern critic or the closed authoritarian society … 8

And Kermode singled out Eliot as the most extreme case of this authoritarianism:
He had a persistent nostalgia for closed, immobile hierarchical societies. If tradition is, as he said in After Strange Gods … “the habitual actions, habits and customs” which represent the kinship “of the same people living in the same place” [shades of Bloom’s ineffectual definition of a nation in Ulysses!] it is clear that Jews do not have it, but also that practically nobody now does.9

This is certainly an accurate appraisal of After Strange Gods, the set of University of Virginia lectures Eliot published in 1938 (and then suppressed), but Kermode makes two assumptions that now seem questionable. First, his “Modernism” here refers to the later 1930s; indeed, “Early Modernism” is Kermode’s term for the pre-World War II period as distinct from what he calls the “schismatic modernism” of the postwar era. But from the vantage point of the twenty-first century, we may note, as have recent critics like Tyrus Miller (1991) and Peter Nicholls (1995),10 that Modernism was a phenomenon of the early century – indeed Nicholls follows Benjamin in taking the
8

Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, New York: Oxford University Press, 1967, 108, 110-11. 9 Ibid., 112. 10 Tyrus Miller, Late Modernism, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999; Peter Nicholls, Modernisms: A Literary Guide, London: Macmillan, 1995.

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Modernist ethos back to the mid-nineteenth century of Baudelaire. The totalitarianisms of the Thirties – Communism as well as Fascism – worked to undermine the very foundations of Modernism, as we can see most clearly in the Soviet rejection of its own avant-garde, emblematized dramatically by the suicide of Mayakovsky in 1930. Periodization is, of course, always open to debate, but what about Kermode’s other unstated assumption, which is that the “totalitarian” politics of much Anglo-American Modernist writing was matched by “totalitarian” form – the “rigid … spatial order” of a “closed authoritarian society”? Do such strictures apply to the paratactic collage structure of Pound’s Cantos? To the free-wheeling performative mode of Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature? To the non-linear narratives of Stein’s Tender Buttons or Stanzas in Meditation? To the pseudo-closure of The Waste Land’s final line, “Shantih, Shantih, Shantih”, which succeeds only in reopening the larger question of what it might mean to fish “with the arid plain behind me”? These are questions that seem vital enough to readers of Modernist texts today. But in the antinomian climate of the 1960s, Kermode’s association of Modernism with reaction, authoritarianism, and protoFascism found a sympathetic audience. The rescue operation performed by Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory (1970) had not yet begun; indeed, in the English-speaking world, the reception of this important text did not begin properly until at least 1984, when the first English translation of the book was published by Routledge.11 For Adorno, Modernist art is characterized by its resistance to capitalist commodification, a resistance characterized by its opposition to a society that it nevertheless brings back into the artwork by means of indirect critique. The true Modernist artwork, Adorno posits, refuses to engage in direct reflection of social surface; it does not “want to duplicate the façade of reality”, but “makes an uncompromising reprint of reality while at the same time avoiding being contaminated by it”.12 This dialectic process is characterized by Adorno as negative
11

Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. C. Lenhart, London: Routledge, 1984. This translation, considered rather unsatisfactory, was replaced in 1998 by Robert Kenter-Hullot’s much more scholarly translation, overseen by the author’s widow Gretel Adorno and his executor Rolf Tiedemann (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998). 12 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1998), 28.

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mimesis. Kafka’s work, for example, is great in its “negative sense of reality”; his image of bureaucracy is “the cryptogram of capitalism’s highly polished, glittering late phase, which he excludes in order to define it all the more precisely in its negative”.13 Accordingly, fragmentation, dislocation, and difficulty are essential to Modernist art, which rigidly excludes the banalities of everyday life and rejects the specious productions of mass culture. Marxist critics as dissimilar as Andreas Huyssen and Fredric Jameson have built on Adorno’s theory even as they have rejected its purism, its repudiation of all but self-evidently “high” art into the Modernist canon so that even jazz has been dismissed as merely populist. In After the Great Divide (1986), Huyssen takes as his starting point Adorno’s characterization of Modernism as insisting on “the autonomy of the art work, its obsessive hostility to mass culture, its radical separation from the culture of everyday life, and its programmatic distance from political, economic, social concerns”. But whereas Adorno considers such distance inevitable, Huyssen argues that the task of postmodernism has been precisely to challenge the “Great Divide” between high art and mass culture. Examining a variety of postmodern art discourses, Huyssen notes that “The pedestal of high art and high culture no longer occupies the privileged space it used to …. Despite all its noble aspirations and achievements, we have come to recognize that the culture of enlightened modernity has also always (though by no means exclusively) been a culture of inner and outer imperialism” – an imperialism that no longer goes unchallenged. “Whether these challenges”, Huyssen concludes, “will usher in a more habitable, less violent and more democratic world remains to be seen”.14 Fredric Jameson’s critique of Adorno’s aesthetics is even more pessimistic. For Jameson, Modernist resistance cannot, as Adorno posits, overcome the terrible alienation that defines the Modernist moment. The increasing commodification of social relations, the degradation of language at the hands of advertising, the impersonality and anonymity of modern bureaucracy – these create a literature that is increasingly embattled. The battle cry “Make It New!”, in this context, is no more than a doomed effort to resist capitalist reification.
13

Ibid., 36. See also Theodor Adorno, Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981, 256. 14 Huyssen, After the Great Divide, 218-19.

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The dislocation of modernist narrative, moreover, can be understood as a denial of historical change. Postmodernism, which represents an even further stage of what is now global capitalism, cannot improve this state of affairs, but at least its admission that depth has given way to surface, parody to pastiche, emotion to a new blank affect, a centered discourse to one that is wholly decentered, exposes the limitations of Modernism. Indeed, the seemingly realist fiction of emerging nations, old-fashioned as it may look to those with Modernist blinkers, manifests an authenticity lost in the Western World – an authenticity that comes from its allegorical treatment of its respective culture.15 Accordingly, so Jameson argues in the famous “Postmodernism” essay, “the high-modernist conception of a unique style, along with the accompanying collective ideals of an artistic or political vanguard or avant-garde, themselves stand or fall along with that older notion (or experience) of the so-called centered subject”. And there is much talk, in the pages that follow, of the demise of the bourgeois ego, of the distinctive brush stroke, of “a self present to do the feeling”.16 Modernism, it seems, can no longer speak to us. Thus, in his “Conclusion”, Jameson raises questions like “Is T. S. Eliot recuperable?” or “What ever happened to Thomas Mann and André Gide?”. “Frank Lentricchia”, he posits, “has kept Wallace Stevens alive throughout this momentous climatological transformation, but Paul Valéry has vanished without a trace, and he was central to the modernist movement internationally”.17 Indeed, the “great modernist works” have “become reified … by becoming school classics. Their distance from their readers as monuments and as the efforts of ‘genius’ tended also to paralyze form production in general, to endow the practice of all the high-cultural arts with an alienating specialist or expert qualification that blocked the creative mind with awkward selfconsciousness and intimidated fresh production.”18

15

See Hardt and Weeks, Introduction in The Jameson Reader, eds Michael Hardt and Kathy Weeks, Oxford: Blackwell, 2000, 1-35; and, in the same volume, Frederic Jameson “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture” (1992), 123-48 and “Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism” (1986), 315-40. 16 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham: Duke University Press, 1991, 15. 17 Ibid., 303. 18 Ibid., 317.

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This was written, or rather published, in 1991, a short fifteen years ago. All the more astonishing, therefore, how fully Jameson’s theory of Modernism has lost ground. More recent cultural critics like Michael North (1999), Jennifer Wicke (1988), and Carrie Noland (1999)19 have been at pains to show that far from excluding all popular culture and the realm of everyday life, the great modernist works like Ulysses or avant-garde poems like Blaise Cendrars’ “Prose du Transsibérien” were permeated with the language of advertising and commerce, that the “great divide”, at any rate, was always more apparent than real. In Reading 1922, North concludes that “Beginning with Wittgenstein”, whose Tractatus was published in England in 1922 along with Ulysses and The Waste Land, “the notion that truth is local and particular came into being as a reflex of the attempt to make it global and universal”.20 Modernism, by this argument, was never accurately characterized by the autonomy and elitism attributed to it; it was always thoroughly contaminated by its rapprochement with the discourses of everyday life. Such reconsideration of Modernist texts – indeed, the whole complex discourse about the relation of twentieth-century art to mass culture – has done much to prompt a lively new discussion of Modernism in academic venues and scholarly journals. But the revival of Modernism has also been promoted by another, and rather more unlikely, quarter: namely, the broader English-speaking public that communicates on the internet, particularly in such places as the Customer Review columns of amazon.com. “Customer reviewers”, who may or may not give their names, in whole or in part, but do provide their locations – for example, “Adriana from Vigna del Mar, Chile” or “Tepi from Kyoto, Japan”, or “A reader from San Francisco” – and must have verifiable (though unpublished) email addresses – come from all over the world and remain largely anonymous with respect to age, race, business or profession, social class, and often, as in the case of “Tepi” above, even gender. They need not purchase the book in question and receive no reward other than that of finding their statements, ranging from a single sentence to
19

Michael North, Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999; Jennifer Wicke, Advertising Fictions: Literature, Advertising, and Social Fictions, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988; Carrie Noland, Poetry at Stake, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. 20 North, Reading 1922, 213.

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a page or two, reproduced online, together with their rankings: from five stars (the top) to a mere one. What motivates customer reviewers, it would seem, is the invitation to make their voices and rankings heard by others. Judging from their frequently faulty grammar and spelling, they are not likely to be professionals or even students, although they are generally well informed and highly literate.21 Rather, they represent a situation Walter Benjamin anticipated when he remarked wistfully that, in the age of mechanical reproducibility, “at any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer”:
It began with the daily press opening to its readers space for “letters to the editor”. And today there is hardly a gainfully occupied European who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports …. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character.22

These words have proved to be remarkably prophetic. When Jameson asks “Is Eliot recuperable?” he is referring to the academic consensus of the 1980s and 90s, when the very intimation of antiSemitism, racism, or colonialism was enough to keep a given author out of the literature classroom. But there are signs that this consensus is breaking down. In 1998, Signet Books published a mass market paperback of The Waste Land and Other Poems, with an Introduction by Helen Vendler; in 2000, Norton published the Norton Critical Edition of The Waste Land, edited by Michael North. Together, these two editions have received about thirty customer reviews, almost all of them granting Eliot five stars, from which I quote the following:
What the thunder said, April 9, 2001 Reviewer: cailleachx from GA USA. T. S. Eliot wrote “The Waste Land” against the backdrop of a world gone mad – searching for reason inside chaos, and striving to build an ark of words by which
21

After I completed this essay, a number of newspaper articles appeared on the subject of amazon.com reviewing as possibly a new form of scam since anonymous reviewers, who may or may not divulge their real identity, can now use amazon.com to puff or trash books for personal reasons. The author’s spouse or friends, for example, may provide five-star reviews just to hype a given book (see Amy Harmon, “Amazon Glitch Unmasks War of Reviewers”, New York Times, 14 February 2004, A 1, A 12). 22 Benjamin, Illuminations, 232.

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future generations could learn what had gone before, T. S. Eliot explores that greatest of human melancholy – disillusionment. This is a difficult poem, but one well-worth exploring to its fullest. The inherent rhythms of Eliot’s speech, the delightful, though sometimes obscure, allusions, and intricate word-craft, create an atmosphere of civilization on the edge – in danger of forgetting its past, and therefore repeating it. In the end, only the poet is left, to admonish the world to peace, to preserve the ruins of the old life, and to ensure that future generations benefit from the disillusions of the past …. Buy this. You won’t regret it. If you’re an Eliot fan, you probably have it anyway. If you’re not, you will be when you put it down. Search for your Soul, May 12, 2003 Reviewer: Angelo Ventura from Brescia, Lombardia Italy. He’s the one and only poet of modern man’s soul. All modern literature owes to him. Not only this, but he had great imagination and a wry sense of humour. Among his “minor” works sonnets like “The hippopotamus” is worth a poem of some modern writer. Read him to inspire your mind! What it takes to write the greatest poem of the 20th century, December 20, 2001 Reviewer: iburiedpaul from Clearwater, FL USA. Simply put, THE WASTE LAND is one of the strangest, most complicated, and interesting poems ever written. Try reading an unannotated version of the poem and you will see why even TS Eliot scholars need a little help with some of the images and literary references Eliot uses. This NORTON CRITICAL EDITION of THE WASTE LAND is an essential book for any Eliot fan, new or old. It provides you with practically every single piece of literature, history, and music that inspired Eliot to write his manifesto of the Lost Generation. If you have any questions concerning THE WASTE LAND, this is the book you need … this is the book you want. Buy it and realize how well-read you are not. Great Poem, Great Edition, January 11, 2004 Reviewer: Erik Tennyson from Philadelphia, PA USA. Simply stated, the poem is one the true benchmarks for twentieth century literature. It is rather difficult in that it is highly allusive, some allusions fall on the rather obscure side (Middleton, Weston) but mostly they are rather well known (Augustine, Dante, the Bible, Baudelaire, Wagner). The experience will prove to be as didactic as well as expressive due to all these allusions in the text. As far as the poem itself goes, it has a definite effect on you when you read it. I

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remember the first time I read the lines, “I think we are in rats’ alley where the dead men lost their bones”, and although I couldn’t really understand what was going on just yet in the poem, that line as well as many other lines and images, had an affect on me. On the whole the emotional tone of the poem (not to do it injustice and say what it is about) is the spiritual alienation and degradation everyone felt after WWI. It’s a quest of sorts, taken on by a persona of Eliot to find meaning amidst “the stony rubbish” that is the world. It sets the philosophy of Buddha and Augustine side by side as it does with the Rig Veda and the Bible in a collage of different voices and arresting images.

I suppose Jameson might respond that these customer reviews testify to the thorough commodification of The Waste Land, what with their naïve enthusiasm and assessment of Eliot’s subject matter. But I would argue that this sheer enthusiasm, on the part of non-academic readers who have nothing to gain from writing their commentaries tells us something very different. When Erik Tennyson, for example, talks of the amazing emotional high he received from the lines, “I think we are in rat’s alley / where the dead men lost their bones”, he is saying, however naively, that poetry is first of all a use of sound and language. At the same time, all the readers of North’s Norton Critical Edition testify to wanting to know more about this poem they already love. North himself posits in Reading 1922 that The Waste Land shares a discourse radius with any number of other works produced in the same year – works in different genres like Anzia Yezierska’s Jewish immigrant novel Salome of the Tenements or Walter Lippmann’s essay Public Opinion. This is true if we are reading The Waste Land as an index to the culture and ideology that produced it. But why do readers today, whose knowledge of and interest in post-World War I London as seen through the eyes of an American expatriate, are likely to be minimal, readers who, by their own admission, have never heard of most of the authors alluded to in The Waste Land, continue to find the poem so fascinating? It seems that what readers look for is not the poem’s political unconscious but the charm of its distinctive rhythm and its deployment of a language that is somehow extraordinary. It must, in short, give pleasure. Take the case of the American Communist poet Edwin Rolfe (1909-54), who is allotted twelve pages in Cary Nelson’s Anthology of

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Modern American Poetry (2000) and receives thorough treatment on the website that accompanies the volume.23 Rolfe’s Trees Become Torches: Selected Poems, published in the American Poetry Recovery Series at the University of Illinois Press in 1994, followed by the Collected Poems in 1997, must now be special-ordered on amazon.com because its sales rank is too low. For Nelson and his fellow editors, Rolfe’s political poems, especially those prompted by the Spanish Civil War and later by McCarthyism, are important as fiery denunciations of capitalism and class stratification. But radical politics per se evidently has little appeal to the internet poetry audience. The Rolfe volumes have not prompted a single customer review, whereas this poet’s exact contemporary George Oppen, himself a Communist in the pre-World War II years, receives comments like the following:
Neglected Classic, March 31, 2000 [review of the Collected Poems, New Directions, 1976) Reviewer: Aaron Peck from Vancouver, BC. Oppen is by far the most underrated poetic genius of the twentieth century. I know that sounds bold, but I think for the most part his work has been suppressed because of his un-apologetic affiliations with the communist party. His work, however, is not concerned with politics: it is some of the most honest, personal and striking poetry I’ve read in this language. His long poem “Of Being Numerous” is the greatest example: “Obsessed, bewildered / by the shipwreck / of the singular / we have chosen the meaning / of being numerous”. Oppen is the great, forgotten elegist of the postwar era. These poems are, in a sense, about failure, about loss and how we perceive and react to the world. This book is not to be missed as it far too often is. 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner, December 5, 2000 (review of Of Being Numerous, New Directions, 1965) Reviewer: elljay from Los Angeles. I don’t know much about George Oppen – except to note in passing that he was among those victimized by the anti-Communist hysteria of the 50s – but he has just become one of my favorite poets for having produced this sleek little volume.
23

Anthology of Modern American Poetry, ed. Cary Nelson, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. See Nelson’s selections from Louis Zukofsky, 551-56; George Oppen, 603-607; Edwin Rolfe, 608-19. For the online journal and multimedia companion to the anthology, which contains biographical materials, essays on individual poems, and bibliographies, see http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/.

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The poems here are extremely terse and rock-like; every word is carefully chosen; and the result is verse of uncommon force and directness. Not many poets can say so much with so little (from the title poem): “You are the last / Who will know him / Nurse // Not know him, / He is an old man, / A patient, / How could one know him? // You are the last / Who will see him / Or touch him, / Nurse”. If you’re like me and have had your share of “chatty” or selfconsciously clever wordsmiths, this is strong stuff. (As he writes elsewhere: “I have not and never did have any motive of poetry / But to achieve clarity”) Oppen’s chilly, Spartan poetry sounds like it should be chiseled in stone, and he can be winning even when he departs from form, as proven by the prose sections in “Route”. It’s intense, haunting, and truly memorable (and I mean this last adjective literally: I can remember this stuff after I’ve put the book down, whereas most poetry disintegrates in my head almost instantly). This is the real thing, people, and you owe it to yourself to find a copy. This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title

What makes these Oppen reviews, written before the 2002 publication of Michael Davidson’s New Collected Poems, remarkable is that the customers in question are calling attention to long-since published or out-of-print books of poems – books that are here praised for their language, the integrity of their form, and their creation of a distinctive lyric speaker. Amazon reviewers, in other words, instinctively look for works that strike them as unique – that have what Benjamin called aura. The response to Gertrude Stein is especially interesting in this regard. For the past decade or so, academic criticism has emphasized Stein’s representativeness: Stein the feminist (see Harriet Chessman),24 the lesbian writer (see Judy Grahn),25 expatriate (see Shari Benstock),26 American immigrant (see Priscilla Wald),27 trained scientist (see Steven Meyer),28 collector-consumer (see Michael Davidson),29 Jew
24

Harriet Scott Chessman, The Public is Invited to Dance: Representation, The Body, and Dialogue in Gertrude Stein, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989. 25 Judy Grahn, Really Reading Gertrude Stein: A Selected Anthology with Essays by Judy Grahn, San Francisco: Crossing Press, 1990. 26 Shari Benstock, Women of the Left Bank, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987. 27 Priscilla Wald, Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form, Durham: Duke University Press, 1995. 28 Steven Meyer, Irresistible Dictation: Gertrude Stein and the Correlations of Writing and Science, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.

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(see Maria Damon)30 – most recently, in Janet Malcolm’s New Yorker profile, Stein the proto-Fascist who wrote speeches for Marshall Pétain and protected the politically suspect Bernard Fay. All these studies provide valuable insights into Stein’s work, but they also make apparent that hers is work that never quite fits the proposed category: in the Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry, for example, Nelson includes a single Stein work, “Patriarchal Poetry”, so as to bring her into the feminist fold, but this long, linguistically dislocated poem can hardly live up to its fighting title. The one thing that Stein inevitably was, however, both chronologically and geographically (an American in Paris) was a Modernist. Ulla Dydo’s The Language that Rises, which documents Stein’s process of revision, her obsessive care for le mot juste, the right sentence, and the perfection of composition and formal structure, allies this Jamesian (both Henry and William were central influences) writer to such otherwise uncongenial Modernists as Eliot and Pound. The amazon.com reviewers seem to recognize this. The mass-market Dover edition (1997) of Tender Buttons, for example, elicited eight reviews, of which I quote four:
Modernist Classic That’s Fun to Read, October 9, 2002 Reviewer: Michael Helsem from Dallas, TX United States. The playfulness & intellectual rigor of the best of the Modernist movement unite in this small book of exquisite prose poems that may be read, on one level at least, as an extended allegory of eroticism (e.g. “tender buttons” are nipples); & on another, as a manifesto of what was to become L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry. But you don’t really need to be a scholar to appreciate the freshness & lovely rhythms of the poems. They are like nothing else that existed at the time they were written (not even the great Victorian “nonsense” poets dared to be this nonreferential) & though they have cast a long shadow across late 20c. PoMo, there really has been nothing quite like them since. Sui Generis, January 17, 2002 Reviewer: mikhl from Ardmore, PA United States. I gave this book to my six-year-old nephew when he was starting to read. BOY did he get annoyed, but he kept coming back to it. “These are not poems!” he
29

Michael Davidson, Ghostlier Demarcations: Modern Poetry and the Material World, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. 30 Maria Damon, The Dark End of the Street: Margins in American Vanguard Poetry, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.

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would sputter. While “Finnegans Wake” is supposed to be difficult to comprehend, one can “diagram” Joyce’s sentences, the “grammar” is “normative”, only the words are peculiar. With Stein, the words themselves are “normal”, even banal, but the sentences are more Out There than a Zen Koan. Anyway, as the late lamented Beatle George supposedly said about a painting, “it’s either groovy or it isn’t”. “Tender Buttons” is. Endlessly rereadable; the best prose poem of all time, October 22, 1999 Reviewer: A reader from Portland, OR United States. I don’t have as much patience as some with Stein’s other work, but “Tender Buttons” is sublime. It leads the mind down paths it would never otherwise follow. I’m basically a philistine, and a populist, but this book never loses its splendour. Here (and here only, for me) Gertrude Stein had perfect pitch. Pure utter geniusness, March 19, 2000 Reviewer: Pauline from Brussels, Belgium My random poems have been said to be Stein-like. Now that I know more about G.S., a poem was inspired by her ... “Gertrude Stein Poeme O’Mijn”: Images realize aspects throughout. Painting daunting solid reasonable feisty planes of aura felt. Pangs of fluid energy suffer thought. Remaining understood eras feel wrought over and through. Satisfied mental strain tally connective ways again. Palled sorts of slews o’mirage onslaught on papyrus.

Zen Koan, perfect pitch, freshness, lovely rhythms, and, as Pauline from Brussels puts it in her Stein poem, “feisty planes of aura felt”. Let me now return to that “aura felt” and try to sketch in why I think Modernism exerts such power over us today. News that STAYS news “Poetry”, Pound famously declared in the ABC of Reading, “is news that STAYS news”.31 It is a sobering reminder in the age of cell phones, email, blogs, and countless websites that make demands on our daily attention. Nothing seems to last more than a split second, even the appearances of our favorite poets and artists. We spot an Ashbery poem in TLS or The New York Review of Books; we tell ourselves we
31

Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, New York: New Directions, 1934, 29.

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will catch it later when we have more time and that, in any case, it will surely appear in the poet’s next collection. But such delay is tricky, for by then, it may be a somewhat different poem. In a recent essay, already in proof, I cited two new poetic texts by the British multimedia poet Caroline Bergvall, only to have the poet send me a newer version of the manuscript, whose changes I wish I could have incorporated in my citations. Change, it would seem, is all, and those who succeed are those willing to reinvent themselves gracefully. As little as two decades ago, when theorists like Michel Foucault or Paul De Man were holding sway, a given position could be counted on to have a life-span of at least six or seven years – roughly the time it took to complete one’s Ph.D. Today, there is no such continuity: those, for example, who did American Studies a decade ago when it was fashionable to produce books with titles like Constituting Americans (Priscilla Wald’s 1995 book, which I cited in connection with Stein above), have now moved on to globalization studies where Americans are now constituted in terms of a very different picture, and literary texts have become expendable. Interdisciplinarity, the watchword of the moment, often means non rather than inter. Consider our current political paradigm, where the worst thing one can say about any Presidential candidate is that he is an insider, as if training – in political history and theory, constitutional law, economics, and just plain political practice – means nothing. So the body builder turned film-star and producer Arnold Schwarzenegger and the physician Howard Dean boast that at least they are not insiders like Gray Davis or John Kerry. The reverse is also the case: I recently read that Gray Davis is now acting in a film comedy, and although I do not know of any politicians who have become physicians overnight, I predict this too will happen. Certainly, Richard Dysart, who played the avuncular senior partner in the TV series L. A. Law, is known for the astute legal commentary he dispenses at cocktail parties. Again, no one seems to think it odd that Slavoj Zizek would produce a new reading of Christianity32 or that Giovanna Borradori’s interviews with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, on the occasion of 9/11, would generate a book called Philosophy in a Time
32

Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.

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of Terror.33 What, one wonders, is the staying power of such books? Are they designed to be read five years from now? And if not, what is the difference between philosophy in the Habermas-Derrida title and journalism? The situation in scholarship is not entirely different. Consider Jerome McGann’s encyclopedic and brilliantly produced Dante Gabriel Rossetti hypertext archive, copyrighted in 1993 in its first incarnation and constructed in stages, the most recent installment dating from 2000. The archive will soon need extensive reconstruction so as to be up to date as well as easier to access. But even as this project is launched, a nagging question arises: how many English departments at the present moment offer a course in Victorian Poetry, much less the Pre-Raphaelites? How many Art History departments? And how, in turn, will the Archive be able create its audience rather than respond to an existing one? In this climate, the traditional genres – poem, painting, novel – inevitably take a back seat to such intentionally transient art forms as performance, installation, sound sculpture, and what I have called elsewhere “differential” texts – which is to say, a text that exists in various incarnations – say, print, digital, and art gallery display.34 A Robert Smithson earthwork like the Spiral Jetty or a Fluxus performance like George Brecht’s famed Keyhole Event – these are now known not in their original form, but through extensive documentation, photographic reproduction, and retrospective exhibition. And poems like those collected in David Antim’s Talking at the Boundaries (1976)35 are known to younger audiences primarily through tape recordings, available in the various poetry sound archives. An important intermedia artist like the Swedish Oyvind Fahlström, whose radio plays of the Sixties are only now getting the attention they deserve, is known to English-speaking readers mainly through such scholarly texts as Teddy Hultberg’s Manipulating the

33

Jacques Derrida, Philosophy in a Time of Terror, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003. 34 See Marjorie Perloff, “Vocable Scriptsigns: Differential Poetics in Kenneth Goldsmith’s Fidget and John Kinsella’s Kangaroo Virus”, in Poetry, Value, and Contemporary Culture, eds Andrew Roberts and John Allison, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Press, 2002, 21-43. 35 Antim David, Talking at the Boundaries, New York: Norton and Co, 1976.

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World (1999),36 which contains the complete text of Birds in Sweden and The Holy Torsten Nillson, together with CDs, synopses, critical analyses, and the Concrete poetry versions of specific radio dialogues. Reading thus increasingly gives way to a complex interactive process, involving various technologies. It is in this context that Modernism casts such a long shadow. For even as contemporary texts enjoy an inevitable precariousness, the great texts of the early century are very much there, showing no signs of going away. Indeed, all present indicators suggest that a hundred years from now, people will still be reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Joyce’s Ulysses, Kafka’s The Trial, Mann’s Death in Venice, even as museums, or whatever large exhibition spaces will be called a hundred years from now, will still be showing Malevich’s paintings and Duchamp’s ready-mades. The question is why. Once, when I was talking to John Cage, I mentioned that I did not know how to approach the procedural texts of Jackson Mac Low, that I didn’t quite get their point. “Oh”, Cage laughed. “Forget about their quality. Think of their quantity!” Nonsensical as this quip sounds, it says something important about the Modernists. Theirs was the first – and perhaps the last – generation that combined a long life span and the production of voluminous works with the faith that, to cite Pound again, “Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree”, that “poetry … is the most concentrated form of verbal expression”.37 This is an unusual combination. Victorian careers also tended to be long and produced great quantities of poetry and prose, but no one would pretend that Tennyson (1809-92) or Browning (1812-89) had loaded every rift with ore, to quote Keats, who himself died at the age of twenty-five. But the Modernists took very seriously Keats’ pronouncement that “The excellence of every art is in its intensity”. “It is all speech”, Yeats once praised a poem by his friend Dorothy Wellelsey, “carried to its highest by intensity of sound and meaning”,38 and he describes the “Daemonic Man” of Phase 17 in A
36

Teddy Hultenberg, Öyvind Fahlström: On the Air – Manipulating the World!, Stockholm: Fylkingen Publishing House/Sveriges Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, 1999. 37 Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, 28, 36. 38 William Butler Yeats, Letters on Poetry from W. B. Yeats to Dorothy Wellesley, London: Oxford University Press, 1964, 18.

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Vision (Yeats’ own phase), as one who “seeks to deliver simplification through intensity, modified by simplicity”.39 “Use no superfluous word”, wrote Pound, “no adjective which does not reveal something”, and again, this time with the Victorians and Edwardians squarely in mind, “Don’t use such an expression as ‘dim lands of peace.’ It dulls the image.”40 “Dichten = condensare.”41 Except for Hart Crane, who committed suicide when he was thirtythree, the major American Modernist poets had long careers: Robert Frost lived to be 84, Gertrude Stein 72, Wallace Stevens 76, William Carlos Williams 75, Ezra Pound 87, H. D. 75, Marianne Moore 85, T. S. Eliot 77. All of the above produced volume after volume of poetry – but unlike so many of their post-modern successors, the Modernists were prolific in other forms of writing as well. They were dramatists (Stein, Williams, Pound, Eliot), fiction writers (Stein, Williams, H. D.), critics (all of the above but especially Eliot and Pound), autobiographers (Stein, Williams, H. D.), translators, editors, essayists, and often, as in the case of such British modernists as Yeats, Lawrence, and Virginia Woolf, brilliant letter writers. Indeed, however complicated their love lives or, for Yeats and Pound, their misguided political actions, it is fair to say that writing is what these writers lived for. And not just topical writing but the production of “news that STAYS news”. Writing, by this account, inevitably involved contradiction as well as complexity: Yeats especially, but also the very different Williams, used poetry as the site where contradictory views and emotions could be resolved – but only momentarily, making way for the production of the next poem. Density, in this scheme of things, is all. It is no coincidence, surely, that Wittgenstein, himself by no means sympathetic to his literary contemporaries in Britain, remarked in one of his Zettel, “Do not forget that a poem, although it is composed in the language of information, is not used in the language-game of giving information”.42 Nor is it a coincidence that the great Russian Modernist theorist Roman Jakobson, who began his career as a Futurist poet named Aljagrov and wrote his first book on the avant39 40

William Butler Yeats, A Vision (1937), New York: Macmillan, 1965, 141. Ezra Pound, Literary Essays, ed. T. S. Eliot, London: Faber and Faber, 1945, 4-5. 41 Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, 36. 42 Ludwig Wittenstein, Zettel, eds G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright (trans. G. E. M. Anscombe), Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970, No. 160.

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garde poet Velimir Khlebnikov, insisted on the distinction between the poetic and the referential functions of language – a distinction that has, of course, come under heavy fire from contemporary critics like Stanley Fish – critics who have “proved” that one cannot pinpoint a hard-and-fast difference between, say, the language of journalism and the language of poetry. But if there cannot and should not be a quantitative measure for such differentiation, any more than there is a great divide between high and low art, common sense – and this is where Pound is such a central poetician – tells us that “writing” that does not “stay news” is quickly expendable and replaceable by other writing. Only poetry, as he frequently put it, endures. Gertrude Stein, as I have argued elsewhere, held similar views.43 In “What are Master-Pieces” (1935), she distinguishes between talking and writing, the former necessary for the creation of identity, the latter an act of creation. And she declares:
After all there is always the same subject there are the things you see and there are human beings and animal beings and everybody you might say since the beginning of time knows practically commencing at the beginning and going to the end everything about these things … it is not this knowledge that makes master-pieces. Not at all not at all at all.44

Art, for Stein, has nothing to do with subject matter or psychology. How Hamlet reacts to his father’s ghost, for instance, has nothing do with the nature of value of Hamlet the play – “That would be something anyone in any village would know they could talk about it endlessly but that would not make a master-piece”. And the same holds true for painting: “A picture exists for and in itself and the painter has to use objects landscapes and people as a way the only way that he is able to get the picture to exist”.45 Here is the demand for autonomy regularly attributed to such High Modernists as Eliot and Pound but rarely to an avant-gardist like Stein. “The poet”, Thornton Wilder recalls her saying, “has to work in the excitingness of pure being: he [sic] has to get back that intensity
43

Marjorie Perloff, 21st-Century Modernism: The “New” Poetics, Oxford: Blackwell, 2002. 44 Gertrude Stein, Writings, Volume 2: 1932-1946, New York: Library of America, 1998, 356. 45 Ibid., 357.

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into language”. There’s that word “intensity” again, and Stein always coupled intensity with the notion of work, as when, in “Picasso”, she characterizes the painter as “one who was always working” whereas “others” were “following” him. And as Wilder further recalls:
Miss Stein once said: “Every masterpiece came into the world with a measure of ugliness in it. That ugliness is the sign of the creator’s struggle to say a new thing in a new way, for an artist can never repeat yesterday’s success. And after every great creator there follows a second man who shows how it can be done easily. Picasso struggled and made this new thing and then Braque came along and showed how it could be done without pain.”46

Struggle, innovation, greatness, genius: like Pound, Stein distinguishes between the inventors and the diluters; like Pound or Williams, Malevich or Mayakovsky, she assumes that the artist’s duty is to Make It New. “Are these ideas right or wrong?” as the narrator asks in Eliot’s “Portrait of a Lady”. The question is irrelevant. For surely the aura of Modernist art is that it was made by poets and painters, novelists and composers, who cared so much, that however questionable their politics, their ideology, their racism and sexism, they were nothing if not humble when it came to their own work. It had to be right, and that meant constant struggle and revision. Lawrence, who rewrote rather than revised most of his novels and short stories, wrote four versions of even as relatively minor a text as his essay on Whitman before he was satisfied with it. The question for us, then, is what happens to the arts when they are no longer considered a Big Deal. If there is no great divide between art and mass culture, between High and Low, if art discourse is just another discourse to be placed alongside some other cultural practice like advertising, if indeed a given poet no longer plans on a Collected Poems but seems content to replace each volume with another newer one so as to produce a string of works that may or may not be valuable in toto (Clark Coolidge is a case in point), how does the audience process that poet’s oeuvre? Do we read Coolidge wholesale? Or select

46

Thornton Wilder, Introduction to Gertrude Stein, Four in America (1934), New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1947, vi-vii.

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one of his thirty or forty small-press books and read it in the context of the jazz musicians who have inspired his work? For Adorno, the production of art in an age of capitalist commodification could only be an act of negative mimesis, a form of resistance. For more recent Left criticism, even such resistance is no longer possible, and hence it is high time to replace an aestheticist “litcrit” with a more useful and disinterested cultural history and theory, with the methodology of anthropology whereby artworks and literary texts can be seen as so many cultural phenomena. But – and this is where those amazon.com reviews and related internet postings become telling – it seems that artworks refuse to go away. The new century is now witnessing, even as it did at the dawn of the twentiethcentury, a renewed sense that art matters. “Poetry”, as Charles Bernstein quips in A Poetics, “should be at least as interesting as, and a whole lot more unexpected than, television”.47 And he questions Jameson’s refusal to discriminate between the many possible responses to the productions of the present:
Failure to make such distinctions is similar to failing to distinguish between youth gangs, pacifist anarchists, weatherpeople, antiSandinista contras, Salvadoran guerillas, Islamic terrorists, or U.S. state terrorists. Perhaps all of these groups are responding to the same stage of multinational capitalism. But the crucial point is that the responses cannot be understood as the same, unified as various interrelated symptoms of late capitalism.48

The reception of art, in other words, must always factor in difference, as must its production. The real interest of Modernist High Art, in this scheme of things, is not that it can be understood as one of many cultural discourses, but that its own discourse is so complex, varied – and intense. Let me conclude with some recent assessments of one of Walter Benjamin’s own favorites, Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, now in the process of being retranslated. There are currently sixty-nine readers’ reviews of Proust’s Recherche on amazon.com, almost all of them euphoric. Here is an assessment posted on 21 January 2004 by a Swiss woman who read the Recherche in French but writes about it in English:
47 48

Charles Bernstein, A Poetics, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992, 3. Ibid., 93.

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Masterpiece of masterpieces! Reviewer: Carol Haemmerli from Switzerland. I had been intrigued by Proust since early age, for one of my favourite books is Gold and Fizdale’s “Misia” and his name crops up all the time in it. I bought the Scott Moncrieff’s English version in Paris over ten years ago and I know that many soi-disant more authoritative versions have come out ever since. Yet, a few years ago I read the version in French as organized by Jean-Yves Tadié – possibly the best known pundit on Proust’s work to date – and I have to say Moncrieff’s translation doesn’t stray that far from the original. “A La Recherche” is to me the most important book in the history of literature. Compellingly philosophical, psychological, soul-searching and esthetic, no details of life go amiss. I am alternately moved, stirred and surprised at Proust’s dexterity in describing the wide range of human emotions and the complexity of human interactions. He talks about art, love, jealousy, nostalgia, ambition, social climbing, politics and you cannot fail to empathise with his prose or finding new moot questions with each new reading of his work. His book is as relevant to life as life itself.

To come to Proust via the duo-pianists Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, whose 1980 biography of the enticing Polish pianist and society figure Misia Sert – a close friend of Diaghilev, Cocteau and other artworld figures – was a charming but fairly ephemeral production, is nicely emblematic of the relation of High and Low in our time. Carol Haemmerli first learns of Proust from Fizdale and Gold, whose affinity to Proust was surely not unrelated to their shared homosexuality, but once she actually reads the Recherche, she comes to find it “the most important book in the history of literature”. Each new reading, Haemmerli suggests, raises new “moot” (unanswerable?) questions. Literature is news that STAYS news. Indeed, it seems that a whole new generation of readers is poised to take on this and other Modernist novels and artworks. Immediately following Haemmerli, the amazon site quotes Bob Riggs from Houston, Texas, writing on 4 December 2003. “I just finished”, writes Riggs. “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever read.” The Modernist “masterpiece” – that term of opprobrium – seems to be reasserting its auratic claims upon us, even as Internet discourse, held, in some quarters, to be responsible for the loss of literary “quality”, is ironically reinforcing its presence.

FROST’S SONNETS, IN AND OUT OF BOUNDS BARRY AHEARN

Forms of constraint appear frequently in the poetry of Robert Frost. The theme certainly has as strong a claim on our attention as his other preoccupations, if only because of its ubiquity. Poem after poem offers striking examples of imprisonment or obstruction, such as the “sort of cage” (68) that once housed the madman in “A Servant to Servants”, the “tumbled wall / With barbed-wire binding” (211) that halts the couple in “Two Look at Two” and the attic door nailed shut that obliges the skeleton to “stand perplexed” (191) in “The Witch of Coös”.1 We also encounter abstract constraints, such as the tendency to let tradition command one’s thinking; the neighbor in “Mending Wall” declines to “go behind his father’s saying” (40) and interrogate the extent of its usefulness. Constraint has a political face, too, as Frost indicates when sketching the dilemma that confronts the retinue of the princess in “The Bearer of Evil Tidings”. Since they could neither complete their mission nor return without mortal danger, they “declared a village”, remaining forever “On one Himalayan shelf” (287). Consider also the despairing comment by the speaker in “A Missive Missile”, who laments that time itself is a barrier that erases meaning from human signs, so that “Two souls may be too widely met” (219). Each soul remains stuck in its age, unable to communicate beyond it. Such examples could be multiplied many times. A study of Frost’s preoccupation with varieties of constraint could fill a book. My intention here, however, is not to pursue such a study, but to discuss Frost’s handling of constraint in terms of the sonnet. The sonnet, after all, requires poets to work within narrow confines. It
1

Unless otherwise indicated, all page references are to Robert Frost, Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays, eds Richard Poirier and Mark Richardson, New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1995.

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naturally lends itself to such topics as constraint, flexibility, freedom and commitment. The first part of this essay takes up the sonnet as a scene of constraint. Here we find Frost – or at least the persona in the sonnets – pushing against the bounds dictated by tradition. The second part then looks at the matter from the opposite angle; here the sonnet becomes associated with the defense against the dangers of excessive freedom or the collapse of vital differences. In short, the form can also be a bulwark. Of course the distinction I have drawn here between two attitudes regarding constraint is a simple one. Frost’s ambivalent attitude, however, cannot be so easily reduced to a facile formula. Many poems reflect both resistance to constraint as well as a recognition of its necessity. The ways in which Frost uses the sonnet to intimate dissatisfaction with constraint are easy to identify. The extravagant gesture of overturning or bursting through restraint marks the first poem, “Into My Own”, in his first book, A Boy’s Will. Imagining he might “steal away” into the forest, the speaker wishes it would stretch without limit “away unto the edge of doom” (15). Yet even if we acknowledge the sincerity and power of the speaker’s desire to thrust beyond the limits of his circumstances, the title of the collection hints that this is an adolescent fantasy. Our respect for the force and energy of the speaker is tempered by our awareness of his youth. A similar push for release from constraint also surfaces in a very late sonnet, “Bursting Rapture”, where the atomic bomb appears as a relief from the complications and confusions of modernity. It becomes a medicine that will free us from these maladies “in one burst” (362). In light of “Bursting Rapture”, the yearning for the absence of limitation until one reaches “the edge of doom” in “Into My Own” takes on a somewhat sinister cast. To put it another way, the adolescent desire to push beyond restraint anticipates the later poem’s intimation that human nature is eternally frustrated, and that such frustration may mistakenly lead us to use any means – even quite suicidal ones – to free us from our difficulties. Readers who are even moderately familiar with Frost will recognize the association of the absence of constraint with death and annihilation. The saving grace of constraint for Frost is its inseparability from form. Even if we frequently cavil and chafe at particular forms, life without form is no life at all. Frost repeatedly associates life and living with formal patterns, whether they are

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patterns of thought, of labor, or of literature. The most elaborated statements of this association are found in two of his essays, “The Figure a Poem Makes” and “Education by Poetry”. In the first, the adventure of grappling with formal pattern is called “the will to pitch into commitments” (786) and “the will braving alien entanglements” (787). In both cases the confrontation with constraining form becomes a test of the poet’s courage. In the second essay, the entanglement with constraining form is a commitment to metaphor. Frost contends, moreover, that such a commitment represents the path to “the profoundest thinking that we have” (719). In short, the reward for dealing courageously and cleverly with a necessary constraint can be the largest conceivable. The fact that Frost wrote many more sonnets than his great contemporaries such as Eliot, Pound and Stevens (I count twenty-nine in the 1949 Collected Poems) testifies to his interest in elaborating his art within and against the confines of the form.2 One fruitful encounter Frost had with the sonnet form is “The Oven Bird” (116). The theme of diminution is obvious. It is late in summer; the Oven Bird comes to the season with a somewhat raucous tune markedly less pleasing than those trilled by the springtime birds. One can read the poem as quite self-consciously displaying itself as a sonnet coming late in the history of the form. The sonnet in the early twentieth century was already centuries old, and many estimable poets had already explored the effects possible within the form. Like the Oven Bird, Frost comes well after the springtime of the sonnet, long after the era of Petrarch, Spenser, Sidney and Shakespeare. Just as the Oven Bird makes itself heard in “mid-summer” well after the rousing chorus of springtime warblers has fallen silent, so Frost is in the difficult position of dealing with a form whose possibilities have been partly exhausted by previous practitioners. According to the poem, the Oven Bird offers a less jaunty and mellifluous song than the previous birds, but its less melodious song is nevertheless appropriate to the season when “leaves are old”. Frost himself could be the late-arriving Oven Bird, grappling with the question of “what to make of a diminished thing”, if we interpret that “thing” as the sonnet form itself.

2

H. A. Maxon, On the Sonnets of Robert Frost: A Critical Examination of the 37 Poems, Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland, 1997, counts 28 sonnets. The sonnet I add to that total is “To the Right Person”.

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By the early twentieth century the sonnet had become diminished in several ways: firstly, many strategies for writing a sonnet had already been executed, which left fewer options for later poets; secondly, the sonnet was less vital in an age when free verse had diverted some of the talent; thirdly, it was literally the case that fewer sonnets were being produced by the major poets. If Frost feels that the sonnet offers reduced opportunities for poets, however, at least in this sonnet he manages to make that reduced opportunity into an occasion for a clever dramatization of his own predicament. When Frost takes up the sonnet, he accepts the challenge posed by constraint. Indeed, coming late in a literary tradition offers Frost the opportunity to add that very fact to the tradition. It could be said that Frost has an advantage over poets who wrote at its dawn. They could not be conscious of the range and profundity of the tradition, as he can and must be. “The Oven Bird” is not the only sonnet in which Frost’s relation to literary history becomes significant. In “The Silken Tent” (302) he appears to be trying to surpass one of those “springtime” singers. It is one of the eight sonnets in the Collected Poems that scrupulously adopts the rhyme scheme of Shakespeare’s sonnets. A close inspection of the poem reveals further similarities, and some crucial differences. Consider first the handling of metaphor. Where Shakespeare tends to advance the sonnet through a series of metaphorical conceits, this poem accomplishes the more difficult feat of sustaining a single metaphor: the woman conceived in terms of a tent. It is worth noting here the stress Frost lays on the delicate art of knowing just how far to pursue a metaphor: “It is touch and go with the metaphor, and until you have lived with it long enough you don’t know when it is going” (723). An inspection of metaphor in a variety of distinguished lyrics shows that sustaining an intricate single metaphor for fourteen lines rarely occurs. It is a devilishly difficult task. It requires considerable finesse to deploy a single metaphor while preventing the subordinate parts of that metaphor from gaining too much attention. Frost’s propulsion of a single metaphor the whole length of the sonnet amounts to a tour de force. A second way in which Frost can be said to compete with Shakespeare is in terms of grammatical structure. “The Silken Tent” not only exists as a single metaphor; it also inhabits a single sentence. The tailoring of a sonnet so that it seems to fit

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effortlessly into a single sentence requires consummate skill. Even Shakespeare never tried it, since none of the 154 sonnets constitutes one sentence. The very choice of the metaphor in “The Silken Tent” also may be deliberate. Every word in “The Silken Tent” would have been known to readers in 1600. Frost foregoes any advantage that might have accrued to him in the three centuries since Shakespeare. To put it briefly, he meets Shakespeare on the same metaphorical and verbal ground. It might be objected that an equally likely candidate for consideration as the poet with whom Frost is competing could be John Donne. In truth, the elaboration of a single metaphor is more often the practice of the Metaphysical Poets. And it is true that the twentiethcentury revival of interest in the Metaphysical Poets (and Donne in particular) predates the composition of “The Silken Tent”. Frost could not have avoided noticing that resurgence of interest. Even so, the case that Shakespeare is the primary rival hinted at in the poem can be further supported by noting another similarity between Shakespearean practice and this poem. Shakespeare’s sonnets usually develop in a tripartite fashion. In many of his sonnets, the elaboration of metaphor occurs in three stages, each one taking up a quatrain. Something similar to this development occurs in the first twelve lines of Frost’s poem. Lines 1-4 establish the first equivalence in the metaphor (she is like a tent); lines 5-8 introduce the tent pole as a second equivalence (it is comparable to “the sureness of the soul”); lines 9-12 posit the tent’s cords as the third equivalence (they are like “ties of love and thought”). One also could find in the emphasis on “bondage” in the second part of the poem another glance at the theme of constraint, particularly constraint by a poetic form. As the “bondage” of ropes restrain the pole – yet keep it pointing heavenward – so the bondage of the sonnet form provides the arena in which Frost can triumph. Although “The Silken Tent” comes relatively late in Frost’s career, there are quite early sonnets where literary history also becomes pertinent. Consider, for example, the rhyme scheme of “Into My Own” (15). Frost uses heroic couplets, the preferred rhyme scheme of British and American poets of the eighteenth century. This happens to be the century least friendly to the sonnet. Pope published none. What does Frost insinuate by opening his first published book and offering a sonnet the likes of which has seldom been seen in literary history? In this case Frost does not seem to be vying with or referring to any

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particular author, but rather using the form as a way of indicating the rebellious mood of the speaker. By yoking the heroic couplet with the sonnet, and thus creating an uncommon artifact, Frost suggests the yearning for the unconventional of the voice in “Into My Own”.Frost valued the unconventional throughout his career. The way he handles rhyme in his sonnets is strong evidence in this regard. He generally avoids either the traditional Petrarchan or Shakespearean rhyme scheme, and also avoids repeating the novel rhyme schemes he himself has invented. Of the twenty-nine sonnets, sixteen are entirely or partially a departure from conventional sonnet rhyming.3 Frost frequently appears to have tried to invent a new rhyme scheme for the sonnet each time he undertook one. Frost avoids being bound by precedent, even his own. Each sonnet is taken – at least potentially – as an opportunity to refashion the ladder of rhyme. If we glance back at “The Oven Bird”, we note that its rhyme scheme mixes unconventionally placed heroic couplets (lines 1 and 2, lines 9 and 10) with a conventionally placed terminal heroic couplet (lines 13 and 14). We now come to the second part of the essay, where we consider the ways in which Frost adopts the sonnet to help defend himself against or inhibit an illusory freedom, and suggests that what many people call “freedom” is simply a relaxation or abolition of salutary restraints. Frost pokes fun at such an attitude in “Education by Poetry”, where he argues that immorality makes inroads by “using all the good words that virtue has invented to maintain virtue” (722). One flounders into the slough of sin by accepting the argument that in the name of “honesty” and “joy” and “health” one should ignore long-standing moral codes. In short, many people like to assume they will be happy if they can only break through certain traditional moral constraints. Frost will have none of this. He consistently associates collapse and confusion with resistance to form (whether ethical or literary), and associates genuine achievement with acceptance and commitment to form. Positive results come only from an amiable contention that arises between a desire for free play and acceptance of a scrupulously defined field of action. However cramped the field may seem, it is usually sufficiently ample. Frost makes the point early and often. In “Mowing” (26), for example, we are told that the tangible effort of
3

Of the other thirteen sonnets, two are Petrarchan, three are in heroic couplets, and eight are Shakespearean.

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actual labor, rather than “easy gold at the hand of fay or elf” produces human felicity. In “The Aim Was Song” (207) the aimless efforts of the wind are finally realized when it is momentarily confined in the human respiratory system. Only then does it become “The wind the wind had meant to be”. Frost explores the consequence of spilling over and out of our proper field of activity in what might be called a bloated sonnet, “For Once, Then, Something” (208). Strictly speaking, “For Once, Then, Something” should not be classified as a sonnet. It has one extra line, and each line consists of eleven syllables. According to the textbooks, it cannot be called a sonnet. But Frost once wrote that “The chief reason for going to school is to get the impression fixed for life that there is a book side to everything” (806). Schooling seems to represent to Frost a necessary social function; it instills a general respect for fundamental accuracy and conventional standards. Frost, however, was adept at exploring the other side, the side apart from books, and seeing how it impinged upon conventional rules. “For Once, Then, Something” invites us to consider what occurs when a traditional and conventional form – the sonnet – succumbs to the pressure to be original and daring. Frost’s inflation of the sonnet is consistent with the theme of the poem: crossing beyond one’s accustomed bounds. This theme appears frequently in Frost’s poetry, but here it is tightly linked to formal constraints. Frost has accepted the challenge of the critics mentioned in the poem, those who allege he never sees “deeper down in the well”. His attempt to see more is exemplified in the distended dimensions of this sonnet. Seeing more is formally expressed by adding more syllables and one more line. The speaker notes that these unnamed critics, these “others”, have taunted him for his alleged inability to see beneath the “shining surface picture”, where he habitually sees “Me myself”. Knowing what we do about Frost’s literary career, one can interpret these others as critics of his poetry who found fault with Frost’s tendency to be autobiographical and regional. Who was he to call himself a poet in comparison with Eliot or Pound? Their work, stressing impersonality and attention to European tradition, seemed to grapple with grander truths. “For Once, Then, Something” demonstrates in its very form what happens when Frost pushes beyond familiar limits. Not only are the line lengths and the number of lines inflated, the poem also throws off the shackles of

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rhyme. As if to demonstrate Frost’s willingness to deviate from his customary manner, the dominant meter of the poem is not iambic, but trochaic. Finally, the scene of the poem is indebted to a proverb (“truth lies at the bottom of a well”) from classical Greece, rather than New England lore or landscape. The extra line, the fifteenth, represents the payoff for having listened to the admonitions of his critics: “Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.” Here he reaps his reward for pushing beyond his customary bounds. Yet the line is utterly equivocal. Neither Frost nor we know whether his attempt to stretch beyond his limitations resulted in a glimpse of truth or a “pebble of quartz”. The poet has done his best to remove his subjective view from the poem; he minimizes his image in the mirroring water by reducing his peering into the well of truth as much as possible while still being able to see “with chin against a well-curb”. Yet this attempt to minimize the autobiographical element also produces a dubious achievement. The poem tells us that he has “once”, and once only, seen “something white”. Interestingly, the effort to see without the alleged distortion of subjectivity has failed not because of insufficient effort by the poet, but because another distortion intervenes: “Water came to rebuke the too clear water.” The use of “rebuke” strongly implies that nature is so structured that human beings should not and cannot be allowed to see through it to an underlying truth. Furthermore, the last line of the poem also hints that beyond, or below, the structures that both sustain and inhibit humanity may be the inconsequential. Since the earth’s most common mineral is quartz, the possibility that truth is no more than a “pebble of quartz” opens up disquieting vistas. There may be no transcendent realm at all. Perhaps nature conceals from us the absence of the transcendent. Another unsettling possibility arises: that when we press beyond the constraints of the local and the personal, we may find ourselves possessed of truths that are universal, but universal by virtue of their being commonplace and banal. A truth true for all – and stripped of the particularities of time and place – may be merely paltry. The final word of the poem itself is equivocal in its vagueness: “something.” It boasts an air of portentousness but also fails to specify. If we examine Frost’s work for other instances of this word, we find that most of the time it is associated with disappointment. One notable use appears in his essay, “Education by Poetry” (1930):

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I notice another from the same quarter. “In the neighborhood of matter space is something like curved”. Isn’t that a good one? It seems to me that that is simply and utterly charming – to say that space is something like curved in the neighborhood of matter. “Something like.” (720-21)

The charm of the remark lies in Frost’s perception that its speaker fails to realize how woefully lacking in specification it is. We can easily visualize a curved object, whether it be an apple, a bend in the road, or a crescent moon, but what does it mean to conceive of a stretch of empty space as only “something like” curved? The deflation of “For Once, Then, Something”, in concluding that it has found “something” becomes even more apparent when we consider how that word resonates in Frost’s poetry. It appears quite often, but perhaps its most famous use is in “Mending Wall”, where the “something” that “doesn’t love a wall” works to disrupt that human form in the landscape, the wall (39). In this poem the force of disruption is relatively benign, and is perhaps tapped by the speaker to insert a bit of necessary free play and flexibility into his own thought. But this positive slant on “something” is exceptional. Generally the word crops up in Frost’s poetry to indicate a speaker is evasive or unsure, or to suggest a failure of definition. In “A Hundred Collars”, one of Lafe’s first remarks to Doctor Morgan is that he has forgotten “something” important he meant to ask the first learned man he encountered, and later he identifies his job with the Weekly News as being “sort of Something for it at the front” (53). Similarly, in “Maple”, when her employer dimly discerns a connection between Maple’s character and her unusual name, Maple supposes “there must be something / She must have missed herself” (171) in not comprehending why her parents named her so. But neither her employer nor Maple herself can pin down that “something”. Frost also uses “something” to intimate an insidious, threatening force. Consider what happens in “The Bonfire”. As the farmer burns dead brush to clear a field for planting, the flames burst out of his control because “Something or someone watching made that gust”. An unnamable, inhuman and apparently supernatural element interferes with human intent. The flames start to spread and the narrator struggles to contain them, terrified by “the thought of all / The woods and town on fire by me” (126). The narrator then invites the listening child to consider how modern warfare resembles the

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bonfire that can spread so quickly and so destructively from farm to town. “Something” here is linked with a serious violation of constraints, with a human propensity to go out of proper bounds and produce disasters. Frost also uses “something” in “The Housekeeper” to stand for unspoken strains and rifts that characterize domestic discord. Meditating on John and Estelle’s estrangement, the housekeeper remarks that “Something went wrong” (83). In Frost’s poetry, “something” becomes a marker of human limitation. It is variously what we do not know, what we cannot know, what we refuse to admit to ourselves, what we withhold from others, or what we substitute for the unspeakable. One might add, however, that the presence of indefiniteness or disruption of human endeavor could also be considered a caution against inflexibility. Frost suggests that there are limiting laws, but that they allow for a degree of flexibility. The observer in “For Once, Then, Something” was at least allowed a single glimpse beyond his usual boundaries. The “something” that wrests stone out of place in “Mending Wall” seems allied with the narrator’s intent to make his and his neighbor’s intellect more various. The wise course for humans, then, is to acknowledge limits and expand them only to a certain degree. We are free to explore what lies beyond the “book side to everything”, but we cannot simply fling the books aside. Thus it becomes all the more important to consider how Frost handles the sonnet, about which he once observed that it was “the strictest form” in which he had worked.4 “For Once, Then, Something” demonstrates how exceeding the necessary bounds of form results in a quite dubious, murky vision. What happens when Frost returns to the question of form and vision in a sonnet that takes care to stay within traditional bounds? One such sonnet is “Design” (275). Richard Poirier has given a thorough and persuasive reading of the poem,5 but my purpose here is to focus on the last line, “If design govern in a thing so small”, and tease out the implications of that “thing” being the sonnet form itself. Design, the intent to make a particular kind of form, is implicit in every sonnet. Does such intent, however, exist in the natural world? What the
4

Robert Frost and Louis Untermeyer, The Letters of Robert Frost to Louis Untermeyer, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963, 381. 5 Richard Poirier, Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing, New York: Oxford University Press, 1977, 254-59

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presence of the “If” raises is the question of whether a sonnet’s design is the result of human intent alone or whether it partakes of universal laws. The speaker in the poem thinks he perceives a possible design – indeed, a malevolent design – in the conjunction of the white moth, white flower, and white spider. But is the design of a sonnet any different from design in nature? That is, are human beings any different from the rest of nature? The last line, in short, opens up the difficult question of how human intentions relate to nature. Are they intertwined, perhaps even one and the same, or is human intent fundamentally different from the rest of the natural world? This question deeply intrigues Frost. A poem such as “Design” would have been unthinkable before Darwin. Since Darwin’s theory of natural selection removes a designing God from the universe, it raises disquieting questions about the role of humanity in the universe. A Darwinist would allow humanity no more and no less a role than any other organism, ranging from the smallest to the largest, from the least complex to the most sophisticated. For the Darwinist, human designs of all sorts are as much an adaptation to surrounding circumstances as any other species’ adaptations. Human designs are therefore inseparable from the flow of natural developments – which are not the product of consciousness. Darwinism, as Frost well knew, deprives humanity of any special distinction. And consequently it deprives humanity’s productions of any special distinction. Frost, however, wants to maintain humanity’s exceptional status. (His most explicit criticism of the collapse of the distinction between nature and humanity is found in “The White-Tailed Hornet” (253-54), where Frost broods over the disastrous consequences that ensue from seeing “our images / Reflected in the mud and even dust”. We have chosen, he indicates, to make the physical world of mud and dust, rather than the ideal world of “gods and angels”, the measure of humanity.) Frost prefers to believe in an essential, crucial distinction between humankind and the rest of nature, a distinction he wishes to retrieve. But how to do so? In “Education by Poetry”, as we have already seen, Frost claims that metaphor “goes on to the profoundest thinking that we have” (719). Furthermore, Frost argues that in essence human thought itself is metaphorical:
I have wanted in late years to go further and further in making metaphor the whole of thinking. I find someone now and then to agree

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with me that all thinking, except mathematical thinking, is metaphorical, or all thinking except scientific thinking. The mathematical might be difficult for me to bring in, but the scientific is easy enough. (720)

Even if Frost does not make the effort to bring mathematical thinking under the umbrella of the metaphorical, the claim remains that all human thinking but the mathematical is metaphorical. Or, to put it another way, human understanding of reality consists of continually making comparisons. Human consciousness appears to differ from other kinds of consciousness in that it compares structures, one with another. The speaker in “Design” differs from the moth and the spider in that he observes their conjunction and wonders how that conjunction relates to him. The possibility that the moth and the spider are capable of such comparative feats is never even considered. Taken together, Frost’s comments in “Education by Poetry” and “Design” suggest humanity fundamentally differs from the rest of nature, at least in respect to thought. The poem that follows “Design” in the Collected Poems also bears on this issue. The poem is “On a Bird Singing in Its Sleep” (275), a sonnet clearly about natural selection. The poem notes the “peril” that has beset birds over generations and the danger attendant on making one’s self a target by singing. Is the bird’s song, therefore, a flaw that will ensure its demise as a species? The poem seems to offer a different view of natural selection. The bird’s song weaves through “the interstices of things ajar” – a phrase suggestive of the random physical processes endangering well-established species. Yet the song has persisted through uncounted generations “On the long bead chain of repeated birth”. The concept of a chain of descent is more in keeping with a pre-Darwinian view of natural order, one in which species do not vary over time. The image of the bead chain supports such a concept, since the beads in this type of chain are each identical. The image of the bead chain is quite at odds with the Darwinian premise of random changes in the physical world offering advantages to some species but discommoding others. In short, the sonnet can be read as a dissent from Darwin. It presents a universe displaying a degree of solidity and stability incompatible with universal flux. Indeed, the formal regularity of the sonnet can be seen as a reflection of a universal principle of orderliness fully recognized by and within human consciousness.

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Thus a Frost sonnet can be allied with perceptions of coherent order and possibly intentional design. Frost is arguably a Platonist, at least in his sonnets.6 He stakes all on coherence in the universe. He cannot say with certainty that this coherence is a divine manifestation (although its divine origin is strongly implied), but he can say with certainty that humans, by virtue of the fact that they can compare designs, recognize some degree of coherence. Other living things exemplify and make use of coherence, but they lack the capacity to reflect on it. One strong reason for designating Frost a Platonist is that material manifestations in the universe appear to be suggestive of both form and chaos. And since one cannot find in Nature itself a settled propensity toward one or the other, then one must posit a supernatural realm from whence coherence radiates. (Otherwise, all form is merely accidental and temporary.) One finds the clue to that supernatural realm by perceiving in human consciousness the reflection of that supernatural order. It would be but a short step from this position to a quasi-Kantian notion that God has so structured human consciousness that it alone among natural creation directly reflects divine being. Frost hesitates to echo Coleridge’s assertion in Biographia Literaria that the Imagination reflects God’s creativity, but he often seems on the verge of making such a declaration.7 The ambiguity of nature – and our relation to it – preoccupies other sonnets. Nature can be allied with design and continuity as is the case in “On a Bird Singing in Its Sleep”, but it can be used quite contrarily in a poem such as “Once by the Pacific” (229). Of all Frost’s sonnets,
6

In “A Letter to ‘The Amherst Student’”, Frost figures nature as the “black and utter chaos” (740). He prefers it so, because it becomes the canvas upon which he can – as a human being – “assert” form. The reduction of form to just a small human production, he remarks, is what makes him something other than a Platonist. “If I were a Platonist”, he writes, “I should have to consider it, I suppose, for how much less it is than everything”. Yet Frost here does not address the question of how form can appear at all. If it is merely an accidental production by human beings, then how are we to distinguish it from the supposed forms thrown up by “chaos”? Some form of Platonism seems called for to explain how form can appear and be recognized as such. 7 “The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions, eds James Engell and W. Jackson Bate, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983, 304).

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this is the one that most starkly indicates that nature alone cannot be depended on to reflect coherence. Here nature displays flux, randomness, chaos, and even annihilating tendencies. The poem verges on the apocalyptic in several respects, most pointedly in the reference at the close of the poem to the termination of the material universe, as it anticipates God drawing creation to a close. The poem rather obviously alludes to Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” in lines ten and eleven, thus reminding us of a nineteenth-century anxiety about the loss of coherence brought on by the decline in religious faith. It is worth noting, however, that the rhyme scheme depends on heroic couplets. In terms of literary history, it directs us to the eighteenth century. The implication is that the human element in the universe stands opposed to natural dissolution; eighteenth-century poets could accommodate remarkable images of violence (for example, in Pope’s translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey) while at the same time containing it within the equanimity, poise and balanced order of the heroic couplet. The last two lines of the poem, however, are eleven syllables long. This departure from the established pattern of ten-syllable lines may be an acknowledgment of the pressure exerted by threatening nature. Even as the poem’s rhyme scheme and meter contain nature, it also must respond to natural flux. Once again, we are cautioned that we must be flexible within the zone of constraint. The association of nature with disorder occurs in other sonnets, such as “Putting in the Seed” (120). The poem permits natural disruption and overflow in the face of human constraints because here natural force aims not to destroy, but to produce. The poem recognizes that this central aspect of nature – one that frequently rebels against the controlling formulae that human custom or law may attempt to impose upon it – is also an important, decisive part of human nature. Furthermore, the human relation to nature becomes more intimate and complex than it was in “Once by the Pacific”. The poem sketches a problematic relationship between nature and humanity, in which nature displays disorderly tendencies while humanity represents order – but with interesting exceptions. The poem suggests that the human is associated with planning and orderliness, since the speaker is about to venture into his field to plant seeds. In addition to the concern this shows for the future harvest, he is also anxious about the more immediate future: what may happen later in the day. He addresses his

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wife, who, obedient to a traditional, orderly division of labor, stays indoors to manage such domestic arrangements as the supper anticipated in the second line. The speaker cautions his wife that he may be seduced by a nature that calls us away from our human arrangements; and worries that he, and then his wife, may become too much of a “Slave to a springtime passion for the earth”. Nature’s order is characterized as different from, and certainly looser than, human arrangements. The speaker seems to be so keenly aware of the human need for order, that this pressure for order is reflected in the vocabulary of the poem. This vocabulary metaphorically turns the natural landscape into a human scene. It domesticates nature, in such images as “the soil tarnishes with weed”. “Tarnishes” is more appropriate to the family silverware, but this domestic feature now appears in the field. Consider also the depiction of the seedling as a human infant being born. It has an “arched body” and sheds “the earth crumbs”. The imposition of dining table food fragments (the crumbs) on the plant is another instance of the poem trundling domestic vocabulary to the field. The conservative rhyme scheme reflects the speaker’s obsession with order. The first eight lines limit themselves to only two rhymes. Yet the power of nature to disrupt human order also is acknowledged when the octave overflows its bounds. The first half of the poem, a single sentence that stretches into nine lines, leaves the second sentence one line short of being a sestet. The same obligation to be responsive to natural exuberance produced the twin eleven-syllable lines concluding “Once by the Pacific”. Since Frost often recognizes the close correspondence – but not identity – between nature and human nature, it is reasonable to ask what happens when he takes up the issue of the destructive element in human nature. There are four sonnets that discuss this side of humanity: “Range-Finding” (122), “A Soldier” (240), “No Holy Wars for Them” (361) and “Bursting Rapture” (362). Of these, “RangeFinding” is the one that most thoroughly addresses the issue of the relation between nature and human nature in terms of destruction. Even a cursory reading of “Range-Finding” reveals that the poem presents the notion that the human capacity for destruction – for calculated savagery – surpasses nature’s. The vocabulary in the poem’s first three lines deliberately emphasizes the damage done by human warfare, damage both to humans and to natural objects.

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The poem thus offers a common and sentimental view of nature, one that emphasizes nature’s comparatively peaceful propensity. The rest of the poem, however, calls this view into question. Although the poem initially presents nature as peaceably going about its business in the midst of a battle, it then notes that nature’s uninjured creatures are indifferent to the damage inflicted on other natural features. Nature, it turns out, lacks the capacity to be empathic. When the poem at its conclusion shifts its attention solely to the spider and its web, we discern another attempt to bolster the sentimental view of nature in the observation that the “spider ran to greet the fly”. The phrasing evokes nursery rhymes and similarly benevolent attempts to assure children that nature is fundamentally benign, even friendly. But the attempt is so transparent that it fails. Indeed, the intent of the spider, to eat the fly, is evident in the word “greet” itself. So the line illustrates the aggressive and predatory aspect of nature. When we consider the poem’s treatment of humanity, humanity comes off no worse than nature. We are implicitly praised for having qualities absent from nature (such as empathy and pity), but at the same time we are reminded that we are capable of organized brutality in the form of warfare. More important, however, there may also be implicit in the poem an ethical basis for favoring the empathic virtues over the combative ones. Empathic qualities are presumably ones that depend upon an ability to compare another’s plight or situation with one’s own – a metaphorical act. The martial virtues may require only the perception of difference. The poem implies that predatory instincts are ones that ally us with nature, but that empathic abilities (being metaphorical) distinguish us from nature. Yes, humans can at times act like spiders, but we have it within us to exercise compassion, a quality beyond the capabilities of spiders. Taken together, “Design”, “On a Bird Singing in Its Sleep”, “Once by the Pacific”, “Putting in the Seed”, and “Range-Finding” suggest both thematically and formally that even though human beings are part of nature, there remains something over and above the merely natural for which a positivist view of reality cannot account. Frost remains cautious about assigning an origin to that extra quality, since he recognizes the danger of being fixed in a commanding metaphor. He prefers to remain free to slide from one metaphorical stance to another, as the occasion requires.

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When Frost wrote to Louis Untermeyer that the “sonnet was the strictest form which I have behaved in”, he added a caveat: “and that mainly by pretending it wasn’t a sonnet”.8 Frost’s comment captures both the commitment to form he found absolutely necessary as well as his sense of the equally necessary resistance to formal constraints. It was a typical comment from a poet who wanted to maintain boundaries without feeling cramped by them. It is one measure of Frost’s significance as a poet that this simple formula – dramatized frequently in his sonnets – led him to profound questions about our place in nature and our capacity to grasp reality.

8

Frost and Untermeyer, The Letters of Robert Frost to Louis Untermeyer, 381.

POUND AND WILLIAMS: THE LETTERS AS MODERNIST MANIFESTO HÉLÈNE AJI

Two boys went to Harvard. One stayed home afterward, and became an insurance executive. The other went abroad, and became a banker and publisher. Both wrote poetry. Two boys went to Penn. One stayed home afterward and became a physician. The other went abroad, and became Ezra Pound. Stevens: Eliot. Williams: Pound. It is as neat as a laboratory experiment.1

Is it “as neat as a laboratory experiment”? Hugh Kenner’s statement seems at first sight to be a homage to Pound, who according to him became not just someone, a member of the community or a writer of poetry, but himself. Two of the other major Modernists are defined by their activity as poets (Eliot, Stevens); worse, one is altogether excluded from the field of poetry and sent back to the profession he practiced to survive (Williams). None of them had the luck to be able to live on money they had not labored for and Williams was a poet in the same right as Eliot or Stevens. The one who “became Ezra Pound”, if one reads Kenner’s lines, never became a poet, never became a professional, he just persisted in being in a kind of amazing autarchy, that, one could suggest, led him to poetic aphasia and political stridency. More interestingly, the Pound/Williams connection is one that cannot be reduced to this antagonistic view, which outlines the dichotomies long used to define American Modernism: local versus expatriate, impersonal versus personal, social versus individualistic, etc. One or the other quality cannot be assigned to either poet in order
1

Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971, 516.

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to oppose them without betraying the multifaceted quality of their poetic enterprises, the ambivalence of their commitments, and above all the seminal nature of their all-encompassing visions. The letters are the material manifestation of a link between two individuals, and in Pound and Williams’ cases, this correspondence also works on the notional level, as they bear witness to the tensions between two conceptions of poetry, and more specifically and controversially, of American poetry. Strikingly enough, the letters allow us to reassemble the scattered fragments of a poetics that is diversely formulated and exemplified in the poems and in the essays. A stronger sense of coherence emerges from the exchanges and discussions between the two poets and provides a better understanding of their particular brands of Modernism. For fifty years, after their first meeting as students at the University of Pennsylvania, Pound and Williams confronted their opinions, their choices, their achievements, in what turned out to be, for Williams at least, a life-long collaboration and struggle. Their letters mark the turning points of their careers and to this extent constitute a fascinating methodological instrument to define the demands at the origins of their works: in the sense of Engels and Marx, as well as Marinetti, the letters are a manifesto for American poetry. A friendship? Amazingly enough, a complete edition of the letters remains to be produced: the project started by Emily Mitchell Wallace2 numbers more than five hundred items, but it never reached publication. Hugh Witemeyer’s edition of the selected letters3 gives numerous samples of the texts that were exchanged between the two poets from 1907 to Williams’ death in 1963, with a hiatus from 1941 to 1945 due to World War II and Pound’s allegiance to Fascist Italy. None of the letters predating 1907 have been recovered and some were destroyed by Pound’s friends at the end of the war. Others that have been omitted are important, because they trace the debate that took place during Pound’s St Elizabeths years, a debate that raises the issues of
2

Emily Mitchell Wallace, “Lettres d’exilés, la correspondance entre William Carlos Williams et Ezra Pound”, in In’hui (Special Issue: William Carlos Williams), 14 (Winter 1980), 24-61. 3 Pound/Williams: Selected Letters, ed. Hugh Witemeyer, New York: New Directions, 1996.

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failure, regret, and forgiving and which remains central today. However, like the following note, which finds its way into Witemeyer’s selection, they also bring to light Pound’s lasting commitment to his pre-war ideas, especially in the field of politics and economics:
9 Ag OK Dr Pedagogue 2 simple questions 1 What do you think of Gesell? 2 Whomm do you agree with? y Ez4

Pound’s ironical and condescending tone is one to bear in mind when considering the correspondence, as it shows his desire to assert his superiority over Williams, to influence him as he did others, and to wage war, through Williams, on “provincial” America. Pound’s attitude during the war and the undermining of many of his theories by political involvement invert this power relationship, but it also almost annihilates the correspondence: the two friends’ lives diverge and Williams’ legitimate disapproval tinges the fewer letters that are composed in the post-war era. Pound’s anti-Semitism and at times anti-American declarations are omnipresent in the letters (to Williams and to others), demonstrating the centrality of these ideological decisions in the whole of his work. The manifesto appearing in the letters, predominantly aesthetic in the early period, cannot be separated from the ethical stance, which in time comes to rule over all other considerations. Thus Williams to Pound on 30 October 1946:
But you make an ass of yourself for all that – by misjudging the difficulties and successes of others: it was stupid of you to attack the President of the United States as you did – plain stupid …. Nevertheless, right or wrong, government is a major subject for the aging poet, and your work strikes along the path with some effect, if weak since you step outside the means of poetry very often to gain a point. You deal in political symbols instead of actual values, poetry. You talk about things (which you yourself have sufficiently damned
4

Pound to Williams, August 1946 (Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 23).

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in the past) instead of showing things themselves in action. A magnificent opportunity still exists for you if you can ever bring yourself back from your excited state to the calm, which true poetic achievement demands. I doubt that you’ll be astute enough to do it – or indeed that you’ll ever again have the opportunity due to your present position …. I want to rescue you (for myself) because I need you – I being one of the few who would be benefited – but I want you whole, the good in you, not a hunk of bacon fried too crisp.5

This letter shows well the ambivalence presiding over the exchanges between Pound and Williams and it confirms, for both poets, Materer’s observations on the status of the letters as prosaic Doppelgängers for their other modes of discourse.6 The letters are often “ripostes” rather than responses, to take up the title of Pound’s 1912 book of poems dedicated to Williams. The details of this paradoxical friendship have been unfolded in Emily Mitchell Wallace’s account of these “exiles’ letters”, laying emphasis on the spontaneity of their responses to each other’s criticism and provocations. She especially documents the later years and the persistence of the link after Williams’ death, through his wife Floss. In spite of the tensions, or maybe thanks to them, the letters have been kept in the poets’ archives and they provide an outline for the development of modern literature. They do not simply constitute documents to ascertain biographical details or even to reconsider the evolution of the two poets’ works: more generally, they give the reader an outlook on the major aesthetic revolution that took place in the first part of the twentieth century and shaped the evolution of the arts for the decades that followed. Inscribed in the chaotic history of two wars, many crises and mutations, the letters are traces of the existence of two men who, in Pound’s words, were “the two halves of what might have made a fairly decent poet”.7 And indeed, an examination of the Pound/Williams correspondence reveals parallel reflections and echoing decisions that might form the roots of a wider

5 6

Ibid., 241-42. Timothy Materer, “Doppelgänger: Ezra Pound in His Letters”, in Paideuma: A Journal Devoted to Ezra Pound Scholarship, XI/ 2 (Fall 1982), 241-56. 7 Pound to Williams, 11 September 1920 (Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 42).

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comparison between the two poets,8 but my aim here is to stress the status of the letters as a Modernist manifesto, that is, as prescriptive texts allowing for the presentation of common debates, questionings and solutions to the challenges met by art at the turn of the twentieth century. The letters give a condensed formulation of many issues addressed in the poetic and critical work of both poets, they lay emphasis on a number of themes and their inscription in the poetic text, but at the same time they explain and explicate the tensions in the poems, diluting them perhaps at the same time as problematizing them. The total strategies at work in the Cantos and in Paterson find themselves unfolded and motivated in terms other than referential compression. Untying the Gordian knot of Modernist strategies, the marginal text of the letters is the theoretical radicalization in agonistic terms of Pound and Williams’ pragmatic poetics. The obvious locus for this poetics in the letters lies in the literary criticism bearing on each other’s works. One observation would be to notice that most of the aesthetic criticism proper is from Pound to Williams, and that Williams’ response is more often a defense than an assertion. This relationship mirrors the personal interaction that developed in the Penn years, when Pound clearly devoted all his energies to the humanities, whereas Williams uncomfortably pursued the double career of a young poet and a student of medicine. Pound’s criticism is at times laudatory and focused on the major issues of the Modernist revolution: about Williams’ “La Flor”, he stresses his criteria in terms of the mot juste and a natural syntax.9 The complexity of the exchange increases when it takes place simultaneously in the letters and in the public field of reviews. Pound’s essay “Dr. Williams’ Position”10 in The Dial of November 1928 triggers Williams’ gratitude, but also his recognition for the literary position defined by his friend: “I like your writing in what you have said of me as well as anything I have seen of yours in prose.”11 In the end, Williams’ appraisal of Pound’s achievement is more often than not positive and respectful, the proof of an esteem which lays the ground
8

See Hélène Aji, Ezra Pound et William Carlos Williams: pour une poétique américaine, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2001. 9 19 December 1913 (Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 23). 10 Ezra Pound, Literary Essays, ed. T. S. Eliot, London: Faber and Faber, 1954, 38998. 11 6 November 1928 (Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 95).

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for their collaboration: “You are a reader, a man who has looked into almost every book that exists, while I at best have been a very imperfect reader.”12 This distinction made by Williams between himself as “an imperfect reader” and Pound as this ideal reader is one that actually mirrors the imbalances in their relationship and paradoxically seems to support Pound’s ascendancy. Although this is a state of affairs against which Williams would often rebel, it is also a situation that he tacitly recognizes, leading to a number of ambivalent statements in the letters. Whatever readings are to be found, they are mainly Poundian readings of Williams; and the pattern is one of advice or compassion being sought by Williams. The tension between his activities as an overworked doctor and the demands of his poetry lead Williams to both envy and criticize Pound’s mode of living and writing. In Williams’ letters, the contingencies of daily living interrupt the flow of thinking and writing, even as he states the intrinsic relationship he wants to establish between poetry and the quotidian. Up to a certain point, such moments as the one that follows are part of an ars poetica, as they show the relevance of and perform Williams’ poetics, for Pound to assess and understand – if he can:
Returning to the writing of verse, which is the only thing that concerns us after all: certainly there is nothing for it but to go on with a complex quantitative music and to further accuracy of image (notes in a scale) and – the rest (undefined save in individual poems) – a music which can only have authority as we – 13

Willingly then, Williams lends himself to his friend’s criticism, putting himself on the receiving end of encouragement (even if its proleptic nature turns it into a rejection of his present work) as well as pitiless comments (on his admittedly very conservative and rather naive first poems); thus, Pound to Williams, in a letter of 21 May 1909:
Is there anything I know about your book that you don’t know? Individual, original it is not. Great art it is not. Poetic it is – but there are innumerable poetic volumes poured out here in Gomorah ….
12

12 April 1954, in The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams, ed. John C. Thirlwall, New York: New Directions, 1957, 324. 13 Williams to Pound, 14 June 1932 (Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 119).

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And remember a man’s real work is what he is going to do, not what is behind him. Avanti e coraggio!14

The encouragement comes as a post-script, like an afterthought, a token gesture of benevolence to reinforce the demand for love of the farewell: “me ama” (‘love me’) is Pound’s basic claim, again selforiented, desiring to be admired and cherished but apparently reluctant to let his friend stake his domain in Modernist poetics. It is perhaps this authoritarian, somewhat condescending stance of Pound’s that triggers Williams’ rebellion and is at the root of his developing a specific form of Modernist poetry, removed from the Poundian strategies as well as precluding any possible return to pre-Modernist conventions. Contrary to Eliot, to come back to Kenner’s comparison, Williams does not leave it to Pound to shape his style and turn his poems into a Williamsian version of The Waste Land, nor does he turn back to more classical forms and themes as soon as Pound’s aura has faded; by constantly rebelling and doing so poetically, Williams contradicts Pound where Pound becomes more idiosyncratic and less innovative. As Pound’s Cantos seem to sink into aphasia,15 Williams’ reproof about his desire to maintain his influence is doubled by the stylistic choice of the colloquial and by the formal choice of phonetic spelling: “Dear Ez: Ain’t it enuf that you so deeply influenced my formative years without wanting to influence also my later ones?”16 “Ain’t it enuf” is a reminder of Pound’s past battle for a natural language and of the discrepancy between this past poetics and the work in the making in the later Cantos: Williams’ claim for a late coming of age is also a way of situating himself in the line of their former manifesto, when Pound’s innovations in spelling were still new and still legible, still the source of influence, not yet the vehicle for dogmatic statements. In the end, beyond the poetic, what triggers Williams’ insurrection against “il miglior fabbro” (Eliot’s dedication of The Waste Land to Pound) is his perception of the risk that this best worker would take if he lost sight of his artistic duties and discarded his former attachment to aesthetics in favor of politics.

14 15

Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 14-15. See Jean-Michel Rabaté, Language, Sexuality and Ideology in Ezra Pound’s Cantos, London: Macmillan, 1986. 16 The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams, ed. Thirlwall, 324.

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Not seeing the balance to be sought between commitment to art and commitment to the world, Pound’s authority has turned into authoritarianism: from the early 1920s on, from Pound’s move to Rapallo in 1924 and his increasing involvement in Fascist politics, Williams begins to resent the certainty with which Pound delivers his opinions, as rules rather than options. What had started as a manifesto in the making has turned into an ideology. Be it in poetics or in politics, Pound acts as if he possessed the sole key to the truth, a maker’s patent, a creator’s power. Williams’ protest underlines this, bringing him back to the real world of plural techniques: “Dear Ezra: ... Rebels to your point of view – Hell, what is the number of your patent?”17 After all, this is only a mild and belated reaction to Pound’s constant reminders, throughout their correspondence, of Williams’ (and all Americans’) provincialism. Rutherford is nothing like London or Paris; but one might wonder about the results of a comparison between the industrial suburbs of New York and the tiny Italian Riviera town of Rapallo or the secluded castle of Brunnenburg. Revolving around the issue of a poetics for America, the debate between leaving to distance oneself from the “provinces” of the USA. (Pound’s option) and staying in “contact” with the matter of the poem in situ (Williams’) underpins the exchanges between the poets. Whereas Pound has given up on America temporarily only, his exile becomes permanent and his poetics less and less fitted to a country of immigrants and equal opportunity than to the agrarian society which the United States might have been at some point but has since drastically evolved away from. The letters outline Williams’ conquest of an avant-garde position worked out from within, whereas they evidence Pound’s increasingly static posture in “Kulchur”. A short history of the correspondence An exceptionally rich source for the understanding of American Modernism, the correspondence between Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams spans the whole of their poetic careers and reflects the major events and mutations of the twentieth century. As such, the letters are historical documents, which allow the critic to think about the position of the poet in the world, his part in the chain of events, the domain of his influence, etc. The industrial rise of the beginning of the century, the development of mass marketing, the outbreak of modern
17

Spring 1926 (ibid., 69).

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wars, the economic cycles of boom and bust, the rise of totalitarian states, the confronting of capitalism and communism are all among the preoccupations that inform the correspondence and the poetry of both men. This is no doubt one of the reasons why Hugh Witemeyer’s chronological organization of the letters18 is extremely useful and relevant: the dates show the coincidence between personal and collective evolution, the necessary dialogue, which since the advent of Modernism has seemed so obvious, between aesthetics and ethics. As Pound points out in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, the poet has now to link the enjoyment of beauty to the institutional conditions of its existence:
Thus, if her colour Came against his gaze, Tempered as if It were through a perfect glaze He made no immediate application Of this to relation of the state To the individual, the month was more temperate Because this beauty had been.19

And as evidenced in Book II of Paterson, the Poundian notion of “usura” is an attractive one, bearing some relevance to the economic situation:
In other words, the Federal Reserve Banks constitute a Legalized National Usury System, whose Customer No. I is our Government, the richest country in the world. Every one of us is paying tribute to the money racketeers on every dollar we earn through hard work.20

The period from 1907 to 1920 covers the formative years of both poets; no letters have been retrieved from their university years, their young rivalry for the love of Hilda Doolittle and Pound’s failure to complete his doctorate in Romance Languages. The letters start as Williams is an intern in a New York hospital and Pound accepts his first job at Wabash College in Indiana. In 1908, after having been dismissed from Wabash, Pound leaves for Venice, where he publishes his first book of poems, A Lume Spento, then for London, where he
18 19

Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 1-5, 47-51, 121-26, 211-15 and 283-86. Ezra Pound, Collected Shorter Poems, London: Faber and Faber, 1984, 207. 20 William Carlos Williams, Paterson, New York: New Directions, 1958, 74.

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moves in the literary circles and enjoys the relative financial freedom his parents provide him with. Meanwhile, Williams also publishes his first poems, those that his friend so much despised, and starts his practice in Rutherford, his hometown. In 1910, they meet again in London, as Williams returns from further studies in Leipzig. This is where Pound has him meet W. B. Yeats and Dorothy Shakespear. This European stay does not seem to have marked Williams so much as Pound’s sojourn in New York in 1910-11 and the conversations that take place in the context of the first rise of the American arts. When Williams sinks stronger roots in Rutherford by marrying Florence Herman and buying the big house at 9 Ridge Road, Pound writes Ripostes (1912), a provocation to his friend. Williams’ response lies in The Tempers, an Imagist book, which Pound had published in 1913. The Great War is the time of an intense cooperation between the two poets, through publications in their respective journals, Pound’s The Egoist, Williams’ Others, or in The Little Review and in Poetry. Their dialogue as editors includes a debate on poetic creation, which prefigures the disagreements of the 1920s and 1930s. The bone of contention seems to be the work of T. S. Eliot, the need for the poet to work to make a living, the necessity to move away from the mournful contemplation of the decay of civilization and the importance of inhabiting the American terrain to bring about a truly American revolution in the arts. Because many of Williams’ letters have been lost, the period sounds like a Poundian monologue, which it most certainly was not. The period between 1921-1932 sees an evolution in the main topic of the letters; the Great War seems to have brought about a new awareness in Pound, which brings him closer to Williams’ original (although vastly neo-Romantic) preoccupations over the part to be played by the poet in the world. Pound insists on the formative nature of a cosmopolitan life, and on the distance provided by exile; Williams opts for the autochthonous voice of a poet who does not make it his task to reassemble the remains of world culture, but to create or compose a culture. Therefore the opposition seems obvious between Williams’ “plan for action”21 involving the integration of the vernacular in the American poem, and Pound’s multicultural and multilingual project of the Cantos. But according to Witemeyer, and
21

Williams, Paterson, 1.

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as is apparent in the correspondence, this contrast is rather superficial, since the 1920s are years in which Williams directs a lot of attention toward the experiments being carried out in Europe, whereas Pound’s desire, if unfulfilled, is to invent the American idiom through the Flaubertian notion of the mot juste. The difference lies in where the poets intend to find this idiom, in the talk of poor folk on Williams’ side, in the dislocation of discourses on Pound’s. If Williams claims to be attached to the development of American letters, this does not prevent him from publishing Spring and All and The Great American Novel with William Bird’s Three Mountains Press in Paris. Nor does it make him deny the importance of his 1924 stay in Paris, where Pound introduced him to James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Ford Madox Ford, William Bird, Peggy Guggenheim, George Antheil, Man Ray, Constantin Brancusi, Jean Cocteau, Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault and Fernand Léger; H. D. is there too. The autobiographical novel in which Williams draws an account of this adventure, A Voyage to Pagany (1928), is dedicated to Pound. Their parallel editing experiments with The Exile and The Dial lead Williams to this statement: “It is a delight to me to feel a possible bond of workmanship being exercised between us today.”22 Moreover, they share the same enthusiasm for young composer George Antheil, whom Pound helps give a concert in Paris in 1926, Williams in New York in 1927. Young poets such as Louis Zukofsky or Charles Reznikoff attract their attention. At the same moment, they start digging into American history, selecting heroes for In the American Grain (Williams) and the “Jefferson and Adams Cantos” (Pound), showing in different manners a similar distrust for American capitalism. In a letter to John Henri Buchi, Pound declares that Williams is “the best prose writer and best poet of America”.23 Nineteen-thirty-three is a turning point for many reasons: with the coming to power of Hitler in Germany and with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as President of the United States, a number of issues become more crucial and more radical. If Williams had previously been able to turn a blind eye to Pound’s enthusiastic allegiance to Italian Fascism, these events make such an attitude untenable. As both poets feel the historical need for a greater
22 23

Williams to Pound, 16 April 1928 (Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 81). Pound to John Henri Buchi, Beinecke Library, Yale University, 27 September 1934 (YCAL MSS43 Series 1, Box 6, Folder 271).

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involvement in social and economic action, as both express in the letters (and in their poetry) their interest in the theories of Social Credit, their consequent political choices in fact threaten their friendship. Whereas Williams is clearly attracted to the Left out of compassion for the very people he is looking after as a doctor, Pound is seduced by the charismatic figure of the Duce. Here the political is also a sign for the poetic and each poet’s vision of his mission: while Williams envisions himself as a man among men, Pound tries to live out the dream of the poet as prophet, both of them unwillingly re-enacting the Romantic project. The disagreement reaches a climax with Williams’ criticism of Pound’s Guide to Kulchur (1939). Even if Williams helps Pound to join the authors’ team at James Laughlin’s New Directions, he constantly tries to warn his friend against his political commitments, going as far as attacking him publicly for his Radio Roma speeches in an essay entitled “Ezra Pound, Lord Ga-Ga!”, drawing a parallel with pro-Nazi propagandist William Joyce, nicknamed “Lord Haw-Haw”. With the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 dragging the US into the war, postal services with Italy are interrupted – something which according to Witemeyer24 probably prevented a formal break between the two friends. Thus in the first lines of a letter that never reached Pound and was returned to the sender, Williams writes:
Nov. 26, 1941 Dear Eazy: Your brutal and sufficiently stupid reference to meat lying around on the steppes at this moment is quite an unnecessary flight of fancy, you’ll find far more solidly encased in your own head. I used to think you had a brain, no more. It looks more like round steak every time you try to reveal it.25

The end of World War II, Pound’s arrest in Italy, stay in the Army prison camp at Pisa and incarceration in St Elizabeths Hospital for the criminally insane mark the resumption of the correspondence. Although Williams does not believe in the insanity plea and has ambivalent feelings for his friend, he writes him long sympathetic
24 25

Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 126. Ibid., 209.

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letters to alleviate his isolation. Pound’s response is laconic at first, but soon he resumes his activities in the relatively comfortable surroundings of the penal hospital. Friends come to visit, poets come for advice (Charles Olson), but far-right extremists also come to honor his lasting political commitment. Witemeyer points out that as Williams does not fail to notice at the time, and in contrast with the apparent despair of the “Pisan Cantos”, Pound has not recanted:
He was also utterly unrepentant. He recanted none of his former views or actions. He believed that he had been right about Mussolini, Roosevelt, and the Jews. Although he probably did not learn of the Holocaust until after the war, he never publicly denounced it. He regarded his broadcasts as legitimate and patriotic exercises of free speech protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.26

Recovering his former energy, Pound again harasses Williams with accusations of provincialism, lack of culture, etc. Williams therefore finds it difficult to keep in touch with his friend and only rarely visits until 1954, when his own health problems prevent him from traveling to Washington D.C. Paradoxically, the four Pound letters one finds integrated in Paterson date back to this period. Although this phase had started with Williams in a superior position, the roles are soon reversed because of Williams’ successive strokes and his political worries during the McCarthy era. In spite of four books of poems, The Desert Music (1954), Journey to Love (1955), Paterson V (1958) and Pictures from Brueghel (1962), which are most certainly far more innovative than Pound’s later cantos (Section: Rock-Drill in 1955 and Thrones in 1959), he does not enjoy the same success as Pound. St Elizabeths has indeed become the “Ezuniversity” Pound had wished for, and many young poets and critics gather around him (Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Hugh Kenner). Others, to Williams’ disappointment, are well-known anti-Semites, Segregationists (John Kasper), or far-right leaders. When Pound is finally discharged, on the condition of leaving the US not to return, the last person he visits is Williams, and a photograph by Richard Avedon materializes the central importance of their friendship, in spite of all conflicts. The rest of the correspondence is very sparse, even though Pictures from Brueghel
26

Ibid., 213-14.

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contains a poem, “To My Friend Ezra Pound”, and Pound’s last anthology, Confucius to Cummings, includes a late poem by Williams. Exiles’ letters Even a cursory reading of the letters allows one to distinguish recurrent themes that are part and parcel of Pound and Williams’ Modernist manifesto. They first of all outline a utilitarian vision of the poet, fully aware of his mission in the world. Neither an anarchistic rebel nor a nihilistic philosopher, the poet is to be an agent for the construction and cohesion of the city – able to turn deconstruction and incoherence into coherent modes of functioning. Both Pound and Williams are seeking a form of wisdom that would create a balance between their involvement with the world and their involvement with the poem, two intrinsically linked areas of activity. The aporetic conclusion of such efforts seems, in our post-modern days, commonplace, but it does not cancel the value of such an impulse to insert art into life. Pound and Williams’ mission, apparent in their discussions of the meaning of poetry and the poet’s duties, relates the formal liberation of poetry from the constraints of fixed meter to a desire to free America from the cultural imperialism of Europe. Their fascination with the heroes of American history corresponds to a revision of tradition in terms of presence and vividness. The difference lies in the fact that for Williams this adventure in the end remains individualistic, if symptomatic of potentially general movements, whereas for Pound, the masses have to bear the imprint of the poet to reach a higher state of awareness and freedom. From this stems their fundamental disagreement over the manners of their poetic revolution: while Williams advocates discrete local action, Pound tries to act upon the masses. So it seems that when Williams sees his mission as the creature’s duty to “be a mirror to this modernity”,27 Pound sees himself as a creator – this gap triggering the constant exchanges and irreconcilable conflicts. Because America is this wild untouched territory to be either inhabited (Williams) or conquered (Pound), the issue of the poet’s position in space becomes central; being close or remote, in or “out of touch”28 is at the same time a geographical preoccupation and a
27

“The Wanderer”, in William Carlos Williams, Collected Earlier Poems, New York: New Directions, 1951, 4. 28 Pound to Williams, 21 May 1909 (Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 15).

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mental one. The exilic work of Pound and Williams is one that also takes into account the alienation of the poet in the industrial world of the twentieth century. Once Pound has chosen agrarian Italy over capitalistic America, the relationship becomes fixed, with Pound truly believing that Williams ought to “leave Rutherford to see a human being now and again”.29 However, the issue for Williams is not to see human beings (his work provides him with this experience), but to overcome the feeling of disconnection that Europe inspires in him:
Europe seems closer since we have been there but – again – it seems infinitely further off: so great has my wish to be there become intensified by the recent trip …. Either I must be a tragic ass, or nothing – or an American – I scarcely know which is the worst.30

The source of his unease, characteristically enough, boils down to being “American” – the paradoxical signifier for a break from European decay and the hope, albeit guilt-fraught, for something new and not “made new”. The contrast between the flamboyant life of the exile and the humble existence of the local is expressed in a 1936 letter to Pound:
You see, I live a very obscure but very complete life in my own petty world, I know its smells and its bouquets. They are not to be ignored.31

and in the Preface to Paterson:
Sniffing the trees, just another dog among a lot of dogs. What else is there? And to do? The rest have run out – after the rabbits.32

In Pound’s mind, the opposition between Europe and America is as radical as the opposition between good and evil, health and disease.
29 30

18 March 1922 (ibid., 53). Williams to Pound, 23 December 1924 (ibid., 69). 31 6 November 1936 (ibid., 184). 32 Williams, Paterson, 3.

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Just as he claims the status of the exile par excellence in the very title of his journal, he sustains the notion that the only way for “real” Americans to avoid contamination is to leave the country for Europe, where civilization can be recovered. These metaphors, analyzed by Casillo in The Genealogy of Demons,33 pervade his letters to Williams and forecast their recurrence in the poetry: “There is a blood poison in America; you can idealize the place (easier now that Europe is so damn shaky) all you like, but you haven’t a drop of the cursed blood in you, and you don’t need to fight the disease day and night; you never have had to.”34 From the blood metaphor comes the idea that America’s disease is genetic and hereditary, something Pound has to fight against in the present to insure an assumed future health. This eugenic and untenable position clashes with Williams’, since the latter tries to transcend rather than suppress the American condition. What is inherited is not inscribed in the body, but an issue of culture and its possible transformations in transmission. His objection to Pound is that time and place do matter, but not as fatal conditions: “You talk like a crow with a cleft palate when you repeat your old gag of heredity, where you come from or where I come from.”35 Over and over again, Williams insists on the need for the American poet to send his message from the land he is claiming. Therefore he contradicts Pound in his advice to Zukofksy; the view of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor is what will help the young poet forge his style as American. This closeness to the land does not however preclude alienation and the feeling of standing apart. If Williams is not an exile, he still acknowledges the fact that his profession separates him, in time and in thought, from the artistic crowd. This alienation is crystallized in the difficulties met in publishing. Contrary to Pound’s accusations, Williams refuses to remain expectant of future success, but his work to promote himself and other artists is simply less showy. The issue of helping each other publish is a constant preoccupation in the letters. Pound tries to lend a space to Williams in The Exile –

33

Robert Casillo, The Genealogy of Demons: Anti-Semitism, Fascism and the Myths of Ezra Pound, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988. 34 11 September 1920 (Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 38). 35 Spring 1926 (ibid., 78).

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Cher Bull: There’s a printer here wants me to supervise a series of booklets, prose (in your case perhaps verse, or whatever form your new stuff is in). Gen. size about 50 pages …. 50 dollars down to author, and another 50 later …. (His name is Willyum Bird).36

– whereas Williams gives him the possibility to expound his ideas and exhibit his poetry in Contact –
Contact can’t pay for verse or anything else. I mentioned to West that you had more or less objectionably asked me if I was doing this (publishing editing Contact) in order to offer you a mouthpiece – I told him I had told you to go to hell. He said he’d be mighty glad to have a canto, that he thought them great.37

What is of course most striking is the way these considerations are hinged on Pound’s fundamental economic theories; because money is scarce for the arts and the poet, the economic system has to be reconsidered and revised. It is also on this that Pound and Williams radically differ, even if Williams is for some time sympathetic to Social Credit. Whereas Pound tries to set up his project “Bel Esprit” to financially support poets, and more specifically Eliot, Williams again formulates his attachment to the poet’s economic independence and worldly work.38 But where Pound assigns his difficulties to the system, Williams proves more tragic and lucid in his assessment of the situation: the hardships indeed are the concrete expression of the serious poetic stakes. Not being able to publish, resorting to letters to voice this powerlessness also paves the way for the formulation of his poetic manifesto in and through this correspondence.
What shall you say about me? That I have a volume of verse which I have been in the process of making for the past ten years, that is the best collection of verse in America today and that I can’t find a publisher – …. This must mean something. No doubt it means that my conception of poetry is not that of my contemporaries, either in the academies or out.39

36 37

Pound to Williams, 1 August 1922 (ibid., 63). 14 June 1932 (ibid., 119). 38 6 November 1928 (ibid., 95). 39 Williams to Pound, 15 March 1933 (ibid., 134).

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Because the correspondence includes a radical consideration of language and its uses, it stands out as an ars poetica, as well as a historical document: it actually constantly transgresses the rules of letter writing with the major aim of multiplying and diversifying the possible means of communication. This gives a new meaning to the notion of the mot juste, as it comes to imply a quest for precision but not for univocal meaning. The very plurality of meanings pertains to the essence of language; and its foregrounding, apparent in the letters, is at the core of the Modernist aesthetics. The play they indulge in on the modes of addressing each other charges the salutation and its variants with meanings otherwise attributed to nouns. On Pound’s side, “Deer Bull” opens a letter full of affection and joy, describing the deer-like lightness and bull-like fertility of the artistic life,40 but “My Dear Old Sawbukk von Grump” prefigures his contempt for America, for Williams’ alienation, and for the failure (“abortions”) of publication in that country.41 On Williams’ side, “deer Editur” signals a letter in which he submits his poems to Pound’s criticism,42 “Dea Rezra” is a light pun announcing a letter full of plans and hope,43 but “Dear Assen Poop” hails his detestation for Pound’s obstinate and foul commitment to neo-Nazi ideology.44 In the same way, typography and the inclusion of small drawings prefigures the ideogrammic method at work in the Cantos, but also underpins the formal experiments led by Williams in terms of visual presentation of the poem. This extends to the choice of writing material: letter paper with or without heading (significantly: a portrait of himself by Gaudier for Pound; a sheet off his prescription pad for Williams), postcards, etc.; to irregular spelling and the manipulation of signifiers; to numerous strategies that allow the poets to push back the limits of language and to turn their text into a performative as well as versatile tool for more than direct reference. This confers special import to the correspondence, which beyond the personal stakes, becomes the field for formal experiment and the very locus for its theorization. In what was to become the major tenet
40 41

19 December 1913 (ibid., 22). 28 January 1919, in The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound (1907-1941), ed. D. D. Paige, London: Faber and Faber, 1950, 145. 42 25 June 1928 (Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 84). 43 6 November 1936 (ibid., 182). 44 21 November 1956 (The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams, ed. Thirlwall, 162).

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of Modernism and a problematic feature of Postmodernism, the text is turned into an unsettling hybrid, where both praxis and theory collapse into one condensed formulation. Refashioning language, the “primary pigment of poetry”, in Pound’s words,45 the poets resort not only to the exterior potentialities of foreign languages, but to the inner riches lying in punning and neologizing. The new words in the new form echo from one letter to the other and from the letters to the poetry, creating conceptual networks that progressively compose a tense Modernist manifesto. By turning each utterance into a speech act of major consequences for the construction of meaning, the poets also foreground the subjectivity in any discourse, the issues of interpretation and the possibilities of orienting this interpretation through formal devices. There is of course a drawback in this method, which is what has caused accusations of opaqueness and hermetism against Modernist poetry: the discourse is affected by ambiguity and more openness is left for interpretation than would have been originally intended. What happens occasionally in the letters is in fact a frequent occurrence in the poetry, a mode of meaning, criticizing and instilling ideas in an almost subliminal way. The letters adumbrate the associative mode that structures both the Cantos and Paterson, but where Williams uses this strategy to underline the quiddity of language, Pound transforms it into a weapon aimed at the literary world, psychoanalysis, the world at large, including Europe, etc.46 The humor in Pound’s puns and neologisms is brutal, and in his caricature of American accents, for instance, he proves less observant than Williams, less attentive to language and its modes than to his personal aims and demonstrative moods. But in a more general way, the correspondence fits the bill of both poets’ demand for an integration of the vernacular into the literary text as a means of freeing the text from the constraints of an aestheticized written mode. In their transliterations, they either favor the British accent to debunk it – “Wot bloody kind of author are you save Amurkun (same
45 46

Ezra Pound, “Vortex”, Blast, 1 (June 1914), 154. See Pound to Williams, 28 January 1919, “All sorts of ‘projects’ artoliteresque in the peaceconferentialbolshevikair” (Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 34); 12 September 1920, “So much for your kawnscious or unkawnscious” (ibid., 4); and 22 November 1922, “Yourup” (The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound (1907-1941), ed. Paige, 229).

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as me)?”47 – or transcribe the American accent to underline its specificities – “And now, me old frien’, lemme tell ya what I done las week”.48 The assault on the supremacy of British English and the desire to found an American tradition lies in fact at the root of the poets’ project and is the main source of American Modernism (probably starting with Emerson and Whitman). The letter, as well as the poem, becomes this delayed speech act, the material trace of an utterance to be revived in reading. In their letters, Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams outline the mission of the American Modernist poet, at the same time as the evolution of poetry, evidencing the written text as the place where the loss of presence and the ambiguities of presentation are to be not merely represented, but enacted.

47 48

Pound to Williams, 10 November 1917 (Selected Letters, ed. Witemeyer, 30). Williams to Pound, 25 June 1928 (ibid., 85).

PAO-HSIEN FANG AND THE NAXI RITES IN EZRA POUND’S CANTOS ZHAOMING QIAN

Lijiang in southwest China has been a favorite tourist attraction ever since its inclusion in the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. Many have attributed this renown to the legacy of the American botanist Joseph Rock (1884-1962). Few are aware of Ezra Pound’s contribution. In Pound’s Cantos there are beautiful passages about Lijiang and its Naxi inhabitants. Carroll F. Terrell and others have correctly identified Rock’s 1939 bilingual narrative, “The Romance of K’a-2mä-1gyu 2mi-gkyi”, his 1948 essay, “The 2Muan-1bpö Ceremony or the Sacrifice to Heaven as Practiced by the Na-hki”, and 1947 book, The Ancient Na-khi Kingdom of Southwest China, as sources of such passages in Cantos 101, 104, 110, 112, and 113. But was Rock the first to introduce Pound to Lijiang and its ethnic culture?1 But was Rock the first to introduce Pound to the culture of the Naxi, an ethnic group in southwest China? Did Pound ever come into contact with a Naxi native? Rock and Pound corresponded in the late 1950s. While most of the letters exchanged between them are lost or buried among uncatalogued Joseph Rock papers in Hawaii and elsewhere, one from Rock to Pound (dated 3 January 1956) has been discovered in the
Ezra and Dorothy Pound’s previously unpublished letters, copyright © 2006 by Mary de Rachewiltz and Omar S. Pound, are printed by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation, agent for the copyright holders. Thanks are due to Pao-hsien Fang for permission to quote from his cards to the Pounds and letters to Peter Goullart. I am grateful to Mary de Rachewiltz, Pao-hsien Fang, the Beinecke Library of Yale University, and the Lilly Library of Indiana University, for providing photocopies and photographs of the letters and cards. My research for this essay was aided by a grant from American Philosophical Society. 1 Carroll F. Terrell, A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993, 674, 713.

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Beinecke Library of Yale University.2 In it Rock refers to a “Na-khi boy” and two of his papers on the Naxi given to Pound through Professor Giovanni Giovannini of the Catholic University of America:
My friend Pao-hsien Fang, a Na-khi boy whose parents I used to know for many years in Likiang, Yunnan, sent me a letter written by Prof. G. Giovannini of the Catholic University of America. In the letter Mr. Giovannini told Fang that he had given you two of my papers on the Na-khi among whom I lived for 27 years.3

Fig. 1: The Fangs to the Pounds, 1957. Courtesy Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University. Courtesy P. H. and Josefine Fang.

Was Pound acquainted with Rock’s Naxi friend? He certainly was. The Beinecke Library keeps two Christmas cards Pao-hsien Fang and
2

Emily Mitchell Wallace, “‘Why Not Spirits?’ – ‘The Universe Is Alive’: Ezra Pound, Joseph Rock, the Na Khi, and Plotinus”, in Ezra Pound and China, ed. Zhaoming Qian, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003, 272. According to Sheila Connor, the Archivist of the Arnold Arboretum Library in Boston, a source of Joseph Rock papers, they keep no catalogued or uncatalogued correspondence between Rock and Pound. 3 I am indebted to Emily Mitchell Wallace, who graciously shared with me her discovery of this letter in the Beinecke Library.

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his wife sent the Pounds in 1957 and 1963, respectively (figure 1). The Lilly Library of Indiana University preserves an additional greeting card from the Fangs to the Pounds, dated 1959. On the back of this 1959 New Year’s Day card Pao-hsien (Paul) Fang acknowledges Pound’s return of several books. Were they Pound’s Naxi sourcebooks? This is unclear, but the note points toward Paohsien Fang’s familiarity with Pound’s interest in the hexagrams from the I Ching (Book of Changes) and with his on-going project on the Naxi for the final cantos:4
Dear Poet, Thank you for these books you sent back and the beautiful binding with your precious signature. Is the design of 八 卦 [hexagrams] in this greeting card appropriate? I wish more cantos from you will resurrect 麗 江 [Lijiang], after the Revolution [of 1911], Republic [of China], People’s Republic [of China], Commune etc. Please let us hear from you! Merry Christmas & Happy New Year Paul Josefine Paula, David, Maria, Anna, Peter, John-Michael Fang

Recently, Pound’s daughter Mary de Rachewiltz in Brunnenburg, Italy, has dug out a fourth greeting card from the Fangs to the Pounds, one of Christmas 1959. On its back Pao-hsien Fang writes:

4

Pound’s interest in the hexagrams from the I Ching (Book of Changes) began perhaps in the mid-1950s when he wrote in Canto 102/749: “50 more years on The Changes”, alluding to Confucius’ “If many years were added to me, I would give fifty to the study of the Book of Changes, and might therefore manage to avoid great mistakes” (all page references to the Cantos are from Ezra Pound, The Cantos, New York: New Directions Press, 1969). In 1962-72, according to Olga Rudge, Pound and Rudge made hexagrams together every day, “usually in the morning, first thing after breakfast” (Pound Papers at the Beinecke Library).

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Zhaoming Qian
We follow your work with gratitude: my beloved country and my beloved village will be immortalized through your pen and your words.
方 寶 寶

Were the Fangs reading Cantos 101 and 104 of the Thrones? In order to answer this question and solve other puzzles, we had to find Paohsien Fang, and through him, Pound’s side of their correspondence. To our delight, we discovered him, a retired professor and scientist, living with his wife Josefine and youngest daughter Teresa at Belmont, Massachusetts. Pao-hsien Fang’s role as a source of Pound’s cantos about the Naxi has long gone unnoticed. Pao-hsien Fang’s name has been missing from all Pound biographies. Part of the problem seems to have been confusion of Pao-hsien Fang with Pound’s best-known Chinese friend, the Harvard scholar Achilles Fang (1910-1995). Indeed, the greeting cards Pao-hsien and Josefine Fang sent the Pounds have up to this moment remained mixed up with the Pound-Achilles Fang materials at the Beinecke Library and the Lilly Library.5 What do we know about Pao-hsien Fang? How did he get to know Pound? Born to a Naxi merchant family in Lijing, Yunnan Province, Pao-hsien Fang 方 寶 賢 (1923-) left home at age fifteen to attend a middle school in the provincial capital Kunming, where he first learned Mandarin Chinese, a language quite different from his mother tongue, Naxi. It would take about eighteen days to walk from Lijiang to Kunming, Pao-hsien Fang told me in a recent interview in his beautiful Belmont home (figure 2). At that time the Kunming-Burma Road that covered most of the trip from Lijiang to Kunming had not yet been finished. While other Naxi villagers would ride horses or mules up and down tremendous mountains, he preferred traveling on foot. In 1949, as a special student, Pao-hsien Fang came to the US and entered Ohio State University in Columbus. After taking a master’s degree at Ohio State the following year, he started to work for a Ph.D. in physics at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.
5

The backs of both the 1957 and the 1963 cards from the Fangs at the Beinecke Library are labeled, in Mary de Rachewiltz’s hand, “Not Achilles Fang”.

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There he met and married Josefine Maria Riss from Austria, who held a Ph.D. from the University of Graz (1948) in Austria and was working for a master’s degree in library science at the Catholic University of America. Among their mutual friends was Catholic University English Professor Giovanni Giovannini, who in 1952 became their firstborn Paula’s godfather. Early in 1953, Professor Giovannini took Pao-hsien Fang to St Elizabeths Hospital in southeast Washington D.C. to meet an American poet incarcerated on charges of treason for making antigovernment broadcasts in fascist Rome. The poet, Giovannini told Pao-hsien Fang, had translated into English Confucian books such as Ta Hio: The Great Learning (1928) and The Analects (1951) and classic Chinese poems by Li Po and others (Cathay, 1915).6 As a family friend and a regular visitor, Giovannini knew how profoundly the poet Ezra Pound and his wife Dorothy were interested in China. By introducing Pao-hsien to the couple, he secretly hoped to open a new window for them, a window to a little-known ethnic Chinese culture.

Figure 2. Qian with the Fangs, 2003. Photo by Teresa Fang

In the next five or more years Pao-hsien and Josefine Fang visited Ezra and Dorothy Pound countless times. More than once or twice they took their oldest daughter Paula and son David with them to the
6

See Pound’s Cathay, 1915, rpt. in Personae: The Shorter Poems, eds Lea Baechler and A. Walton Litz, New York: New Directions, 1970; The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954; Confucius: The Great Digest, The Unwobbling Pivot, The Analects, New York: New Directions, 1951; Ta Hio: The Great Learning of Confucius, Seattle: University of Washington Bookstore, 1928; Ta S’eu/Dai Gaku: Studio Integrale, Rapallo: Scuola Tipografica Orfanotrofio Emiliani, 1942.

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government hospital, whose green lawns, like a public park’s, delighted their young children. On Ezra Pound’s birthdays Josefine would make a special kind of cake she knew the poet was fond of and it was Paula who would carry it to where the Pounds received their visitors. In a letter to the Fangs of 6 January 1959, Dorothy Pound recalled one of these friendly visits: “Paula may remember bringing EP his birthday cake at St. E’s.”7 Those were the years when Pound was trying to bring out a bilingual edition of the Confucian Odes with a Chinese seal text and a sound key.8 With a visitor originally from China, naturally he would talk endlessly about Confucius, Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908), and Fenellosa’s essay on “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry” (edited and published by Pound in 1918 and 1936).9 One day, when Pound began quoting Fenollosa and marveling at the Chinese character in primitive form again, Pao-sien Fang, a man of few words, surprised the eloquent American poet by remarking that his people, the Naxi, had the world’s only surviving pictographs. This was the first time he confided to Pound that he was not a Han Chinese but a Naxi man from Lijiang, Yunnan, on the borders of Tibet. Lijiang was the center of the ancient Naxi kingdom, which flourished from the eighth to the eighteenth centuries. Its beautiful landscape, along with a unique culture, had fascinated the American botanist Joseph Rock, the English novelist James Hilton (author of Lost Horizon), and the Russian journalist Peter Goullart (author of Forgotten Kingdom).10 And it would soon be turned into what Carroll F. Terrell terms an “image of the archetypal holy city”11 and Peter Stoicheff describes as “a symbol of an earthly paradise”12 in Pound’s Thrones (1959):
7 8

See the complete letter from Dorothy Pound to the Fangs below. A trade edition of Pound’s Confucian Odes, The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius, was published by Harvard University Press in 1954. Pound’s manuscript for a projected bilingual edition of the Confucian Odes with a Chinese seal text and a sound key, however, remains unpublished and is held at the Beinecke Library. 9 Ernest Fenollosa, The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, ed. Ezra Pound, San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1936. 10 James Hilton, Lost Horizon, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1933; Peter Goullart, Forgotten Kingdom, London: John Murray, 1955. 11 Carroll F. Terrell, “The Na-khi Documents I: The Landscape of Paradise”, Paideuma, III/1 (Spring 1974), 93. 12 Peter Stoicheff, The Hall of Mirrors: Drafts and Fragments and the End of Ezra Pound’s Cantos, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995, 24.

Pao-hsien Fang and the Naxi Rites in Ezra Pound’s Cantos
at Li Chiang, the snow range, a wide meadow and the 2dto-1mba’s face (exorcist’s) muy simpático by the waters of Stone Drum, the two aces Mint grows at the foot of the Snow Range 13

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and Drafts and Fragment (1969):
By the pomegranate water, in the clear air over Li Chiang The firm voice amid pine wood, many springs are at the foot of Hsiang Shan By the temple pool, Lung Wang’s the clear discourse as Jade stream
Yü4 ho2 14

The “earthly paradise” over Lijiang is real, Pao-hsien Fang testifies. Since 1973 he regularly returns to his hometown Lijiang (meaning “Beautiful River”) once a year. In 2004, at age eighty-one, he made his thirty-second trip. The “Snow Range” remains as majestic and serene as it has ever been; so do “the waters of Stone Drum” and the “Jade stream” ( ); and so does the Hsiang Shan (meaning “Elephant Hill”) standing between the Old Town and the New Town. Pound, however, was less interested in the Naxi landscape than the Naxi heritage, its pictographic writing and religious rites in particular. Pao-hsien Fang is too modest to consider his role as important, but just as Giovannini had expected, his visits to St Elizabeths served to open Pound’s eyes to a China beyond the Chinas of Fenollosa, Legge,

13 14

Canto 101, 746. Canto 112, 804.

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de Mailla,15 and even Achilles Fang, resulting in a new direction in his Late Cantos. Pound was of course eager to see the world’s only surviving pictographs. These eleven-hundred-year-old pictographs are preserved in Naxi Dongba (“2dto-1mba”) scriptures as an aid to the recitation of various religious rites. From that point onward, whenever Pao-hsien Fang showed up at St Elizabeths Hospital, Pound would ask him to draw a few Naxi signs and teach him how to pronounce them. Among the dozen or more Naxi pictographs drawn for Pound, as far as Pao-hsien Fang can remember, are those for the “sun” ( ) and the “moon” ( ). In Canto 112, Pound reproduces two Naxi pictographs, for “fate’s tray” or, as Rock puts it, “a large winnowing tray made of the small bamboo” embodying “a fate, a life”,16 and for the “moon”:
Winnowed in fate’s tray neath luna

17

Although both pictographs occur in Rock’s “The Romance of K’a2 mä-1gyu 2mi-gkyi” and “The 2Muan-1bpö Ceremony”, it is safe to assume that Pound had learned first from Pao-hsien Fang.18 Pound was equally curious about Naxi people’s religious practices. Did the Naxi believe in Confucianism? Or did they believe in Taoism and Buddhism? An answer to this question is given by Peter Goullart in Forgotten Kingdom. Similar to the Han Chinese, according to the Russian journalist, the Naxi people “believe simultaneously and sincerely in Buddhism, Taoism, Ancestral Worship (Confucianism), [and] Animism”.19 Having left home at a young age, Pao-hsien Fang
15

James Legge, The Chinese Classics, 5 vols, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press [1865] 1960; Joseph-Anne-Marie de Moyriac De Mailla, Histoire générale de la Chine, 13 vols, Paris: Pierres, 1777-85. 16 Joseph Rock, “The 2Muan-1bpö Ceremony or the Sacrifice to Heaven as Practiced by the 1Na-2khi”, Monumenta Serica: Journal of Oriental Studies of the Catholic University of Peking, XIII (1948), 67-68. See also Joseph Rock, “The Romance of K’a-2mä-1gyu 2mi-gkyi, A Na-khi Tribal Love Story”, Bulletin de l’Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient, XXXIX (1939), 10. 17 Canto 112, 805. 18 See also Rock’s posthumous work, A 1Na-1Khi-English Encyclopedic Dictionary, Part I, Roma: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1963, 169 and 179, entries for the Naxi pictographs for the “moon” and “night.” 19 Goullart, Forgotten Kingdom, 83-84.

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was, frankly, unable to illuminate his people’s religions. Nonetheless, on his early visits to St Elizabeths (1953-55), he spent no less time chatting with Pound about his people’s singular ceremonies – 2Muan 1 bpö or Sacrifice to Heaven and 2Ndaw 1bpö or Sacrifice to Earth, which his grandparents and parents performed at least twice annually in those years. Referring to 2Muan 1bpö and 2Ndaw 1bpö in a recent letter to me, Pao-hsien Fang explains: “Muau means heaven or sky. Ndaw means earth or land. Bpo means white. In the Naxi language the adjective follows the noun.” Surely, Pound too would appreciate the simplicity with which he elucidates the two Naxi rites. Another topic that would arise in their conversation was Naxi people’s funeral rites. A little later, Pao-hsien Fang would share with Peter Goullart his personal knowledge of his grandfather’s funeral ceremonies. He might well have first shared this knowledge with Pound. He would have told him, as he did Goullart, that a friend of his grandfather’s, a monk, stayed in his parents’ house for two months to prepare his grandfather’s funeral.20 Their conversation would move from one familiar rite to another, from funeral ceremonies for natural deaths to those for suicides, the “wind sway”, or “2Hăr-2la-1llü 3k’ö”, administered to bring peace to the roaming spirits of lovers who had committed suicide to escape arranged marriages. Pound would soon read about 2Muan 1bpö and 2 Ndaw 1bpö in Rock’s “The 2Muan-1bpö” and about 2Hăr-2la-1llü 3k’ö in Rock’s “The Romance”. Through casual conversations, the Lijiangborn physicist had accidentally prepared Pound for Rock’s treatments of these subjects. 2Muan 1bpö found its way first into Canto 98:
Without 2muan 1bpö . . . but I anticipate.21

and then, with 2Ndaw 1bpö, into Canto 112:
If we did not perform 2Ndaw 1bpö
20

Pao-hsien Fang remembers chatting with Pound numerous times about Naxi funeral rites. Fang evidently had a fresh memory of his grandfather’s funeral. In a letter of 10 September 1962, he informed Peter Goullart that Monk Shenlou Hutuktu of the Monastery of the Jade Mountain, who appeared in Goullart’s The Monastery of the Jade Mountain, prepared his grandfather’s funeral: “I remember him [Shenlou Hutuktu] well. He was a good friend of my grandfather. We visited his monastery, and at the death of my grandfather he stayed in our house for two months to help with the preparations for the funeral.” 21 Canto 98, 711.

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nothing is solid without 2Mùan 1bpö no reality22

2

Hăr-2la-1llü 3k’ö surfaces in Canto 110:
Hăr-2la-1llü 3k’ö of the wind sway, The nine fates and the seven, and the black tree was born dumb, The water is blue and not turquoise When the stag drinks at the salt spring and sheep come down with the gentian sprout, can you see with eyes of coral or turquoise or walk with the oak’s root?23
2

For John Peck, Canto 110 with 2Hăr-2la-1llü 3k’ö presents a “suicide night world”.24 For Emily Mitchell Wallace, this canto “focuses not on the manner of death or ways of dying, but on ways of responding to the death of a loved one and to the possibilities of life after death”.25 Whatever the interpretation, Canto 110 reveals a shift in Pound’s Confucianism, a parting from Canto 13, where Kung is quoted as saying “nothing of the ‘life after death’”.26 In 1955, after he earned his Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America, Pao-hsien Fang moved to Philadelphia to take an engineering job at Philco. That fall Joseph Rock returned to the US mainland, the East Coast, from Hawaii (where he was a Research Professor in Oriental Studies at the University of Hawaii) and paid Pao-hsien a visit. Rock had been a friend of Pao-hsien’s parents before Pao-hsien was born. While in Lijiang in the 1920s and 1930s the botanist-explorer had borrowed sums of local silver dollars from the elder Fang, which he had chosen to pay back in the early 1950s by sending checks of American dollars to Pao-hsien at Ohio State and the Catholic University of America. Before departure on his 1955 visit, Rock took from his briefcase two of his monographs on the Naxi –
22 23

Canto 112, 804. Canto 110, 797. 24 John Peck, “Landscape as Ceremony in the Later Cantos: From the Roads of France to Rock’s World”, Agenda, 2 (1971), 50-60. 25 Wallace, “‘Why Not Spirits?’ – ‘The Universe Is Alive’...”, 252. 26 Canto 13, 59.

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“The Romance of K’a-2mä-1gyu 2mi-gkyi” and “The 2Muan-1bpö Ceremony” – and signed them to Pao-hsien. Believing that these rare papers would answer most, if not all, of Pound’s trying queries about Naxi pictographs and religious rites, Pao-hsien Fang sent them to St Elizabeths Hospital through Professor Giovannini. As the opening of Rock’s letter of January 1956 to Pound suggests, later in 1955 Pao-hsien Fang forwarded to Rock a letter by Giovannini, informing him how Pound had gotten these monographs and how much Pound had been impressed by his lifelong commitment to saving the Naxi pictographic language and literature. Pao-hsien must have enclosed a note, encouraging Rock to write back to Pound in incarceration at St Elizabeths Hospital. In any event, it was Paohsien Fang, together with Giovanni Giovannini, that had put Pound in touch with Rock, initiating a correspondence between the two older men in the next few years. In the summer of 1956, Pao-hsien Fang left his job at Philco and returned to Washington D.C. When he resumed his visits to St Elizabeths, Pound would keep him longer for his Naxi lessons. At age seventy Pound had started to learn a new language. One of his regular visitors, David Gordon, remembered seeing on one wall of Pound’s St Elizabeths room Naxi pictographs copied from Rock’s monographs.27 What Gordon did not know is that Pound had a private tutor for his Naxi lessons. During these sessions Pound would pick a word here and a word there from “The Romance of K’a-2mä-1gyu 2mi-gkyi” or “The 2Muan-1bpö Ceremony” and ask Pao-hsien Fang to pronounce them and explain their meanings. Pao-hsien Fang’s copy of “The Romance” bears some of his glosses and corrections for Pound. On page 9, for instance, above the phonetic symbol “1Yu-” is the English word “sheep” in Pao-hsien’s hand. From the Naxi pictograph for “shepherd”, a figure with a sheep’s head , Pound could have guessed what “1Yu-”, in Rock’s 1 “ Yu-boy”, meant. Pao-hsien Fang’s gloss here points to Pound’s insistence on making certain what each part of a Naxi compound word signified. In “The Romance” Rock provides the original pictographic text of the suicide story of K’a-2mä-1gyu 2mi-gkyi and her shepherd lover 2Ndzi-2bö-1yü-2lä-1p’ĕr with translation, transcription, and explanatory notes. Pound’s close attention to that page turns out to have been on one of the romance’s protagonists.
27

Terrell, “The Na-khi Documents I: The Landscape of Paradise”, 94.

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Rock’s phonetic system with hyphens and superscripts is meant to help Western readers pronounce unpronounceable Naxi pictographs. Still, Pound would want to hear the words spoken by a Naxi nativespeaker. By 1948, it is worth noting, Pound had acquired a copy of Mathews’ Chinese-English Dictionary with a phonetic key for each character.28 Using it as a guide, he successfully transcribed the “singing syllables” of the Confucian odes. Yet, whenever the Fangs’ fellow student at the Catholic University, Veronica Huilan Sun came, Pound would implore her to read aloud a few Confucian odes.29 He would, of course, take advantage of Pao-hsien Fang’s knowledge of Naxi. His alertness to Naxi phonetics is evidenced by Pao-hsien’s gloss to the Naxi word for “cuckoo” on page 53 of “The Romance”. In describing the pronunciation of this Naxi word, Rock acknowledges that “The word 3gkye-2bpu is the most difficult to pronounce; it is really 3tgkye or 3tkhye”. In the margin next to this comment is given in Pao-hsien Fang’s hand “eng geek”.30 No doubt, it was at Pound’s urging that Pao-hsien Fang facilitated the “unpronounceable” Naxi word. On that same page, one will notice, Pao-hsien Fang corrects a mistake in Rock’s description of the Naxi pictograph for “three months of spring” . His copy shows that the number “four” in “four horizontal lines” below the moon (meaning “month”) is crossed out and changed to “3”. Going through passages in Rock’s monographs with Pound, Pao-hsien Fang must have facilitated far more unpronounceable words and corrected far more inaccuracies than those that have been recorded. It is a pity that Pao-hsien’s copy of “The 2Muan-1bpö Ceremony” with more of his glosses has not been found. As Pound’s daughter Mary de Rachewiltz testifies, “The 2 Muan-1bpö Ceremony” at Brunnenburg, Italy, is not Pao-hsien Fang’s, but Peter Goullart’s, given to Pound or her husband Boris.31
28

R. H. Mathews, Mathews’ Chinese-English Dictionary, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1944. 29 Humphrey Carpenter, A Serious Character: A Life of Ezra Pound, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988, 797-98. 30 Pao-hsien Fang has some reservations about Rock’s symbols for Naxi sounds. In describing Naxi words, he uses instead a phonetic system established by his uncle Guoyu Fang, a renowned scholar of Naxi language and literature. For that system, see Guoyu Fang, Naxi xiangxing wenzi pu (A Dictionary of Naxi Pictographs), Kunming: Yunnan People’s Press, 1979. 31 In her reply of 22 September 2004, Mary de Rachewiltz writes: “There’s no sign of P. H. Fang in any books here (am I right in remembering a Xmas card to EP with

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The few recorded examples, nonetheless, are sufficient proof that Paohsien Fang was to Pound more than a helpful interpreter of Rock’s monographs on the Naxi. To say that during Pound’s St Elizabeths years he served as an authentic tutor on things about the Naxi is an understatement. The friendship between the Pounds and the Fangs continued to thrive after Pound left St Elizabeths and returned to Italy. In mid1958, upon hearing from Giovannini (or from James Craig La Drière, another of Pound’s academic friends at the Catholic University of America) of Pound’s release from St Elizabeths Hospital, Pao-hsien Fang apparently asked about the two Rock monographs he had loaned to Pound, for on 15 July Pound wrote to Pao-hsien Fang from Boris and Mary de Rachewiltz’s castle at Brunnenburg, Italy to assure him that his copies of “The Romance” and “The 2Muan-1bpö Ceremony” were not lost or given away:
Dear Fang I have found your Mùen Bpo & K’A MA gyu in my luggage. Are you in a hurry or do you merely want to know they are safe. Sorry for confusion. Greetings to G. Giov. & La Dr. & auguri [best wishes] for the most recent edition of the Fang. Cordially E. Pound

Of course, Pao-hsien Fang was not in a haste to get back the two monographs. Nonetheless, before he had a chance to tell Pound in writing that he could keep these papers as long as he wished, Dorothy had already put them in the mail to the US. When the package from Brunnenburg arrived, Pao-hsien Fang opened it to find his copy of “The Romance” newly bound with a hard cover and with a note in red ink by Pound on the front endpaper:
Sorry the binder has omitted
photo of family with several children???) The Muan Bpo [here] has EP’s initials on cover. The various books & articles by J. Rock were given to Boris by Peter Goullart who was in Tibet [Lijiang] with Rock.”

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Rock’s dedication to Fang. Ezra Pound Aug 1958 (figure 3)

Zhaoming Qian

Fig. 3. Pound to Fang, 1958. Courtesy P. H. Fang.

During the years 1955-58 Pound had used “The Romance” so frequently that its signed soft cover had been worn off. Pound thought Rock’s dedication would mean a lot to Pao-hsien Fang. Unexpectedly, however, Pao-hsien Fang valued Pound’s signature far more dearly than the botanist’s. This appreciation is evident in Pao-hsien’s note on the back of his 1959 card to the Pounds: “Thank you for these books you sent back and the beautiful binding with your precious signature.” To this day Pao-hsien Fang holds that Lijiang was brought alive to the outside world not by Rock, as most would think, but by Peter Goullart and Pound. To him Goullart’s and Pound’s Lijiang is far more palpable and joyful than Rock’s. After he had read Forgotten Kingdom (1955), Goullart’s first book about the Naxi, Pao-sien Fang was so thrilled that he promptly wrote to the Russian author to say how grateful he was for an “obvious affection” shown there for his native land. “I cannot say the same about Dr. Rock”, he continued, “not because he is restricted to archaic writings, but because I had one occasion to meet him in the U.S. when his only adjective about Likiang seems to be ‘primitive’.” In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Pound was also corresponding with Peter Goullart. Having learned from his Australian friend Noel Stock that the author of Forgotten Kingdom would travel to Italy, he wrote Goullart on 5 August 1958: “AND (again if Stock is correct in

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your itinerary), we should be delighted to put you up here, probably for more nights than you will be able to spare.” Clearly, Pound had read Forgotten Kingdom with delight, for he had recommended the book to many friends: “We offer you five readers of ‘Forgotten Kingdom’ collected in one locale.” To write the paradise over Lijiang authentically in his final cantos Pound was anxious to take advantage of all accessible sources on the topic. His letter of August 1958 to Goullart confirms that at that point he was collecting more books and papers about the Naxi by Rock. He asked Goullart how he could “get copies of [Rock’s] Na Khi stuff”. “I wd/ be grateful for the information. Have had to send Fang’s copies back to him, and have now only the Muan Bpo”, he explained. Back in January 1956, as his first letter to Pound demonstrates, Rock offered a short list of his publications on the Naxi, which included “2 vols by the Harvard Press, entitled The Ancient Na-khi Kingdom of S. W. China” and “2 vol. on the Naga Cult and related ceremonies”. Nevertheless, it was not until the winter of 1958 that Pound finally acquired Rock’s Naxi materials beyond “The Romance” and “The 2Muan-1bpö Ceremony”. This we have learned from a letter Dorothy Pound wrote to the Fangs on 6 January 1959, a reply to the Fangs’ postcard of a family photograph. The letter opens with reference to de Rachewiltz’s children Walter and Patrizia and their castle at Brunnenburg, followed by Pound’s message:
Dear Famille Fang, We were most interested in the family Fang Photograph. Thank you. Only 2 children here, 11 & 9 years. The boy goes to school in Merano – the girl is still going to the village. Mrs. Fang may know Merano? We are close to the frontier – the mountains are huge – at present snow half way down. The Castello is very ancient, built on Roman foundations – we have, luckily, good wood stoves. Ezra very often reads to us after tea time his own Cantos – and the Odes; but cold weather rather slows him up. He sends messages – that Goullart got to London, & has arranged for publication of another book with Murray that B. de R’s (see enclos.) book is most important. His newest book is from a different papyrus than the old Badge & has excellent illustrations.

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Have you any idea of Rock’s whereabouts? He seems to have disappeared again! You can always get news of us from G. Giovannini, as we are in touch with them. Hoping you are all well, and with our very best wishes for 1959. Paula may remember bringing EP. his birthday cake at St. E’s. most sincerely Dorothy Pound

The book Goullart had arranged for publication in London was The Monastery of Jade Mountain, an account of life in Taoist and Buddhist temples before the founding of the People’s Republic, printed not by John Murray but by Cox and Wyman in 1961. Speaking of Rock’s “newest book”, the most important “B. de R’s”, I think Dorothy had in mind The Ancient Na-khi Kingdom of Southwest China (1947), although by late 1958 that title was no longer new. Eight months later, on 25 August 1959, Pound himself wrote Paohsien from Brunnenburg to announce that he had indeed gotten a set of The Ancient Na-khi Kingdom in two volumes. In that letter he again asked the whereabouts of Rock, signaling his continued pursuit of the botanist’s works on the Naxi:
Dear Mr Fang I have at last got hold of Rock’s “Ancient Kingdom” with its fine photographs. Have you his Vienna address? Can you urge him to contact the Forschungsinstitut in Frankfurt? The widow Frobenius is a friend, and my name useful there. Also can he stop at my daughters Mary de Rachewiltz, Schloss Brunnenburg-Tirolo MERANO Italy, [?] My son in law is doing nicely in Egyptology, and should be useful in contacts in Rome. Not that Rock needs them. BUT the more we correlate the better. Goullart’s book is very lively. You could also ask Rock about Goullart who stayed with him in Li-Chiang Cordially yours E. Pound

The physicist had no more news of Rock to offer Pound. He perhaps never passed the poet’s message to Rock. Before Christmas of that

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year he received his copy of Pound’s Thrones. After he had read the Naxi passages in Canto 101 –
With the sun and moon on her shoulders, the star-discs sewn on her coat at Lichiang32

and 104 –
Na Khi talk made out of wind noise, And North Khi, not to be heard amid sounds of the forest but to fit in with them unperceived by the game33

he remembered once again how Pound had attentively listened to his Naxi stories, making him very proud of his native land. With profound admiration and gratitude, he wrote on a Christmas card he was sending to the Pounds: “We follow your work with gratitude: my beloved country and my beloved village will be immortalized through your pen and your words.” Although Pao-hsien is not a literature man, he is never at a loss to express his high regard for Pound’s Cantos, especially those about the Naxi. Thus in a letter to Peter Goullart of September 1962 he observes: “No doubt you have seen some of his cantos. I am not engaged in the field of literature, but I enjoyed so immensely these moments I visited Mr. Pound and listened to his extolling expressions about our beloved land and people.” Similarly, in a recent letter to me, he re-emphasizes the value of Pound’s imaginative work to the Naxi people: “I appreciate so much the work of Pound with his imagination and his profound thoughts, even with very limited resources. Today the resources have been vastly expanded. Naturally, people in Lijiang would be very interested and very grateful to Pound’s work and your up-to-date scholarship.”34

32 33

Canto 101, 746. Canto 104, 758. 34 In that letter Pao-hsien Fang also offered to introduce me to experts at the Dongba Cultural Research Institute in Lijiang, which has published a 100-volume translation and annotated edition of the Ancient Naxi Dongba Manuscripts. Its first volume on “Heaven-worshipping Rite: Return of the Ancestors” corresponds to Rock’s “The 2 Muan-1bpö Ceremony”.

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Without hearing from the Pounds, Pao-hsien Fang continued to send them Christmas cards for several years. The last of these is signed, simply, “From the Fangs/ Christmas 1963”. Pound never acknowledged Fangs’ greetings. By then he had actually stopped communicating with the outside world. Nonetheless, his dialogue with the Lijiang native was destined to endure. The memorable Naxi passages in the final cantos can be viewed as his responses to Paohsien Fang’s appreciative notes:
By the pomegranate water, in the clear air over Li Chiang The firm voice amid pine wood, many springs are at the foot of Hsiang Shan By the temple pool, Lung Wang’s
the clear discourse as Jade stream Yü4 ho2

Artemisia Arundinaria Winnowed in fate’s tray neath luna

35

35

Canto 112, 804-805.

T. S. ELIOT’S THE WASTE LAND AND THE POETICS OF THE MYTHICAL METHOD VIORICA PATEA

Current critical debate discusses contemporary poetry in terms of the Pound, Stevens or Williams’ era, forgetting T. S. Eliot, the poet who presided over the literary scenario for almost half a century. Eliot’s bookishness, political conservatism and religious leanings, together with the Modernist cultivation of an erudite, culturally charged idiom, have constituted a serious source of critical discontent. For the adepts of Marxist hermeneutics, his work came to represent “a privileged, closed, authoritative and exclusive form of discourse”.1 In the Seventies and Eighties, Modernist high art came under attack, and was perceived as inimical to the democratic ethos. The popular argument against high culture was that it had turned its back on egalitarianism, advocating an art for the initiated few and expressing elitist disdain for the masses’ lack of cultural preparation. Difficult Modernist aesthetics, soon branded as “aristocratic”, were considered foreign, divisive, and difficult. In this context, tradition, culture, order or the spirit of Europe, values that Eliot embraced, became a way of getting around social inequalities and class privilege. To the postmodern sensibility, Eliot had become an example of formal and intellectual closure, having apparently little to contribute to the new experimental and open forms. The new poetic idioms initiated an overt rebellion against Eliotic Modernism. According to prevailing misapprehensions, Eliot would have imposed poetic propriety at the expense of the more intuitive, visionary aspects of imagination. Eliot’s notion of impersonality was
1

Terry Eagleton, Criticism and Ideology, London: Verso, 1985, 145-51. Perhaps the fiercest attack launched on Eliot is Cynthia Ozick’s “T. S. Eliot at 101”, New Yorker, 20 November 1989, 119-54.

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soon misunderstood as a way of repressing the subjective and instinctual dimensions of selfhood. To him emotions and feelings would have been subsidiary to reason, order, authority and form, concepts banned from the postmodern agenda. Eliot’s concept of impersonality has been misinterpreted as a way of fitting the psyche into the Procustean bed of the willful ego. From this vantage point, Eliot ceases to be the champion of a unified sensibility and becomes, ironically, the advocate of a dissociation he so strongly combated. Yet Eliot affirmed time and again the emotional, unconscious roots that lie at the foundation of art, and considered that the recovery of the ability to feel was the guarantee of cultural vitality. In spite of promoting the idea of the poet as a highly conscious craftsman, Eliot showed that poetic creation is in essence a much more irrational, uncontrollable process than the Romantic poets ever ventured to admit in their postulates. As a point of fact, his oeuvre is a confrontation of the rational and the irrational. Much more intensely than his Romantic predecessors, he recognized the workings of the unconscious to which the poet is exposed and which he cannot control.2 Eliot reminds us that the poet is under “the obligation to explore, to find words for the inarticulate, to capture those feelings which people can hardly even feel, because they have no words for them” and to go “beyond the frontiers of ordinary consciousness”. His task consists in “making people comprehend the incomprehensible”.3 The correlate of purifying “the language of the tribe”4 is to enlarge the range of feelings, “to extend the confines of the human consciousness and to report of things unknown, to express the inexpressible”.5 Moreover, Eliot’s sense of tradition allowed for anthropological, historical, psychological and literary realities that include the primitive, archaic and unconscious as integral parts of artistic
2

For Eliot the Romantic definition of poetry as an “‘emotion recollected in tranquility’ is an inexact formula”. In his seminal essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919) he proceeds “for it is neither emotion, nor recollection, nor, without distortion of meaning, tranquility. It is a concentration which does not happen consciously or of deliberation … it is a passive attending upon the event” (Selected Essays, London: Faber and Faber [1951], 1972, 21). 3 T. S. Eliot, “What Dante Means to Me”, in To Criticize the Critic, London: Faber and Faber, 1985, 134. 4 T. S. Eliot, “American Literature and American Language”, in To Criticize the Critic, 54. 5 T. S. Eliot, “Johnson as Critic and Poet”, in On Poetry and Poets, London: Faber and Faber, 1986, 169.

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expression. As early as 1919, he sustained that the poet “should be aware of the stratifications of history that cover savagery”6 and explore the primitive, pre-logical regions out of which myth rose, and which constitute the unconscious foundations of our psyche. His visionary incursions into the past yield a search for anthropological origins. This essay argues that the theoretical premises of the mythical method led to the exploration of worlds of otherness in quest for the spiritual foundations of the modern self. Both Joyce and Eliot resort to mythical and allusive strategies in an attempt to enact psychological conflicts and processes of consciousness. Eliot’s new poetics draws on the comparativist method of anthropology and psychology and shares their universal vocation. This quest for an open form is best illustrated by The Waste Land and is at the same time an attempt to bring forth the common language of Eastern and Western spirituality. Heavily influenced by cubist aesthetics, the mythical method lays the basis of a new poetics that recognizes the cultural “other” at the foundation of the European self. Eliot’s great claim was that art is a transformation of personality. “Escape from personality” implied a creative process in which the personal had to be decreated, exposed to something other than itself and transformed into a new transpersonal reality through the medium of language. Creativity involved a “struggle – which alone constitutes life for a poet – to transmute his personal and private agonies into something rich and strange, something universal and impersonal”.7 Artistic creation was above all an endeavor to go beyond the limits of selfhood. Primitivism, myth and anthropology Eliot conceived artistic creation as a retrieval of the unconscious, irrational, primitive psychic energies that modern man with his rationalistic prejudices has eradicated from his present consciousness. In an early essay, he argued: “primitive art and poetry can even, through the studies and experiments of the artist or poet, revivify the contemporary activities.”8 Like Laforgue and Gourmont, two of his poetic models, Eliot considered that the unconscious is the
6 7

T. S. Eliot, “War-Paint and Feathers”, Athenaeum, 4668 (17 October 1919), 1036. T. S. Eliot, “Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca”, in Selected Essays, 137. 8 Eliot, “War-Paint and Feathers”, 1036.

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fundamental source of aesthetic creation9 and that the function of art lies in liberating man from bondage to his egoistic interests. The French symbolists’ notion of art as primarily a form of artistic selfpurgation and quest for the artist’s true hidden self was to exert a lasting influence on Eliot’s theory of impersonality – for him the transformation of the personal into the impersonal also entailed a mystical process of stripping and purification. For Gourmont real life took place at the level of the unconscious, where emotions responded to the stimuli of new sensations. “Personality”, a term Eliot was to borrow from him later and which he used loosely, was not the genuine self, but a mask of received attitudes one had to get rid of, since it stifled life with its automatic conventions. Gourmont, like Eliot after him, conceived art as a process that brought about the stripping of the stereotype. To be impersonal, presupposed a deliberate effort to break up conventional modes of perception of a contingent, superficial personality, a puttingoff of dead stringencies of an old self so as to prepare the way for a visionary process. Echoing Gourmont, Eliot remarked: “the personality is distilled into the work, it loses its accidents, it becomes … a permanent point of view, a phase in the history of mind.”10 Like Jung, Eliot affirmed the essential link between art, archaic spirituality and the structures of the unconscious. Sensitive to primitivism and mysticism, yet equally conscious of countervailing systems of beliefs, Eliot argued that modern art was made possible by the rediscovery of myths, religious symbols and archaic modes of consciousness that survive in the unconscious structures of the psyche: “the prelogical mentality persists in civilized man, but becomes available only to or through the poet.”11 Given the fact that “our lives are mostly a constant evasion from ourselves”, the essential powers of poetry “may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to

9

For Laforgue and Gourmont’s influence on Eliot, see Jean Michel Rabaté, “Tradition and T. S. Eliot”, in The Cambridge Companion to T. S. Eliot, ed. David A. Moody, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, 216-19, and Grover Smith, The Waste Land, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1983, 9-21. 10 T. S. Eliot, “Humanist, Artist, Scientist”, Athenaeum, 4667 (10 October 1919), 1015. 11 T. S. Eliot, “Conclusion”, in The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, London: Faber and Faber, 1987, 148n.

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which we rarely penetrate”.12 Primitive cultures were an inspirational source for modern art: “some study of primitive man furthers our understanding of civilized man, so it is certain that primitive art and poetry help our understanding of civilized art and poetry.”13 The role of the poet, who is endowed with shaman-like powers, consisted in reawakening the unconscious contents of our mind and in putting them to the service of poetic creation: “The artist … is more primitive, as well as more civilized, than his contemporaries, his experience is deeper than civilization, and he only uses the phenomena of civilization in expressing it.”14 At no point did Eliot emulate these forms of atavism, but instead integrated them into modern consciousness in an effort to breach the rupture of a “dissociated sensibility”. His own poetry deals with those primitive energies – ecstasy and terror – that cannot be approached by pure intellectual means and have been dismissed from the daylight experience of civilized man. Linked to the retrieval of archaic fantasies, mystical participations and primitive energies, modern art implied a retrieval of the invisible roots of our conscious thoughts and the assimilation of “the stratifications of history that cover savagery”.15 In 1923, almost two years after the publication of Joyce’s Ulysses and a year after the publication of The Waste Land, Eliot hailed Joyce as the discoverer of a new artistic technique, “the mythical method”, which held for him “the importance of a scientific discovery”.16 In Ulysses, Joyce used the Homeric argument of the Odyssey as the informing structure of the contemporary adventures of Leopold Bloom during his one-day wanderings through modern Dublin. Eliot defined the mythical method as a “continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity” which implied “a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving shape and significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history”.17 Regardless of what the mythical method might have meant for Joyce
12 13

Ibid., 155. Eliot, “War-Paint and Feathers”, 1036. 14 T. S. Eliot, “Tarr”, The Egoist, V/8 (September 1918), 106. 15 Eliot, “War-Paint and Feathers”, 1036. 16 T. S. Eliot, “Ulysses, Order and Myth”, Dial, LXXV/5 (November 1923), 483; reproduced in Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, ed. Frank Kermode, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, 1975, 177. 17 Ibid., 177.

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in “Ulysses, Order and Myth”, Eliot was indirectly expounding the structural principles that informed his own poem. The new literary method, Eliot emphasized, had been made possible by the new discoveries in “psychology … ethnology, and The Golden Bough”,18 Frazer’s encyclopaedic compendium of classical texts, folklore, comparative religions, immemorial rites and faiths. Unlike Joyce, Eliot did not resort to a specific myth, but to a web of classical and anthropological sources. With its montages of overlapping traditions, The Waste Land shares the anthropological aspiration of setting up correspondences, analogies and equivalences between different cultures belonging to various temporal and cultural perspectives. The poem flows over multitudes of points of view and establishes links between different sets of beliefs that lie at the foundations of “the mind of Europe”, a mind that “abandons nothing en route”,19 conceived as a repository for individual and collective memory. Its atemporal nature is endowed with an almost Jungian blend of mythic time and psychological history. The Waste Land is the poetical illustration of Eliot’s historical sense and what it means to write with “a feeling that the whole of literature from Homer … has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order”.20 Eliot recognized Frazer’s indelible impact on the literary and psychological circles of his generation. Frazer had shaped the contours of the “contemporary mind” and extended its consciousness “into as dark and backward an abysm of time as has yet been explored”. Eliot believed The Golden Bough was “the complimentary [sic] work of Freud” and of greater “permanence”, since it did not present a “theory”, but a “vision” or a “point of view”. More importantly, The Golden Bough brought “its light on the obscurities of the soul from a different angle” and gave evidence of “the agony of spiritual life”.21 Eliot found in anthropology and psychology the fountainhead of a new poetic idiom.22 He challenged scientific claims to explain
18 19

Ibid., 178. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, 16. 20 Ibid., 14. 21 T. S. Eliot, “A Prediction in Regard to Three English Authors”, Vanity Fair, XXI/6 (February 1924), 29, 98. 22 Extensive reading in anthropology and psychology during his Harvard years provided Eliot with material for cross-cultural comparison. His interest in Frazer, anthropology and the theories of sociologists like Durkheim and Lévy-Bruhl as well

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mythico-religious phenomena from sociological, positivist or empirical perspectives. Eliot disapproved of Frazer’s theories, feeling that he reduced archaic religions to a complex of irrational superstitions that could be surpassed only by progress and the certitudes of scientific reason.23 Frazer’s evolutionary framework was for him a mere mystification of religious experience. Yet although he criticized Frazer’s interpretive model, Eliot admired his comparative method. Moreover, in his poetic transpositions, Eliot adopted Frazer’s strategy to find an underlying pattern to the heterogeneous elements of different cultures. The Waste Land shares the common aspiration of sociology and comparative religions, which consists in “interpreting into one language an indefinite variety of languages”.24 Like Frazer’s Golden Bough, Eliot’s poem presents a quest for the continuum of modern consciousness, a search for “that vanished mind of which our mind is a continuation”.25 In its search for origins, The Waste Land looks beyond the founding monuments of Western tradition – Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Dante, Spenser, Shakespeare, Webster, Marvell, Wagner, Baudelaire, Verlaine – into the more remote beginnings of Eastern culture – the Upanishads and Buddhism – and further back into the more primitive past of archaic myths. Its allusive strategies and shifting points of view present a kaleidoscope of inner experiences and dramatic moments of consciousness of a mind that struggles to retrieve a lost legacy. Eliot decried modern man’s loss of a vital relationship with symbols that once formed an active part of his cultural heritage. And in an age in which traditional religious forms no longer expressed the inner mysteries of being, he argued that psychology brought about a scientific re-discovery of ancient truths, reviving those “truths long since known to Christianity, but mostly forgotten and ignored”, and
as the positivistic psychology of Ribot, Janet and Charcot prefigures many of the concerns expressed in The Waste Land. 23 Frazer, like Comte, distinguished three stages in man’s evolution: magic, religion, and science. Religion evolved from the superstitious explanations by which primitive man tried to explain natural phenomena. 24 “Sociology, and Comparative Religions, have a task … unique among sciences: that of interpreting into one language an indefinite variety of languages” (“The Interpretation of Primitive Ritual” [Ms 13. Hayward Bequest, Cambridge], quoted by Manju Jain, T. S. Eliot and American Philosophy: The Harvard Years, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, 127). 25 T. S. Eliot, “London Letter”, Dial, LXXI/4 (October 1921), 453.

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recast them into “a form and a language understandable by modern people to whom the language of Christianity is not only dead but undecipherable”.26 The open-ended quest for consciousness in The Waste Land In Eliot’s work myth is inextricably bound to history and provides the key to the chaotic reality of modernity. The parallel between antiquity and contemporary history allows for a realistic portrayal of modern life, yet it also suggests the existence of a continuous vital, buried life that rises to the surface. Eliot saw in myths the symbolic expressions of psychological patterns that point the way towards spiritual development and release from confining patterns of existence. The process of breakdown and integration of the individual psyche is projected onto the background of a larger quest for cultural values of a ruined civilization struggling to retrieve its spiritual sources.27 Furthermore, the exploration of consciousness presupposes concern with a collective cultural heritage. The Waste Land bears out the archetypal meanings and psychological significations of fertility and vegetation rituals mentioned in Jessie L. Weston’s From Ritual to Romance and Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Their myths and legends, which center around the quest for a source of inner vitality and the need to inquire into the fount of life and regeneration provide, according to Eliot, the plot and symbolism of the poem.28

26

T. S. Eliot, “The Search for Moral Sanction”, The Listener, VII/168 (30 March 1932), 446. 27 Both David A. Moody, Thomas Stearns Eliot: Poet, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980, 79-80 and Ronald Bush, T. S. Eliot: A Study in Character and Style, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984, 69 argue that The Waste Land, while simultaneously advancing a cultural critique, documents a process of breakdown and reintegration that occurs in the individual psyche. Elizabeth Drew in T. S. Eliot: The Design of His Poetry, London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1950 was the first to associate the metaphoric transformations of The Waste Land with Jung’s archetype of individuation and integration of personality (19-51, 87-90). On the similarity between Eliot’s aesthetics and Jungian theories, see also William Skaff, The Philosophy of T. S. Eliot: From Skepticism to Surrealist Poetic 1909-1927, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986, 72-75. 28 See Eliot’s own note to The Waste Land in The Complete Poems and Plays 19091950, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1962, 50. Unless otherwise indicated, all page references are to this edition.

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The central experience of The Waste Land gravitates around the age-old pattern of death and rebirth that lies at the foundation of mythical narratives of wounded gods and their symbolic processes of regeneration. The stories of their destinies, projected onto the seasonal alternations of winter and spring, are metaphorical expressions of psychological processes which involve the death of an old ignorant self, the surrender of its materialistic egocentrism and the emergence of a new, regenerated personality for whom the meaning of life is different from mere getting and spending. The theme of The Waste Land is a quest for a buried self and a buried life. The voices in the “waste land” perceive themselves as the living dead – “we who were living are now dying / With a little patience” (l. 329-30). Apathy is linked to forgetfulness and a paralysis of feeling. The text gravitates around the narrator’s awareness that he is “neither / Living nor dead” (l. 39-40), and a difficult question, “Are you alive, or not?” (l. 126). The poem traces the inner journey into the depths of the personal and cultural past, as if trying to give an answer to the haunting question that resounds insistently in the space of the poem: “Do / You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember / Nothing?” (l. 121-23). The modern characters of The Waste Land are spectral inhabitants of an unreal city in which “the nymphs are departed” (l. 175). Plagued by an indefinite sense of loss and deprivation, they are tortured by the “dry sterile thunder without rain” (l. 342). Their “little life” (l. 7) is composed of a compendium of mechanical gestures devoid of freedom, love or ethical values. Modern men and women act out assigned parts in the play of life and participate in a drama they do not understand. Unconscious of the cause of their suffering and oblivious of their fundamental desires and fears, they drift like pawns on a chessboard, unguided by love and ethical values that could bring them freedom. Automatic, mechanized forms of life impose their constricting norms on the inner reality of selfhood and create a lifeless sensibility. In the world of Albert and Lil, the typist and the young man carbuncular, human relations are dominated by the dynamics of the marketplace or those of a battlefield. Life exhausts itself in the vulgarity of physiological materialism. Love has turned into a power game. Its language is that of commercial transactions and military strategies.

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The people in “the waste land” lead a subterranean existence, illustrated in the symbolic opening of the poem. Their bodies lie buried or drowned, and their regeneration in spring is still uncertain, despite the coming of April, the traditional month of passion and rebirth. Their lethargic spirit animates metaphorically “dull roots” and “dried tubers” (l. 4, 7). Life lies suspended in the apathy of a safe forgetfulness, withdrawn to the minimum expression of mere survival. Like Kafkaesque characters they wait for something they do not know yet vaguely intuit: “thinking of the key, each confirms a prison” (l. 415). The revivifying spring rain brings the intuitive longings of “memory and desire” (37) that disturb the placidity of an inert consciousness, and drives its dormant contents into being. The regenerating energies of nature set up a psychic parallel. The stirrings of spring unearth the personal memories and recollections of literary experiences. Lines from Dante, Wagner, Verlaine, Marvell, Shakespeare resound in the consciousness of the lyric “I”. They bring the poetic narrators in touch with suppressed realms of feeling and make them relive the inner meaning of these fragments that span in non-chronological fashion the course of civilization from its remote origins to the present. Just as the brief vision of the Grail awakens in the quester the urge to retrieve it, so the drama in The Waste Land begins with a personal reminiscence and the desire to regain the brief moment of spiritual and erotic fulfillment lived in the hyacinth garden.29 This experience will be kept alive by Ariel’s and Philomel’s songs, the recurrent and transformative energies of the poem, that repeatedly disturb the lethargy of the present with their promise of metamorphosis and transcendence. The ecstatic vision will be followed by other insistent calls and epiphanic moments. The space of the poem is haunted by a series of questions and injunctions which mark the progressive stages of a mind struggling to escape its own inability to remember, feel and express feeling: “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish?”, “That corpse you planted last year in your garden, / Has it begun to sprout?”, “who is that on the other side of you?” (l. 19-20, 39, 71-71, 366). Their metaphysical, epistemological or existential connotations incite spiritual ventures and quests of inner plenitude.
29

Robert Langbaum, “New Modes of Characterization”, in Eliot in His Time, ed. Walton Litz, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973, 112.

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Hence, the prophetic promise “And I will show you fear in a handful of dust” (l. 30), the Augustinian prayer, the Buddhist sermon and the impersonal admonition to “Hurry up please it’s time”, mobilize psychic energies and prepare the speaker’s ultimate awareness of “Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. / Shantih shantih shantih” (l. 433-34). In the final meditation of the poem, the lyric “I” assimilates the words of prophets and saints and the non-human utterances of thunder-gods, nightingales and spirits of the air, which typify coherent and integral parts of consciousness. Surrounded by symbols they do not quite understand, the inhabitants of the waste land repeat unawares fragments of archaic myths and legends that lie at the foundation of Frazer’s and Weston’s rituals. Their actions and gestures partake of an archetypal penumbra. Unknowingly, they relive mythic scripts, archetypal realities and symbolic deaths. Marie’s banal reminiscence of a childhood scene in which, overcoming her fears, she lets herself slide down a mountain slope and experiences an unexpected moment of ecstatic freedom, prefigures the course of the mystic way in which “the way down is the way up”. Her descent into the winter is an ascent beyond fear towards transcendence, an unconscious parallelism to Dante’s spiritual pilgrimage in which the road to the summit of Paradise passes through the abyss of the Inferno. The personal reminiscence of the love encounter in the hyacinth garden seems a surviving episode of an ancient initiation ritual, whereas the contemporary scenes of lovelessness indicate the desecration of these mysteries. A bath – “The hot water at ten” (l. 135) – takes on connotations of ancient purification rites. Death by water is not a drowning, but a promise of rebirth and metamorphosis, a rite of passage. The game of chess translates into a game of death and life. And casual encounters in the modern city – “Stetson! / You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!” (l. 70) – bring strange recognitions of former lives and awaken the wastelanders’ awareness of their multiple, haunted identities. Even a banal activity like gardening, in which seeds are interchangeable with corpses, turns into an unknowing participation in mystery ceremonies of cyclic religions commemorating the drama of a slain god. The inhabitants of the waste land overcome their insignificant existence to the extent to which they become aware of the spiritual significance of their lives and, as Langbaum remarks, of

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the archetypal structures that imperceptibly inform their daily routines.30 The wastelanders acquire their identity by melting into remote characters and reliving their experiences. They undergo unconscious identifications with literary and legendary figures of the past: those in quest of the Grail, Fisher Kings, tarot card figures, hanged men, buried or drowned gods, or the violated Philomel, whose experiences they re-actualize across time. And awareness of their archetypal identifications breaks the closed circle of the solipsistic personality and delivers it from the opacity of history. The insomniac woman and her silent interlocutor, Albert and Lil, the typist and the young man carbuncular, the modern Thames daughters and “the loitering heirs of city directors” (l. 180) coexist in the same space with Dido and Aeneas, Anthony and Cleopatra, Tristan and Isolde, Ferdinand and Miranda, Hamlet and Ophelia, the idealized pastoral couples of Spenser or the impatient lover of Andrew Marvell. The modern couples reenact old dramas of love or lovelessness, perpetuating the same age-old stories of betrayal, treachery and cruelty. Eliot’s wastelanders are collage portraits in which the lineaments of contemporary men and women draw on those of mythical or literary personages. They are based on a new concept of personality influenced by Bradleyian theories of subjective-objective centers of experience or Jungian presuppositions of a universal substratum that underlies personal consciousness. The lyric narrator is an “I” who accounts for the voices he hears within himself and those he hears in the world and who lives out the many literary quotations of the past. His mind moves beyond the tonalities of a personal inner voice towards the integration of the “other”. The narrative voice is successively and simultaneously identified as Phoenician sailor, Phlebas the Phoenician, the Tarot oneeyed merchant and Mr Eugenides, the ancient and modern seller of currants. He takes on the personality of the Grail quester, the Fisher King, Ferdinand, the Shakespearean Prince, while his voice modulates into that of a modern Londoner, an ancient Greek, a medieval Florentine lost in Dante’s limbo, a Baudelairean ghost, a psalmist, and a modern exile, among many other instantiations. By means of these multiple identifications, the narrative subject recognizes himself in the
30

Ibid., 101.

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other across time: “You! hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, – mon frère!” (l. 76). Eliot renounced the convention of a stable lyric voice and the allsufficiency of a single consciousness in order to create a poetic persona who assumes a plurality of voices, masks, registers, and points of view. He creates a new space in which to record the self’s multiple identities and posturings, and the ongoing dialogue between the various cultural projections of selfhood.31 Eliot’s strategy of impersonality undermines the ego’s effort to impose a single univocal prism onto the flux of reality, transforming the poetic text into a cubist site where complexes of feelings and cultural representations are at play. The first-person narrator of The Waste Land is deprived of a name or a concrete history. It is a composite “I”, a vortex of many registers and voices, whose subjectivity emerges out of literary quotations, historical recollections, scraps of conversation and personal memories. And so is the “other”, the resurrected god, whose existence the wastelanders vaguely intuit, yet fail to recognize. Referred to by the indefiniteness of the personal pronoun, “he who was living is now dead”, or obliquely by a number, “the third who walks always beside you” (48), this transcendent figure is not limited by a concrete system of belief. Eliot avoids specification and carefully eludes an exclusively Christian reading. The “third” is an archetypal deity who blends the image of an archaic god with that of Christ or of a Vedic thunder and rain god.32 Not confined to a specific time period or culture, he appears in the guise of an unknown phantom companion, “that on the other side of you”, the ever present other “who walks always beside you”. By conceiving the poetic persona as an assemblage of many psychic registers, historic and cultural identities, as “zones” or “fields

31

Charles Altieri, “Eliot’s Impact on Twentieth-Century Anglo-American Poetry”, in The Cambridge Companion to T. S. Eliot, ed. Moody, 198-99, convincingly argues that Eliot’s theory of impersonality and the objective correlative enabled him to achieve a more sophisticated dramatization of psychic forces and inner conflicts. 32 As Nageswara Rao observes, the “third” may contain an implied reference to the Vedic rain and thunder god Varuna, the god of righteousness, referred to in the Rig Veda as “the third whenever two plot in silence” (see Nageswara Rao, The Peace Which Passeth Understanding: A Study of the Waste Land, Tirupati: Sri Venkateswara University, 1976, 59).

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of consciousness” – in Kenner’s phrase33 – Eliot illustrates his essentially open, dialogic conception of art and/or selfhood in which “the personal to oneself is fused and completed in the impersonal and the general, not extinguished, but enriched, expanded, developed, and more itself by becoming more something not itself”.34 The quest for a new form and language The Waste Land also presents a quest for a new form. Like Joyce, Eliot defied formal completeness and did away with categories such as plot, narrative sequence, and the notion of a unified character. The new poetics resorts to cubist aesthetics and privileges a complex mode of ever-shifting temporal dislocations, narrative and rhetorical discontinuities and unexplained alternations of past and present, reality and myth. Within the framework of these montages, dramatic action loses its linear progression and ceases to compose mere sequences. The new experimental form rescues reality from the flux of photographic naturalism and re-composes it into a new geometry of interpenetrating, intersubjective elements, a geometry that shapes the non-discursive, non-linear space of interior life and reproduces the simultaneities and synchronicities of consciousness.35 The open structure of the collage endows these fragments with a dynamic character generating new possibilities of meaning. It alone holds them together and preserves the great diversity of their culturally heterogeneous nature without imposing a uniform order. With its poetics of fragmentation, the The Waste Land resembles in Donoghue’s words “the subplot of a lost play”.36 It is a strange poem in many ways. It refers to legends whose central symbols are missing, since there is no lance and no Grail. Action is intermittent, the question is not formulated and the quest remains inconclusive. And the main protagonists, such as the Fisher King and the Grail quester, appear obliquely, as travesties rather than as actual characters. Modern poetry is foremost a poetics of absence and discontinuous syntax, in which words lose their prescribed, predictive relations. As Barthes
33

Hugh Kenner, The Invisible Poet: T. S. Eliot, New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1959, 35-36. 34 T. S. Eliot, “Poetry and Propaganda”, The Bookman, 70 (1930), 599. 35 As Grover Smith remarked, Eliot’s innovation was “to make narrative an introspection” (The Waste Land, 149). See also, Stanley Sultan, Eliot, Joyce, and Company, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987, 181. 36 Denis Donoghue, Words Alone, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000, 117.

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observes in Writing Degree Zero, modern language is “a fragmented space, made of objects solitary and terrible because the links between them are potential”.37 The Waste Land expresses the nostalgia for a unity no longer possible. The poem gravitates around an absent center that survives in memories, lost vestiges, and haunting traumas. It advances through symbols and motifs that are but new instantiations of a lost theme that survives in “broken images” and “withered stumps of time” (38, 40). These vestiges, these “fragments I have shored against my ruins” (50), draw on different sources and lost forms of consciousness. They challenge us with their potential meanings and the need to restore them to a continuous syntax. Eliot’s poetics is primarily a poetics of memory of lost forms, of “conscience and consciousness”.38 Words are signs, symbols, or as he will say in The Four Quartets, “hints and guesses”, reaching out for “what has been lost / And found and lost again and again” (136, 128). Their allusive reverberations open them to something beyond themselves, towards a “unified sensibility” that redeems their discontinuous syntax. The poem exists as an ensemble of fragments, segments, that once introduced remain suspended and inconclusive. Their argument or arguments have no beginning, no middle and no end. They present mere polyphonic variations of interrupted voyages, unfinished sagas and discontinuous adventures. Their allusive strategies, the textual and textural suggestiveness, do not advance the narrative thread but establish instead a web of new associations. The poem does not advance by virtue of its dramatic action but by digressions, analogies, allusions, and repetitions.39 Eliot recasts the journey of the soul through the desert of ignorance, sufferance and thirst for worldly aspirations into a new language that borrows the technique of non-figurative visual arts. The Waste Land is a skein of many interweaving paths construed of fragments of history, pagan rituals, medieval legends and romance, biblical journeys and modern expeditions, which melt into the present consciousness of the narrating voice. Action becomes archetypal, transcends the boundaries of a single culture and epoch. The various
37 38

Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero, London: Cape, 1967, 54-55. Donoghue, Words Alone, 128. 39 Michael Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, 201.

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narratives unfold simultaneously in the depths of history, mythical and psychological time, and take on the shape of an internalized quest for consciousness. Eliot tells one story as he tells different stories. The journey to Emmaus, the approach to the Chapel Perilous, the present decay of eastern Europe, the Antarctic expedition, the existential disorientation of the modern dispossessed and the nihilistic doubts that beset the Grail quester, the moment of redemptive grace briefly lived in the hyacinth garden and repeated in the encounter with the third are all sequences of the same story. Narratives exist only as fragments, segments, threads. Their different strands are different phases of a quest that continues in different contexts, time periods and geographical realities. They proceed simultaneously in antiquity and in the modern world, at the frontier between myth and reality. At their points of inflexion, past and present become contiguous and reveal their synchronicity. Eliot’s world is discontinuous and disrupted, yet his fragments are not closed worlds, but dynamic elements that seek their correspondences in other contexts and cultures, opening new perspectives and setting up bridges between isolated points of view. Their proliferation is not a purposeless repetition of isolated fragments of narrations encapsulated each in its specific diversity. These multiple forms do not construe the syntax of a paratactic ontology. Truth is not limited to a definite culture, epoch or civilization. The diverse, heterogeneous nature of these fragments is subsumed by a universal unifying principle. They imply the existence of a common psychological experience that persists in different cultures cutting across time. Eliot did not share the postmodern suspicion towards universality, conceived as a cover-up of power-controlling relations. In his classical view, the universal alone is a safeguard for human integrity and solidarity. As Walter Benjamin asserts, “the plurality of languages implies an original unity”.40 In Eliot’s work the ultimate unity is to be found in the reality of the revealed Word, which affirms the existence of an underlying universal, communal identity. The word for Eliot is not mere “lexis”,41 an arbitrary invention of a solipsistic imagination and individual will, but a transpersonal reality that goes beyond the limited reality of the ego. “DA” and “shanti” transcend the parameters of the
40 41

Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, New York: Schocken, 1969, 82. Donoghue, Words Alone, 130-31.

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individual mind and embody the plenitude of a non-dual, nonobjectified consciousness, in whose unity all distinctions are transcended. The Word is not an expression of fictive constructs of the egotistical sublime, but of value. In its substance, the I-persona recognizes itself in a reality other than itself. The revealed truth leads to “the frontiers of consciousness beyond which words fail, though meanings still exist”,42 where the “I” abandons itself to the mysticism of love and discovers its indissoluble unity with the other. As in Eastern and Western mysticism, the limits of words are vanquished in illumination, in the felt experience of “the heart of light” (38). In The Waste Land the life-giving rain falls metaphorically in the form of the revelation of the Word which Prajapati, the Lord of Creation, discloses to his disciples in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. DA is the essence of the Ultimate Being and the universal law fundamental to existence. The three declensions of the Thunder – “Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.” – are the three incarnations of the Word that dispel the illusion of maya or egocentrism. They are also three forms of giving. The three imperatives are spiritual exercises congenial with the teachings of Buddha and Christianity. The Word is understood as existential observance of ethical principles: selfsurrender to the superior exigencies of love – “The awful daring of a moment’s surrender”; of universal compassion, “the key” which breaks the closed circle of the narrative first person and destroys the walls of its pride; and finally, of self-control and acquiescence – “The boat responded / Gaily” (49) – to the dictates of the spiritual. Eliot’s Word transcends the scope of the Christian Logos and reconciles the tenets of Christianity, Buddhism and Vedanta – with a more modern existentialist discourse. He develops the imperatives of the thunder, “Give, sympathize, control” into an existential philosophy of being in which the Word has to be lived out and actualized in time. Existence with its irrevocable choices is re-examined in the light of these ideals, summed up in the final question: “what have we given?” (49). Eliot resorts to archaic myths and Hindu thought in order to widen the scope of Western Christian culture in an attempt to articulate the language of their common spiritual values. Eliot integrates various countervailing faiths, those centered on the individual’s relationship with the absolute, such as Vedanta and Christianity, with Buddhism
42

T. S. Eliot, “The Music of Poetry”, in On Poetry and Poets, 30.

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which, obviating the existence of a deity, is concerned only with the path of salvation. His comparative methodology does not privilege one system of belief over the other. The Christian story belongs to the same pattern as that of other cyclic religions in which the death and rebirth of a semi-divine being is an eternally recurring myth. The crucifixion is part of an ampler fertility cycle that includes the resurrection of a “planted corpse” in a garden whose “blooming” is threatened by the “sudden frost” (39). Eliot’s notion of the divine cuts across time, faiths and cultural representations. The different appellations of the transcendent – “He”, “the third”, and “that on the other side of you” – are various metaphoric expressions of the spiritual dimension of existence. Eliot’s dying gods corroborate the spiritualist assumptions of existentialism. “He” is the “other” par excellence, man’s hidden spiritual identity in the image of God, understood as mercy, compassion and love as spelled out by the injunctions of the Thunder. The “third” reflects the hidden “hooded” face of the self. Although the metaphysical and transcendent referent is invisible, it is an essential element in the ontological definition of being. It represents the spiritual that cannot be quantified according to the laws of the physical world. In turn, the “hooded” god is bound to “the hooded hoards”, the refugees of the Russian revolution and the modern dispossessed. Unbound by cultural or temporal strictures, the other’s “hooded” unrecognized identity can be apprehended only in fellowship across time and space. The divine, transcendent aspect is inseparable from the human, just as the “I” is inseparable from the “you”. They are united by a relationship of phenomenological continuity, which translates life in terms of giving,43 grace, and love. The “other” is man’s spiritual projection, which does not conform to Cartesian categories nor lend itself to physical, logical-empirical explanations or differences of gender: “When I count, there are only you and I together / … / I do not know whether a man or a woman” (48). The revelation is not a horizontal

43

Eliot’s conception of giving presents similarities to the theories of Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be?, New York: Continuum, 1996 and to the more recent issues raised by Jean-Luc Marion in Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Giveness, trans. Jeffrey L. Kosky, Standford: Stanford University Press 2002 and Ian Leask et al. in Givenness and God: Questions of Jean-Luc Marion, New York: Fordham University Press, 2005.

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phenomenon, but a vertical apparition that disarticulates the objectifying structures of human understanding. Upanishadic spirituality is in consonance with the teachings of Buddha and the Christian message of self-denial and renunciation. For both, deliverance from the endless suffering brought about by worldly aspirations and the insatiable cravings of the ego lies in the path of knowledge, self-denial and ascetic discipline. The philosophy of the Masters of Life insists on the importance of abandoning all possessions, including the ego and individual will. In consonance with existential premises, it goes against the postulates of an “age of prudence” and reveals, on the contrary, that material loss and renunciation are spiritual gains. The ethical Hinduism of the Upanishads conceives life as a form of “being”, not of “having”. The “I” is not that which it possesses, nor can it be defined by the gains accumulated over the years. Meaning in life does not depend on external factors mentioned in obituaries “in memories draped by the beneficient spider”, or in legacies consigned “under seals broken by the lean solicitor” (49). To have is not the premise of to be, despite the tangible values celebrated by “an age of prudence”. To live a safe life is to live an inessential one. Human value is not a function of “I am what I have” but of “I am what I give”. Man defeats fate not through the material evidence of his possessions, but through love, which becomes real in the act of giving, in “The awful daring of a moment’s surrender / Which an age of prudence can never retract” (49). Eliot returns to the primitive myths of Frazer and Weston in order to overcome the paralyzing isolation of the European tradition. He also questions modernity’s claims to temporal superiority. By recovering the archaic past and the spirituality of Eastern religions, he defies the evolutionary optimism and rationalist prejudice of Western culture. Eliot counters modern scientific thought, which conceives existence in terms of empiric realities and strips the world of spiritual values and feeling. In his apology for a unified sensibility, Eliot denounced the dominance of scientific rationalism, which no longer conceives life as a moral struggle and replaces the spiritual with abstract intellectualism. His aim was to reinstate the numinous dimension eradicated in our frame of mind by the arrogance of a hypertrophied rationalism. The mythical method was his remedy for a

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dissociated sensibility and for the split between poetical imagination and positive thought. There is little doubt that Eliot’s ideal order and sense of tradition are essentially Western and foremost Christian. Yet in spite of his staunch Europeanism, throughout his life, before and after his AngloCatholic conversion of 1927, he constantly went beyond the confining boundaries of a self-sufficient Euro-centrism. Eliot did not believe in a culture, but in a “constellation of cultures”.44 And his poetic work is an attempt to articulate the universal language of the common spirituality of East and West, Hinduism, Platonism and Christianity. Eliot’s whole oeuvre is a transcultural dialogue with the “other” across time, anchored in the belief that: “the hope of perpetuating the culture of any country lies in communication with others”.45 Eliot stressed the importance of broadening the horizons of selfhood by contact with the unfamiliar and foreign. He argues that we must “make the effort to enter those worlds of poetry in which we are alien”46 in order to find the true identity of our own poetic visions. The encounter with foreign cultures or with the past of one’s own tradition is the threefold path to self-understanding, self-enlargement and self-realization, since “[they] make us more conscious of what we are, and of our own limitations, and give us more understanding of the world in which we now live”.47

44

T. S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977, 132. 45 Eliot, “The Social Function of Poetry”, in On Poetry and Poets, 23. 46 Eliot, “Poetry and Propaganda”, 602. 47 Eliot, “Johnson as Critic and Poet”, 192.

POETRY AS UNGRAMMAR IN E. E. CUMMINGS’ POEMS

ISABELLE ALFANDARY

E. E. Cummings’ grammar, E. E. Cummings’ ungrammar or, speaking plainly, E. E. Cummings’ grammar of deviations is inseparable from his poetry and is one with his style. The essence of poetry is ungrammaticality. Not only does poetic language essentially differ from ordinary language, as stylistics has tended to demonstrate; but the poetic line by definition interrupts the linearity of language. The movement of the line contradicts and thwarts that of the sentence. Interestingly enough, Cummings wrote few prose poems, and even when composing prose poems, he could not help spacing out and splitting words and clauses. Poetry in general can be regarded as an ungrammatical practice of language. E. E. Cummings’ poetry stems from a grammatical intuition and stands as an exploration of poetic difference. Far from disregarding classical prosody, as some critics have argued, E. E. Cummings exploits the potentialities of poetic form and plays on linguistic differences, either maximalizing or minimalizing them – always dramatizing ungrammaticality. My thesis here is that ungrammaticality constitutes a strategy of renewal of American poetry. E. E. Cummings is well-known to the public for his typographical eccentricities, especially after his friend William Carlos Williams first drew attention to his esoteric typography and convincingly related it to his poetic language, immortalizing him as “lower case cummings”.1 Cummings’ diminutive typography, as described by Williams, stands as the objective correlative of his grammar. The fact that his poetic works
1

William Carlos Williams, “lower case cummings”, Harvard Wake, V (Spring 1946), 20-23.

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should sometimes be reduced to such a minor device as the lower case is no misunderstanding and is perfectly consistent with his poetic grammar. T. S. Eliot declared that he liked E. E. Cummings’ poetry except for his typography, which he obviously did not appreciate it at all. The concept of grammar should be made clear. By ungrammaticality, I mean the poet’s idiosyncratic typography as well as syntactic irregularities. Grammar, according to Cummings, means writing in all the meanings of the term: writing in the etymological sense of the graph – the Greek word gramma originally means an engraved letter, a letter and a text – and in the usual sense of the rules of combination of linguistic units. Indeed, letters lie at the heart of Cummings’ grammar, which originates in the lower case “i”. A grammarian poet, E. E. Cummings is a poet of the letter. This definition of grammar, however, does not rely only on a farfetched etymological basis; as E. E. Cummings’ poetry constantly demonstrates, the two dimensions are interrelated. His visual poems, the poems he calls “poempictures”, as well as his syntactic poems result from the same poetic logic. For typography serves and guarantees syntax, serves as syntax’s assistant. By silently redoubling its latent order, it makes it possible for the reader of a written text to distinguish among meaningful linguistic units and utter them intelligibly. What E. E. Cummings does with and to syntax is to manipulate and transform signs and units. Meaning, or what Cummings calls “unmeaning” in one his late poems, “Beautiful”,2 lies in the accidents, contingencies, and counterpoints of his ungrammatical grammar. “Ungrammar”, a word coined by the poet himself in his notes, and taken up by Irene Fairley in her study entitled E. E. Cummings and Ungrammar,3 should not be distinguished from the concept of “Unmeaning”. Cummings’ grammar of deviations results in deviations of meaning. Cummings experiences the sensitivity and sensibility of the printed sign. It is no coincidence that his literary career actually began after the First World War with the purchase of a typewriter. Cummings’
2

E. E. Cummings, Complete Poems 1904-1962, ed. George J. Firmage, New York: Liveright, 1991, 713. 3 Irene Fairley, E. E. Cummings and Ungrammar, New York: Watermill Publishers, 1975.

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insistence on the physicality and arbitrariness of the linguistic sign, its potential implications and actual effects on meaning, makes him the poet of the Gutenberg Galaxy par excellence. Exposed to the contingencies of the line and the letter, the English language – distorted and disfigured – is obliquely and intensively meaningful. E. E. Cummings’ grammar never verges on a private language; it is always understandable, even though it can neither be paraphrased nor easily translated, as is obvious from the poem “my father moved through dooms of love”.4 Written after the accidental death of his father in 1926, this poem is Cummings’ longest. In an ungrammatical sonata and poetic tombeau, the poet pays moving hommage to Edward Cummings, a Unitarian minister:
my father moved through dooms of love through sames of am through haves of give, singing each morning out of each night my father moved through depths of height this motionless forgetful where turned at his glance to shining here; that if(so timid air is firm) under his eyes would stir and squirm newly as from unburied which floats the first who,his april touch drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates woke dreamers to their ghostly roots and should some why completely weep my father’s fingers brought her sleep: vainly no smallest voice might cry for he could not feel the mountains grow. Lifting the valleys of the sea my father moved through griefs of joy; praising a forehead called the moon singing desire into begin joy was his song and joy so pure a heart of star by him could steer and pure so now and now so yes
4

Cummings, Complete Poems 1904-1962, 520.

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the wrists of twilight would rejoice keen as midsummer’s keen beyond conceiving mind of sun will stand, so strictly (over utmost him so hugely) stood my father’s dream his flesh was flesh his blood was blood: no hungry man but wished him food; no cripple wouldn’t creep one mile uphill to only see him smile. Scorning the pomp of must and shall my father moved through dooms of feel; his anger was as right as rain his pity was as green as grain septembering arms of year extend less humbly wealth to foe and friend than he to foolish and to wise offered immeasurable is proudly and (by octobering flame beckoned) as earth will downward climb, so naked for immortal work his shoulders marched against the dark his sorrow was as true as bread: no liar looked him in the head; if every friend became his foe he’d laugh and build a world with snow. My father moved through theys of we, singing each new leaf out of each tree (and every child was sure that spring danced when she heard my father sing) then let men kill which cannot share, let blood and flesh be mud and mire, scheming imagine, passion willed, freedom a drug that’s bought and sold

Poetry as Ungrammar in E. E. Cummings’ Poems
giving to steal and cruel kind, a heart to fear, to doubt a mind, to differ a disease of same, conform the pinnacle of am though dull were all we taste as bright, bitter all utterly things sweet, maggoty minus and dumb death all we inherit, all bequeath and nothing quite so least as truth – i say though hate were why men breathe – because my father lived his soul love is the whole and more than all

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Therefore, ungrammar can be regarded as a strategy of renewal in American poetry. Of course, Cummings did not have as a primary goal the renewal of the American poetic idiom, but attempted to write a poetry of his own. Although Cummings despised all “isms”, he was an admirer of the Romantic poets, especially Keats and to a lesser extent Longfellow. When he was a student at Harvard, he began imitating those he acknowledged as his masters. But the result soon proved sterile and illusive. For rewriting Romantic poetry was neither desirable nor possible. To become a poet – to become himself – E. E. Cummings had to free himself from the bonds of tradition and from his literary forefathers. Even if he cherished Romantic lyricism, it soon became clear that he had to find his own way of writing poetry. Concentrating on the contingencies of poetic writing was the way he found to grow out of Romanticism, without giving up his lyrical ambition. Indeed, ungrammar – and this is probably Cummings’ main innovation – proves lyrical. Even supposedly abstract linguistic entities convey emotion, for the voice can be traced in the poetic graph. Cummings’ strategy does not compete with grand Romantic lyricism but adopts a mode of minor, diminutive lyricism, that of the lower case first person singular. The lower case “i” minimally and movingly resounds in E. E. Cummings’ poems, implicitly referring to the Romantic capitalized “I”. What can be regarded as the matrix of Cummings’ grammar, the lower case “i”, implies both a typographical and syntactical difference within the realm of the English language. So his poetry can be read as a “Song of Myself” in a minor mode.

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The lower case poet focuses his attention on typography, which is often either suppressed or neglected by most poets. Cummings’ poems apparently deal with minor concerns, negligible devices and local phenomena. His poetic revolution can be termed speculative, because his grammar reflects language, at the same time as it reflects upon language. To renew the canon, E. E. Cummings does not renew poetic diction or imagery. Even his lexical innovations and word-creation techniques are derived from his grammar. His poetic revolution is not a thematic but a grammatical one. Before or instead of wondering what to say, Cummings astutely started out wondering how to say it. E. E. Cummings does not attempt to devise a new instrument – namely a private language. He wants to put his mother tongue out of tune. Even if his poetic language rings false from time to time, his aim is to make English sound different. Whether Cummings’ grammar shatters or reinforces English grammar remains an open question. However, he does not reject syntax; on the contrary, he insists on the poet’s need to master his own language in order to escape or to unmake it. In 1953, in a letter to a young poet who was seeking advice, he writes:
Being neither a scholar nor a critic, I don’t read manuscripts or give advice. But in your case, let me make a suggestion / why not learn English? It’s one of the more beautiful languages. And (like any language) it has a grammar, syntax, etc. which can be learned. Nobody can teach you poetry, but only you can learn the language through which you can hope to become a poet.5

Syntax is more than just a means; it constitutes the raw material of grammar. By disfiguring signs, dissolving rules, displacing conventions, E. E. Cummings’ poetry derails and eclipses syntax at the same time: the English language is de-territorialized on the page, and the mother tongue made to sound foreign and yet understandable. Such is the case in “my father moved through dooms of love”, the meaning of which is understandable in spite of its deviant grammar – or perhaps thanks to its deviant grammar. Paradoxically, instead of preventing us from understanding, the obstacle of ungrammar gives us access to
5

E. E. Cummings, Selected Letters of E. E. Cummings, eds F. W. Dupee and George Stade, New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969, 222.

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unprecedented meaning. To make Ezra Pound’s imperative “MAKE IT NEW” his, E. E. Cummings literally makes grammar new. By violating syntax, the poet violates language order in the two meanings of the term: “order”, as Roland Barthes defines it, means organization and imperative.6 E. E. Cummings’ grammar is a creative critique of the illegitimacy and “violence of language”, as JeanJacques Lecercle calls it 7. Radical alteration in word order is one of the more conspicuous and crucial ways that the rules of language can be violated. Syntax in fact draws the line between what is correct and what is not, what has to be said and what must not be said. E. E. Cummings’ disrespect for word order – “Me up at does” or “quick i the death of thing”, to quote the first lines of two of his poems8 – his misuse of parts of speech, is both creative and critical. In “my father moved through dooms of love” linguistic categories are systematically exchanged. Verbs, adjectives and adverbs are used as substantives: “through sames of am through haves of give” (l. 2); “forgetful where” (l. 5); “shining here” (l. 6); “scorning the pomp of must and shall” (l. 33). Genitive forms are recurrent, sometimes taken up as a burden: “my father moved through griefs of joy” (l. 18); “my father moved through theys of we” (l. 48). Cummings’ transformative grammar not only conveys the dialectics of substance and generation but dramatically performs it: “singing desire into begin” (l. 20); “singing each new leaf out of each tree” (l. 49). Ungrammar expresses the unknown intensity of Edward Cummings’ love. Linguistic order determines the nature of our ideas, the form of our perceptions. The linguist Franz Boas has a term for it; he calls it “the grammatical system of a language”.9 Each language imposes a set of means or norms on its subjects to express certain aspects of experience that would have been left out in another language. By frustrating the speakers’ expectations, the poet undermines the linguistic order and emphasizes its arbitrariness. The fundamental illusion is to believe that as speakers we are free to say anything and to say it the way we choose. Only the poet has the privilege of escaping – only temporarily and to a certain extent – the
6 7

Roland Barthes, Leçon, Paris: Seuil, 1978, 12. Jean-Jacques Lecercle, The Violence of Language, London: Routledge, 1990. 8 Cummings, Complete Poems 1904-1962, 782 and 634. 9 Franz Boas, “Language”, in General Anthropology, Boston: Heath and Company, 1938, 132.

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obligation of syntax without being considered a social outcast. As Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari insist, everyone is supposed to comply with the requirements of language; those who do not are relegated to a mental hospital.10 Randall Jarrell calls E. E. Cummings “a magical bootlegger or moonshiner of language, one who intoxicates us on a clear liquor no government has legalised with its stamp”.11 What Cummings’ subversive grammar underscores is that conventional language order does not necessarily describe the world in a relevant way – certainly not in as relevant a way as the lines “septembering arms of year extend” (l. 36) or “proudly and(by octobering flame” (l. 40). Far from ruining meaning, exchanging parts of speech enriches meaning and makes it more precise. Even when playing on syntax, Cummings constantly experiences linguistic alienation: “you doesn’t take your choice Ain’t freedom grand.”12 The logic of language alienates the linguistic subjects. If E. E. Cummings is very fond of ungrammatical excursions outside the linguistic order, he remains within the confines of the system. There is no way out for Cummings, only brief and more or less controlled disruptions. If significance is lost at some point, meaning always pervades. As Irene Fairley notes, some of E. E. Cummings’ syntactical irregularities tend to make the English language more regular; correcting some of its inconsistencies: if “dance” is both a noun and a verb, why isn’t “september” or “october”? Other deviations tend to extend the possibilities of the English language by taking up and freely declining archaic forms and structures, as in one of E. E. Cummings’ early poems – “All in green went my love riding”.13 There the word order is inspired by the syntax of Old English. Symmetrical and repetitive deviant structures enable the reader to capture meaning, but since they are combined with rhyme and alliterative patterns, they essentially give the poem its rhythmic frame. Esoteric punctuation is both a critical and an æsthetic part of Cummings’ ungrammar. In fact, typography does not play its traditional role in reinforcing “the guarantee of syntax” as Mallarmé
10 11

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Mille Plateaux, Paris: Minuit, 1980, 128-29. Quoted in Paul Diehl, The Renewal of Abstraction: E. E. Cummings’ Sentiment, Sonnets and Meters, PhD Thesis, The University of Texas at Austin, 1976, 120. 12 Cummings, Complete Poems 1904-1962, 636. 13 Ibid., 15.

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calls it,14 but turns out to be a factor of disorder and unmeaning. By putting typography in the poetic foreground, the poet sheds a new light on punctuation, which is abundantly, excessively played upon. E. E. Cummings unveils the phenomenological powers of punctuation marks that make signs dramatically appear and disappear in space and time. By splitting words into meaningful syllables such as prefixes and suffixes, by resorting to run-on-lines and the caesura, the poet shatters the linearity of language, as described by Ferdinand de Saussure, and makes meaning happen before our eyes and in our ears and mouths. To conclude, let us consider “D-re-A-mi-N-gl-Y”,15 an emblematic example of a typographic performance, and especially its envoi:
D-re-A-mi-N-gl-Y leaves (sEe) locked in gOld aftergLOw are t ReMbLiN g ,;:.:;,

The poem ends with a series of punctuation marks that stand beneath or beyond language, scan the page and reflect the poem itself. As Marianne Moore remarks: “we have, not a replica of the title, but a more potent thing, a replica of the rhythm – a kind of second tempo,
14

In Le mystère dans les lettres, Stéphane Mallarmé writes: “il faut une garantie – / La Syntaxe” (“we need a guarantee – / Syntax”), in Œuvres completes, eds Henri Mondor and G. Jean-Aubry, Paris: Gallimard, 1945, 385. 15 Cummings, Complete Poems 1904-1962, 838.

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uninterfering like a shadow, in the manner of the author’s beautiful if somewhat self-centered, gigantic filiform ampersand of symbolical ‘and by itself plus itself with itself’.”16 Punctuation makes sheer, absolute rhythm happen. E. E. Cummings’ grammar turns out to be a happening of multidirectional, accidental meaning, replacing and renewing classical prosody and reinventing rhythm and lyricism in a minor key.

16

Marianne Moore, “People stare carefully”, Dial, LXXX/1 (January 1926), 50. (reprinted in Critical Essays on E. E. Cummings, ed. Guy Rotella, Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall and Co., 1984, 46-47).

WALLACE STEVENS’ POETRY OF RESISTANCE BART EECKHOUT

One of the most frequently quoted aphorisms from Wallace Stevens’ seductive “Adagia” proclaims that “Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully”.1 Although most critics seem to agree that this remark constitutes a crucial poetic credo for Stevens, it has seldom received the careful attention it deserves. Only Eleanor Cook has sufficiently lingered over it to observe that
We do not always give enough emphasis to the word ‘almost’. (As if Stevens ever supposed the intelligence did not have a vital role in reading poetry.) Nor do we give enough thought to the word ‘intelligence’. For it is not the intelligence alone that gives meaning to poems, any more than the intelligence alone gives meaning in general.2

Interestingly, Stevens seems to have grappled more with the formulation of his tenet than Cook was able to know at the time of her observations in the late nineteen-eighties. As an editorial endnote in the revised edition of Opus Posthumous shows, what Stevens originally jotted down in his “Adagia” – pace Cook’s parenthetical disclaimer – ran quite simply: “Poetry must resist the intelligence successfully.”3 This, no doubt, was the easier, comfortably provocative and dogmatic statement to make. But, being an inveterate qualifier, Stevens apparently thought better of his first impulse and inserted that treacherous little modifier “almost”. Cook is right, then,
1

Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous, revised, enlarged, and corrected edn, ed. Milton J. Bates, New York: Vintage, 1990, 197. 2 Eleanor Cook, Poetry Word-Play and Word-War in Wallace Stevens, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988, 4. 3 Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 326.

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to emphasize the importance of Stevens’ inconspicuous little adverb, though not to deny the process of doubt leading up to it. The importance of the little insertion increases even as we look at the second occurrence of Stevens’ premise – for he was sufficiently charmed with his epigram to recycle it – in the first two lines of “Man Carrying Thing”.4 A remarkable poem in its own right, “Man Carrying Thing” is, nevertheless, almost invariably referred to only because of its eye-catching opening statement, which tends to be simply wrenched from its context.5 Yet one should not fail to observe how the opening lines function within the overall narrative of the text. After all, Stevens wrote the poem, in 1945, in direct response to his Ceylon correspondent Leonard van Geyzel’s request that he explain “the genuine difficulty that arises out of the enigmatic quality that is so essential a part of the satisfaction that a good poem gives”.6 After stating, in a delicately timed enjambment, that “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully”, Stevens proceeds by first giving us an “Illustration” of a “brune figure” at dusk and “The thing he carries”, both of them too vague to identify – as if resisting the intelligence were merely the natural corollary of mimetically recording semi-obscure sense impressions. He then swerves in an extended, almost self-hypnotizing parenthesis about the relation between “parts not quite perceived” and “the obvious whole” or between “the primary free from doubt” and “a storm of secondary things”, until he winds up shockingly with:
A horror of thoughts that suddenly are real. We must endure our thoughts all night, until The bright obvious stands motionless in cold.7

4

Wallace Stevens, The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (1954), New York: Vintage, 1990, 350-51. 5 The two most important exceptions to this rule of neglect are B. J. Leggett’s extensive analysis – based on a comparative study of Charles Mauron’s Aesthetics and Psychology (1935) – in his Wallace Stevens and Poetic Theory: Conceiving the Supreme Fiction, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987, 110-19 and George S. Lensing’s recent commentary in Wallace Stevens and the Seasons, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001, 150-52. 6 Quoted in Alan Filreis, Wallace Stevens and the Actual World, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991, 186. 7 Stevens, Collected Poems, 351.

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This surprising ending reflects back on the poem’s opening claim in more ways than one. It bestows, first of all, a specific affective value on the earlier word “intelligence”, which can no longer be supposed to refer neutrally to any rational capacity or thought process whatsoever, but must be understood now to involve, at least in part, a “horror of thoughts” that desperately needs to be staved off and defended against.8 What is more, because of the long conspicuous parenthesis that builds the central part of the poem, the opening and ending of this short lyric seem to form a direct, overarching connection, so that the entire text, despite its typically wayward course, meandering through a series of appositive qualifications, may be summed up by one embracing statement: “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully … until / The bright obvious stands motionless in cold.” Such a reading only underscores the importance of the word “almost”: at the end of the day (or, in this case, the nightmarish night) some “bright obvious” will come forth. Something “obvious” suggests, from one point of view, something clearly understood (even if we are also made to pause and wonder about the possible disparity between visible obviousness and rational intelligence), which means that if Stevens wants the intelligence to be resisted, he does not therefore want it to be ultimately defeated. In one of several possible readings, he continues to long for the serendipity of some sort of intelligence, even if (and perhaps because) it will be hard to come by, and even if the wish that it stand “motionless in cold” may be at once heartfelt and, as Tony Sharpe has suggested, an unnerving prefiguration of death.9 Ambivalence is not merely one in a whole series of characteristics of Stevens’ writings; in its densest and most complex embodiments it is itself responsible for resisting the intelligence almost successfully.

8

One of the valuable guidelines distilled by Helen Vendler from years of reading experience is “never [to] trust beginnings in Stevens; the emotional heart of a lyric by Stevens is likely to be found in the middle of the poem” (Wallace Stevens: Words Chosen Out of Desire, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984, 44). In this case, the “horror of thoughts” breaking out toward the end of the text turns out to be the emotional center of gravity from which the preceding, seemingly dispassionate meditations acquire their force and feeling. 9 Tony Sharpe, Wallace Stevens: A Literary Life, London: Macmillan, 2000, 176.

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Rather than say that “Man Carrying Thing” is “finally unintelligible”, as Alison Rieke has done,10 I would argue that it illustrates the necessity of patiently weighing each word in Stevens’ claim that poetry should resist the intelligence almost successfully. We should not overlook, first and foremost, the need for resistance. To resist is not to cancel or destroy, nor to deny or elide. “Resistance is the opposite of escape”, wrote Stevens in his Harvard lecture on “The Irrational Element in Poetry”,11 and the explicit sociopolitical context of the Depression era in which he made that statement can only convince us of the seriousness of his observation. One critic has even opened a book-length study by announcing that “Wallace Stevens’ poetry is about resistance”.12 And Melita Schaum has called Stevens’ concept of resistance at once “personal, poetic, and political”.13 Certainly it also found multiple forms of expression outside the writing of poetry. Stevens’ social habit of reserve to the point of bluntness and his unwillingness to ingratiate himself are notorious and well-attested, as are the interpretive hurdles he liked to raise to his own work in his correspondence. Stevens’ most common attitude was in many ways a tough-minded one. Professionally, this was even an asset. As a daytime lawyer with far-reaching responsibilities he had to live by means of a skeptical, casuistic mind that interiorized resistance. But at home, too, in the contemplative quiet of his reading chair, he was given to a more than occasional spell of recalcitrance. His private library not only contained such items as pianist Artur Schnabel’s tellingly entitled Music and the Line of Most Resistance.14 It also displayed, more importantly, “the habits of a dialectical reader …. A perusal of Stevens’ own comments in the marginalia of the Huntington [Library]’s first purchase [of books owned by the poet] shows that he usually marked to refute, only secondarily to assimilate,
10

Alison Rieke, “Wallace Stevens in the Classroom: ‘More Truly and More Strange’”, in Teaching Wallace Stevens: Practical Essays, eds John N. Serio and B. J. Leggett, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994, 136. 11 Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 230. 12 Janet McCann, Wallace Stevens Revisited: “The Celestial Possible”, New York: Twayne; London: Prentice Hall International, 1995, ix. 13 Melita Schaum, “Lyric Resistance: Views of the Political in the Poetics of Wallace Stevens and H. D.”, The Wallace Stevens Journal, 13 (1989), 202. 14 Artur Schnabel, Music and the Line of Most Resistance, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1942.

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and almost never to imitate. His stance before a text was dialectical: he questioned everything and rejected more than he accepted.”15 This resisting mind is everywhere on display in the poetry, which, at its best, fascinates precisely because of the tension it enacts between intelligible thoughts and a counterforce that is constantly in the process of undercutting or resisting intelligibility. It suffices to look at some of the poems’ endings to see this process at work, whether it is the listener in “The Snow Man” beholding “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is”16 or “The Motive for Metaphor” which is defined in response to something that is first identified as “vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant” and then mystified by the simple letter “X”.17 One major reason why Stevens’ numerous critics are being pulled back to the same poems over and over again is the fact that these texts leave them spell-bound by a sense of being on the verge of understanding something momentous – a sense that in its own insistent, promising way can be highly pleasurable and addictive. Much of this addictive pleasure derives from what Stevens himself called “a laborious element, which, when it is exercised, is not only a labor but a consummation as well”.18 It involves the taking of interpretive risks, a facing up to the risk of opacity that itself both engenders and endangers – which is to say, limits – Stevens’ poetry. My choice of verb here – to limit – is, I think, of the essence, for Stevens’ poetry is full of limits and questions of liminality. At the most straightforward thematic level, this is immediately obvious from a wealth of liminal scenes: whether it is twenty men crossing a bridge into a village, a blackbird marking the edge of one of many circles, flocks of pigeons winging their way down into darkness, the latest freed man sitting at the edge of his bed, one of the limits of reality presenting itself in Oley, an old philosopher on the threshold of heaven, or the palm at the end of the mind on the edge of space, we come across limits and liminal situations at every point throughout the collected poetry. This thematic focus is further enhanced by Stevens’ well-attested predilection for the most archetypical binary divisions,
15

Robert Moynihan, “Checklist: Second Purchase, Wallace Stevens Collection, Huntington Library”, The Wallace Stevens Journal, 20 (1996), 76. 16 Stevens, The Collected Poems, 10. 17 Ibid., 288. 18 Wallace Stevens, The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination, New York: Vintage, 1951, 165.

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such as day and night, sun and moon, sea and earth (or sea and sky, earth and sky), summer and winter (or their transitions, spring and fall), matter and mind, or reality and the imagination. The ubiquity of such poetically pedigreed oppositions in his work may even count as an important reason for his relatively smooth assimilation into the poetic canon, whose traditional topoi he so inventively and extensively developed as to become their twentieth-century American master. Questions of liminality and demarcation, moreover, inform not only Stevens’ subject matter, but also his diverse ways of enacting and realizing those subjects at a more formal and aesthetic level. After all, few other poets of his day and age have so consistently explored the question of what it means to begin and end a poem (or a stanza, or indeed a single line). Few have so humorously walked the thin line that separates sense from nonsense. And few have so variously and unpredictably tapped the delimiting effects of titles, the slippery connections enabled by syntax, or the manifold opportunities for registering shifts and discontinuities in tone and voice. Stevens’ criticism, as we might expect, has often followed up this interest in liminality. Critics with a penchant for poststructuralist theories have been especially eager to analyze Stevens’ poetry for its ability to elucidate or enact the difficult and shifting (“undecidable” and “aporetic”) relationships between inside and outside, center and margin, world and self, signifier and signified, content and form. “Deconstructionist” critics in particular – who will often, characteristically, start by denouncing the delimiting quality of the very label – have if anything been concerned with questions of limits and the instabilities of binary systems of opposition. In the words of Rodolphe Gasché, one of the principal spokesmen for the movement, Derridean deconstruction has shown a marked interest in how “The outside of the text is precisely that which in the text makes selfreflection possible and at the same time limits it …. Far from being an operation in the limits of the text, deconstruction proceeds from and at the limit of the text.”19 Insofar as Stevens’ poetry can be integrated into the history of philosophy, it may indeed be read in a tradition that reaches back to Immanuel Kant, arguably the first modern philosopher to have
19

Rodolphe Gasché, Inventions of Difference: On Jacques Derrida, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994, 28 (author’s italics).

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insisted that the finitude of our human existence – the fact that we are all embodied, sensuous, vulnerable, mortal beings – does not merely limit reality (and our perception of it). Instead, that finitude realizes reality (and our perception of it) by limiting it. Limitations, in this tradition, are not viewed as principally negative, as ever so many constrictions and privations, but as the necessary and productive conditions for human existence. They produce even as they restrict our fates, and they do so irrespectively of the powerlessness we may feel over against the radical contingency and absurdity of those fates. The phrase “constitutive constraint”, coined by Judith Butler in a completely different context,20 might be borrowed here to remind us of how limits may be regarded as at once enabling and constraining, liberating and oppressive, inextricably a nexus of inclusion and exclusion, of possibility and impossibility. In ways that are alternatively or even simultaneously fascinating and frustrating, Wallace Stevens’ poetry moves in and out of this awareness, which always hovers at least on the horizon of his thoughts. To study how this poet – with his deeply felt humanistic project of offering an alternative to traditional religions and ontological thinking – gives aesthetic and intellectual expression to this transient awareness, and to note the personal satisfactions and disappointments it was temporarily able to provide him with, remains one of the more rewarding adventures to be undertaken in the reading of modernist poetry. Any interest in transgression presupposes an interest in limits and in this respect, certainly, Stevens’ poetry may be said to be full of transgressive impulses. Yet the more accurate term in his case may well be that of resistance. To the extent that transgression carries implications, or historical connotations, of breaking rules or limits so as to achieve an external goal (often one entailing a kind of empowerment or emancipation), the term does not very often apply to Stevens’ poetic agenda. We easily associate the concept of transgression with that of sexual desire, which in its deep structure always depends on a transgressive impulse. And it is true that Stevens may be called, as Douglas Mao does, “the [twentieth] century’s great poet of desire”.21 Yet Stevens’ desire is more often than not of a
20

Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex, New York: Routledge, 1993, xi. 21 Douglas Mao, Solid Objects: Modernism and the Test of Production, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998, 258.

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desexualized, at times heavily idealized, and autotelic kind, one that seeks to be sufficient unto itself. Desire in Stevens is usually the force or élan vital that drives poetic invention. It is a value in itself; and to keep this driving force vital and active, to be able to keep tapping the wellspring of inspiration, Stevens must devise strategies of resistance rather than of transgression. One of the most striking ways in which he continues to resist our intelligence – and here I return to my exfoliation of the poet’s aphorism – is by inverting our most deeply entrenched patterns of expectation. Stevens is a master of the topsy-turvy who likes to shortcircuit the neural channels by which our brain, through the repetitions of learning in infancy, has been structured. In an interview, Northrop Frye once formulated this feature of Stevens’ poetry with special reference to the fourth and final section of “Peter Quince at the Clavier”:
You’re never quite sure just what you are hearing … when you read a poem of Stevens saying “beauty is momentary in the mind – but in the flesh it is immortal”, people just blink. That’s not what he’s supposed to say. He’s supposed to say it’s momentary in the flesh, but it’s immortal in the mind.22

Stevens rarely gives us what he is supposed to say according to the protocols of common sense. His is a poetry of sense-making, of constantly exploring “New senses in the engenderings of sense”.23 He appears to have been fully aware of what Wolfgang Iser has called “one of the important findings of psycholinguistics – namely, the fact that all linguistic utterances are accompanied by the ‘expectation of meaningfulness’”.24 He knew that his feats of topsy-turvydom, however counterintuitive, would eventually be brought to signify by the reader. “It is necessary to propose an enigma to the mind. The mind always proposes a solution”, he observed.25 The meaning of his
22

Northrop Frye, Interview in Criticism in Society: Interviews with Jacques Derrida Northrop Frye, Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, Frank Kermode, Edward Said, Barbara Johnson, Frank Lentricchia, and J Hillis Miller, ed. Imre Salusinszky, New York: Methuen, 1987, 36. 23 Stevens, The Collected Poems, 527. 24 Wolfgang Iser, “Feigning in Fiction”, in Identity of the Literary Text, eds Mario J. Valdes and Owen Miller, Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1985, 222. 25 Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 194.

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texts, he realized, existed where the noun in English, derived from a verb, suggests that it does: in an ongoing temporal process of meaning. There are, no doubt, other ways of producing great art – by inventing images that strike us, say, by their exceptional clarity, their immediately elucidating power, their strong and direct emotional impact – but they do not produce the sort of art to which one necessarily feels a strong urge to return. Stevens’ art is to be situated at the opposite end of the imaginative spectrum – that of the Big Tease. But we have not exhausted Stevens’ formula yet. We still need to come back to the question of “intelligence”. To Stevens, the call for resisting the intelligence certainly also meant a call to make room for other types of readerly response, in particular those governed by the imagination, the feelings, and the purely musical seductions of language. His early explanation of “Domination of Black” is famous in this respect:
I am sorry that a poem of this sort has to contain any ideas at all, because its sole purpose is to fill the mind with the images & sounds that it contains. A mind that examines such a poem for its prose contents gets absolutely nothing from it. You are supposed to get heavens full of the colors and full of sounds, and you are supposed to feel as you would feel if you actually got all this.26

Several years later, in a letter to another correspondent, Stevens again argued that “poetry must limit itself in respect to intelligence. There is a point at which intelligence destroys poetry.”27 And toward the end of his life, in a letter to his friend Barbara Church, he still remained loyal to this principle when noting (about George Santayana’s swerve from poetry to philosophy): “It is difficult for a man whose whole life is thought to continue as a poet. The reason (like the law, which is only a form of the reason) is a jealous mistress.”28 Not surprisingly, then, Stevens was occasionally willing to go so far as to deny any relevance at all to the aspect of meaning in his writing. “A poem need not have a meaning”, he then claimed, “and
26

Wallace Stevens, Letters of Wallace Stevens, ed. Holly Stevens, London: Faber, 1967, 251. 27 Ibid., 305. 28 Ibid., 761.

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like most things in nature often does not have”.29 To be sure, historicizing analyses have helped us realize how such defenses of an organically naturalizing and radically aestheticizing poetic ideology were more common at the earlier stages of his career, specifically in the days of his first volume, Harmonium, when his poetry was more clearly and more happily rooted in a post-symbolist, consciously avant-garde tradition of art for art’s sake. But the insistence that poetry should be so much more than a mere matter of posing conundrums to the intelligence remained with him all his writing life. After all, as one of his lesser-known epigrams contends: “One reads poetry with one’s nerves.”30 Apart from wanting to clear space for the imagination, feelings, and the titillations and tintinnabula of verbal music in the writing and reception of poetry, Stevens was obviously also motivated by a recurrent and deep distrust of the satisfying potential of the rational mind. In “Of Mere Being” – the poem that taps so well into the critical nostalgia for teleological scenarios that it is presented time and again as Stevens’ final text, though it is really of uncertain date – he observes: “You know then that it is not the reason / That makes us happy or unhappy.”31 It is not the reason, nor the intelligence, that ultimately procure satisfaction – unless satisfaction is precisely to be found in artfully resisting these jealous mistresses. Stevens, early and late, was obsessed with the fundamental dissatisfactions of his mind’s innate restlessness. “It can never be satisfied, the mind, never”, he sighed at the conclusion of “The Well Dressed Man with a Beard”;32 and in his “Adagia” he explained why this should be so: “We never arrive intellectually. But emotionally we arrive constantly (as in poetry, happiness, high mountains, vistas).”33 As “Man Carrying Thing” also demonstrates, Stevens was frequently haunted by the oppressive horrors of spinning thoughts, or by what Emerson famously called the real “Fall of Man”:34 the fall into consciousness. William Bevis has shown how Stevens tried to defend himself, at various points throughout his life, against this fall by mobilizing a
29 30

Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 201. Ibid., 189. 31 Ibid., 141. 32 Stevens, The Collected Poems, 247. 33 Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 198. 34 Stevens, The Collected Poems, 487.

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Buddhist-like “no-mind”, but that this state was not easily reached and often came at a premium.35 Just as often his mind would remain caught in its endless vortex, and we have the poetry to bear witness to this. The insatiable quality of Stevens’ mind points us back again to the great subject of desire in his work – a subject that has been treated from diverse angles and with very different biases by such critics as Helen Vendler, Frank Lentricchia, Barbara Fisher, Margaret Dickie, and George Lensing,36 but that still – perhaps by its very nature – often eludes us. “The reason can give nothing at all / Like the response to desire”, Stevens wrote in “Dezembrum”,37 and in his lecture on “The Irrational Element in Poetry” he invited us to see how “the desire for literature is the desire for life. The incessant desire for freedom in literature or in any of the arts is a desire for freedom in life.”38 Such an incessant desire for freedom made him particularly prone to deferring satisfactions and gratifications, so that he could linger in desire itself – that “sumptuous Destitution”, as Emily Dickinson called it.39 The wish to resist the intelligence almost successfully, then, was in some deep sense frequently also the wish to inject his poetry with an insatiable desire, and the wish to transplant this insatiable desire onto his readers and critics. In Alain Suberchicot’s recent formulation, Stevens’ “figures of instability find their origin and finality in the exercise of a freedom – that of not responding to the analyzer, while of course having captured his desire”.40
35

William W. Bevis, Mind of Winter: Wallace Stevens, Meditation and Literature, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1988. 36 Helen Vendler, On Extended Wings: Wallace Stevens’ Longer Poems, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969; Frank Lentricchia, Modernist Quartet, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994; Barbara M. Fisher, Wallace Stevens: The Intensest Rendezvous, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990; Margaret Dickie, Lyric Contingencies: Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991; Barbara M. Fisher, Wallace Stevens: The Intensest Rendezvous, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990. 37 Stevens, The Collected Poems, 218. 38 Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 231. 39 Emily Dickinson, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson, 3 vols, Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1963, III, 952. 40 Alain Suberchicot, Treize façons de regarder Wallace Stevens: Une écriture de la presence, Paris: L’Harmattan, 1998, 202 (my translation).

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The effects on criticism of Stevens almost successful resistance to the intelligence have been too various to list here, but two of the more general ones may be mentioned. The first effect is that Stevens has been a most welcome poet for critics with a preference for formal over content-oriented analysis. The case of Helen Vendler, half-mockingly crowned “Queen of Formalism” by Frank Lentricchia,41 is exemplary. A staunch Leavisite by training, Vendler opened her first major study, On Extended Wings, by pitting against each other the two poetries identified by Stevens as the poetry of the idea and the poetry of words, arguing that Stevens is more profitably served by studying the latter. Others like Marie Borroff, Eleanor Cook, and Beverly Maeder42 (coincidentally all women?), have followed suit, and all of these principally formalist and aestheticist critics have collectively demonstrated how rewarding the close scrutiny of Stevens’ complex and many-layered style can be – how indeed “The pleasure of exegetical sleuthing is unlimited for anyone who wants to pick apart grammatical constructions, mine etymologies, or exploit the secondary denotations of words given in the Oxford English Dictionary (as Stevens reportedly did)”.43 The second effect of Stevens’ credo and practice, however, has turned out to be even more striking. It has to do with the unusual degree to which critics of this poetry are being interpretively enfranchised. Recalling his own experience of reading La Fontaine, Stevens testified to being pleased by “a play of thought, some trophy that we ourselves gather, some meaning that we ourselves supply”.44 A similar play of supplying meanings is what he actively sought to set off in his own readers. Frank Doggett and Dorothy Emerson have probably coined the aptest phrase for this textual dynamic by calling Stevens a poet of “a realizable possibility”.45 This wealth of realizable possibility is to a great extent the result of a rhetorically brilliant
41

Frank Lentricchia, Ariel and the Police: Michel Foucault, William James Wallace Stevens, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988, 204. 42 Marie Borroff, Language and the Poet: Verbal Artistry in Frost, Stevens and Moore, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979; Eleanor Cook, Poetry WordPlay and Word-War in Wallace Stevens; Beverly Maeder, Wallace Stevens’ Experimental Language: The Lion in the Lute, London: Macmillan, 1999. 43 Maeder, Wallace Stevens’ Experimental Language, 4. 44 Stevens, The Necessary Angel, 109. 45 Frank, Doggett and Dorothy Emerson, “A Primer of Possibility for ‘The Auroras of Autumn’”, The Wallace Stevens Journal, 13 (1989), 53.

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manipulation by Stevens, which is responsible for a sometimes dazzling over-determination, but it is also, often undecidably, the uncontainable textual effect of a compositional practice that allowed latent meanings to proliferate beyond the control of authorial intentions. It is this irreducible excess of signification, this boiling cocktail of authorial and textual intentions, that helps to explain why Steven Gould Axelrod and Helen Deese were able to simultaneously praise and damn Milton Bates’ study, Wallace Stevens: A Mythology of Self, as providing “a beautifully researched, commonsensical portrait of Stevens – with all the strengths and weaknesses that commonsense understandings usually possess”.46 Indeed, commonsensical readings of Stevens, desirable and satisfactory as they are as correctives to the frivolousness and pretentiousness of some of the more freewheeling interpretations that have been bandied about, nevertheless have their own limitations, and can do the poetry a disservice by suppressing the exciting mental fertility and freedom it is able to spark off in its readers. To some readers, evidently, the liberty made available by Stevens’ poetry can be frightening and unsettling. But others have made it a central argument in their defense of the value of reading literature. One such explicit appropriation of Stevens’ liberating resistance to the intelligence is to be found in two of Richard Poirier’s books, The Renewal of Literature and Poetry and Pragmatism, where a case is made for the idea that to read literature is to learn to live in transition, to remain inside the process of thinking, to resist security of meaning, and to dissolve the self. According to Poirier, “We do not go to literature to become better citizens or even wiser persons, but to discover how to move, to act, to work in ways that are still and forever mysteriously creative.”47 Such a stance, in his opinion, forms the essence of a pragmatic American tradition that started with Ralph Waldo Emerson, ran through William James, and found its best twentieth-century representatives in Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens. Writers in this
46

“Introduction: Wallace Stevens: The Critical Reception”, in Critical Essays on Wallace Stevens, eds Steven Gould Axelrod and Helen Deese, Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988, 18; Milton J. Bates, Wallace Stevens: A Mythology of Self, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985. 47 Richard Poirier, The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988, 44.

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tradition argue for “the virtue and necessity of vagueness”.48 That Stevens can stand as an epitome to this tradition is one more telling indication of how far he managed to go in his poetic attempts at resisting the intelligence almost successfully.49

48 49

Richard Poirier, Poetry and Pragmatism, London: Faber, 1992, 139. For a more extended discussion of the materials proposed in this essay, I refer the reader to my book, Wallace Stevens and the Limits of Reading and Writing, Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

IN SEARCH OF WORDS FOR “MOON-VIEWING”: THE JAPANESE HAIKU AND THE SKEPTICISM TOWARDS LANGUAGE IN MODERNIST AMERICAN POETRY GUDRUN M. GRABHER
Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things.1

In 1989 I applied to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for a one-month scholarship to do research in Japan on the Japanese haiku and Zen Buddhism, and was granted a two-month scholarship with the non-verbal implication that it would be considered impolite to turn down the offer of a second month. The way things were handled by this Society in the following months before I began my research in Japan was to become a foreshadowing of my encounter with the haiku there. Naturally, I expected them to send me some information about the practical details concerning my prospective stay in Japan. When they didn’t, I wrote them what I considered a polite and subtle letter of inquiry, and received a two-line answer: “Everything will be arranged here. Please come to Japan.” To my second letter after another three months had passed without notice I never even received an answer. Mr Horiuchi, my host professor, had meanwhile found an apartment in Tokyo for me and had prepared in detail everything for my stay in Japan, upon the order and the payment by the Society, of which I had no idea. Everything had, indeed, been perfectly organized. When Horiuchi took me to the
1

Georgia O’Keeffe, “‘I Can’t Sing So I Paint’”, New York Sun, 5 December, 1922; reproduced in O’Keeffe, Stieglitz, and the Critics, 1916-1929, ed. Barbara Buhler Lynes, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1991, 180.

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office of the Society on my first day in Tokyo, I was cordially greeted with gifts, smiles, and bows, and with the comment: “And thank you for your letters of inquiry.” “You are welcome”, I replied, realizing that I had immediately become part of this code of politeness, whose semantics I would never as much as catch a glimpse of. For several years I had studied Zen Buddhism and the art of the haiku from whatever scholarly source was available in the Western hemisphere. Upon my departure for Japan, therefore, I assumed I knew a little about the haiku. Upon my return from Japan I knew that I knew nothing, understood nothing, and had grasped nothing about this shortest, seemingly simplest, and most precise form in world literature: the haiku. But this was not the sort of Socratic insight where the realization of one’s very limited scope of knowledge leads to the search for more knowledge. Rather, it was the frustrated insight that some things are, indeed, incomprehensible, utterly and ultimately impenetrable. Horiuchi was not only my host, but a professor of English and a published haiku poet himself. I soon found out how popular the writing of haiku still is in contemporary Japan. Millions of people are doing it: elementary schools experiment with children in their writing of haiku, housewives found haiku societies, and daily newspapers offer competitions and awards for the best haiku. The haiku is not a thing of the past, but is very much alive. Since everyone seemed to be writing haiku, I did it too, or so I thought. When Horiuchi one day asked me about my haiku writing I shared two of my poems with him. The first one was about a nameless bird. “What kind of a bird was it?”, he asked. “I don’t know”, I said, “that’s why it is a nameless bird”. He repeated the question, ignoring my answer. Patiently, I tried to explain to him that the word “nameless” was significant, intentional: no name, no identity. He seemed utterly puzzled. After a pause, he wanted to know what the bird looked like. Was it big or small; was it black, or of another colour; was it silent; did it sing; did it move, fly, hop; was it beautiful, young, old, weak, strong? How should I know? And did I care? My bird was nameless, and I was proud of my attribute. During our conversation, where the pauses grew longer and the communication tenser, we both became more and more irritated. After a long silence Horiuchi finally asked – in despair: “Was it a crow?”

The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language 137 We left the unidentifiable bird and moved on to my second haiku. It was September, very hot and humid, and I had tried to express my sense of the air, which seemed thick, smouldering, almost visible. In my haiku, which I had written in German, I had called it “zerschnittene Luft”. That was not easy to explain to Horiuchi, and somehow we got caught on the expression “cut air”. “Cut”, he pondered, “Cut into pieces”. “This is not what I meant at all”, I thought to myself, “this is not it at all”, growing painfully aware that not only my sense of the air was being butchered but my whole haiku as such. But to prevent any further escalation of misunderstanding, I conceded: I guess one could say so, in a way, of course, it’s different in my own language, but …. Horiuchi nodded and his mind seemed to work on the image. And after a long time he asked: “Who cut it into pieces?” – I sadly concluded that my haiku was no haiku. I did my scholarly research at the “National Museum of Haiku Literature” in Tokyo and my more practical research by visiting Zen Buddhist temples (both for men and women), and by talking to haiku poets and scholars of the haiku. Among others, I was invited by a senior professor and poet to Nagoya to interview him about the art of haiku. We spent four hours talking, him talking, that is, with one single sentence on the haiku: “A haiku must be beautiful.” My enlightenment, or deeper insight, concerning these examples of total misunderstanding between East and West came only much later. Nevertheless, this will not be the paper of a moonstruck person, as might be gathered from the title. Rather, “moon-viewing” will serve as a central metaphor in a twofold manner. “Moon-viewing” is a central motif in Japanese haiku poetry, charged with numerous meanings and implications. Here is an example of such a “moon-viewing” haiku, written by the famous Matsuo Basho:
The moon swiftly fleeting, Branches still holding The raindrops.2

“A finger is needed to point at the moon”, says D. T. Suzuki, “but when we have recognized the moon, let us no more trouble ourselves

2

Matsuo Basho, The Way of Silence: The Prose and Poetry of Basho, ed. Richard Lewis, New York: The Dial Press, 1970, 33.

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with the finger”,3 the finger standing for language. And this captures the second, and major implication of “moon-viewing” for the following investigation into the impact of the haiku on Modernist American poets’ skepticism towards language. Language is no adequate means to capture reality; it is merely a means to lead us towards a recognition of it.

A finger is needed to point at the moon. But when we have recognized the moon, let us no more trouble ourselves with the finger. D. T. Suzuki In retrospect, the failure of our mutual understanding when discussing my haiku, which were no haiku, slowly but gradually began to make sense. For the haiku poet, the frog is a frog, the moon is the moon, rain is rain, and a bird is a bird; the thing is what it is, and it is named. A nameless bird, of course, to him is something that is not, and air cut into pieces – as fond as the haiku poet may at times be of the irrational – is beyond imagination, is an image butchered by

3

Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism, New York: Schocken Books, 1970, 96.

The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language 139 senselessness before any reflective mind can even attempt to butcher it through analysis. The target of the haiku’s language is the concrete object, which is nothing but what it is. “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”, says Gertrude Stein, and never in literature, as has been argued, has a rose been as red before. “Is not the rose ‘the mystery’ in its isness or in its suchness, without making it rely on a stranger?” asks Suzuki in comparing the Western to the Eastern approach to nature, and continues: “What we can say generally about Western poetry on nature is that it is dualistic and personal, inquisitive and analytical”.4 And when Hemingway – playfully, provocatively, pathetically? – altered Stein’s line into “a rose is a rose is an onion”, he manifested the example of the poetic mind gone astray – according to haiku standards. Or rather, of the poetic mind interfering with the perception of the object. (By the way, several critics have pointed out the striking similarities between the eloquent-silence strategy of the haiku and the iceberg technique of Hemingway, both leaving the essential that is unsayable floating underneath the surface of the few words that are said.) In spite of certain similarities between the layered shape of a rose and that of an onion, a rose is a rose and not an onion. When Gertrude Stein, in the documentary film When this you see, remember me by Perry Adato, says, “I was trying to name objects without using their names”, this statement seems to run against the principle of the haiku. However, where Stein and the haiku poet meet is in their understanding of the function of language in relating to the exterior world. D. H. Kahnweiler is certainly right in observing about Gertrude Stein: “Cubism tried to give a representation of the exterior world which is no longer an imitation, and the literature of Gertrude Stein in a certain sense is, in my opinion, the same.”5 Stein not only concentrates, like Cubist painters and haiku poets, on simple objects by using simple words; she uses language in such a way that it does, indeed, represent rather than imitate. Stein, like the haiku poet, caresses the word; as Sherwood Anderson poignantly remarks, she captures the sound, taste, smell and rhythm of each word.
4

Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, Tokyo: Charles Tuttle Company, 1988, 266. 5 Perry Adato, When this you see, remember me, Documentary film about Gertrude Stein, 1970.

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What, then, is a haiku? The formal aspect of its threeline/seventeen-syllable structure is significant only for its Japanese context of language. The question about the meaning and function of a haiku is central. It has been argued that the most important key concept to an understanding of the spiritual attitude of the haiku poet is the concept of shasei, which originally derives from Chinese painting and means to depict the exterior world such as it is, without adding ornaments. Masaoko Shiki, one of the great theoreticians of the haiku, adopted this concept from Chinese painting and made it central to his theory of haiku poetry. Like the painter, the poet photographically paints a picture of reality as he has seen, felt, touched, smelled, heard, that is, perceived it through his senses; and he paints this picture by means of his words.6 Matsuo Basho, the seventeenth-century Japanese haiku poet, considered to be the greatest artist of this genre, says: “In writing, do not let a hair’s breadth separate your self from the subject. Speak your mind directly; go to it without wandering thoughts.”7 Translated into the words of the Imagists, this means “direct treatment of the thing, whether subjective or objective”. In order for a haiku to come into being, the poet must be in touch with the world, through common, simple, small, everyday things and occurrences, must be able to see and understand them in the context of the whole, be able to capture them in simple, precise, and concise words, in order to share with others the feelings that have been evoked in him by this dramatic moment of the ordinary. The sharing of those feelings is central to the idea of haiku writing. Says William J. Higginson: “We know that we cannot share our feelings with others unless we share the causes of those feelings with them …. Stating the feelings alone builds walls; stating the causes of the feelings builds paths.”8 Therefore the haiku poet looks for verbal means to get across his feelings rather than state them. This is reminiscent of T. S. Eliot’s concept of the “objective correlative”: “The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding
6

See Karlheinz Walzock, “Die Dinge und das schauende Ich. Haiku als geistige Haltung”, in Deutsch-Japanische Begegnung in Kurzgedichten, ed. Tadao Araki, Munich: Judicium Verlag, 1992, 69. 7 Quoted in William H. Higginson, The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku (1985), Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International, 1989, 10. 8 Ibid., 5.

The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language 141 an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”9 Interestingly enough, as Sabine Sommerkamp remarks, in Japan T. S. Eliot’s “objective correlative” has, by experts of the haiku such as Motohiro Fukase and Soho Kumashiro, been defined as a stylistic element very similar to the traditional haiku.10 In an essay published in 1912 Ezra Pound had remarked: “I believe in an ‘absolute rhythm’ … in poetry which corresponds exactly to the emotion or shade of emotion to be expressed.”11 Not much later, the April 1913 issue of Poetry magazine printed his poem “In a Station of the Metro”, which has been called “the first published hokku in English”.12 One might alter Descartes’ principle into “I sense, therefore I am”, as Higginson did in his 1989 book, or into “I feel, therefore I am”, as I did in my comparison of Emily Dickinson’s poetry to the haiku of Basho. Higginson is right in arguing that we are first, and literally, in touch with the world through our senses. And through his verbal images, as well, the haiku poet manages to make the reader get in touch with the world. It is, perhaps, appropriate to add an explanation of the Japanese (Zen) understanding of feeling. When Suzuki agrees with the general opinion that the Western mind tends more towards logical, discursive, analytical thinking, whereas the Eastern mind seeks to find truth intuitively, he argues that “‘intuition’ can have various shades of meaning. Ontologically speaking, its most fundamental quality is to come directly in touch with Reality.” As I mentioned earlier, the essential thing for the haiku poet is to get in touch with things, their true being. Suzuki then begins to qualify the term “intuition” by replacing it with the word “feeling”, which “in its deepest, broadest, and most basic sense” he thinks is more apt, more to the point. He says:
9

T. S. Eliot, “Hamlet”, in Selected Essays, London: Faber and Faber, 1969, 145. Sabine Sommerkamp, Der Einfluß des Haiku auf Imagismus und Jüngere Moderne: Studien zur englischen und amerikanischen Lyrik, PhD Thesis, Hamburg, 1984, 144. 11 Ezra Pound, “A Retrospect”, in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, New York: New Directions, 1935, 9. 12 Higginson, The Haiku Handbook, 51.
10

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the experience the human mind has when it is identified with the totality of things or when the finite becomes conscious of the infinite residing in it – this experience is the most primary feeling which lies at the basis of every form of psychic functioning we are capable of. Our intuition in whatever form or sense still reminds us of an intellectual residue.13

A certain haiku attitude is the prerequisite for being able to write a haiku. In regard to the direct treatment of the thing, this means that the poet needs to be open for the experience, must display “a readiness for an experience for its own sake”, as Kenneth Yasuda remarks. He then goes on to say:
The form of ‘direct experience’ is the realization of what the object is, in its unity and oneness, in and for itself. It is an experiencing of what, in being itself, the object is, so that it becomes unique …. The form of the color red is red – as we see it. The form of the crow, as Basho saw it, is the crow.14

To realize what the object is, in and for itself, is, epistemologically, probably the most difficult aspect of the haiku to understand for the Western mind, for which the thing in and for itself is ultimately unknowable according to Kant. And yet, as Yasuda implies, the Japanese mind, too, seems to concede that the experience of the object does involve the human subject, through its senses and understanding, and yet it tries not to interfere as a self with the suchness of the object. For the haiku poet the direct experience, treatment, and representation of the object suggests as little imposing of man’s mind on it as possible. This may be a crucial point of understanding or misunderstanding for the Western man, for whom the Cartesian ego constitutes the world, its objects as well as its subjects. What is essential for the haiku poet, according to D. T. Suzuki, is that there is “no ‘ego’ on the part of the author aiming at its own glorification. Haiku, like Zen, abhors egoism in any form of assertion”. The highest poetic creativity is achieved if the poet manages to express his inner
13 14

Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, 219, n. 1. Kenneth Yasuda, The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English, with Selected Examples (1957), Rutland, VT and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1987, 13.

The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language 143 feelings “altogether devoid of the sense of ego”.15 The haiku poet is never explicit and elaborate about what is going on inside him. He contents himself with the objects that have stirred his attention, roused his feelings, and provided insight into their suchness.16 A haiku must be short. Stripped of the unnecessary and redundant, the images of the haiku seize the essential only, and in such a manner that they raise questions in the reader, but not the kind of question that my haiku had raised in Horiuchi. Through its brevity the haiku creates a dramatic stage, inviting the reader to participate in the action. This disciplined approach to language is also emphasized by William Carlos Williams:
There’s nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words. When I say there’s nothing sentimental about a poem I mean that there can be no part, as in any other machine, that is redundant.17

But it is precisely this conciseness, this economical use of language that requires the reader – whom T. E. Hulme called “a brother, an unexpressed author”18 – to actively participate in the construction of its meaning. As Daniel C. Buchanan puts it:
Many haiku are beautiful word pictures, but not elaborate description. There is much understatement and omission, the reader being left to fill in the idea and make his own interpretation.19

The image of a haiku represents a moment in time that is the eternal. It dwells in timelessness; it is anti-temporal or trans-temporal. This emphasis on timelessness in the haiku is significant because the concrete image that is captured in time is being zoomed out of its temporal existence and cast into an image frozen in timelessness, as it is meant to give insight into truth that lies beyond time as well as space. The present moment is thus “forever stillborn”, to use Jorie
15 16

Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, 225. Ibid., 247. 17 William Carlos Williams, “Introduction to The Wedge”, in Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams, New York: New Directions, 1969, 256. 18 See Sommerkamp, Der Einfluß des Haiku, 49. 19 Daniel C. Buchanan, One Hundred Famous Haiku, Tokyo and San Francisco: Japan Publications, 1973, 7.

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Graham’s words from her poem “San Sepolchro”. Or as Robert Aitken puts it:
So the moment of the haiku could be said not to move but to be, totally, movement: that movement which, because it is not relative, is inseparable from stillness. The movement in stillness of the thing itself, not concepts of it; not, as Wallace Stevens put it, ideas about it.20

That the stillborn moment manages to carry us beyond the limits of time and space is expected by Pound as well:
[The image is] that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time …. It is the presentation of such a ‘complex’ instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.21

The sense of timelessness in the haiku is derived from the Zen understanding that everything is momentary (and as such eternal, so to speak), just as all is as it is, empty and without self.22 Vladimir Devidé has summarized the essence of this seemingly paradoxical aspect pertinently: “Just as the experience of haiku is a moment, an eternity without permanence and beyond, thus it is – in an opposite way – that every period of time is just a moment, an instant … in the simple, everyday way of being here and now.”23 What has not been mentioned yet about the haiku is one of its most obvious features, the fact that it is always about nature, and that it always contains a word to signify the season, this word being called kigo. There are huge dictionaries of kigos because it is not always clear which word signifies which season. Very often, however, the season is simply mentioned by its name: spring, summer, autumn, or winter.

20

Robert Aitken, A Zen Wave: Basho’s Haiku and Zen, Tokyo and New York, 1978, 15. 21 Pound, “A Retrospect”, 4. 22 See Suzuki, Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism, 140. 23 Vladimir Devidé, “A Letter to Matsuo Basho”, Studia Mystica, VII/2 (1984), 35.

The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language 145 What, again, is by far more difficult for the Western mind to grasp is the paradox often inherent in the presentation of an image. This paradox derives from the Zen koan, which is a question posed in such an irrational manner that it is meant to lead the reader to step beyond the boundaries of logic in order to gain insight into truth. One of the most famous and most often quoted koan is the question: what is the sound of one hand clapping? In a haiku we often come across the simultaneity of silence and sound, motion and motionlessness, light and dark, time and timelessness, etc. Ultimately, this simultaneity of binary opposites strives towards the achievement of oneness, of the oneness of subject and object, the perceiver and the perceived, man and nature. This unity with the universe is expressed in Zen by the word samadhi, which Suzuki explains as “the state of one-pointedness, that is, of concentration”,24 and he tries to combine aloneness, loneliness, with oneness as unity. As Aitken remarks: “Our Zen practice takes us deeply into this complementarity of aloneness and oneness. The very word ‘koan’ is an illustration.” 25 I will say more about this in my later discussion of Cummings’ poem “loneliness / a leaf falls”. The most profound analysis of the connections between Zen and the haiku has been given by D. T. Suzuki in his book Zen and Japanese Culture. He begins with the central idea of Zen, namely satori or enlightenment, the moment of gaining insight into the true nature of things, into their suchness or mystery. Although, he argues, Reality is for human beings epistemologically the realm of the unknowable, we can get in touch with it through our intuition, or rather, feelings. Thus, the haiku gives us images reflecting those intuitions. And through their immediacy the reader gets involved. In order to be ready for this kind of intuition, the poet must be selfless so that he may embrace the universe as a whole. Suzuki calls this “the mystery of self-identification and universal interpenetration or interfusion”.26 Feelings can never be put forward through conceptualizations, which is one reason for the brevity of the haiku. It avoids all intellectual abstractions and conceptualizations, and besides the images themselves, remains eloquently silent. No wonder Eric W.

24 25

Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, 226. Aitken, A Zen Wave, 89 (see also 27). 26 Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, 265.

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Amann calls his study of Zen in Haiku “The Wordless Poem”.27 As contradictory as it may sound, this silence evokes an insight into the mystery of being, into the suchness of things, into one’s self that is no self. Suzuki appreciates R. H. Blyth’s definition and explanation of the haiku:
A haiku is the expression of a temporary enlightenment, in which we see into the life of things …. Each thing is preaching the law [Dharma/sic] incessantly, but this law is not something different from the thing itself. Haiku is the revealing of this preaching by presenting us with the thing devoid of all our mental twistings and emotional discoloration; or rather, it shows the thing as it exists at one and the same time outside and inside the mind, perfectly subjective, ourselves undivided from the object, the object in its original unity with ourselves …. It is a way of returning to nature, to our moon nature, our cherry-blossom nature, our falling leaf nature, in short to our Buddha nature.

And Suzuki comments: “What Dr. Blyth calls the moon nature [etc. is] no more than the suchness of things.”28 The moon, therefore, both in Zen and in the haiku, is a very special and essential mirror image. As Kenkichi Murano explains, quoting from Dogen’s Genji Koan:
Gaining enlightenment is like the moon reflecting on the water. The moon does not get wet nor is the water disturbed. Although its light is extensive and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch across. The whole moon and the whole sky are reflected in a dew-drop in the grass, in one drop of water ….29

Because the moon has such a special significance, haiku poets often do not just content themselves with accidentally catching sight of the moonlight. Rather, very often they wait for a particular night to wander out into the darkness for the purpose of viewing the moon, which is also a favoured mirror-image of gaining self-knowledge.

27

Eric W. Amann, The Wordless Poem: A Study of Zen in Haiku, no place: Haiku Society of Lanada, revised edn, 1978. 28 Quoted in Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, 228. 29 Kenkichi Murano, “Key Words to Understanding Japanese Culture: Kiku and Sakura”, in Mainichi Daily News, Sunday, 31 July 1983, n.p.

The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language 147 At the beginnings of the Imagist movement in 1909 the haiku had already been in the air. Apart from the strong interest in Japanese wood carvings, the works of Basil Hall Chamberlain (including his 1902 essay “Basho and the Japanese Poetical Epigram”) as well as those of Lafcadio Hearn, an American living in Japan and striving to make Zen Buddhism, haiku poetry and French Symbolist poetry known in America (for example his “Art of the East. Review and Studies in New Japan”, published even earlier than Chamberlain’s) had already left their traces. However, the haiku had first entered Europe through France, where the first haiku translations into French by Paul Louis Couchoud appeared in 1906 in the magazine Les Lettres, accompanied by the author’s article “Les Èpigrammes lyriques du Japon”.30 The introduction of the haiku conveniently met the Americans’ desire for a reform of poetry, in particular against the Genteel tradition, and for an internationalization of literature. In Austria and Germany, the poets’ skepticism towards language had even been labeled as “Sprachskepsis” from the beginning of the twentieth century. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, for example, felt his words crumble in his mouth like mouldering mushrooms. So when the Imagist movement began to take shape, in its three stages, the first (19091911) marked by T. E. Hulme, the second (1912-1914) by Pound, and the third (1915-1917) by Amy Lowell, this was to become the cornerstone of Modernist poetry in general. As T. S. Eliot would observe in retrospect: “The point de repère usually and conveniently taken, as the starting-point of modern poetry, is the group denominated ‘imagists’ in London about 1910.”31 The realization that the verbosity of language in recent poetry had lost track of things in themselves rather than capturing them would result in the Imagists’ emphasis on new rhythms, common speech, the exact rather than decorative word, the freedom of choice of subject, on the image to be rendered in its particulars, on the hard and clear rather than the blurred and indefinite, and, above all, on concentration (programmatic points of Imagism as proposed by Amy Lowell in the Preface to Some Imagist Poets). To say less, they believed, was to say more.

30 31

See Sommerkamp, Der Einfluß des Haiku, 36. T. S. Eliot, To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings, London: Faber, 1965, 58.

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The concentration on the thing as such would be poignantly expressed by various poets in similar though distinct manners. For Pound as for Williams and Cummings it was essential “to paint the thing as they saw it”. The idea of the thing was excluded altogether from poetic contemplation, as proposed by Stevens in “Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing itself”,32 or was at best admitted in things, as granted by Williams. In theory, painting the thing was equally important to all of them, as important as to the painter himself. But Cummings was the one to come closest to painting his pictures with words, to creating poem-pictures. Mitchell Morse has called Cummings’ “loneliness / a leaf falls” “in spirit a perfect haiku”.33 And Michael Dylan Welch has illustrated how, especially in his later poems, Cummings displays striking similarities to the haiku poet through his particular employment of images.34 I would like to concentrate on the loneliness poem here:
1(a le af fa ll s) one 1 iness36

Won’t you come and see loneliness? Just one leaf from the kiri tree.35

32

Wallace Stevens, The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993, 534. 33 See Sommerkamp, Der Einfluß des Haiku, 156. 34 Michael Dylan Welch, “The Haiku Sensibilities of E. E. Cummings”, SPRING, 4 (October 1995), 95-120. 35 Basho’s poem written in 1692 is quoted in Welch: “Henderson explained that ‘The kiri (paulownia) is noted for dropping its leaves even when no breath of wind is stirring’”, 116. 36 E. E. Cummings, E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962, ed. George J. Firmage, New York: Liveright, 1994, 673.

The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language 149 Through the concrete image of “a leaf falls” Cummings illustrates the abstract idea of loneliness.37 The arrangement of the letters of the concrete image visually reflects the movement of the leaf falling from the tree. The visual presentation of the word loneliness mirrors its interior semantics. To be lonely is to be “al-one”, that is, one, the one both spelt out in the seventh line as well as graphically depicted as the numeral 1, which happens to be identical with the letter l when printed by the typewriter. Incidentally, and luckily, the number l not only equals the letter l but resembles the capital I, so that the word loneliness, as visually spelt out by Cummings, comes to read as “to be I is to be one is to be al-one is to be lonely”. The personal pronoun “I” is capitalized in the English language and thus marks its central position in the world, the Cartesian ego as the measure of all things. However, when the grand I realizes that to be I is fundamentally to be one, that is to be lonely, this grand I is reduced to a small i, that is to the lowercase i in the final syllable “iness”. So Cummings has managed to make an ontological statement about the human being through the word loneliness. The emphasis on the “one” in loneliness is as striking as the arrangement of two letters each in the lines depicting the image of the one leaf falling. It is this twoness contained in the natural image that creates a bridge to the one-ness or loneliness of the human being. The bridging of the gap is achieved exactly in the middle of the poem, where two l’s, that is “ones”, are standing side by side. However, the twoness of the ones or the oneness of the two ones is by no means unequivocal. Rather, it embraces a number of different meanings. First, in analogy to the haiku, it may imply that a unity of man and nature has been achieved. The lonely I has identified itself with the falling leaf. Yet this sense of unity is irritated by the fact that it is two ones standing side by side, suggesting duplicity in unity. The empathy with the falling leaf may even intensify the sense of loneliness. In a more sophisticated, epistemological way the two I’s together may also signify that even though man may, through empathy, achieve a sense of unity with nature, this unity is realized as a unity in diversity, though stressing the subject-ness of both man and nature rather than the common subject-ness of the former versus the objectness of the latter. Through the ambivalence of this – both formally and
37

See also Gudrun M. Grabher, “I paint (my poems) therefore i am”, (October 2001), 127-39.

SPRING,

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semantically – central line, Cummings does full justice to the ZenBuddhistic idea of the koan, which evokes a paradox that is meant to help the reader transcend the boundaries of logical thinking. As mentioned earlier, Robert Aitken explains the literal meaning of the koan as follows:
Our Zen practice takes us deeply into the complementarity of aloneness and oneness. The very word ‘koan’ is an illustration …. This is ko, the sameness that is beyond equality and inequality.38

Finally, the unity and oneness of man and nature, loneliness and concrete image, are further stressed by the fact that the image is inserted into the word “loneliness” through its parenthetical position between the first l or one and the word one, which even more strongly emphasizes this oneness in its double meaning. There is only one single incident in the poem where the pattern of one versus two is interrupted, namely in the first line. Here, the opening parenthesis, which is added as a third mark, might be identified as the kireji of the haiku, a syllable or dash that marks the transition from one image to another. This parenthesis does exactly do that: introduce the concrete image. Ezra Pound’s poem “In a Station of the Metro” is generally considered the first published haiku in English, although not everybody has been convinced of the genuine haiku-ness of this poem. But when John G. Fletcher, for example, remarks that “the relation of certain beautiful faces in a Paris Metro Station to petals on a wet tree branch is not absolutely clear”,39 it seems to be more this reader’s problem than that of the poet: In a Station of the Metro The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough.40

38 39

Aitken, A Zen Wave, 89ff. John G. Fletcher, “The Orient and Contemporary Poetry”, in The Asian Legacy and American Life, ed. Arthur E. Christy, New York: Greenwood Press, 1968, 159. 40 Ezra Pound, The Collected Early Poems of Ezra Pound, ed. Michael John King, London: Faber, 1977, 113.

The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language 151 It is well known that one day, in the La Concorde station of the Paris metro, Pound had suddenly been struck by seeing one beautiful face after another. Looking for appropriate words to capture this impression he realized that it presented itself in “splotches of color”. This, then, was for him the beginning of a language in colour. But it took him a whole year to succeed in condensing the originally thirtyline poem into this famous two-liner.41 Pound combines, or separates – depending on how one may read the kireji of the semi-colon at the end of the first line – two images that seem to contradict each other, which on a closer look, however, reveal their inherent connection. In terms of colour language, the image of the petals seems clear enough. As Richard E. Smith remarks: “In Pound’s poem, the tiny, ephemeral flowers on the dark, wet limb not only compare with the momentary faces in the crowd, but they also contrast with the size, vitality, and longevity of human beings”.42 The emphasis is clearly on the faces, which entails their “superposition” as Pound demands in his “Vorticism” essay. The flashing up of these faces is well expressed by the word apparition, which captures the fast, momentary appearance and disappearance of the various faces. Moreover, by using the noun rather than a verb Pound manages a truly direct treatment of the thing. And the choice of word emphasizes the self-revelation of the things rather than the human subject seeing these faces. And yet, the word “apparition”, of course, implies a subject by whom this apparition is being perceived. When Pound presents his images in a linguistic form that is not a sentence, he is probably reflecting Fenollosa’s criticism of our understanding of a sentence: “The … definition, according to which a sentence is a uniting of subject and predicate, he [Fenollosa] dismisses because of its arrogant subjectivity which postulates that the form of the sentence is an adjunct of ego function.”43 The anonymous crowd, out of which these faces are flashing up, is paralleled, in the second image, by the wet, black bough. It is against this black background that the colours of the faces as well as of the
41

Ezra Pound, “Vorticism”, The Fortnightly Review, NS 96 (September 1914), 46171 (reprinted in Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir, London: New Directions, 1960, 89). 42 Richard Eugene Smith, “Ezra Pound and the Haiku”, College English, XXVI/7 (April 1965), 523. 43 Laszlo K. Géfin, Ideogram: History of a Poetic Method, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982, 28.

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petals make themselves visible. But the juxtaposition of these two images contains much more than this contrastive painting of colours against a dark canvas. The apparition of the faces, their momentary flashing up, suggests the fast motion of people in the busy metro station of the metropolitan city of Paris. In sharp contrast, the bough with its petals seems static, conveys motionlessness. At the same time, however, it silently and secretly does contain a sense of motion, the motion of natural growth, the change of seasons, the cyclical motion of nature as such. Once this insight into the meaning of the second image is achieved, the motion suggested in the first image takes on the meaning of time passing quickly, of the temporariness of human life, as opposed to the eternal recurrence of natural processes. Pound has, indeed, created a moment of insight, beyond time and space, into the ephemeral flashing up of beauty, which only lasts, through the cycle of death and rebirth, in nature. Amy Lowell was well acquainted with Japanese art and literature from an early age through her brother Percival, who had spent several years in the Far East as a diplomat and published books about Japan. Her first two poems with a Japanese topic appeared as early as 1912. Then followed the twenty-four poems of “The Anniversary”, which solely adapted the formal aspects of the haiku. Her first real haiku, fifty-nine short poems, were published as “Lacquer Prints” in the third anthology of Some Imagist Poets in 1917 and later included in her book Pictures of the Floating World in 1919. One of these poems is “Peace”:
Perched upon the muzzle of a cannon A yellow butterfly is slowly opening and shutting its wings.44

Another reads:
On the temple bell Perching, sleeps The butterfly, oh!45

44

Amy Lowell, The Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925, 205. 45 Yosa Buson, “On the Temple Bell”, in Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, Tokyo: Charles Tuttle Company, 1988, 248.

The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language 153 Since Lowell’s poem bears the title “Peace”, she has replaced the bell in Buson’s poem, which she obviously knew, with the cannon. In spite of this difference, however, Suzuki’s interpretation of the Japanese poem also fits Lowell’s: “This utter unconsciousness of the events to come, good or bad, is also typical of human life: we dance over a volcano altogether unaware of the possibility of a sudden explosion, just like Buson’s butterfly.”46 The possibility of a sudden explosion is even more obviously contained in the image of the cannon, which in contrast to the evanescent butterfly signifies power, destruction, ugliness, death, and, indirectly, the end of time. In contrast to Buson’s butterfly, Lowell’s is not asleep. The slow motion of its wings, their opening and shutting, strongly contrasts with the sudden motion of the cannon, which it contains as a possibility. Perched on the cannon, though, the image of the butterfly seems to be prevailing. Its yellow colour contrasts with the darkness and blackness of the cannon, and signifies not only life but happiness as well. Suzuki even attributes magnitude and dignity to this insect, an object favored by the poetic imagination. The slow opening and shutting of the butterfly’s wings is a natural, unconscious, peaceful motion in tune with the peacefulness of nature as such. The cannon, however, could at any instant interrupt and destroy this peacefulness. I would not agree with Sabine Sommerkamp, though, in seeing the butterfly as a clear symbol of hope for peace.47 Rather, Lowell seems to present the simultaneity of peacefulness and the threat of sudden destruction by means of the juxtaposition of these two images, while it must not be overlooked that the butterfly is a creature of nature, whereas the cannon is man-made. Therefore the two images also imply the notion that human life may be as temporary as that of a butterfly in nature. Lowell certainly offers insight into the closeness of happy, giddy, unselfconscious, beautiful life and sudden, unexpected death. Moreover, the explosion of the cannon, which is only there as a possibility, is associated with noise, whereas the butterfly’s existence is a silent one. This silence is threatened by the mere image of the cannon’s muzzle. So Amy Lowell steps inside the things she presents without offering their semantics by means of description. She offers just enough through words to make the reader grasp a moment of truth in its complexity and paradoxical nature.
46 47

Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, 249. Sommerkamp, Der Einfluß des Haiku, 99.

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The poet often considered to be the least successful in directly treating the thing so as to reveal more than can be said in words is William Carlos Williams. His famous red wheelbarrow poem is an example. He does paint what he sees, but he seems to see only the surface of things:
The Red Wheelbarrow so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens48

Williams fails in more than one respect. He is not only too descriptive with his image (of the red wheelbarrow), he also imposes his subjective view on it by starting the poem with the comment “so much depends upon”. Not only is this a subjective interference with the direct treatment of the thing, it is also emotionally charged because of the emphasized “so much”. The images of the red wheelbarrow and the white chickens could well have sufficed to make for a true imagist poem. But by adding the glazing rain to the wheelbarrow Williams not only literally remains on the surface of the thing; he even prevents the reader from looking inside the thing, as this glaze seems to create a barrier, to make the thing impenetrable. Nor are Williams’ chickens in any sense alive. Rather, their whiteness here evokes an image of static, motionless, dead objects, which is triggered off by the preposition “beside”. Thus Williams does no more than place one thing seen beside the other, without really getting across what it is that he has seen in them, and what it was that struck him about them. His things do not become alive, nor do they offer insight into a truth that is wordlessly contained
48

William Carlos Williams, The Collected Earlier Poems of William Carlos Williams, New York: A New Directions Book, 1966, 277.

The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language 155 in the images. And because of the emptiness of the images, the introductory comment “so much depends upon” is all the more redundant. Even though Williams had himself declared that “all art is necessarily objective. It doesn’t declaim or explain; it presents”,49 he did not stick to this principle here. And Yasuda is right in criticizing him: “There can be no commentary, no conclusion; the concrete, sensuous material to be intuited must stand alone.”50 In this poem Williams neither catches the idea in the thing nor the thing itself. On the other hand, Wallace Stevens, presenting “Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing itself”,51 did manage to achieve something “like / A new knowledge of reality”. Stevens’ poetry, as has been observed by several critics, not only conveys the satori of Zen, it often even manages to put into words the “metaphysical reality of nothingness”, as Masaru V. Otake has described it.52 Stevens captures this essence of nothingness in his poem “The Snowman”, for instance. The poem that is frequently quoted as the paragon of haiku similarity is “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”. I will concentrate on a discussion of the images in number I:
Among twenty snowy mountains, The only moving thing Was the eye of the blackbird.53

It is a perfect picture of nature: the image of the snowy mountains contrasted with the blackbird. The contrast of the images is as extreme as possible. It is white against black, the hugeness of the mountains against the tininess of the blackbird’s eye, the motionlessness of the mountains against the hardly noticeable motion of the bird’s eye. Why twenty mountains, one might ask. This, according to haiku theory, is of no significance. It might as well have been seven or thirteen. But they seem to have been counted, suggesting a very conscious perception of the landscape. The majestic grandness of the snowy
49

William Carlos Williams, “A Note on Poetry”, in Oxford Anthology of American Literature, eds W. R. Benet and N. H. Pearson, New York: Oxford University Press, 1938, 1313. 50 Yasuda, The Japanese Haiku, 5. 51 Stevens, The Collected Poems, 534. 52 Masaru V. Otake, “The Haiku Touch in Wallace Stevens and Some Imagists”, EastWest-Review, II/2 (Winter 1965-1966), 153. 53 The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, 92.

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mountains signifies not only motionlessness, but in a sense death, especially because of the word snowy and its colour white. In the second image it is not the bird that is perceived as moving but only its eye. The nuance in motion as compared between the mountains and the bird’s eye is subtle, hardly recognizable. The word “moving” in the English language, moreover, bears a second connotation. Apart from referring to motion, it also means to move in the sense of touching, stirring one’s emotions and feelings. Implicitly, the eye of the beholder is present in the poem, too, having been moved, stirred, by this moving thing that is only the eye of a bird. In analogy to the haiku, one might therefore argue that the poet expresses an identification of human being and nature, of the eye/I of man and the eye/I of the blackbird. This eye/I – in both its manifestations – is alive since it is moving. The snowy mountains are not moving, and only alive in a paradoxical sense of speaking the language of death. The black colour of the bird in itself signifies death as well. In looking at the snowy mountains as externalized image, the bird perceives the death that is already inherent in its very own being, though it is still alive and moving. In a sense, it could be argued, this is a perfect example of moon-viewing. The color white of the snowy mountains is the colour of death, of the idea of death in the metaphysical sense. Like the moon, this whiteness is reflected in the blackness of the bird, in the concrete death as inevitable potential contained in its very existence. But the reflection of the moonlight in the water does not disturb its smooth surface, nor does the moon get wet. Yet their encounter, even seeming fusion, provides a moment of insight into the majestically impending ever-presence of death to the looking eye that is part of a thing already tinged by death. Therefore motion versus motionlessness juxtaposes life and death, but in such a paradoxical sense that they may ultimately be interchanged. For long after the blackbird may have died the mountains will still be residing in the same spot, manifesting once and forever the death that is.

The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language 157

Georgia O’Keeffe. Ladder to the Moon (1958) © VBK, Vienna, 2006.

Since I began my article with a quote by Georgia O’Keeffe, I will start my conclusion with one of her paintings, “Ladder to the Moon”. This painting reminds us of the quote by Suzuki about the finger pointing to the moon; simultaneously, because of the finger standing for language, it conjures up Wittgenstein’s notion of the ladder. It is well known that according to Wittgenstein we can only say how a thing is, but not what it is; and, like the essence of things, any kind of abstract conceptualization is beyond language and should be left to silence. And even though, in the Tractatus, he proposes that language is capable of picturing reality in a positivistic sense, it is those pictures which are the least meaningful as well as the least interesting. If language, then, is a ladder that must be thrown away and reinvented again and again in every single attempt to gain insight into the suchness of reality, as Marjorie Perloff has demonstrated,54 then this ladder remains forever suspended in mid-air, as in O’Keeffe’s painting, sighing for the moon. A haiku may be seen as a manifestation of a ladder in this sense. On my first day in Tokyo Horiuchi took me to the office of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Everything had been
54

Marjorie Perloff, Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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perfectly organized. I was cordially greeted with gifts, smiles, and bows, and with the comment: “And thank you for your letters of inquiry.” “You are welcome”, I replied, realizing that I had immediately become part of this code of politeness, whose semantics I would never as much as catch a glimpse of. And have I learned something since then? Maybe this: that a haiku, and any haiku-like poem, is a letter (ladder) of inquiry, consisting of few, carefully chosen and juxtaposed letters (ladders) of inquiry. Their inquiry expresses politeness towards the things (as suggested by the title of an article by Erika Schwalm, “Haiku – die Höflichkeit den Dingen gegenüber”55). Politely approached, things are willing to share their suchness with the poet and the reader. The self, that is self-less, is grateful. And things have their way of responding, “you are welcome”. In his introduction to Suzuki’s Die große Befreiung, C. G. Jung observed that “the haiku, which according to the moment of enlightenment in Zen Buddhism evokes such images, seems to provide an answer of nature, which has succeeded in reacting immediately to the consciousness”.56 Though intellectually not understood, this semantics of politeness has grown on me. It is inevitable that I should conclude with a poem:

55

Erika Schwalm, “Haiku – die Höflichkeit den Dingen gegenüber: Der Frankfurter Haiku-Kreis”, in Deutsch-Japanische Begegnung in Kurzgedichten, ed. Tadao Araki, Munich: Iudicium Verlag, 1992, 54-55. 56 Quoted by Sommerkamp, Der Einfluß des Haiku, 30.

The Japanese Haiku and the Skepticism towards Language 159
bird – nameless my impoliteness towards the softness of your feathers. Gudrun M. Grabher

The poem consists of three lines and of exactly seventeen syllables. But is it a haiku?

SPONTANEOUS, NOT AUTOMATIC: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS VERSUS SURREALIST POETICS ERNESTO SUÁREZ-TOSTE

“April is the cruellest month”, “Death is the mother of beauty”, “Make it new”, “It Must Be Abstract”, “No ideas but in things”. We easily recognize the Modernists in their fragments, which are sometimes in perfect harmony with each other, sometimes in radical contradiction. But a mere quotation recalls its author and his spirit, and often his own specific stance within the Modernist canon, no matter how decontextualized – that is one of fragmentation’s defining features – or inexact, or even deliberately edited. Fragments are first and foremost instrumental in composing a new whole whose first impact must be obvious fragmentation, but each one also acquires a special relevance of its own. During the first half of the twentieth century writers and artists, Cubist, Dadaist, Surrealist, used fragmentation in a gesture that was deliberately transgressive and at the same time reflected accurately the perception of the world they lived in. Modernist poets favored quotation as a specific form of fragmentation. Whatever the fragmented quality of their own discourse, the introduction of other writers’ fragments – identified as such or not – enriched their work at multiple connotative levels. While many identifiable Cubist fragments qualify as quotation in Genette’s sense1 – most conspicuously the newspaper pieces, whether attached or painted – the effect in poetry is remarkable because Modernist poetry is so open to a variety of styles and registers that it lends itself to absolute confusion between an original poem and its borrowed lines, as in the cento, a stanza composed exclusively of lines taken from other poems. This is particularly true of poets who favored this sort of ambiguity, such as
1

Gérard Genette, Palimpsestes, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1962, 8.

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Marianne Moore, some of whose poems could qualify as successions of borrowings.2 I intend to base this essay on an analysis of different quotations taken from Modernist poetry and criticism. I have shored these fragments to build up a case for the influence of Surrealist poetics on Modernist poets, specifically the role played by Surrealism in the issue of form-versus-meaning, best exemplified by the competition between Williams and Stevens, and the impact of automatism, first as a writing technique and then as a dictatorship of the unconscious. I hope this focus will help us better understand the complex interaction among interwar movements, especially since Modernism spans both Dada and Surrealism. Some major works have already received serious coverage from the point of view of avant-garde poetics. The Waste Land, for instance, has been assessed as a poem that benefits from a synergy between the arts, a poem that cannot be fully understood outside its very special milieu in the Paris of Cubist-Dadaist creativity: “if the hallmarks of Eliot’s poem are its fusion of tradition and experimentation, the everyday and the extraordinary, these too are the features of Parade, which in itself demonstrated the interpenetration of contemporary developments in the arts.”3 The 1920s and 30s indeed constitute a most interesting milieu on both sides of the Atlantic, with capital contributions to art and literature as well as a decisive influence on subsequent artistic manifestations. The traditional distinctions between the arts were abandoned and many other artificial categories and barriers were pulled down. Such hybrid figures as Jean (Hans) Arp or Marcel Duchamp belong indistinctly to several arts, none of them easily classifiable according to traditional notions. Nationality became a mere accident at a time when nations were at war but artists collaborated as never before, both across the arts and across political frontiers. Artists and poets who had fought on different sides during World War I were now enthusiastically exchanging ideas and experimenting with every aspect that lent itself to experimentation.
2

Patricia Willis and John Hollander, “Symposium. Marianne Moore: The Art of a Modernist Master”, in Marianne Moore: The Art of a Modernist (1990), ed. Joseph Parisi, Ann Arbor: UMI, 1993, 120. 3 Nancy D. Hargrove, “The Great Parade: Cocteau, Picasso, Satie, Massine, Diaghilev – and T. S. Eliot”, in Mosaic, XXXI/1, 1998, 84.

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Though William Carlos Williams’ position concerning America’s import of Surrealism experienced substantial fluctuations, in 1941 he conceded that “concepts originating in one milieu may, when the base is the same, unite with those of another”.4 This conciliatory statement synthesizes Williams’ ambivalent coupling of enthusiasm and boredom with the Surrealist project, to which we shall return later. Suffice it to say that Williams’ insistence on locality, or at least the translatability of every aspect to America, made him both an enthusiastic follower and a rigorous judge of Surrealism. It can hardly be denied that the impact of historical events produced remarkably similar effects and reactions on writers and artists on both sides of the Atlantic:
Apart from the incredible stupidity of the arguments that attempted to legitimize our participation in an enterprise such as the war, … this refusal was directed … against the entire series of intellectual, moral and social obligations that continually and from all sides we perceived to be weighing down upon man and trying to crush him. Intellectually, vulgar rationalism and chop logic were the quintessential causes of our horror and our destructive impulse; morally, it was all duties: religious, familial, and civic; socially, it was work ….5 The stupidity, the calculated viciousness of a money-grubbing society such as I knew and wrote against; everything I wanted to see live and thrive was being deliberately murdered in the name of church and state.6

In these circumstances, the renewal of poetic language became a major issue for these writers, and this urge for renovation is thoroughly summarized in Pound’s dictum, “Make it new”. There is little to discuss about it in this context, save of course the fact that “new” meant something very different for each and every one of these poets. Perhaps a more interesting question about all this newness is how it was received by critics of its age. Novelty meets skepticism in Richard Aldington’s review of Joyce’s Ulysses, in the form of his provocative as well as sensible “don’t try this at home” warning:
4

William Carlos Williams, A Recognizable Image: William Carlos Williams on Art and Artists, ed. Bram Dijkstra, New York: New Directions, 1978, 161. 5 André Breton, Qu’est-ce le que le surréalisme?, Cognac: Le temps qu’il fait, 1986, 8. 6 William Carlos Williams, The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams, New York: New Directions, 1967, 158.

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“From the manner of Mr. Joyce to Dadaisme is but one step, and from Dadaisme to imbecility it is hardly that.”7 Aldington was worried about the dead end this model might represent for future generations lacking Joyce’s cultural background, if they adopted the eccentricities and dislocations of Ulysses. From his point of view, Joyce’s superior culture allowed him to write this way, but paved the road for a plethora of cheap imitators who would bring disaster upon British letters. The most interesting aspect of Aldington’s review for us is, however, that T. S. Eliot wrote, in “Ulysses, Order, and Myth”,8 a vindication of order – then far from obvious – in Ulysses, defying the popular association between Joyce’s work and Dada, and even claiming it as being as closer to Eliot’s own style. This was in the early 1920s, just a few years after Breton and Soupault had begun experimentation in automatic writing, the results of which were published as Les champs magnétiques in 1921:
Preoccupied as I still was at that time with Freud, … I decided to obtain from myself what one tries to obtain from patients, that is a monologue flowing out as rapidly as possible, over which the subject’s critical faculty exerts no control … and which represents spoken thought as exactly as possible …. I began to cover sheets of paper with writing, feeling a praiseworthy contempt for whatever literary achievement might result from this …. By the end of the first day we were able to read to one another about fifty pages written by this method and to compare the results …. There were similar faults of construction, flaws of a similar nature, but also, in both cases, an illusion of extraordinary verve, much emotion, a considerable assortment of images of such quality as we had not been able to obtain for a long time, a very special sense of the picturesque, and, here and there, a few pieces of sharp buffoonery.9

1920 is also the date of publication of William Carlos Williams’ Kora in Hell: Improvisations. He described the process of composition of these pieces in terms that easily recall Breton and Soupault’s experiments:

7

Richard Aldington, “The Influence of Mr. James Joyce”, English Review, 32 (1921), 333. 8 T. S. Eliot, “Ulysses, Order, and Myth”, Dial, LXXV/5 (Nov 1923), 480-83. 9 Breton, Qu’est-ce le que le surréalisme?, 15.

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I decided that I would write something every day, without missing one day, for a year. I’d write nothing planned but take up a pencil, put the paper before me, and write anything that came into my head. Be it nine in the evening or three in the morning … I’d write it down …. Not a word was to be changed. I didn’t change any, but I did tear up some of the stuff.10

Not changing anything was all-essential to his project because
the first step must not be to make what has been written under a quasihallucinatory state conform to rules. What rules? Rather the writing should be carefully examined for the new and the extraordinary and nothing rejected without clear reason.11

Williams’ tearing up of discarded materials comes as no surprise, given the advice he gave to Fred Miller in 1935:
write, write drivel, write crap, but write lots and lots, as best as you can string it out. Open the hatch and put a firecracker into it. Something will come out.12

Perhaps this is also what Breton was thinking about when he described his feelings toward his automatic writings as “praiseworthy contempt” above. Surely no genius writing in these conditions would be allowed to get away without discarding something, but then, what
10

Williams, The Autobiography, 158. My perception of William Carlos Williams’ relationship with Surrealism has been greatly enhanced by Dickran Tashjian’s writing on this poet. As early as 1978 Tashjian associated Williams’ recipe for Kora with Breton’s automatic writing in William Carlos Williams and the American Scene, 1920-1940, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978, 132. One question remains unclear, though. Breton is known for his radical automatism. Yet, strangely enough, he revised his poems carefully, “canalize[d] them first in order to submit them later, if necessary, to the control of the reason”, whereas Williams directly discarded the poems he considered unworthy. Hence the collection of poems gathered under the title Kora in Hell: Improvisations would seem a purer form of automatic poetry than Breton’s. Tashjian admits that “In [How to Write] of 1936, then, Williams tacitly acknowledged Surrealist automatism even while reconciling the practice with his own penchant for precision poetry, the poem as object”. See Tashjian, “Williams and Automatic Writing: Against the Presence of Surrealism”, William Carlos Williams Review, XX/1 (Spring 1996), 14. 11 William Carlos Williams, “How to Write”, in Interviews with William Carlos Williams, ed. Linda Wagner-Martin, New York: New Directions, 1976, 99. 12 Tashjian, “Williams and Automatic Writing”, 13.

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is a genius? Here we touch upon what is probably the most irreconcilable issue between Modernists and Surrealists. The question of literary value is a major breach between both groups, since the writer in Modernist poetics is a gifted creator and craftsman, whereas the Surrealists appropriated Lautréamont’s motto “Poetry should be made by all, not one”. This concept is directly linked to automatism by way of the unconscious. Freud-oriented, the Surrealists considered themselves mere vehicles, and their automatic pieces different from literary texts. They defend this automatic work as “legitimate”:
To you who are writing them, these elements are, in appearance, as strange as to anyone else, and you are naturally distrustful of them yourself. Poetically speaking, they are above all distinguished by a very high degree of immediate absurdity, the essence of that absurdity being, on close examination, their yielding to whatever is most admissible and legitimate in the world: the divulgation of a certain number of properties and facts not less objectionable on the whole than the others …. we who have not submitted ourselves to any process of filtering, who through our work have been content to be the silent receptacles of so many echoes, modest registering machines that are not hypnotized by the pattern that they trace, we are serving perhaps an even nobler cause. Therefore we honestly return the talent lent to us.13

The writers of the past listed in the Surrealist Manifesto as protosurrealist – but unlucky to have lived before Surrealism – are mildly accused by Breton of literariness, of being proud of their skill, whereas the true automatic poet is more a medium than a craftsman, and practices a passive receptiveness rather than a permanent virtuosity. There is no ego involved in automatic writing, and no trace of the stylishness that betrays “a poet” in the – for Breton – outdated sense of the word. The surrealists claim to be mere “registering machines” whose mission is to share, to make visible, to orchestrate, but without any pretension to exclusiveness or genius. Jung-oriented, Williams resists this passiveness, and in this sense he can be claimed as representative of Modernism:

13

Breton, Qu’est-ce le que le surréalisme?, 15-16.

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Dismissing Freud’s view of the artist as ‘a born weakling’, beset by neuroses and sublimations, Williams endorsed instead the ideas of Jung, ‘an abler man than Freud’ who marked the poet as a prophet, a visionary leader ‘by a magnificent organization of those materials his age has placed before him for his employment’. Here the artist was not passive but rather engaged in action, responding to the pressing issues of the day – a stance that Williams required as a poet against the onslaught of the economic Depression.14

It seems evident that no agreement is possible about the role of the poet, and this gap also becomes unbridgeable when automatic poetry is at stake. It is easy to perceive Williams’ Kora in Hell as a literature that springs from the inner self, a verbal outpouring of the mind. How are we then to reconcile Kora in Hell with the notion that the rest of his poetic production was not salvaged from “drivel” and “crap,” to use his own expression, and is rather “a small (or large) machine made of words”? Tashjian proposes that Williams’ love of concreteness and locality, aligned with his own profession, led him to a poetics of physiology, supported by Williams’ own bodily metaphors for the act of writing.15 In any case, the opposition between a machine and the result of a bodily function seems to lie in its artistic deliberateness and internal organization.16 Williams’ boastful disregard for rules cannot apply to his entire production. No strictness should interfere with the flow, but automatism does not guarantee any valid results, either. Raymond Queneau, the OuLiPo leader, opposed automatism in the following terms:
Another false idea that is current nowadays is the equivalence established between inspiration, the exploration of the subconscious, and liberation; between chance, automatism, and freedom. The kind of freedom that consists of blindly obeying every impulse is in reality a form of slavery. The classical author, who when writing his tragedy
14 15

Tashjian, “Williams and Automatic Writing”, 11. Ibid., 13. Another clear instance of this can be found in Williams’ “The minute you let yourself be carried away by purely … ‘literary’ reasoning without consulting the thing from which it grew, you’ve cut the life-giving artery and nothing ensues but rot”, in William Carlos Williams, The Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams, New York: New Directions, 1969, 178. 16 See Margueritte S. Murphy, A Tradition of Subversion: The Prose Poem in English from Wilde to Ashbery, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992, 99-100, for a comparative account of Kandinsky’s concept of “improvisation” applied to Williams.

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follows a certain number of rules that he knows, is freer than the poet who writes whatever comes into his head and is the slave of other rules he is unaware of.17

The Surrealist tyranny of the unconscious is what Queneau is complaining about here, a situation that Williams also denounced: “To hell with them …. Everything must be tapped into the subconscious, the unconscious ….”18 Moreover, Williams was also skeptical about dreams, the other great Surrealist method of research into the unconscious. For him the proliferation of full-time dreamers who could produce dream-poems at will on a systematic basis was nothing short of fraud. A similar denunciation also came from within the Surrealist ranks, though it cost its author a good reprimand from Breton. In December of 1924 Max Morise published a piece in the first issue of La révolution surréaliste in which he questioned the viability of dream-painting as a way toward the unconscious, since memory imposed a rational filter at the moment of execution, and so that “effort of second intention” ruined the suspension of consciousness and hence the painting’s aspirations to automatism.19 Very much the same could be said against dream transcription in poetry, regardless of the poet’s most exquisite intentions and pursuit of faithfulness. With this emphasis on the unconscious the Surrealists became obsessed with the flow: “The trouble with the French at the moment is that they’re so fixed on the first stage of placing words on the page … that they forget there is a second phase.”20 Eventually Williams would define them as “degenerate, insane and worst of all tiresome”,21 due to the fossilization of their method; it is interesting that the charge of predictability is for him the most serious of the three. In his second, rational phase we meet Williams the objectivist, a poet we possibly feel more at home with, the poet of plums and
17

Jacques Roubaud, “Chance”, in OuLiPo Compendium, eds Harry Matthews and Alastair Brotchie, London: Atlas Press, 1998, 123. 18 Quoted in William Carlos Williams and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, ed. Hugh Witemeyer, New York: Norton, 1989, 97. 19 Max Morise, “Les yeux enchantés”, La révolution surréaliste, 1 (1 December 1924), 27. 20 William Carlos Williams, The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams, ed. John C. Thirlwall, New York: McDowell, 1957, 242. 21 Williams, A Recognizable Image, 221.

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wheelbarrows. When the poem is not about an object but rather an object itself, there is no risk of missing its symbolism. In fact, if we are to believe J. Hillis Miller, in Williams there is “no symbolism, no depth, no reference to a world beyond the world, no pattern of imagery, no dialectical structure, no interaction of subject and object – just description”.22 But one must wonder to what extent this is possible. In La trahison des images René Magritte presents us with the all-too-famous image of the painted pipe underlined by the legend Ceci n’est pas une pipe. In “The Red Wheelbarrow” Williams presented us with the equally famous red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens. Both being works of art about perception, representation, and epistemology, rather than about pipes or wheelbarrows, a question remains whether the objects are entirely replaceable by others with the same effect. As an undergraduate student I once wrote that the wheelbarrow itself is all-important because once it is in the poem, it is there, in front of the poet’s eyes, ready to be the object of his gaze; but the choice of a wheelbarrow is entirely accidental, and thus the concept of wheelbarrow is completely inconsequential in the poem. Nothing would change – I wrote then – if Williams had used a green artichoke. Nonetheless Jeffrey Schnapp has written an interesting discussion about pipe symbolism for surrealist painters,23 and I have begun to reconsider to what extent the choice of the object is irrelevant. Another Magritte painting plays the same trick with Ceci n’est pas une pomme, and the effect is, of course, the same. And yet, having read Schnapp’s article, I cannot help feeling that perhaps all it takes is a convincing article on wheelbarrow symbolism to make me change my mind. Needless to say, Magritte always held that his objects were never symbols for anything, and rejected psychoanalytic readings of his paintings:
Magritte was opposed to hidden or symbolic content. To an extent, commentaries presuppose that there can be a substitute for the image in the form of interpretive texts – or at least that the image is translatable into words.24
22

J. Hillis Miller, Introduction to William Carlos Williams: A Collection of Critical Essays, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966, 5. 23 Jeffrey T. Schnapp, “Art/Lit Combines; or, When a Pipe Is Only a Pipe”, in Profession, 1998, 37-50. 24 A. M. Hammacher, René Magritte, New York: Abrams, 1995, 27.

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I believe that very much the same could be said about Williams and the choice of the wheelbarrow as object. Symbolism of some sort, however, seems necessary, and Albert Gelpi has synthesized this feeling in the Williams/Stevens duality:
Symbolisme and Imagism proved to be the most important and longlasting influences in modern poetry precisely because they assumed dialectical roles within Modernist poetics. The polarity was recognized from the outset.25

But no matter how recognized it was when used to pigeon-hole different poets, as in the case of Williams and Stevens, this dialectic has been much harder to remember when speaking about different periods or even fluctuations in emphasis within the work of an individual poet. This tension between Symbolist and Imagist modes has crystallized in an apparently irreconcilable opposition between such axioms as “No ideas but in things” and “It Must Be Abstract” (and of course their respective fathers). In fact, both are only different sides of the same renovation project, tired of worn-out symbolism. Dead, frozen, empty symbolism became the common enemy, and while Williams and Stevens adopted diverging approaches in the fight against it, the truth is that they share more than would be apparent to the reader of traditional literary history. Williams’ emphasis on locality and imagism can be summarized in this brief aphorism: “And what do I care if yellow and red are Spain’s riches and Spain’s noble blood; here yellow and red are simply autumn.” For Williams “here” seems to refer to a very deep gap between a symbolist Old World chained to tradition and his own Objectivist/Imagist America. It would not be difficult, though, for a Spanish poet of Williams’ day to return the compliment by mocking stars and stripes. Any counter-argumentation of that sort would be aimed mostly at exposing such radical objectivism as a well-intentioned cul-de-sac. The most successful inheritors of either tradition have proved all the richer for their contamination. Such a purist split between Symbolist and Objectivist poetics is unpractical, almost utopian, fostered mainly by the Williams/Stevens
25

Albert Gelpi, “Stevens and Williams: The Epistemology of Modernism”, in Wallace Stevens: The Poetics of Modernism, ed. Albert Gelpi, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, 12.

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rivalry and literary historians intent on maintaining the gap. Unlike these, Henry Sayre and Denise Levertov have warned against considering Williams anti-metaphorical. Sayre has written very emphatically against this: “One of the great heresies of Williams scholarship is the belief that Williams strived to rid his work of metaphor …. Williams has not rid his work of metaphor; rather, he has reconceived metaphor, freed it.”26 On the opposite front, even Stevens’ adage “Reality is a cliché from which we escape by metaphor”27 takes on a new meaning when we consider his “It Must Be Abstract” from the perspective offered by Harold Bloom in his analysis of Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction: “The possible poet has the power to abstract or withdraw himself from outworn conceptualizations of reality, and to live in the world, yet outside the existing conceptions of it and he can do this only by fabricating his own fictions.”28 Presented in this way there is ground to question the irreconcilability of Williams’ and Stevens’ positions. Both are striving to free the language from what they consider a degenerative sclerosis. For evidence of this we can turn to the way successors of one or the other have reconciled rather than radicalized positions. Mike Weaver has characterized Williams’ objectivist poetics as the search “for a new plasticity in meter, and the correct naming of things without allegorical motive”.29 Let us focus briefly on John Ashbery, a poet who has repeatedly been aligned in American literary history as a worthy successor to Stevens, if not to Williams. Ashbery wrote in 1962 that his purpose in poetry was “à restituer aux choses leur vrai nom, à abolir l’éternel poids mort de symbolisme et d’allegorie”.30 Weaver’s 1971 definition is virtually an exact replica of Ashbery’s.

26

Henry M. Sayre, The Visual Text of William Carlos Williams, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1983, 21-22. See also Denise Levertov, “The Ideas in the Things”, in William Carlos Williams: Man and Poet, ed. Carroll F. Terrell, Orono: National Poetry Foundation, 1983, 141-51. 27 Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous, New York: Knopf, 1957, 179. 28 Harold Bloom, “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction: A Commentary”, in Wallace Stevens: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Marie Borroff, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963, 77. 29 Mike Weaver, William Carlos Williams: The American Background, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971, 141. 30 Quoted in James Longenbach, “Ashbery and the Individual Talent”, in American Literary History, IX/1 (1997), 123, n11.

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Concerning formal innovation, Stevens railed against gratuitous distortion in Williams’ poetry, very much as Williams himself had done before against Surrealism. In 1953 he referred to the future of poetry with a worried, and somewhat prophetic reflection: “If the present generation likes the mobile-like arrangements of the line to be found in the work of William Carlos Williams or the verbal conglomerates of E. E. Cummings, what is the next generation to like? Pretty much the bare page, for that alone would be new.”31 In general terms, it can be said that Williams’ ambiguous relationship with Surrealism is clearly perceptible in his statements about it, not merely in his display of a favorable or critical attitude in specific documents written within a short period (sometimes there is a definite ambivalence within a single text), but also in his essays concerning the importance of the unconscious. The reason for this, I believe, is a certain prejudice toward the Surrealist phenomenon, a clear reticence to endorse the Surrealist program as it arrived in America (considering that for Breton partial militancy was unconceivable). The movement’s dogmatism was obviously not for Williams, but his experiments in automatic writing – or quasiautomatic, if you must – show that his only major dissent had to do with the Surrealists’ Freudian devotion. The process of composition of most of the work collected in Williams’ Imaginations, especially Kora in Hell, is known to us due to his own autobiographical accounts. While the differences with Breton’s automatic writing are somewhat negligible, the poetics behind this similar method demonstrate an altogether different concept of the role of the poet and the question of literary value. Though Williams did not correct, he certainly made a selection with qualitative criteria in mind. Beyond the simple writing of sentences on a page, that discrimination qualifies as his “second phase” of composition. If the Surrealists thought themselves vehicles rather than artists, with no pride in craftsmanship, the Modernists in contrast had a very clear awareness of literary value, to the point that there was even a constant competition among some of them, as in the case of Williams and Stevens. Both were also doomed to clash on formal aspects, placing themselves at opposite extremes of the Modernist canon; but there is no such irreconcilability between Symbolism and Objectivism
31

Wallace Stevens, The Letters of Wallace Stevens, ed. Holly Stevens, New York: Knopf, 1966, 800-801.

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as they would have us believe. They share more common traits than they would have liked to admit. As part of the Modernist quest for the renewal of poetic language, both share the need for new metaphors, which is not the same as to say that symbolism must disappear altogether or that a poem ought to be all surface. Not even Ashbery truly advocated this radical degree of unachievable severing of connections between form and content, though they certainly agreed on the need to reformulate those connections. On a more purely formal level, however, it is clear that Stevens wholeheartedly disapproved of the radical experiments with the poetic line practiced by Williams and Cummings, replicating in a way early conservative criticism of Joyce and closing a circle that was opened with Aldington’s admonition against making it too new.

INSTANCES OF THE JOURNEY MOTIF THROUGH LANGUAGE AND SELFHOOD IN SOME MODERNIST AMERICAN POETS MANUEL BRITO

In the eighteenth century, when Voltaire provocatively argued for the definitive disappearance of poetry from the pressure of empirical disciplines such as mathematics and medicine, it was only in order to highlight the importance that scientific studies had acquired during the age of the Enlightenment. This was a decisive period for the development of efforts to formalize and provide a methodological framework for new empirical concepts, which brought about the emergence of a whole new culture. In this context, the notion of the journey evokes a sense of “planetary consciousness”, to use Mary Louise Pratt’s terminology. This sense of planetary consciousness was clearly marked by intersecting processes like the “emergence of natural history as a knowledge structure and the momentum toward interior, as opposed to maritime, exploration”. Pratt’s observations point to both social and economic changes, “including the consolidation of bourgeois forms of subjectivity and power, the inauguration of a new territorial phase of capitalism propelled by searches for raw materials, the attempt to extend coastal trade inland, and national imperatives to seize overseas territory in order to prevent its being seized by rival European powers”.1 All of these elements contributed to a transformation of the self that was involved in a new process of “world-making”. The celebration of this metamorphosis achieved through travel itself and the consequent contact with the Other has scarcely been
1

Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, London: Routledge, 1992, 9.

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studied in American poetry. However, we do have numerous instances of poets embracing the journey through diverse and perhaps challenging forms that responded to their own dynamic contingencies. Janis P. Stout2 pointed out as recently as 1983 that travel as a subject matter had not attracted much attention within critical studies on American poetry. She herself only studies two poets, Hart Crane and Wallace Stevens, in whose work the journey becomes a Modernist exploration of the constructs of language and self. If the American writer confronted sophisticated questions – exploring the relationships between the self and otherness and casting doubt upon these relationships – his concept of the journey has little to do with entertainment, anecdotal descriptions and materialistic purposes. He instead becomes concerned with the transcendental consequences derived from his search, exploration and return. With these concepts in mind, I will discuss diverse authors and formal patterns to show the variety and richness of these intersecting processes encouraged by the continual search and exploration crystallized in Modernist American poetry. My discussion reflects the difficulties of elucidating the different imaginative and formal framings of works belonging to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Initially we may discern the recurrent tendency to consider language as the point of departure for a new journey and as an aesthetic principle that facilitates a new knowledge. Generally, the most obvious confirmations of this mode are provided in Modernist American poetry by Ezra Pound and later by H. D., Marianne Moore, Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens. The journey in American poetry is approached according to the conceptual models originating in particular periods. Firstly, the substantial journey symbolizing Romanticism and attachment to humankind – emerging in different guises like solidarity, friendship or nation – can easily be traced in the American poetry written in the second half of the nineteenth century. Secondly, the twentieth-century Modernist American poets inherently exhibit a poetry that accommodates uncertainties and plays with the displacement of the self in relation to its cultural references. The poets under consideration
2

Janis P. Stout, The Journey Narrative in American Literature: Patterns and Departures, Westport: Greenwood, 1983.

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share a striking convergence analyzed in this essay – the creative power of the self involved in a journey, which reaffirms its approach to society through language itself. I assume, then, that in American poetry the journey is based on a pivotal point characterized by a revelatory encounter between language and the world. Acknowledgements of the self and the Other, playful rotations of identity and a conscious tendency to social participation departing from individuality are the most readily identifiable intentions informed through language and its formal presentation. A first plausible step might be the emergence of a new morality issuing from this contact between the self and the Other. This new morality proposes reconciliation, interaction and a reevaluation of all cultural conditioning. By this I mean that in American poetry values ascribed to individualism concomitantly belong to a communal field. The approach of this article is intentionally broad in order to include the significance of the journey in exploring the self, and the continual renewal of poetic modes. The word is the means to communicate with the Other, but it also becomes a paradigmatic target by which to discern the differences among individuals. Language stands out as a territory that brings together the central and the marginal. It may lead us to an ambitious task: “By replacing the search for ontological whats with the question of how or for whom such whats make a difference.”3 Ultimately, this outcome, which superimposes many levels of reading, really points to the nature of political power and the importance of language in our lives. The new Modernist literary discourse went beyond the American boundaries and adopted an interdisciplinary approach. Ezra Pound became the foremost proponent of the new poetic idiom subversive of the ideologized concept of culture. He also favored cultural interrelationships as the basic reinforcement of the new consciousness. His support for the idea of trans-nationality caught on rapidly throughout continental Europe. It is no coincidence that his main poetic work, The Cantos, starts with the poet’s journey, resembling Homer’s Odyssey:
3

J. E. Elliott, “From Language to Medium: A Small Apology for Cultural Theory as Challenge to Cultural Studies”, in New Literary History, XXIX/3 (Summer 1998), 32425.

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And then went down to the ship, Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and We set up mast and sail on that swart ship, Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward Bore us out onward with bellying canvas, Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess. Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller, Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end.4

Starting with these early lines, Pound is intensifying his aspirations to respond to the world in some new way. A Modernist and innovator by temperament, he adopts an epic tone that is maintained throughout the book. As an individual he tries to recapture and revive the multiple suggestions that had gone unnoticed in the cultural history of humanity.5 Now the intended Modernist journey is characterized by historical and cultural synchronicity, and a liberating capacity of the self and language. Pound’s fragmentary lines reject explicitness and require of the reader a continual quest. Not surprisingly, his poetry has always invited a variety of approaches and re-readings. For instance, prominent contemporary American poet Charles Bernstein points out that Pound’s “disembodied ideas” are essential to the sound and sense of all the voices in the United States: “These voices now speak of and for themselves, precluding appropriation but entering into that larger collage – a text without center but constantly site-specific – that is poetry in English.”6

4 5

Ezra Pound, The Cantos, London: Faber, 1986, 3. Javier Coy also focuses on this aspect and points out that Pound’s non-reductive intentions allowed him to be open to any sphere of human experience, in his “Introducción” to Ezra Pound. Cantares completos, Tomo I., Madrid: Cátedra, 1994, 41. Pound’s coincidence with H. D. and William Carlos Williams, whose poetic selves tended to join in a community embarked upon an exploratory voyage, is also manifest in his work, though marked by darker shadows. I would like to mention Coy’s bilingual edition of The Cantos as the most comprehensively annotated volume of Pound’s poetical work in Spanish. 6 Charles Bernstein, “Pound and the Poetry of Today”, in My Way: Speeches and Poems, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999, 163.

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Moreover, Pound did not submit his translations to the authority of the original text. He made it clear that translation was for him a perpetual process of discovery. His poem, “That Pass Between the False Dawn and the True”, begins and ends with the same line, “Blown of the winds whose goal is ‘No-man-knows’”,7 where the unknown provides access to the romance of the self who has embarked on a continual struggle for self-fulfillment. It is true that Pound is not searching for the consolidation of a nation, as was the case with Oliver W. Holmes, nor for the resuscitation of earlier literary schools or modes, as did Henry W. Longfellow, both writing in the nineteenth century. Yet he insists on the concept of wholeness and ultimate integration in humanity. Paradoxically, although Pound’s strategy is affected by multiple cultural leaps or meanings in conflict, due to the simultaneity that undermines the contours of a narrative self, his hermeneutics lead one to an appreciation of the inevitable blend of the individual and his social significance in American poetry. Throughout his life, Pound remained a strongly individual poet, involved with artistic movements in which individualism was at stake, for instance, Imagism and later Vorticism, yet he also remained socially conscious. When Pound’s journey comes to an end in The Cantos, he acknowledges that his “notes do not cohere”, but he has learnt that the clue is “to see”. He discovered how to relate Disney to Jules Laforgue or Linnaeus and especially how to re-unite all languages as the most defining cultural artifact for the individual to discern the light: “A little light, like a rushlight / to lead back to splendour.”8 He detached language from rhetoric and metaphor, the self from the routine. Despite Pound’s elitist approach to literature, his most revealing assertion is to urge the artist to consider the nature of man, of individuals.9 Pound’s regenerative role in American poetry is unquestionably appreciated by most critics. His editorial work, his support for diverse literary and artistic movements and of individual practitioners can be
7

Ezra Pound, Collected Early Poems of Ezra Pound, ed. Michael J. King, New York: New Directions, 1976, 29. 8 The Cantos, 796-97. 9 Ezra Pound, Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed. T. S. Eliot, London: Faber and Faber, 1985, 47.

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exemplified by numerous references. Hilda Doolittle is a clear example of Pound’s powerful presence in the new American poetic scene. Pound’s intimate friend, she adopted his acronym, H. D., and joined Imagism, a movement he developed in 1910 along with T. E. Hulme. H. D.’s trip to the Scilly Isles, narrated in Notes on Thought and Vision, is a variation on Modernist self-transformation. Unlike her colleagues, she was attracted by the Moravian visionary sense of the self, though the ultimate result concords with the Modernist emphasis on exploring all the possibilities of the self and the symbolic consciousness in perceiving reality. Her journey to these islands initiated her new literary commitment. Her earlier life had been somewhat frustrating, starting with Pound’s fateful breaking off of their engagement, followed by her separation from Richard Aldington and her becoming pregnant by the musician Cecil Gray, who would later disown the child she bore. H. D. was intensely affected by these experiences and her journey to the Scilly Isles served to reassert the American transcendentalist consideration of the self. Albert Gelpi points out in his Introduction to Notes on Thought and Vision that “collapse gave way to coherence and alienation to participation in a cosmic scheme”.10 The poems in this volume use enigmatic fragmentary language, H. D. being greatly influenced by the Moravian spirit, which marked her and reflected her visionary states. H. D. ultimately gives the impression that the self tends inevitably to be integrated into an “Overmind”, which suggests the recurrent presence of the Emersonian “Oversoul” in American poetry:
Over-mind artists usually come in a group. There were the great Italians: Verrochio, Angelo, Ghiberti, the lot that preceded and followed da Vinci, including statesmen, explorers, and men and women of curious and sensitive development.11

10

Albert Gelpi, Introduction to Hilda Doolittle, Notes on Thought and Vision, San Francisco: City Lights, 1982, 11. 11 Notes on Thought and Vision, 21.

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In H. D.’s poetry the group as community had a great significance. This was undoubtedly a result of her childhood as a member of a large family and of the Moravian religious community. Being a representative practitioner of Imagism, she used simple diction and preferred a precise visualization of scenes and objects closely following Imagist aims. Moreover, as I said earlier, her crucial difference from other Modernists consists in her visionary approach, one of her main innovations, which serves to recuperate her most intimate self:
Probably we pass through all forms of life and that is very interesting. But so far I have passed through these two, I am in my spiritual body a jelly-fish and a pearl. We can probably use this pearl, as a crystal ball is used, for concentrating and directing pictures from the world of vision.12

In other contexts, the idea of identification with the jelly-fish and the pearl might convey the concept of emotional cloistering, though in H. D.’s case it is a manifestation of vision and revelation following a painful catharsis. The island and the body were conceived as closed spaces which should, of necessity, be outgrown so as to reveal a renewed language and a newly constituted identity. H. D. did her best to constantly redefine herself, appropriating Greek and Egyptian mythologies as a cultural dynamic. Indeed, her visionary side follows the transcendentalist constant in nineteenth-century American poetry present in Dickinson, Poe or Emerson as “an interest in dreams giving access to eternity”.13 Though adhering to these universal claims, H. D. always went back to being a witness to an intimate journey, assuming that poetic and psychic effects are created through the act of writing. Her inter-textual references pave the way for the internal journey, a journey resonating with allusions to past cultural achievement. When not construed in visionary terms, other Modernist poets, like Marianne Moore, conceive the journey as a way of solving the mysteries of language itself. Moore extends this argument and prepares the reader to discover what she mysteriously propounds.
12 13

Ibid., 50 David Seed, “H. D. (Hilda Doolittle)”, in American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal, eds Harold Bloom, Clive and Brian Docherty, New York: St Martin’s, 1995, 25.

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Once we accept her proposal, we find subtleties manufacturing the uncertainties of the world:
Messengers much like ourselves? Explain it. Steadfastness the darkness makes explicit? Something heard most clearly when nor near it? Above particularities, these unparticularities praise cannot violate. One has seen, in such steadiness never deflected, how by darkness a star is perfected. Star does not ask me if I see it? Fir that would not wish me to uproot it? Speech that does not ask me if I hear it? Mysteries expound mysteries.14

Moore is not telling a story rooted in reality but is fascinated by questions and possibilities. The reader feels obliged to retranslate them into understandable terms. It is an introverted poetry, demanding that we resolve the mysteries of its language. This strategy reveals meanings from the other side, re-conceptualizing the sense of authority by allowing individuals to perceive conflicts in social communication. It is true that she never renounces her own self but offers an option for exploration, exemplifying one of the most subversive Modernist issues, quite similar to Post-structuralism: the self engaged in an incessant voyage of differences and displacements. While some of Moore’s poetry has conventionally been studied as Objectivist verse, meticulously and precisely delineating objects and people, I think the strong presence of irony and wit cannot be observed as a fixed hermeneutics searching for an objective aesthetic experience. Her use of inventiveness and play is a requirement for reading a journey, where the articulation of writing is questioned. Charles Altieri suggests that approaches to a poetic journey can neither be made from a Kantian perspective nor by analytically studying the corresponding emotions. The contemporary relevance of Modernist poetry lies in its ability to play with the intra-systemic
14

Marianne Moore, The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, New York: Macmillan, 1967, 142.

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resources that constitute its essence, “to keep attention focused on appearance and thereby to fascinate us by what remains ‘other’ to the discursive and categorizing audience”.15 Moore insists that above particularities we have the unparticularities reaching beyond exact references and analogies, facilitating a highly symbolic poetic voyage towards the discovery of the self and language arising in the context of Modernism. Quite typically, Modernist artists and poets follow the same impetus to explore the mutual seduction of self and language. They were committed to determining the nature of otherness, and the origin of identity, sexuality and gender. From the beginning, Hart Crane’s journey entailed the same ontological strategy visible in Walt Whitman. I am not arguing that Crane was Whitmanesque, but rather that he discovered the Other through his own self.16 This is directly related to the significant presence of the bridge as a metaphor for delving into the experience of life itself and into the complex relationships between human beings. In this context, some of Crane’s poems, like “A Traveler Born” and “White Buildings”, are quite close to Whitman’s rhythmic and prophetic tones; but these two stanzas provide his own particular vision of a journey:
Of sailors – those two Corsicans at Marseille, – The Dane at Paris, and those weeks of May With distance, lizard-like, green as Pernot ... This Connecticut rain, its smashing fall, its wet inferno –

15

Charles Altieri, “Poetics as ‘Untruth’: Revising Modern Claims for Literary Truths”, New Literary History, XXIX/2 (Spring 1998), 321. 16 In effect, Hal Foster in “Primitive Scenes”, Critical Inquiry, XX/1 (Autumn 1993), 74-75, reworks these issues, often mixed in the artist’s psychic life, and registers the connection between style and subject: “On one level it concerns the founding of a style, often articulated around a specific work; this staging of a stylistic origin is a familiar trope in high-modernist manifestos and memoirs. On another level it involves the founding of a subject; in fact the stylistic founding often invokes this subjective one. The ambiguity between these two origins is irreducible; often it is as if the stylistic founding structures the subjective origin retrospectively, even as the subjective origin impels the stylistic founding into being.” In this sense, Crane’s laborious lines cannot be reduced to simple autobiographical reflections, but must be assigned to the larger context of American poetry.

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Enforces memory – prison, perfume of women, and the fountain – Oh, final apple-math of ripe night fallen! Concluding handclasp, cider, summer-swollen, Folds, and is folden in the echoing mountain ... Yields and is shielded, wrapt in traffic flame.17

The most stunning references concerned with this journey are Crane’s shadowy memories, half-recognizable, half-literal. Janis P. Stout distinguishes three kinds of journey in Crane’s poetry: “the journeys of the historian poet, contemporary journals of withdrawal or escape, and the symbolic journey of the poet’s development.”18 The third type is clearly connected with the self, illustrating this constant in American poetry. The journey for him is an appeal to a new consciousness that comes through the experimentation with words. This is a fruitful American objective – the quest for a new language and consciousness founded on individuality:
The imaged Word, it is, that holds Hushed willows anchored in its glow. It is the unbetrayable reply Whose accent no farewell can know.19

Crane’s position can be framed as follows: language awakens us and allows us to see the world in the self-affirmation of words, whose possible alternative meanings are linked to personal vision. He was particularly skilled in capturing elements inherent in American culture and fusing them into an ecstatic whole that would stand in relation to personal and communal reflections and provide a taste of a different aesthetic pleasure. Interestingly enough, Crane took his life during a sea voyage home after a stay in Mexico on a Guggenheim fellowship. It is no simple matter to evaluate the significance of this fact, but the basic characteristics of the journey in Crane are quite clear – the ideas of movement and travel are included in his poems to speak about his

17

Hart Crane, The Complete Poems of Hart Crane, New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1958, 147. 18 Stout, The Journey Narrative in American Literature, 178. 19 Crane, Complete Poems, 114.

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opposition to being vulnerable to external forces and his optimism intrinsically bound up with language. This same optimistic ambition for a poetic inclusiveness of space and time is also present in William Carlos Williams. Though Williams never adhered publicly to artistic or literary movements, his extended relationship with some of his contemporaries implied a wide range of influences. His illustrative essay, “The Poem as a Field of Action”, accounts for radical changes in poetical structure and invites the reader to consider the poem as a dream. This is nothing really new, since this same aspect was offered as a valuable alternative by the Surrealists. Then, too, Williams argued for his most playful suggestion. He placed his trust in the categorical activity of language: “we must listen to the language for discoveries we hope to make.”20 For him, language takes exploration for granted, it is the basis for all possibilities and it is surely the most individualistic and instrumental road to consciousness. Clearly, this assumption is connected with his main contribution – to provide an American tone and rhythm to his poetic lines and to be attached to the most immediate activities, persons and objects. The substance of Williams’ position is visibly intelligible in his semi-autobiographical story, A Voyage to Pagany, written, significantly, on one his trips to Europe. There is some documentary information available on this journey, beginning with Ezra Pound’s invitation, formulated as a sort of challenge. Pound encouraged Williams to take a sabbatical year from his medical practice and face his fears of leaving Rutherford, a confrontation which could potentially destroy Williams’ illusions, so deeply grounded in this small town. In fact, this voyage to Europe was extremely productive, enabling Williams to discover what was genuinely American in poetry. Asserting the self-sufficiency of Americanness, Williams immediately shifted his attention to exploiting dialectal American English. He reevaluated texts written by American expatriates specifically related to the American national experience. Harry Levin refers to the following books: John Dos Passos’ Three Soldiers, E.E. Cummings’ The Enormous Room, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also
20

William Carlos Williams, Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams, New York: New Directions, 1954, 290.

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Rises, Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood”.21 Williams de-substantiated these fictional works, reading them as stories written by earlier travelers who used their European experiences to speak about the American self and its values. The point was to write and read in a new way, and Williams was engaged in a defense of the vernacular. This essential Williamsian aspect emerged from a journey that allowed him to perceive the close relationships between the self and language. This notion is brought to the forefront again during another journey in “The Wanderer”:
But one day, crossing the ferry With the great towers of Manhattan before me, Out at the prow with the sea wind blowing, I had been wearing many questions Which she had put on to try me: How shall I be a mirror to this modernity?22

Being a mirror of his contemporaries, Williams developed a poetry close to Imagism. Later on, George Oppen included him in the Objectivist project. Williams’ main journey was the quest for the unexpected, for the unexplored routes of the word within the Modernist frame of interpretation. The underlying unity among the different discourses of modernity is the self, and its treasure resides in everyday immediate experience. Finally, Wallace Stevens is my last representative of the Modernist journey into self and language. In his poem, “On the Road Home”, his first assertion, “‘There is no such thing as the truth’”, is subsequently completed by: “‘Words are not forms of a single word. / In the sum of the parts, there are only the parts.’” By the end of the poem, the author enjoys a silence which has become “largest / and longest”.23 Like many of his contemporaries, Stevens was notoriously obsessed with the role of language. The hallmark of his poetic tone was neither Pound’s
21

Harry Levin, Introduction to William C. Williams, A Voyage to Pagany, New York: New Directions, 1970, x. 22 William Carlos Williams, The Collected Earlier Poems of William Carlos Williams, New York: New Directions, 1951, 3. 23 Wallace Stevens, The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964, 203-204.

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radicalism nor Williams’ vernacular prosody, but reflective stillness. Like other distinctly American poetic journeys, Stevens’ excursions are explorations of selfhood constituted by language. Indeed, in “Arrival at the Waldorf”, a poem depicting a return from a voyage to Guatemala, Stevens renounces any literal representation of his experience and focuses on writing “One wild rhapsody a fake for another”,24 in which poetry emerges from the wild country of the soul. This same aspect is alleged in “The Search for Sound Free from Motion”:
The world as word ... The world lives as you live, Speaks as you speak, a creature that Repeats its vital words, yet balances The syllable of a syllable.25

This delicate stillness and reflection in Stevens’ poetry becomes a particular confession of his purposes. He declares a profound respect for the word. Stevens’ words are not deterministic but fully flavor individualistic procedures because the role of the self is to disclose the reasons and unreasons of human actions. Among these the most relevant is to make pertinent meanings. Modernism did not reestablish a full understanding of human behavior; much rather, it hid the complexities of the literary in the labyrinth of language. Imagination turned any linguistic gesture into discursive practice. William Carlos Williams himself warned against foreign elements in poetry and felt “tripped and knitted by philosophers”. He conceived of the poet in the Modernist era obsessed by newness as “an engineer trying to build, to build in the form of his verse, in its structure, in its objective fabric a new always new world”.26 He advocated a special sensitivity to the poly-semantics of language and considered that a poet is a poet, that is, transcends
24 25

Ibid., 241. Ibid., 268. 26 William Carlos Williams, “An Unpublished Letter on Modernism and American Poetics”, New England Review, XVIII/.2 (Spring 1997), 161-62.

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objectivity and subjectivity. Imagination and the real were brought together and in their bizarre juxtaposition led to an inevitable journey of exploration of language. I began by saying that language and selfhood are essential issues in American poetic journeys. They are also pivotal elements of poetic renewal. Language as terra incognita delineates individual maps of subjectivity. Many of the poets considered here linked their journeys to new formal explorations. Indeed, American poets have developed the particulars of personal approach and diversity, especially their tendency to generate a journey that becomes a mythic narrative of the self and the language of the Poet.

FOR LOVE AND LANGUAGE: THE POETRY OF ROBERT CREELEY HEINZ ICKSTADT

Not very long ago, Marjorie Perloff, in a polemic on behalf of that new avant-garde, the Language Poets, distinguished two lines of tradition in American poetry: the one dedicated to the idea of a natural language which saw poetry as rooted in common speech, in the democratic soil of the colloquial; the other, embracing the idea of the poem as artifact, as something perhaps gained from the colloquial but as also set against it and any notion of natural roots and origins. The tradition of speech ran from Whitman to Pound and Williams on the one hand, and to Ginsberg and the colloquial stance of much contemporary ethnic poetry on the other; the second tradition from the French symbolists to Stevens and then, by way of Ashbery to the Language Poets. Of these two traditions, Perloff sometimes seems to prefer the former, at other times the latter – perhaps for the simple reason that they cannot be so easily arranged to form an opposition.1 The poetry of Robert Creeley is an interesting case in point since it does not seem to belong to either of them. It appears to be solidly in the camp of common speech. Time and again Creeley has stressed his rootedness in the speech of people in the lower ranks of life: farmers,
This is a revised version of an article that first appeared in Anglistentag 2002 Bayreuth: Proceedings, eds Ewald Mengel et al, Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2003, 17-28. 1 In conversation, Perloff remarked that she is aware of not having been always consistent in her discussions of Creeley’s poetry, in Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), placing him in the context of natural speech and in Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996) closer to the Language Poets. See also Marjorie Perloff, The Dance of the Intellect: Studies in the Poetry of the Pound Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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workers, outcasts, the linguistic context of his childhood and his youth.2 Yet at the same time, the delicate structure of his poems, the care he invests in the rhythmic and sound patterns of each line, his moral sense of craftsmanship solidly place him in the camp of those who embrace the artificial character, the constructedness of poetry. And, of course, language poets and their critical supporters have been among his best friends: Charles Bernstein wrote an illuminating essay on Creeley and so, for that matter, did Marjorie Perloff. Yet, reading through his Collected Poems and the volumes that came afterwards, one may understand the massive criticism of more traditional critics that has accompanied Creeley’s poetry from the beginning. As much as his insistence on craftsmanship seems to be a Modernist idea, his poems do not bear out an aesthetic ideology of the perfect product because many of them are not and do not want to be finished: they are jottings down of a thought, of an observation, of moods or eccentric whims; or they resemble Wittgensteinian aphorisms like: “What / by being not / is – is not / by being.”3 They also play with a variety of traditional forms and topics: mythological material as we know it from Pound and Williams; the language of the commonplace, yes, but also of the poetry of troubadours and their vocabulary of courtly love. Therefore, some critics have called him indiscriminate, since Creeley evidently does not seem to be selfconscious in the selection of his work: the trivial and playful are placed next to the reflective and self-reflective and the intensely emotional: poems of love and anger, poems of sexual encounters, of domestic harmony and conflict. Poetry, with him, seems to have the function of a day book: a record of everyday activity, as normal and as

2

As he wrote in a letter to Olson (19 May 1952): “Well, I came up from the bottom, rock of sorts, and fell, now, I am not going to toss out the one thing I got from it: speech. No man is going to get me to let that go. I heard everything, as a kid, and felt, then, shy & unfamiliar – often started by any words too hard, or couldn’t find those flip answers my friends could, etc. In fact, my friends: one was in prison the last time I heard, another working in some garage in Acton, the rest I don’t know. But speech, I heard the craziest, shouted, or whatever – the deepest, most permanent contempt for any ‘written’ word any man ever wrote” (Robert Creeley’s Life and Work: A Sense of Increment, ed. John Wilson, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1987, 222). 3 Robert Creeley, The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982, 406.

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necessary as breathing4 – where every breath counts, so that the selection of the best would falsify the record. The ethos of craft or of the hand-made is paradoxically part of an effort to find (and therefore also at times misses) the linguistic embodiment of a very personal rhythm of breathing, of one’s very own individual “measure” that would “score the life of the mind and body”.5 Here Creeley seems indeed part of a tradition that runs from Whitman to Pound, Williams, and Olson – mentors through and against whose work he defined his own aesthetic practice. His short poems are like snapshots of a life experienced as a process of reflection through the eye/I. In this and in several other respects they seem closest to the poems of William Carlos Williams. They also always seem to straddle the line between the casual and the wellmade. They equally emphasize language as a medium of sensuous reflection (a unity of physical and mental process); and they equally see the poem as linguistic object, condensed by an extreme verbal economy. Like Stein and some of the objectivist poets, Creeley eliminates hierarchies of syntax and vocabulary and upgrades unimportant classes of words: especially personal pronouns and prepositions of spatial and temporal location like “where”, “here”, “there”, “then”, “again” which are related “in a system to pointing” (as Stein phrased it at the beginning of Tender Buttons). As language object, the poem, like other objects, is part of the real and constitutes its own reality, at the same time that it is a place where reality is found and created through language. Creeley’s poems range from a concretely sensual/visual rendering of situations and objects to highly abstract constructivist patterns, like the poem “Numbers”, dedicated to Robert Indiana, whose word paintings they evidently echo. Indiana’s most famous painting, “Love” (1966), “depends”, as Richard Kostelanetz has pointed out, “upon tilting the letter 0, which in this heavy Roman style evokes the sexuality embodied in its shape, and then upon the fact that all four letters are literally touching each of their adjacent letters”.6 Indeed, the centrality of vaginal or oral holes to be filled by love, or by the quasi4

“Creeley no longer wants to perfect the isolated poem, but to sustain the writing from day to day” (Robert Creeley’s Life and Work, 13). 5 Robert Creeley, The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989, 29. 6 Richard Kostelanetz, Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes, Chicago: A Capella Books, 1993, 107.

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sexual act of speech points to Creeley, whose poetry is centered, if this is the right word, in the congruence of loving, thinking, and writing as much as in the knowledge of the used-upness of words, since only through their ironic re-use could words of love express love again. This is still in the vein of Williams, to be sure, if we think of his “The rose is obsolete” which, in translating Juan Gris’ cubist painting into language, liberates the rose from its accumulated layers of clichéd meanings to a pure essence: its being, its beauty and energetic thrust which can thus, once again, embody a notion of love. Charles Altieri has demonstrated the constructivist impulse of Williams’ poetry in his analysis of the most concrete and seemingly least constructed of Williams’ poems, “The Red Wheel Barrow”.7 Creeley’s abstract (perhaps also abstract expressionist) tendencies are much more conspicuous. Therefore reading his poetry is a rather paradoxical experience. In “Numbers”, for instance, there is not only the tension between the simple vocabulary of everyday speech and intangibly abstract phrases like “convenience to assumptions”, but also an almost violent tension between perceptual concreteness and reflective abstraction. If, in the case of Williams, we, as readers, seem to follow the movement of the eye, with Creeley we seem to follow the movement of a mental eye/I – an act of perception that is at the same time an act of reflection, a seeing through the mind’s eye, a “moving in the mind’s patterns”. And yet, Creeley opens Pieces (the cycle of his poems of which “Numbers” is a part) with Allen Ginsberg’s “Song”, which proclaims a return to the body:
Yes, yes, that’s what I wanted, I always wanted, I always wanted, to return to the body where I was born.8

To return to the body (not in nostalgic yearning for a return into the safety of the uterus but in the consciousness of one’s own physical
7

William Carlos Williams, The Collected Early Poems (1938), New York: A New Directions Book, 1951, 231-36. 8 Creeley, Collected Poems, 378.

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existence) and be at the same time within the mind’s movement; to see the world in its concrete particularity and yet in and through the mind’s eye; to be in the world and part of it through acts of language; to be isolated from the world (from self and other) and at the same time tied to it via acts of communication; to attain a sense of wholeness precisely through the capture of fragmented moments (moments of experienced fragmentation: a chaos of particulars); to gain “peaces” from “pieces” as Altieri put it9– these paradoxes are part of an aesthetic that at once continues and pushes beyond that of Williams. I see Creeley as tied to, yet also as moving away from, Williams in five interrelated areas: firstly, in the immediacy of the moment of perception. Williams’ effort to develop in a field of incessantly changing experience a language that would register instantaneously the movement and ongoing transformation of the perceived object as well as of the perceiving self (“recording the force moving”, “catching the evasive life of the thing”, “to know what he is at the exact moment that he is”10) resonates in Creeley’s poetry as a linguistic preoccupation with the processual “Now” of experience, the “instant’s possibility”. Since the moment is a temporal position, its spatial equivalent is the category of place, or the local: “Here”. Therefore the second obsession of Williams’ aesthetic refers to the need to belong to a concrete linguistic, cultural, and even geographic environment. It seems to imply permanence and stasis and would thus seem to be opposed to the concept of the Moment. But with Williams, and even more so with Creeley, place is most of all an experiential category where living and writing converge in the act of creation: “I want the poem as close to this fact of living as I can bring it; or it, me.”11 And in a brief “Note on the Local”, he writes: “The local is not a place but a place in a given man – what part of it he has been compelled or else brought by love to give witness to in his own mind. And that is THE form, that is the whole thing, as whole as it can get.”12 In other contexts, this is what he calls measure – an individual sense of coherence worked out of the very flow of experience.
9

As quoted by Harald Mesch, “Robert Creeley’s Epistemopathic Path”, in Robert Creeley: The Poet’s Workshop, ed. Carroll F. Terrell, Orono, Maine: The National Poetry Foundation, 1984, 80. 10 William Carlos Williams, Imaginations, New York: New Directions, 1970, 146-47. 11 Creeley, Collected Poems, 105. 12 Creeley, Collected Essays, 479.

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Therefore, thirdly, moment and place are part of the process of the experience of living. This implies an open-endedness that also relates to the processual notion of an open form: Williams’ idea of the poem as a field of action, or Olson’s concept of projective verse are indispensable for Creeley. “The simplest way I found to make clear my own sense of writing”, he explained in an interview,
is to use the analogy of driving. The road, as it were, is creating itself momently in one’s attention to it, there, visibly, in front of the car. There is no reason it should go on forever, and if one does assume it, it very often disappears all too actually. When Pound says, “we must understand what is happening,” one sense of his meaning I take to be this necessary attention to what is happening in the writing (the road) one is, in the sense suggested, following. In that way there is nothing mindless about the procedure …. Mind, as engaged, permits experience of “order” far more various and intensive than habituated and programmed limits of its subtleties can recognize.13

As with Williams, “attention” is a keyword; risk-taking would be another. Creeley’s aesthetic – more than that of Williams – connects here with an experiential existentialism shared by a whole generation keen on developing structure out of process, a sense of unity through the free play of improvisation, even of chance, the unexpected stumbling into a place where creativity occurs. Williams and Olson suggested a method of writing, which, for Creeley, had a musical model in Jazz,14 especially in the rhythmic syncopations of Bebop. Fourthly, the thrust of the open form is a matter of energy – the energy of the imagination related to energies of the body, especially to its sexual push (Creeley, as much as Williams, Pound, or Olson, associates the power of the poetic drive with male sexual energy) but also to the life-giving energies of breath. The intensities and energies of living and writing were part of a process that discovered energy in
13

Robert Creeley, A Quick Graph: Collected Notes and Essays, San Francisco: The Four Seasons Foundation, 1970, 58. 14 “The drive to ‘clear the circle’, to ‘hack’ a way out from a given centre, meeting any exigency that might arise on its own terms, permitting ‘the thing’ to ‘come of itself’ corresponds to the improvised art of jazz, an art which has always interested Creeley. Famously, he has insisted that his poems are always ‘telling something to myself, that I didn’t have the knowing of previously’” (Alice Entwistle, “‘For W. C. W.’, ‘Yet Complexly’: Creeley and Williams”, English: The Journal of the English Association, 50 [Summer 2001], 137).

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the medium, the linguistic material itself. The energizing of words by a reduction of their semantic as well as their pictorial function and the discovery of their materiality, their shape and body as “things in themselves”, has been most radically explored in Stein’s Tender Buttons, of course, but is also noticeable in some of Williams’ poems, like the famous second version of “The Locust Tree in Flower”:
Among of green stiff old bright broken branch come white sweet May again15

Although this is still part of the Imagist tradition, the isolation and equal treatment of individual words independent of their syntactic status and function emphasized their materiality, gives them the quality of paint; at the same time that it blurs the distinctiveness of the visual image through condensation and abstraction. Creeley was eager to push this a step further, and – just as Williams had done – he took his cue from contemporary painting:
Possibly I hadn’t as yet realized that a number of American painters had made the shift I was myself so anxious to accomplish, that they had, in fact, already begun to move away from the insistently pictorial, whether figurative or non-figurative, to a manifest directly of the energy inherent in the materials, literally, and their physical

15

Williams, The Collected Early Poems, 93.

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manipulation in the act of painting itself. Process, in the sense that Olson had found it in Whitehead, was clearly much on their minds.16

This shift, in the notion of concreteness, away from the visual sharpness of the image to an energy of sound and rhythm heightens the abstract quality of Creeley’s poems, since they render the unity of physical and mental movement and energy in the abstract concreteness of dynamic form: the improvisationally developed pattern of a verbal dance. Fifthly, more even than Williams’ poetry, Creeley’s projects a private world that arises in and from particular instances of place and time. It seems to draw the reader into a sphere of intimacy – of sexual encounters, body functions, domestic quarrels, acts of violence – that, on many occasions, has a quality almost of the exhibitionist. And yet he cannot be called a confessional poet, since his poems do not explore and display self but seek to push beyond the limits of self – even, as Creeley put it, “toward a final obliteration of (him)self”. This tension between a private or personal particular and the nonparticularity of the common can be noticed from early on. It made him argue in the early 1960s that it was precisely through insistence on a scrupulous localism that the particular can be condensed and abstracted into an impersonal common, what Creeley calls the “anonymity of song”.17 More than a decade later, in an Introduction to a selection of Whitman’s poems, Creeley seems to assume a much more relaxed relationship between the personal and the common:
It is, paradoxically, the personal which makes the common insofar as it recognizes the existence of the many in the one. In my own joy and despair, I am brought to that which others have also experienced.18

However, the very notion of the paradox does not seem to allow for such easy reconciliation – as Creeley must have been aware from the example of one of his favorite poets, Hart Crane, who had tried to gain from the condensed pattern of personal suffering the mythic structure of a wholeness achieved through the reconciliation of opposites. It is only through the insistence on the particularity of the individual or personal experience, of the individual or personal rhythm
16 17

Creeley, Collected Essays, 369. Ibid., 483. 18 Ibid., 3.

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of breathing, speaking, thinking that a concrete singularity of vision can be achieved. At the same time, particularity runs the risk of separateness and isolation – unless it seeks to define itself relationally, as Harald Mesch argues, not as separate “self” but in relation to a “you” as much as to a constantly changing sense of “here”: that is, to a particular moment and a particular place that constantly changes and that therefore has to be constantly caught, before all conceptualization, in the very movement of experience.19 The separateness of the isolated particular creates the need to break through the shell of the self by relating, linking up to, or merging two particulars into one. Division, isolation, emptiness, the absence of wholeness become the very locus of desire, of passion and energy. In this dialectic, the separateness of the particular gives rise to the need to obliterate the isolated self in the act of poetry as much as in the act of love. It is sexual energy, the intensity of desire, the desire to merge, fill, penetrate, that keeps life as well as writing going. Creeley’s “personalized versions of love, pain, sex”, the poetic record of his sexual and emotional relationships with women, the very centrality in his oeuvre of poems of love (For Love was the title of the second volume of poetry he published) have therefore larger implications. They link the particularity of individual experience to the larger issues of poetic form as well as to a vision of interrelatedness, a sense of the self’s as well as the poems’ interconnectedness with World and Other through measure – the found pattern of an improvisational order. “This non-intentional relation to the world”, says Harald Mesch,
is unconditional love: ‘To be in love is like going out-/side to see what kind of day // it is.’ The world for Creeley, in this sense, mostly assumes the form of a woman – a mythical archetypal being as well as
19

“For Creeley, finding the non-intentional path to the ‘occasion’ means pushing the threshold of consciousness – at once centrifugally and centripetally – beyond the limits imposed by the ‘universe of discourse,’ by pushing them further into the world (thinking things) as well as deeper into thought (thinking the thinking of things). In the preconceptual experience of ‘occasion’, the world and the self mutually bring each other into existence, and Creeley aspires to approach the ‘place’ of this event in a preconceptual state of consciousness …. Creeley’s concern is to bring language closer to the ‘place’ where the subject and the world are still one (‘I want the poem as close to this fact [of living] as I can bring it; or it, me.’) to involve language as closely as possible in the act of thinking / thinking the things and at the same time thinking this thinking) which moves around the ‘place’ where subject and world merge” (Mesch, “Robert Creeley’s Epistemopathic Path”, 74).

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a human being of flesh and blood …. ‘Love’ requires a spontaneous and complete openness on the part of the subject vis-à-vis the object.20

From a slightly different angle, Charles Bernstein, in an essay on Robert Creeley’s “Poetics of Duration”, follows a similar argument. “Language is the literal territory of interpersonal exchange, call it intercourse”, he writes:
It is in this context that three central features of Creeley’s poetry can be understood: the pervasiveness of lyric love poems in complete or vestigial form, the persistent address to the (a) second person – ‘you’, and the virtually ever-present invocative use of the word ‘here.’ For Creeley, the love poem becomes an occasion for envisioning the possibility of relation(ship) as a textual issue. Preliminarily, it can be observed that the ‘you’ of Creeley’s texts operationally signifies the reader reading the poem.21

This correlation between the sexual and the textual, between love and language, becomes explicit in one of Creeley’s most beautiful love poems, which he chose to call “The Language”:
The Language Locate I love you somewhere in teeth and eyes, bite it but take care not to hurt, you want so much so little. Words say everything.
20 21

Ibid., 64. Charles Bernstein, “Hearing ‘Here’: Robert Creeley’s Poetics of Duration”, in Robert Creeley: The Poet’s Workshop, ed. Carroll F. Terrell, Orono, Maine: The National Poetry Foundation, 1984, 89.

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I Iove you again, then what is emptiness for. To fill, fill. I heard words and words full of holes aching. Speech is a mouth.22

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The poem, which addresses a “you” who is a partner in love as well as in communication, achieves its stumbling hesitancy of speech and reflection through the structure of its lines, most of which consist of mono-syllabic words and, with the exception of the first line of Stanza 5, of two and three syllables per line. Since they almost all receive equal stress, the poem gives a sense of meditative weightiness. The eight stanzas of three lines each can be seen as forming two parts (the first four stanzas being one sentence); the fifth stanza in repeating the phrase “I love you” seems to return to the poem’s beginning – a variation of its first part. In the first stanza, however, the words: “I love you” are not uttered but are what the speaker reads in the face of his beloved. The words that “say everything” are presumably said by the speaker in response to what he sees “some- / where in / teeth and / eyes …”, namely: “I love you” – words that say in fact nothing unless the act of speech becomes real in the physicality of loving (“bite / it but / take care not / to hurt”). To restore a language that has been emptied out into cliché by over-use, to fill the aching holes of words with their lost meaning relates the act of speaking and the act of lovemaking, makes the orality of speech – the open mouth that receives yet also gives – a quasi-vaginal organ of living/loving communication. At the same time the mouth of speech connotes emptiness – a hole to be filled in order to be whole again. Therefore the poem suggests the possibility of love and of poetic speech, but also an awareness that
22

Creeley, Collected Poems, 283.

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both might fail, and that the holes in words and bodies aching to be filled will stay empty – articulating nothing but the desire to be filled by/with love. By equating “language”, “speech”, and “love”, Creeley comes close to Williams’ idea of a language that would give physical shape to thought, in which thinking is done bodily. It seems to echo Whitman’s notion of the physicality of words – words that the poet can make “sing, dance, kiss, do the male and female act…”,23 except that the materiality of language that Creeley achieves through the emphasis of stress and intricate sound patterns (Locate – love – some; teeth – eyes – bite – it) is offset by their condensed thought-fullness. The poem may stage its abstract argument bodily, its written-ness disguised in the concrete vulnerability of speech as stammer, but it is not sensuous. As Creeley himself has pointed out on several occasions, he is a Puritan in temperament and introspective rigor, after all, despite his vision of experiential flow and poetic openness. Although for Williams, too, the act of imagination is an act of love tied to cosmic processes of procreation, its energy is one of transformation. It is explicitly sexual mostly when it fails – as in “The Raper from Passanac” where “rape” results from a failure of communication, a failure of language. Creeley’s poetry abounds with such failures of love, when, in the attempt to overcome separateness, taking “care not to hurt” gives way to an urge to assault, to hurt and take possession, as in this poem:
Hello With a quick jump he caught the edge of her eye and it tore, down, ripping. She shuddered, with the unexpected assault, but
23

Walt Whitman, An American Primer, ed. Horace Traubel, Boston: Small/Maynard, 1904, 16.

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to his vantage he held by what flesh was left.24

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Especially in Creeley’s early poetry, such efforts to reach out or to break through the confinement of self tend to end in disaster – in feelings of anger, frustration, guilt, and depression; although it is precisely here, where failure is blatantly evident, that the need to go beyond “self” finds its most passionate expression. So, next to the topic of love, it is the self’s enclosure in its own emotional and mental processes that is most pervasive: its separation from the world as if by glass (to be looked through, yet always also kept away from). This would seem to be the implication of the abundance of windows and mirrors in Creeley’s poetry. “Indeed”, Marjorie Perloff writes in a recent essay, “from the inception of his career, Creeley has been especially sensitive to domestic thresholds – doors, mirrors, and, most of all, windows”.25 The window is a borderline between inside and outside; it marks the limits of self but also possibilities of seeing, of establishing relation. In that sense, it duplicates the eye and is, at the same time, a metaphor of the mind’s eye, marking a place where the world perceived through the eye is (re)created in reflection:
The Window Position is where you put it, where it is, did you, for example, that large tank there, silvered, with the white church alongside, lift all that, to what purpose? How heavy the slow world is with everything put in place. Some
24 25

Creeley, Collected Poems, 286. Marjorie Perloff, “Robert Creeley’s Windows”, Bridge, II/1 (Fall-Winter 2002), 189.

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man walks by, a car beside him on the dropped road, a leaf of yellow color is going to fall. It all drops into place. My

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face is heavy with the sight. I can feel my eye breaking.26

Things perceived have their place where they are and yet are replaced by the mind’s eye in a relational network of composition. The poem seems to be dominated by two movements: the first, upward, lifting the materiality of things to the mind’s eye; the second, downward, following the gravitational pull of all material things toward death: “heavy”, “dropped”, “fall”, “drops”, “breaking”. Whether, in the last line, the speaker’s breaking eye becomes part of an imagery of falling and dying, thus anticipating his own death as part of the material order of things; or whether it signals, as a metaphor of resignation, that “the microscopic glass – the human eye – cannot ever really capture what is seen in the macrocosmic one”27 is an ambivalence impossible to resolve. In one case, it is the inevitability of death that makes the creative power of the mind’s eye irrelevant; in the other, it is the doubt that the mind’s eye can ever grasp the world in its reflective perception, that it remains selfenclosed even in its ability to create pattern. In both readings, the window – like the abyss in Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider” – implies the self’s ultimate failure to reach beyond itself.28
26 27

Creeley, Collected Poems, 284. Perloff, “Robert Creeley’s Windows”, 190. 28 The loss of one eye during early childhood may partly account for the almost desperate intensity in Creeley’s metaphorical linkage of the physical and mental eyes: “… the brain surfaces in the eyes directly. The physical eye is like the brain surfacing. It’s where the brain comes literally. Outward from its own physical place. If you put

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Yet it is easy to imagine that the eye “heavy” with the knowledge of all material things’ movement toward death will come to accept death as the very condition of its being. It is by the recognition of the limits of self that the self becomes limitless and the world seen through the mental eye the only one that is available. With reference to one of Creeley’s later window-poems, Perloff notes that
The window looking out on the world disappears as do doors and mirrors …. Space is no longer divided into inside and outside, dark and light, up and down. Rather, ‘it is there here here.’ … The window – the poet’s eye which, at earlier moments, Creeley ‘felt breaking’ – is now integrated into a space ‘simple’ in its lack of fixed boundaries and divisions.29

In other words, the world revealed in the pattern of the mind’s movement is the only one there is – a common world to be rediscovered from moment to moment and from place to place, to be sure, yet a space of self that is more than self:
LISTLESS,

the heat rises – the whole beach vacant, sluggish. The forms shift before we know, before we thought to know it. The mind again, the manner of mind in the body, the weather, the waves, the sun grows lower in the faded

your finger into your eye, you put your finger in your brain” (quoted in Entwistle, “‘For W. C. W.’, ‘Yet Complexly’: Creeley and Williams”, 142). 29 Perloff, “Robert Creeley’s Windows”, 193.

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of another day with other people, looking out of other eyes. Only the children, the sea, the slight wind move with the same insistent particularity.30

The reflective tone of the poem stands in contrast to the very ordinariness that it depicts: a hot summer day at the beach. “Listless”, “vacant”, “sluggish”: although these are attributes that are syntactically connected to the beach, they in fact qualify the movement of the mind that, although it cannot follow the shifting forms, signals its presence through abstraction and generalization: “the manner of mind / in the body”, “weather”, “waves”. From such stillness accompanying the generalities of the common and the everyday (“other people”, “another day”), the poem progresses to the particular: to the movement of “children, sea and wind” – also a sameness, but not the temporal sameness of everyday but of the energy those share, their insistent particularity. Of course, it would be foolish to draw from the particularity of this poem a generalizing conclusion. But it seems possible to argue that at this later stage of Creeley’s creative development, relations to the world and others have settled into more stable form and the consciousness of holes and the need to fill them have lost their painful urgency. The tensions and paradoxes (between self and other, mind and body, mental and material world) that have marked Creeley’s poetry from early on can now be more easily reconciled, and the intensely insistent energies of
30

Creeley, Collected Poems, 442.

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the particular made part of the harmonic pattern of commonness so that in the less isolated singular, the many do indeed cohere.

MODERNIST REALISM AND LOWELL’S CONFESSIONAL STYLE CHARLES ALTIERI

Critics concerned with Lowell’s confessional style usually treat it as some kind of anti-Modernist or post-Modernist breakthrough. I agree that it is a significant breakthrough in relation to Modernism, but one that is best appreciated by considering it an intensifying of certain orientations within Modernism. My story begins with an account of the two basic refusals on which Modernism was founded. Then we can trace what the first generation Modernists made of these refusals and the problems this created for the ensuing three generations. Against this dramatic backdrop we can specify the distinctive qualities of Lowell’s efforts to remake his Modernist heritage. I Modernism’s first refusal is essentially stylistic, the second psychological. (One could call the second one “ethical” if that rubric had not been horribly cheapened by overuse.) The stylistic refusal consists in the poets’ turning from ideals of sensitive description and symbolic representation to pursue instead what seemed a new presentational realism intended to combat the Realism that Yeats called Stendhal’s “mirror dawdling down a lane”.1 I call this a “presentational realism” because the emphasis is not on accuracy to the object but accuracy to the felt moment of perception. This realism resides not in picturing the real but in composing what the world elicits from the subject: the moment of presentation is also the moment of realization.
1

Willliam Butler Yeats, Editor’s Introduction, The Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936, xxvii.

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Paul Cézanne was the exemplar of this realism for painters because he so clearly made Realism an experimental mode. Painting becomes a war upon inherited habits of seeing. He tried to show his audience that mass and weight and uniformity of visual surface were all illusions, acts of the mind upon seeing rather than the intense consequences of sight giving access to the world. And he explored various ways that both classical forms and a decidedly un-classical personality might be seen as aspects of the life painting shared with things rather than serving as impositions upon pure objectivity. Ezra Pound was the most articulate spokesperson for the new Realism in poetry. He viewed his heritage, “from the Puritanical revolt to Swinburne”, as reducing poetry to “merely the vehicle … the ox-cart and post-chaise for transmitting thoughts poetic or otherwise”.2 A poetry adequate to modernity, on the other hand, would have to have an imaginativeness much more closely allied to the spirit of scientific experiment: “The scientist does not expect to be acclaimed as a great scientist until he has discovered something …. He does not bank on being a charming fellow personally.”3 And discovery qua discovery has to be distinguished from the report of a discovery. The discovery as experienced takes the form of revelation: as Heidegger might put it, the work makes the world appear against a background of ignorance so that the world takes on the mode of gift or reward in relation to the struggles of consciousness. Pound could claim that both scientists and artists do not so much describe situations as bear witness to discoveries. Poetry even has the advantage over science in this respect because its focus on formal elements proves capable of sustaining that witnessing over time. Because writing can stress its testing of the capacities of linguistic experience to handle an emerging reality, the audience not only reads about the discovery but also participates in its energies. This new realism was not without its problems. Change was fraught with the dangers of lapsing back into habit, and then of posturing at the new in compensation. The very promise that art could provide witness to the experience of value rather than merely report on it made it tempting to have the signs of witness even when the text’s flesh was in fact weak. The connection between claims to make
2

Ezra Pound, Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed. T. S. Eliot, London: Faber and Faber, 1960, 11. 3 Ibid., 6.

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it new and opportunities to posture in concealing the old then leads us to the second, more psychological demand on Modernism – that it establish means of clearly distinguishing personal stances that earn their own authority as witnesses from those that rely on personal charm or rhetoric to bolster the authorial role and hence supplement what is lacking in the message. There are many ways that this resistance to posturing in the name of authenticity took hold. I prefer to concentrate on the widespread Modernist critiques of the entire domain of rhetoric because the psychological stakes are easy to dramatize and the demands to change approaches to the medium of poetry quite striking. Consider the ideal of poetic impersonality. Now we tend to think of this principle as an evasion of moral responsibility in order to treat the work as a coherent end in itself, with no need for personal witness. But if we look carefully at the work of Eliot and Pound and Williams and Loy and Moore, we can defend a quite different story. For those writers impersonality was necessary for two reasons – to escape relying on charm and personality as a substitute for making the work itself a vital confrontation with the real, and to foreground the power of art as a productive force in its own right to generate the internal energies that could give character to individual works pursuing the new realism. Impersonality would allow poetry’s allegiances with the scientific spirit to resist the tendencies to rhetoric and oratorical selfcongratulation that were also fundamental aspects of its heritage. Here I risk falling into the temptation to provide formalist answers to questions driven by social concerns. Any assessment of Modernism that does not have a strong formal component is not very attentive to the phenomena. Yet an account of internal energies specific to lyric will not sufficiently account for the pressures on the poets to reject more explicitly personal voices; nor will it sufficiently engage the distinctive affective energies that such strategies could evoke. So I propose an alternative hypothesis, projecting this impersonality as a response to a substantial cultural crisis. Speaking most broadly, I would say that this crisis was a sense of increasing distance between the values the dominant classes idealized and the imaginative states that writers found capable of generating intense affects without the chilling incursion of self-loathing. Most claims to personal sincerity seemed a mask for hidden or inexpressible interests or provided evidence that the persons themselves were hollow, were mere echoes

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of their culture without any internal demand for irony and for cultivating a sense of difference. At the other pole, writers were appalled by the lack of self-consciousness when people (including themselves) carried the gestures of sincerity into public life by relying on personal authority to utter moral pieties or to impose dominant social values on complicated particular situations. The film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1965) perhaps caught this aspect of twentieth-century sensibility best when the hero turns off the sound on a TV as a politician goes on about morality. Sound there only produces false consciousness; there is more truth in the silence that focuses attention on the empty gestures of sincerity. Everyone concerned with poetry will recognize writers’ resistance to such behavior. But such conditions rarely come to the foreground in discussions of poetics – I think because we lack a concept clearly designating what impersonality was invented to oppose. To provide that concept I have to rely on notions I originally encountered in Jacques Lacan but have modified for my own use. I claim no fealty to Lacan, and I hope my account of the imaginary dimension in the life of the psyche will prove useful without making us dependent on any other Lacanian concepts. I make this borrowing because only Lacan offers a powerful parallel to Modernist critiques of rhetoric that is capable of linking how we feel about making meanings and how we project identities and identifications. Only Lacan shows how one might appreciate those aspects of Modernism caught up in the cultural struggle against two idealized modes of authority – that of the first person offering sincere judgments that turn out to be mostly selfcongratulation, and that of public figures manifesting analogous forms of self-flattery in the form of moral and political generalizations.4 Lacan accomplishes this by elaborating three aspects of the role the imaginary plays in the satisfactions we encounter when we perform ourselves semantically. First there is his well-known description of “the mirror phase” in development. Lacan claims that our fundamental sense of subjective identity depends on the fact that infants form selfimages in relation to the adoring maternal gaze. It is as if the love4

Lacan, of course, does not historicize his account: he wants to explain the psyche, not Modernism. But one can historicize his arguments by concentrating on those historical moments where class mobility puts identity most in flux. The less that identity is governed by established roles and authorities, the greater the likelihood that playing these roles will be psychologically charged events.

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laden whispering of the child’s name became a mirror promising that the child could find his or her own satisfactions in an inner life depending on projections by another. Where the father-figure’s naming of the child depends on achievements in the social world, the mother’s naming appears to locate a private source of identity so stable that it promises to persist through all social conditions, especially harrowing ones where there might be only that name to rely on. The second and third aspects of this Lacanian concept involve our desperate attempts to construct stable images in unstable situations. One is fundamentally social, the other fundamentally a matter of how we handle our own desires. Notice that the basic identification pattern is triangular: one finds in the mother a figure of desire for the self that one then internalizes as an ideal for oneself. In adult life our basic temptation remains the shaping of identity in relation to the anticipated desire of others. We desire the desire of the other so that we may imagine ourselves as substantial beings. But what seems capable of giving substance is again only an image, and only an image dependent on making attributions about what another desires. The ultimate irony is that for Lacan desire is not something that can be the stuff of images. Desire is endlessly mobile, and desire can be endlessly strange. He has a great figure of the psyche being put in a frying pan so that its edges take shape – that is the birth of the “hommelette” to which the agent becomes fiercely attached because he takes it as the ego. Then the ego is presumed to control the very forces that in one contingent moment produced the illusion that one could be the master of desire. But that very contingency of identity generates considerable desperation. One must sense the fleetingness of images and so be aware that what binds the ego to fluid experience is at best a delicate filament. It is very easy then to become terrified of losing substance for the self – especially since the other whose desire is desired is always capable of changing its orientation. It seems that if we are not aggressive about warding off the claims of others, as well as warding off the internalized others that threaten our images of substantial selves, we risk the collapse of our entire investments in producing meaning for ourselves. Lacan matters for me because he in effect creates an intimate social psychology out of Hegelian themes. He dramatizes how compelling our need is for others to provide the desire through which we claim

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substantial selves, and he clarifies why we so aggressively maintain so illusory a phenomenon as a self-image. Those claiming sincerity in public and in private matters can be seen as somewhat blindly binding themselves to images of the self, even though they might better approach what is really happening if they could let themselves enact various fragments of sensibility appropriate to actual conditions. And those claiming righteous moral and social authority become figures eager to elicit the desire of another so that they can sustain the exalted sense that they envision they should have because of their social standing. No wonder poets would be attracted to a doctrine of impersonality so that they might purchase some distance from this human comedy. Eliot too was a reader of Hegel. Faced with the likelihood that efforts to express subjectivity do little more than invoke an imaginary domain intended to confirm self-images by projecting them as worthy of desire, he thought he could directly emphasize the capacity of the lyric to provide versions of writerly presence not bound to images of substantial selves. Poets could keep the notion that art is expressive, and hence presses out new forms of spirit that pervade the work and become inseparable from its formal choices. But the force of expression shifts from being a property connected to the sincere subject as witness to truth to being a property of the productive energies made objective in the art work. Hence the belief that a new lyric realism could concentrate on perfecting the medium so that “very varied feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations”.5 Poetry could for the most part avoid the imaginary by investing entirely in compositional rather than rhetorical energies.

II This talk about the force of the object will not seem a propitious way of talking about the emphasis on subjectivity in Lowell’s confessional poetry. But in this case it may take indirection to find direction out. If we now turn to historical circumstances, we can at least get the story pointed to Lowell. The very success of Modernism in putting the imaginary in a kind of limbo also created a major problem for poets
5

T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1950, 7.

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following in its wake. Writing that successfully evades the imaginary might also block itself from addressing those aspects of sensibility in which the imaginary becomes a vehicle for projecting social roles that poetry might accomplish. Perhaps then the darkening of sensibility that plagued almost all the major Modernists in the nineteen-thirties stemmed in large part from their discovery that the Constructivist aesthetics on which they had come to rely might make it impossible to develop sufficient frameworks for identifying with those suffering from social injustice. Nor could the poets readily develop possible identities that might do something about that situation. While imagination and the imaginary are quite distinct, it may take the imaginary to supplement imagination when poets are concerned specifically with how they can affect readers’ involvements in public life. For if poetry is to have social force beyond an elite community, it may have to develop those modes of presence that depend on the activity of a positioned speaking voice as it works its way through various possible identifications and identities. Constructivist aesthetics can develop a variety of voices and can make us keenly aware of the dangerous indulgences these voices elicit, but it cannot readily have these voices form and maintain sympathies and commitments directly pursuing improved social conditions. I am not arguing that Constructivist Modernism lacked a sense of history or an empathy with social conditions produced by industrial capitalism. On the contrary, it might have had too rich, or at least too fine, a sense of history because it was obsessed by a compelling need not just to account for itself historically but to find from within history direct energies and patterns which might better equip individuals to deal with what seemed inescapable dark times. But the Modernists could not within Constructivist parameters adapt the rhetorical stances necessary for convincing others that in fact something might be done to increase social justice or even to elicit sympathy for the oppressed in ways that did not ultimately serve the imaginary interests of those doing the oppressing. Their distrust of concepts and of images, indeed their distrust of any medium not grounded in actual sensation, prevented any direct alignment of art with the sympathies necessary for social progress. By the late nineteen-thirties the limitations I suggest were becoming increasingly obvious, and increasingly painful. So poets returned to seeking ways of dealing positively with the roles the

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imaginary plays in our lives. One large group of poets, typified by those publishing in The Masses, took the most direct path: they embraced rhetorical stances and tried overtly to provide images of just and noble behavior that a population might emulate. Those more sympathetic with Modernism’s critical sensibilities took a somewhat different tack. Many of the major innovations in American poetry from the late 1930s to the present intended to continue Modernism’s reliance on objectified witnessing, but now in the service of constructing aspects of agency that bring the theatrical dimensions of the imaginary back into play while finessing its tendencies to sustain illusory subject positions. This way of casting the historical situation enables us to honor what I think are major achievements by Wallace Stevens, George Oppen, and the American Auden. Each of these writers works out distinctive ways of honoring the force of the imaginary while using the resources of art to separate that force from the images and social roles whose authority is usually reinforced by our self-projections. Stevens tried to indulge the powers of the imaginary while orienting them toward the social on the level of process rather than on the level of images and roles. That is, he located sociality in learning to appreciate how we share investments that are grounded in the very ways we experienced their intensities. Oppen lacks Steven’s rhetorical flair, but he is a master at rendering complex situations that eliminate any possibility of selfcongratulation. And Auden’s deep distrust of vanity of all kinds led him to a performative mode in which imaginary identities are replaced by a process of constantly testing whether one can take responsibility for the process of valuing established by poetic voice. These enterprises frame fundamental directions taken by subsequent generations of American poets. Enormously indebted to Stevens for the necessary resources, Bishop and Ashbery both tried to emphasize an imagining that was not primarily oriented to figures of the substantial self, while also resisting New Critical tendencies to have imagination sustain both truth claims and moral visions. (Ashbery can be seen as bringing Auden’s performative voice into endlessly intricate combinations with the depersonalized theatricality of the Stevensian imagination). And Oppen’s version of fluid yet critical inhabiting of social fantasies lives on in the links between objectivist poetics and Language writing.

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And so I come to Lowell, or at least almost to Lowell. So far I have told a tale of explicit influences and acknowledged models. But the heritage of Modernism is more complicated than that. Certain persistent pressures and certain abiding resources in the stylistic and psychological orientations of Modernism were far less explicit. But as those overtly committed to Modernism exhausted the explicit possibilities in Modernist styles, there came to the fore a set of poets – O’Hara, Plath, Creeley, Rich, and the confessional Lowell – who engaged the force of the imaginary in quite distinctive ways. Each of these poets returns to a version of the new realism, but they alter the role the imaginary plays in relation to that realism. This now not so new new realism still cultivates the intimacy available when objects become inseparable from intentional acts. That is, the poem accommodates the real because consciousness is visibly in the act of composing a world in which it can stage itself as dwelling – simultaneously as art and as objects of the senses that deal regularly with objects. Think of how O’Hara’s and Creeley’s and Plath’s quite different characteristic styles all share this sense of immediacy caused by but expanding beyond the compositional acts that render the world for the art object and the art object as within the world. But in the work of these poets this realism can no longer be opposed to the imaginary. The new realism does not provide a purer world of impersonal renderings. Rather the constructivist aspect of Realism turns out to make the imaginary present at every level. Cézanne showed how perception freed from habit might be considered an impersonal process: there is a logic to seeing that stands bare when sight is isolated from all personal memory and all projection into a desired future. That is why Meyer Schapiro once wrote that no one could desire to eat an apple in a painting by Cézanne. Personality remains important to Cézanne, but personality for him is primarily a matter of the force and sense of care pervading the vision: personality pervades the painting but does not alter the ideal, transpersonal process by which it renders the life of the eye. Poets like Lowell, O’Hara, and Creeley could not be content with this dream of transpersonal transparency. Even though they shared a Modernist sense of the interplay of the eye and the mind in producing the immediacy characterizing the real, they were not content to model

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the lyric on the life of the eye supplemented by the force of personality. They regarded immediacy as already suffused with the kinds of ineffable desires that made interpretation necessary, and that frustrated any effort to form interpretive judgments in so crude a medium as language. Their images did not so much appeal to the eye as project the incompleteness of vision in a world inescapably permeated with desire requiring and frustrating interpretation. Hence the visual analogue for their work is not Cézanne but their contemporary, Jasper Johns, who would show that even if perception is free from subjectivity, the interpretation of what one sees, and the interpretation built into any presentation of what one sees, restores the personal – not as something that can itself be interpreted but as something that emerges as productive of ineffable differences between the order of sight and the order of how we engage what is seen. Impersonality seems now not an alternative to rhetoric but rhetoric by other means, one aspect of the investments and the pains emphasized by this new realism. Perhaps the best way to generalize is that for all these poets the new realism becomes less the heroic achievement of Cézanne’s or Pound’s liberation from habit than the insistent residue of what the public modes of the imaginary cannot handle. The new version of the new realism cannot rest in Phenomenology because it is so burdened by pain and incompleteness, as if we might find there everything repressed by social life. The new new realism is not the overcoming of habit but the mark of the failure of what habit should sublimate or repress: the new poetry is burdened by the very psychological forces that account for its intensity. The new new realism constitutes a call to replace Phenomenology by a psychology aware that the idea of “cure” is itself an imaginary construction harkening back to fantasies no longer active in the world inhabited by these poets. IV Lowell’s confessional style seems to me the most direct mode of engaging this sense of the imaginary as ineffable burden. One could still tell a Lacanian story about the traps that the imagination sets by eliciting our dreams of substantial selves. But one would have to tell the story somewhat differently, as if the account of the imagination’s need for substance came out of the workings of the imaginary. So the

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intimate, pervasive, and totalizing feel of the blend of imaginary and real becomes more important than any teleological account of the imaginary’s desires for substantial identity. Consequently impersonality cannot be a “cure” because impersonality is impossible: the putatively impersonal is simply an imaginary or rhetorical shifting to a different level of the personal.6 Where the old new realism would emphasize the direct rendering of sensation, Lowell’s new realism would articulate the core of phantasmatic activity giving sensations their distinctive personal feel. And where the old new realism can be seen as fundamentally epistemic in its claims to provide knowledge, this realism is committed to needs that involve demands for sympathy, with all the ambivalence produced by that oxymoronic insistence. “Skunk Hour” typifies one aspect of the imaginary in Lowell; the sonnets in History another. Look at how the opening stanzas present their details so laconically that they raise questions about why just these details and not others were chosen to set the scene:
Nautilus Island’s hermit heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage; her sheep still graze above the sea. Her son’s a bishop. Her farmer is first selectman in our village; She’s in her dotage. Thirsting for the hierarchic privacy of Queen Victoria’s century, she buys up all the eyesores facing her shore, and lets them fall.

6

It should not be surprising that it was critics dwelling in this literary culture who decided that the impersonal was merely an evasion of the personal in the name of art. But even this kind of critical assertion somewhat fails to capture the spirit of the times because it tends to be too eager to tie the psyche to concepts and conclusions. The important thing about the confessional style is that it does not so much create grounds for dismissing the impersonal as it elicits ways of reading those activities as continuous with more overt modes of problematic but inescapable personal investment.

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The season’s ill – we’ve lost our summer millionaire, … A red fox stain covers blue hill.7

One could find substantial themes here – preeminently the relation of survival to the internalizing of autumnal landscape, so that the changing of the leaves becomes something like a cry of pain. But two features displace the lyric energies to another plane. One is that contingency of detail, so that even in the most objective segments of the poem the selections are ineluctably the act of a subject, and visibly the act of a very needy subject projecting onto what otherwise might be objective. Even more important is the strange energy within this overtly casual presentation. Lowell learned from Williams that a Modernist realism requires careful attention to line endings, since it is these that in effect fix the units of perception and define tensions among these units. Here end-stopped lines almost alternate with enjambed ones, and the second stanza’s short lines seem especially conscious of the force of transition. Then there is the delightful yet somewhat disturbing playfulness of these lines, as if the speaker had to express an amusement with himself that we find out is also a defense against going beyond the surfaces. The opening four words could be all nouns until one sorts them out. And the i sounds of the first two lines play beautifully against the framing a’s. Then the tightening end-rhymes of the second stanza beautifully complement the “eyesores” / “shore” internal assonance. So much energy, so little apparent cause. In this situation playfulness with surfaces is also asked to perform other kinds of psychological work. In effect there seems nothing that is quite itself, nothing that does not call out for analyses and nothing that will stand still for such analyses. Obviously, as “Skunk Hour” shifts to the speaker’s own plight, we understand better the pressures the details are under. But Lowell is brilliant at holding off any sense that the psychological situation can ultimately be thematized. At first glance the last stanza celebrates a level of identification promising psychic wholeness and a capacity for sympathy on which a sense of community can be built:

7

Robert Lowell, Collected Poems, eds Frank Bidart and David Gewanter, New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2003, 192.

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I stand on top of our back steps and breathe the rich air – a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail. She jabs her wedge-head in a cup of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail, and will not scare.8

Lowell wants identification with the skunk to reward the sustained confessional labor of reducing the self to raw need. The skunk provides a figure for a courage that comes only by tearing away imaginary defenses so that one comes in touch with something like primary biological needs. Yet the poem cannot reach this level of being without supplementing it by purely imaginary role-playing. Identification with the skunk as victim is inseparable from the trappings of priestly authority involved in the position at the top of the stairs. So even when Lowell tries to understand the imaginary, he remains in its grip: the projection of sympathy reinforces the ego needs that get him into trouble in the first place. I once thought it was a telling criticism of Lowell to point out that this play of imaginary desires undercuts the resolving claim to selfknowledge that the skunk mediates. But now I have to admit that the contradictions are probably intended because they emphasize the instability of identity that undermines projections about selfknowledge. We do not just recognize symptoms, as if the psyche conformed to epistemic criteria. We both recognize and imagine symptoms, so even this process of attempted identification renders reason problematic. Analogously, an ideal of sympathy with the speaker probably has to be distinguished from an idea of sympathy compatible with moral judgment. Lowell wants his audience to recognize the fundamentally flawed and needy presences generating most significant speech acts. Modernist impersonality would treat such speakers as personae in order to establish distance from their imaginary needs. Lowell’s confessional style is the antithesis to such objectification. It dramatizes the possibility that an individual’s imaginary projections are not to be judged or pitied but to be seen as the necessary precondition for constituting specific values.

8

Ibid., 192.

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I think Lowell soon realizes some of the limitations of his confessional style. The very reasons that it affords a rich and challenging appeal to sympathy with the singular agent make it very difficult for that agent to find any terms at all for social life. At best there would have to be endless confessions endlessly talking by one another in a reciprocal procession of guilt and shame. This sense of limitation did not lead to Lowell’s repudiating the imaginary or seeking a position from which he could state his needs ironically. But he eventually began to write as if there could be a partial escape from the emphasis on individual imaginings, or better, from imaginings confined to one’s projections of one’s distinctive agency. For the Union Dead, Near the Ocean and many of Lowell’s sonnets are efforts to stage other, more interpersonal and hence cultural dependencies for the imaginary life. And while this route will not produce specific political agendas, it will produce the possibility of projecting a politics of shared need and shared fears. As Jay Bernstein puts it, activating the condition of “injured and injurable animals”9 by taking responsibility for our particular damaged positions within social life provides a basis for a mutual compassion and perhaps the only trustworthy terms for mutual recognition. To demonstrate this aspect of Lowell’s sense of the imaginary I want to isolate two features of the sonnets. First he seeks a more intense and immediate realism by forgoing the artifice of complex metonymic adjustments by which the segments of “Skunk Hour” cohere. Where constructive artifice had been, there emerges the possibility that the entire sonnet can be a plausible instance of connections made in the development of a single moment of thinking as the imagination strives for a focal point. This sense of present-ness then makes it possible to stage subject and object as inextricably linked: the logic of the image as the presentation of an emotional and intellectual complex in an instant becomes employed for a new new realism that sets the moment against the single image. One comes to those modes of awareness by direct capacities for sympathy in which subjectivity is almost simply a medium (rather than composer). And the reader then virtually has to envision the poem as an appeal to share
9

Jay M. Bernstein, Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001, 38.

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that moment – not for its truth but for its seductive capacity to link sympathetic feeling to the site where the mind finds itself energized by the object of attention. The sonnets on writers and historical figures read as if they were Annie Leibowitz photographs attuned to how characters might want to be remembered while expressing their vulnerabilities. My second feature involves the politics of this shift in focus. If I am right about Lowell’s investments in the imaginary, Lowell cannot rely on arguing for political ideas. He must test the possibilities of a politics of directed sympathy. And he must accomplish this by capturing fundamental anxieties that he does not resolve but heightens, so that the shared neediness becomes inescapable. “The March 1” presents a good example:
Under the too white marmoreal Lincoln Memorial, the too tall marmoreal Washington Obelisk, gazing into the too long reflective pool, the reddish trees, the withering autumn sky, the remorseless, amplified harangues for peace – lovely to lock arms, to march absurdly locked (unlocked to keep my wet glasses from slipping) to see the cigarette match quaking in my fingers, then to step off like green Union Army recruits for the first Bull Run, sped by photographers, the notables, the girls … fear, glory, chaos, rout … our green army staggered out on the miles-long green fields, met by the other army, the Martian, the ape, the hero, his new-fangled rifle, his green new steel helmet.10

Why is the memorial “too white”, the Obelisk “too tall”, and the reflecting pool “too long”? One answer is that Washington is just that kind of city – a city off-scale. But who treats the city this way? This is a more promising question for the poem because it calls attention to the basic trait of the speaker, and those allied with him in the peace march. The demonstrators are the ones alienated enough to record the irritating features of the cityscape. And this alienation creates the possibility that these are the people who can also appreciate fully the new possibility of a sense of community fostered by the presence of so many like-minded people. The speaker then plausibly speaks for
10

Lowell, Collected Poems, 545.

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the crowd, or experiences as the crowd experiences, especially in his sense of the vulnerability figured by the “green” army of recruits emboldened only by their alienation. These experiences in turn are sharply intensified when we see the opposing army. For this army does not need metaphors. The “green” now is literally the color of the helmets that serve metonymically to identify the soldiers. The poem can be resolved by this one detail because that sensation, or better that collective realization, defines how the “other army” occupies the visual field without any doubts about the situation. The resulting contrast between “us” and “them” cannot provide a thematic resolution for the poem. But attention to how the sensory details build a collective experience provides a mode of self-awareness about vulnerability and need that at least can create sympathetic bonds establishing a partial sense of shared experiences, needs, and interests. And, perhaps most important, the poem so hews to aspects of that experience that it does not promise more than loose bonds of sympathy. Politics can best begin in the naming of shared disillusion: that at least helps resist the disillusions that will almost inevitably follow. The poem’s sense of beginning manages neither to deny the imaginary, as Modernism tried, nor to succumb to its terms, as the confessional style does. Rather it seeks to socialize the imaginary by locating shareable terms in the very tendency to pity the self. One cannot be sure that any particular person can suspend his or her concern for the “individual” story, so that one can develop the opening mutual sympathy provides. At its worst this ideal only intensifies cries of victimage so that plausible redress or address becomes impossible. But at its best, the ideal of mutual sympathy provides access to the kind of pragmatic reasoning that can take place entirely in social terms, without the need for epistemic validation. The agents can realize that this sense of sharing has to be explained on different terms than apply to fictions of what keeps the self unique. And on this basis they can begin to speculate on how everyone’s different versions of the imaginary may reveal sufficient common threads to provide an interest in efforts to reduce general human suffering across the board. It may be possible to organize another “green” army capable of initiating small revolutions in how we imagine ourselves imagining

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the political domain. There is as yet no better plausible image for the work of poetry.

NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
Barry Ahearn teaches American Literature at Tulane University. He is the author of Zukofsky’s “A”: An Introduction (1983), and William Carlos Williams and Alterity (1994). He has edited The Correspondence of William Carlos Williams and Louis Zukofsky (2003), The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky (1987); The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and E.E. Cummings (1996). Hélène Aji was Associate Professor in American poetry at the Université de Paris-Sorbonne until 2005 and is now a Professor of American Literature at the Université du Maine. In addition to a number of articles on Modernist and contemporary American poetry, she is the author of Ezra Pound et William Carlos Williams: pour une poétique américaine (2001) and William Carlos Williams: un plan d’action (2004). She is the editor of a special issue of Annales du monde anglophone on “Ezra Pound dans le vortex de la traduction” (2002) and of Ezra Pound and Referentiality (2003). She is currently working on a biography of Ezra Pound and on a book on performance and procedural poetry. Isabelle Alfandary is Associate Professor at the Université of Paris 10 Nanterre where she teaches American literature. She is the author of E. E. Cummings (2002). She is currently working on Gertrude Stein and John Cage. Charles Altieri teaches twentieth-century American Literature at the University of California-Berkeley. Author of Painterly Abstraction in Modernist American Poetry (1989) as well as Self and Sensibility in Contemporary American Poetry (1984), Subjective Agency: A Theory of First-Person Expressivity and Its Social Implications (1994) or Postmodernisms Now: Essays on Contemporaneity in the Arts (1999), his most recent book is The Particulars of Rapture: An Aesthetics of the Affects (2004).

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Manuel Brito teaches American Literature at the Universidad de La Laguna. He is the author of The Poetry and Poetics of Robert Duncan (1988), and A Suite of Poetic Voices (1992). He has edited Traditions and Innovations (2004), and Insights and Bearings (2007). He is the editor of Zasterle Press and the magazine, Nerter. Currently he is working on little magazines of innovative poetry in the United States. Paul Scott Derrick is Associate Professor of American Literature at the University of Valencia. His main fields of interest are Romanticism and American Transcendentalism and their manifestations in subsequent American literature and art. He is the author of Thinking for a Change: Gravity’s Rainbow and Symptoms of the Paradigm Shift in Occidental Culture (1994) and “We Stand before the Secret of the World”: Traces along the Pathway of American Romanticism (2003). He has also co-authored a number of bi-lingual, critical editions of works by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Emily Dickinson. His most recent book is a detailed study and translation into Spanish of Emily Dickinson’s first fascicle, La poesía temprana de Emily Dickinson: el primer cuadernillo (2006). Bart Eeckhout is Associate Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Antwerp. He is Program Director of the Flemish interuniversity M.A. in American Studies and one of the codirectors of the Ghent Urban Studies Team (GUST). His published books include Wallace Stevens and the Limits of Reading and Writing (2002), The Urban Condition (as principal co-author and co-editor at GUST, 1999), Literature and Society (co-edited with Bart Keunen, 2001), and Post Ex Sub Dis (as principal co-editor at GUST, 2002). For The Wallace Stevens Journal he has guest-edited the special 25th anniversary issue (Fall 2001) as well as, with Dr Edward Ragg, an issue on Wallace Stevens and British Literature (Spring 2006). With Dr Ragg he recently co-organized the first major European conference on Stevens entitled Fifty Years On: Wallace Stevens in Europe (2005). Dr Eeckhout has also published Dutch translations of Stevens’ poetry. Gudrun M. Grabher is Professor and Chair of the American Studies Department at the University of Innsbruck. She is the author of Emily Dickinson: The Transcendental I (1981), Das lyrische Du: DuVergessenheit und Möglichkeiten der Du-Bestimmung in der

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amerikanischen Dichtung (1989). She is a co-editor of Semantics of Silences in Linguistics and Literature (1996), as well as The Emily Dickinson Handbook (1998). She has edited a conference volume for the third international conference of the Emily Dickinson International Society, as well as a translation of E. E. Cummings’ poems. Currently, she is the president of the Emily Dickinson International Society. More recently she has been working on a book about Aesthetics of the Unsayable in American Literature. Heinz Ickstadt is Professor Emeritus and former Director of the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Free University, Berlin. He has published widely on literature and culture of the nineteenth century in the US, on American Modernism, and on contemporary fiction. He is the author of Der amerikanische Roman im 20. Jahrhundert: Transformation des Mimetischen (1998), and Faces of Fiction (2001). He has also edited Crossing Borders: InnerAnd Intercultural Exchanges in a Multicultural Society (1997), and co-edited American Icons: Transatlantic Perspectives on Eighteenthand Nineteenth-Century American Art (1993), Englische und amerikanische Dichtung (2000), and Ceremonies and Spectacles: Performing American Culture (2001). Viorica Patea is Associate Professor of American Literature at the University of Salamanca where she teaches twentieth-century American poetry and nineteenth-century American literature. She is the author of various studies on Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Plath and George Orwell. Her published books include Entre el mito y la realidad: Aproximación a la obra poética de Sylvia Plath (1989), a study on Whitman, La apología de Whitman a favor de la épica de la modernidad: El Prefacio de 1855 de Hojas de hierba (1999), and various edited collections of essays such as Critical Essays on the Myth of the American Adam (2001). Her most recent book is on T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (2005). Marjorie Perloff is Sadie Dernham Patek Professor of Humanities Emerita at Stanford University and 2006 President of the MLA. She is the author of numerous books, including The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage (1981), The Futurist Moment

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(1986), Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media (1991), Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary (1996), and Poetry On and Off the Page (1998). Among her most recent contributions are 21st-Century Modernism: The “New” Poetics (2002), The Vienna Paradox: A Memoir (2004), and Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy (2004), besides many other scholarly papers. Zhaoming Qian is Research Professor of English at the University of New Orleans. He is the author of Orientalism and Modernism: The Legacy of China in Pound and Williams (1995) and The Modernist Response to Chinese Art: Pound, Moore, Stevens (2003). He has edited a volume of essays on Ezra Pound and China (2003). Ernesto Suárez Toste teaches American Literature at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. He obtained his PhD in American poetry with a dissertation on Elizabeth Bishop and Surrealism. His main publications – on Elizabeth Bishop and John Ashbery – have appeared in Studies in the Humanities, Mosaic, Atlantis and Style. At the moment he is preparing his dissertation for publication.

INDEX
Acocella, Joan, 13 Adato, Perry, When this you see, remember me, 139 Adorno, Theodor, 17, 33, 220; Aesthetic Theory, 16 aesthetics, 1, 2, 17, 55-57, 59, 61, 70, 91, 93, 94, 98, 104, 126, 127, 176, 182, 184, 190-94, 213 Aitken, Robert, A Zen Wave, 144, 145, 150 Aji, Hélène, 57 Aldington, Richard, 163, 173, 180; “The Influence of Mr. James Joyce”, 164 Allison, John, 28 Altieri, Charles, 103, 182, 183, 192, 193 Amann, Eric, The Wordless Poem, 146 Anderson, Sherwood, 139 Animism, 80 Anscombe, G. E. M., ed., Zettel, 30 Antheil, George, 63 Aragon, Louis, 63 Araki, Tadao, Deutsch-Japanische Begegnung in Kurzgedichten, 140, 158 Arendt, Hannah, ed., Illuminations, 11 Arnold, Matthew, “Dover Beach”, 48 Arp, Jean (Hans), 162 ars poetica, 58, 70 Ashbery, John, 4, 26, 167, 171, 173, 189, 214 Athenaeum, 93, 94 Auden, W. H., 214 Augustine, Saint, 21, 22 aura, 2, 11, 24, 26, 32, 34, 59; auratic, 4, 11, 34 avant-garde, 14, 16, 18, 19, 30, 60, 130, 162, 189, 191 Avedon, Richard, 65 Axelrod, Steven Gould, ed., Critical Essays on Wallace Stevens, 133 Baechler, Lea, ed., Personae, 77 Banville, John, 12 Barnes, Djuna, Nightwood, 186 Barthes, Roland, Writing Degree Zero, 104-105; Leçon, 117 Basho, Matsuo, 137, 140-42, 144, 147, 148 Bate, W. Jackson, ed., Biographia Literaria, 47 Bates, Milton J., Wallace Stevens: A Mythology of Self, 121, 133 Baudelaire, Charles, 11, 16, 21, 97

230

Modernism Revisited boundaries, 1, 2, 44, 51, 105, 110, 145, 150, 177, 203; boundary, 5 Brancusi, Constantin, 63 Braque, Georges, 32 Brecht, George, Keyhole Event, 28 Breton, André, 4, 168, 172; Qu’est-ce le que le surréalisme?, 163-66 Brotchie, Alastair, ed., OuLiPo Compendium, 168 Browning, Robert, 29 Buchanan, Daniel C., One Hundred Famous Haiku, 143 Buchi, John Henri, 63 Buddha, 22, 107, 109, 146 Buddhism, 80, 97, 101, 107, 135-38, 144, 147, 158; Buddhist, 88, 101, 137 Buell, Lawrence, ed., Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Collection of Critical Essays, 7 Bürger, Peter, 14 Bush, Ronald, T. S. Eliot, 98 Buson, Yosa, 152, 153 Butler, Judith, Bodies That Matter, 127 Cage, John, 29 Capitalism, 17, 18, 23, 33, 61, 63, 175, 213 Carpenter, Humphrey, A Serious Character, 84 Casillo, Robert, The Genealogy of Demons, 68 Cavell, Stanley, 7

Beckett, Samuel, The Unnamable, 7; “Three Dialogues”, 7, 8 Bel Esprit, 69 Benet, W. R., ed. Oxford Anthology of American Literature, 155 Benjamin, Walter, 2, 11, 15, 20, 24, 33, 106; Illuminations, 11, 106 Benstock, Shari, Women of the Left Bank, 24 Bergvall, Caroline, 27 Bernstein, Charles, 190, 198; My Way: Speeches and Poems, 178; A Poetics, 33 Bernstein, Jay M., Adorno, 220 Berryman, John, 65 Bevis, William W., Mind of Winter, 130-31 Bible, 9, 21-22 Bidart, Frank, ed., Robert Lowell, Collected Poems, 218 Bishop, Elizabeth, 214 Bloom, Harold, 128, 171; Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?, 9; ed., American Poetry, 181 Blyth, R. H., 146 Boas, Franz, 117 Bohm, David, Science, Order, and Creativity, 5, 6 Borradori, Giovanna, 27 Borroff, Marie, Language and the Poet, 132; ed., Wallace Stevens, 171

Index Cendrars, Blaise, 19 Cézanne, Paul, 208, 215, 216 Chamberlain, Basil Hall, 147 Charcot, Jean-Martin, 97 Chessman, Harriet, The Public is Invited to Dance, 24 Chirico, Giorgio de, 4 Christian, 103, 107, 108, 109, 110; Christianity, 27, 97-98, 107, 110 Christy, Arthur E., ed., The Asian Legacy and American Life, 150 Church, Barbara, 129 Cocteau, Jean, 34, 63, 162 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, Biographia Literaria, 47 collage, 16, 22, 102, 104, 178 commodification, 2, 16, 17, 22, 33 Communism, 16, 61; Communist, 22, 23 Comte, August, 97 confessional, 4, 196, 207, 212, 215-17, 219, 220, 222 Confucianism, 80, 82; Confucius, 66, 75, 77, 78 Connor, Sheila, 74 Conrad, Joseph, Heart of Darkness, 29 constructivist, 191, 192, 213, 215 Contact, 69 Cook, Eleanor, Poetry WordPlay and Word-War in Wallace Stevens, 121, 132 Coolidge, Clark, 32 Couchoud, Paul Louis, 147 couplets, 39, 40, 48

231 Coy, Javier, Cantares Completos, 178 Crane, Hart, 4, 30, 176, 183, 184, 196; The Complete Poems, 184; “A Traveler Born”, 183; “White Buildings”, 183 Creeley, Robert, 4, 189-204 passim, 215; The Collected Poems, 190; For Love, 2, 189, 197; Pieces, 192; A Quick Graph: Collected Notes and Essays, 194; “Hello”, 200; “The Language”, 13, 25, 198; “Numbers”, 191-92; “Poetics of Duration”, 198; “The Window”, 201 Cubism, 139; Cubist, 93, 103, 104, 139, 161-62, 192 Cummings, E. E., 3, 66, 11120 passim, 145, 148-50, 172, 173, 185; Complete Poems 1904-1962, 113, 118; The Enormous Room, 185; Selected Letters, 116; “my father moved through dooms of love”, 113-17 Cummings, Edward, 113, 117 Dada, 162, 164; Dadaist, 161 Damon, Maria, The Dark End of the Street, 25 Dante, Alighieri, 21, 28, 92, 97, 100-102 Darwin, Charles, 45, 46; Darwinism, 45 David, Antim, Talking at the Boundaries, 28

232

Modernism Revisited Donne, John, 39 Donoghue, Denis, Words Alone, 104-106 Dos Passos, John, Three Soldiers, 185 Drew, Elizabeth, T. S. Eliot, 98 Duchamp, Marcel, 11, 12, 14, 29, 162 Dupee, F. W., ed., Selected Letters of E. E. Cummings, 116 Durkheim, Émile, 96 Duthuit, Georges, 7, 8 Dydo, Ulla, 12, 25; The Language that Rises, 13 Dysart, Richard, 27 Eagleton, Terry, Criticism and Ideology, 91 Eeckhout, Bart, Wallace Stevens and the Limits of Reading and Writing, 134 The Egoist, 62, 95 Eliot, T. S., 1, 3, 5, 9, 14, 15, 18, 20-22, 25, 30, 31, 32, 37, 41, 53, 57, 59, 62, 69, 91-110 passim, 112, 140, 141, 147, 162, 164, 179, 208, 209, 212; After Strange Gods, 15; Christianity and Culture, 110; The Complete Poems and Plays 19091950, 98; The Four Quartets, 105; ed., Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, 30, 57, 141, 179, 208; On Poetry and Poets, 92, 107, 110; Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, 95; The Social Func-

Davidson, Michael, Ghostlier Demarcations, 25; New Collected Poems, 24 Davis, Gray, 27 Davis, Lydia, 13 De Mailla, Joseph-Anne-Marie de Moyriac, Histoire générale de la Chine, 80 De Man, Paul, 27 de Rachewiltz, Mary, 73, 75, 76, 84, 85, 87, 88 Dean, Howard, 27 Deese, Helen, ed., Critical Essays on Wallace Stevens, 133 Deleuze, Gilles, Mille Plateaux, 118 Derrida, Jacques, 27, 126, 128; Philosophy in a Time of Terror, 28 Descartes, René, 141 Devidé, Vladimir, 144 Diaghilev, Sergei Pavlovich, 34, 162 The Dial, 57, 63, 95, 97, 120, 137, 164 Dickie, Margaret, Lyric Contingencies, 131 Dickinson, Emily, 141, 181; The Poems, 131 Diehl, Paul, The Renewal of Abstraction, 118 Dijkstra, Bram, ed., A Recognizable Image, 163 discontinuity, 5; discontinuous, 104-106 Docherty, Clive and Brian, eds., American Poetry, 181 Doggett, Frank, 132

Index tion of Poetry, 110; To Criticize the Critic, 92, 147; The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, 94; The Waste Land, 1, 3, 9, 16, 19, 20, 22, 59, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 103, 104, 105, 107, 162; “American Literature and American Language”, 92; “Humanist, Artist, Scientist”, 94; “Johnson as Critic and Poet”, 92, 110; “London Letter”, 97; “The Music of Poetry”, 107; “Poetry and Propaganda”, 104, 110; “Portrait of a Lady”, 32; “A Prediction in Regard to Three English Authors”, 96; “The Search for Moral Sanction”, 98; “Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca”, 93; “Tarr”, 95; “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, 92, 96; “Ulysses, Order and Myth”, 95, 96; “War-Paint and Feathers”, 93, 95; “What Dante Means to Me”, 92 Elliott, J. E., 177 Emerson, Dorothy, 132 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 6-9, 72, 130, 132, 133, 180-81 Engell, James, ed., Biographia Literaria, 47 Engels, Friedrich, 54 Entwistle, Alice, 194, 203 Esslin, Martin, ed., Samuel Beckett: A Collection of Critical Essays, 8 The Exile, 63, 68 existentialism, 108, 194

233

Fahlström, Oyvind, 28, 29 Fairley, Irene, E. E. Cummings and Ungrammar, 112, 118 Fang, Achilles, 76, 80 Fang, Guoyu, A Dictionary of Naxi Pictographs, 84 Fang, Pao-hsien, 3, 73-86, 89, 90 Fascism, 16, 63, 68; Fascist, 54, 60 Fay, Bernard, 25 Fenollosa, Ernest, 79, 151; The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, 78 Ferlinghetti, Lawrence, 65 Filreis, Alan, Wallace Stevens and the Actual World, 122 Firmage, George J., ed., E. E. Cummings, Complete Poems 1904-1962, 112, 148 Fish, Stanley, 31 Fisher, Barbara, Wallace Stevens, 131 Fizdale, Robert, 34 Fletcher, John G., 150 Ford, Ford Madox, 63 Foster, Hal, 183 Foster, R. N., 12 Foucault, Michel, 27, 132 fragmentation, 3, 6, 17, 104, 161, 193 Franz Joseph, Emperor, 13 Frazer, Sir James, 101, 109; The Golden Bough, 96-98 Freud, Sigmund, 96, 164, 16667; Freudian, 172

234

Modernism Revisited Gasché, Rodolphe, Inventions of Difference, 126 Gaudier-Brzeska, Henri, 70, 151 Géfin, Laszlo K., Ideogram, 151 Gelpi, Albert, 170; ed., Wallace Stevens: The Poetics of Modernism; Introduction Notes on Thought and Vision, 180 Genette, Gérard, Palimpsestes, 161 Gewanter, David, ed., Robert Lowell, Collected Poems, 218 Ghiberti, Lorenzo, 180 Gide, André, 18 Ginsberg, Allen, 4, 189, 192 Giovannini, Giovanni, 74, 77, 79, 83, 85, 88 Gold, Arthur, 34 Goldsmith, Kenneth, 28 Gordon, David, 83 Goullart, Peter, 73, 78, 80, 81, 84-89; Forgotten Kingdom, 78, 80, 86; The Monastery of the Jade Mountain, 81 Gourmont, Remy de, 93, 94 Grabher, Gudrun, 149, 159 Graham, Jorie, 144 Grahn, Judy, Really Reading Gertrude Stein, 24 Gray, Cecil, 180 Gris, Juan, 192 Guattari, Felix, 118 Guggenheim, Peggy, 63

Fromm, Erich, To Have or to Be?, 108 Frost, Robert, 1, 2, 30, 35-51 passim, 132, 133; A Boy’s Will, 36; Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays, 35; The Letters of Robert Frost to Louis Untermeyer, 44, 51; “The Aim Was Song”, 41; “The Bearer of Evil Tiding”, 35; “The Bonfire”, 43; “Bursting Rapture”, 36, 49; “Design”, 44, 45, 46, 50, 98; “Education by Poetry”, 37, 40, 42, 45, 46; “For Once, Then, Something”, 41, 43, 44; “The Housekeeper”, 44; “A Hundred Collars”, 43; “Into My Own”, 36, 39; “A Letter to ‘The Amherst Student’”, 47; “Maple”, 43; “Mending Wall”, 35, 43, 44; “A Missive Missile”, 35; “Mowing”, 40; “No Holy Wars for Them”, 49; “The Oven Bird”, 37, 38, 40; “Putting in the Seed”, 48, 50; “Range-Finding”, 49, 50; “The Silken Tent”, 38, 39; “A Servant to Servants”, 35; “A Soldier”, 49; “Two Look at Two”, 35; “The WhiteTailed Hornet”, 45; “The Witch of Coös”, 35 Frye, Northrop, 128 Fukase, Motohiro, 141

Index H. D., 4, 30, 61, 63, 124, 176, 178, 180-81; Notes on Thought and Vision, 180 Habermas, Jurgen, 27, 28 haiku, 3, 135-59 passim Hammacher, A. M., René Magritte, 169 Hardt, Michael, The Jameson Reader, 18 Hargrove, Nancy D., 162 Harmon, Amy, 20 Hartman, Geoffrey, 128 Hearn, Lafcadio, 147 Hegel, G. W. F., 212; Phenomenology of the Spirit, 8; Hegelian, 211 Hemingway, Ernest, 63, 139, 185; The Sun Also Rises, 186 Herder, Johann Gottfried, On the Knowing and Feeling of the Human Soul, 8 Herman, Florence, 62 Higginson, William J., The Haiku Handbook, 140-41 Hilton, James, Lost Horizon, 78 Hindu, 107; Hinduism, 109, 110 Hitler, Adolph, 63 Hofmannsthal, Hugo von, 147 Hollander, John, 162 Holmes, Oliver W., 179 Hulme, T. E., 143, 147, 180 Hultberg, Teddy, 28; Birds in Sweden, 29; The Holy Torsten Nillson, 29; Manipulating the World, 29; Öyvind Fahlström, 29

235 Hutuktu, Shenlou, 81 Huyssen, Andreas, After the Great Divide, 11, 17 I Ching, 75 Iliad, 48 image, 17, 30, 42, 46, 58, 78, 103, 108, 137, 138, 143-51, 153-56, 169, 195, 196, 211, 220, 223 Imagism, 142, 147, 170, 179, 180, 181, 186; Imagist, 62, 140, 147, 152, 154, 155, 170, 181, 195 Indiana, Robert, 191 Iser, Wolfgang, 128 Jain, Manju, T. S. Eliot and American Philosophy, 97 Jakobson, Roman, 30 James, William, 132, 133 Jameson, Fredric, 17-20, 22, 33; Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, 18 Janet, Pierre, 97 Japanese, 3, 135, 137, 139-47, 152-53, 155 Jarrell, Randall, 118 Jean-Aubry, G., 119 Johns, Jasper, 216 Johnson, Barbara, 128 Johnson, Samuel, 1, 92, 110 Johnson, Thomas H. ed., The Poems of Emily Dickinson, 131 Joyce, James, 26, 29, 63, 93, 95, 96, 104, 163, 164, 173; Finnegans Wake, 26; Ulys-

236

Modernism Revisited Lacan, Jacques, 210, 211; Lacanian, 210, 211, 216 Laforgue, Jules, 93, 94, 179 Langbaum, Robert, 100, 101 Language Poets, 4, 189-90 Laughlin, James, 64, 168 Lautréamont, Isidore Lucien Ducasse, 166 Lawrence, D. H., 14, 30, 32, 65; Cambridge Edition of the Letters and Works of D. H. Lawrence, 12; Studies in Classic American Literature, 12, 16 Leask, Ian, ed., Givenness and God, 108 Lecercle, Jean-Jacques, The Violence of Language, 117 Léger, Fernand, 63 Legge, James, The Chinese Classics, 79-80 Leggett, B. J., ed., Teaching Wallace Stevens, 124; Wallace Stevens and Poetic Theory, 122; Leibowitz, Annie, 221 Lensing, George S., Wallace Stevens and the Seasons, 122, 131 Lentricchia, Frank, 18, 128; Ariel and the Police, 132; Modernist Quartet, 131 Levenson, Michael, A Genealogy of Modernism, 105 Levertov, Denise, 171 Levin, Harry, 185, 186 Lévy-Bruhl, Lucien, 96 Lewis, Richard, The Way of Silence, 137

ses, 15, 19, 29, 95-96, 16364 Joyce, William, 64 Jung, Carl, 94, 98, 158, 16667; Jungian, 96, 98, 102 Kafka, Franz, 17, 29; The Trial, 29; Kafkaesque, 100 Kahnweiler, D. H., 139 Kandinsky, Vasili, 167 Kant, Immanuel, 126, 142; Kantian, 47, 182 Kasper, John, 65 Keats, John, 29, 115 Kenner, Hugh, 59, 65; The Invisible Poet, 104; The Pound Era, 53 Kenter-Hullot, Robert, 16 Kermode, Frank, 16, 95, 128; ed., Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, 95, 128; The Sense of an Ending, 14, 15 Kerry, John, 27 Khlebnikov, Velimir, 31 King, Michael John, ed., The Collected Early Poems of Ezra Pound, 150, 179 Kinsella, John, 28 kireji, 150, 151 koan, 26, 145-46, 150 Kosky, Jeffrey L., 108 Kostelanetz, Richard, Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes, 191 Kumashiro, Soho, 141 Kunming, 76, 84 La Drière, James Craig, 85 La Fontaine, Jean de, 132

Index Li Po, 77 Lijiang, 73, 75-79, 82, 85-87, 89, 90 liminal, 125; liminality, 125, 126 Linnaeus, Carl, 179 Lippmann, Walter, Public Opinion, 22 The Little Review, 62 Litz, Walton A., ed., Eliot in His Time, 100; ed., Personae, 77 Longenbach, James, 171 Longfellow, H. Wadsworth, 115, 179 Lowell, Amy, 3, 147; The Complete Poetical Works, 152; Pictures of the Floating World, 152; “The Anniversary”, 152; “Lacquer Prints”, 152; “Peace”, 153 Lowell, Robert, 4, 65, 207, 212, 215-21 passim; For the Union Dead, 220; Near the Ocean, 220; “The March 1”, 221; “Skunk Hour”, 217, 218, 220 Loy, Mina, 209 Lynes, Barbara Buhler, O’Keeffe, Stieglitz, and the Critics, 1916-1929, 135 McCann, Janet, Wallace Stevens Revisited, 124 McCarthyism, 23 McGann, Jerome, 28 MacLeod, Glen, 13 Mac Low, Jackson, 29

237 Maeder, Beverly, Wallace Stevens’ Experimental Language, 132 Magritte, René, 169 Malcolm, Janet, 13, 25 Malevich, Kasimir, 29, 32 Mallarmé, Stéphane, Le mystère dans les lettres, 118-19 Man, Ray, 63 Mann, Thomas, 18; Death in Venice, 29 Mao, Douglas, Solid Objects, 127 Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso, 54 Marion, Jean-Luc, Being Given, 108 Marvell, Andrew, 97, 100, 102 Marx, Karl, 54; Marxist, 17, 91 The Masses, 214 Masson, André, 7 Materer, Timothy, 56 Mathews, R. H., ed., OuLiPo Compendium, 84 Matisse, Henri, 7 Matthews, Harry, 168 Mauron, Charles, Aesthetics and Psychology, 122 Maxon, H. A., On the Sonnets of Robert Frost, 37 Mayakovsky, Vladimir, 16, 32 Mengel, Ewald, 184 Mesch, Harald, 193, 197 Metaphysical Poets, 39 Meyer, Steven, Irresistible Dictation, 24 Michelangelo, 180

238

Modernism Revisited Naxi, 3, 73, 74-84, 86-90 Nelson, Cary, 22; ed. Anthology of Modern American Poetry, 22-23, 25 Neugroschel, Joachim, 13 New realism, 4, 208-209, 21517, 220 New York Review of Books, 12, 26 New Yorker, 13, 14, 25, 91 Nicholls, Peter, Modernisms: A Literary Guide, 15 Noland, Carrie, Poetry at Stake, 19 North, Michael, 20, 89; Reading 1922, 19, 22 O’Keeffe, Georgia, 135, 157 objective correlative, 103, 111, 140-41 Objectivism, 170; Objectivist, 170-71, 182, 186, 191, 214 Odyssey, 48, 95, 177 Olson, Charles, 65, 190, 191, 194, 196 Oppen, George, 23, 24, 186, 214 Otake, Masaru V., 155 OuLiPo, 167, 168 Ovid, 97 Ozick, Cynthia, 14, 91 painting, 4, 6, 7, 26, 28, 31, 140, 148, 152, 157, 168, 169, 191, 192, 195, 196, 208, 215 Parisi, Joseph, ed., Marianne Moore: The Art of a Moder-

Middleton, Thomas, 21 Miller, Fred, 165 Miller, Hillis J., 128, 169 Miller, Owen, ed., Identity of the Literary Text, 128 Miller, Tyrus, Late Modernism, 15 Modernism, 1, 2, 4, 11-19, 26, 29, 31, 53, 60, 71, 72, 91, 105, 127, 162, 166, 170, 183, 187, 207, 209, 210, 212-15, 222; modernist, 15, 18, 19, 127 Modernism/Modernity, 13 Moncrieff, Scott, 13, 34 Mondor, Henri, ed., 119 Moody, David A., ed., The Cambridge Companion to T. S. Eliot, 94, 103; T. S. Eliot: Poet, 98 Moore, Marianne, 4, 30, 119, 120, 132, 162, 176, 181-3, 209; The Complete Poems, 182; “People stare carefully”, 120 Morise, Max, 168 Morse, Mitchell, 148 mot juste, 25, 57, 63, 70 Moynihan, Robert, 125 Murano, Kenkichi, 146 Murphy, Margueritte S., A Tradition of Subversion, 167 Murray, John, 78, 87, 88 Mussolini, Benito, 65, 67 myth, 13, 93, 96, 98, 104, 106, 108; mythic, 96, 101, 188, 196; mythical, 3, 93, 95, 99, 102, 106, 109, 197

Index nist, 162 Pearson, N. H., ed., Oxford Anthology of American Literature, 155 Peat, F. David, Science, Order, and Creativity, 6 Peck, John, 82 Perloff, Marjorie, 190, 201203; Radical Artifice, 189; Wittgenstein’s Ladder, 157, 189; The Dance of the Intellect, 189 Pétain, Marshall, 25 Petrarch, 37; Petrarchan, 40 Phenomenology, 8, 108, 216 Picasso, Pablo, 6, 32, 162 Plath, Sylvia, 215 Plato, 47; Platonism, 47, 110 poetics, 3, 4, 9, 28, 31, 33, 54, 57-60, 93, 104, 105, 124, 162, 166, 167, 170, 171, 172, 183, 187, 198, 210, 214 Poetry, 141 Poirier, Richard, The Renewal of Literature, 133; Robert Frost, 44; ed., Robert Frost Collected Poems, Prose and Plays, 35; Poetry and Pragmatism, 133-34 Pope, Alexander, 39, 48 Postmodernism, 11, 17-18, 71 Pound, Dorothy, 73, 77, 78, 87, 88 Pound, Ezra, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 12, 14-16, 25, 26, 29-32, 37, 41, 53-72 passim, 73-90 passim, 91, 117, 141, 144, 147, 148, 150-52, 163, 176-80, 185, 186, 189-91, 194, 208, 209,

239 216; The ABC of Reading, 26, 29, 30; The Analects, 77; Cantos, 1, 3, 12, 16, 57, 59, 62, 63, 65, 70, 71, 73, 75, 76, 78, 80, 82, 87, 89, 177, 178, 179; Cathay, 77; The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius, 77, 78; Collected Early Poems, 150, 179; Collected Shorter Poems, 61; Confucius to Cummings, 66; Confucius: The Great Digest, 77; Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir, 151; Guide to Kulchur, 64; Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, 61; Literary Essays, 30, 57, 141, 179, 208; A Lume Spento, 61; Pisan Cantos, 12, 65; Poems and Translations, 12; Ripostes, 62; Section: Rock-Drill, 65; Selected Cantos, 12; Ta Hio; The Great Learning of Confucius, 77; Ta S’eu/Dai Gaku Studio Integrale, 77; The Tempers, 62; Thrones, 65, 76, 78, 89; The Unwobbling Pivot, 77; “In a Station of the Metro”, 141, 150 Pratt, Mary Louise, Imperial Eyes, 175 Pre-Raphaelites, 28 Proust, Marcel, 14; A la recherche du temps perdu, 13, 33, 34; Du Côté de chez Swann, 13; In Search of Lost Time, 13; Remembrance of Things Past, 13

240

Modernism Revisited Salusinszky, Imre, ed., Criticism in Society, 128 Santayana, George, 129 Satie, Eric, 162 satori, 145, 155 Saussure, Ferdinand de, 119 Sayre, Henry, The Visual Text of William Carlos Williams, 171 Schapiro, Meyer, 215 Schaum, Melita, 124 Schelling, F. W. J. von, System of Transcendental Idealism, 8 Schnabel, Artur, Music and the Line of Most Resistance, 124 Schnapp, Jeffrey T., 169 Schwalm, Erika, 158 Schwarzenegger, Arnold, 27 Seed, David, 181 Serio, John N., ed., Teaching Wallace Stevens, 124 Sert, Misia, 34 Shakespear, Dorothy, 62 Shakespeare, William, 37-39, 93, 97, 100; Hamlet, 31, 102, 141; Shakespearean, 39, 40, 102 Sharpe, Tony, Wallace Stevens, 123 Shiki, Masaoko, 140 Sidney, Philip, 37 Sieburth, Richard, 12 Skaff, William, The Philosophy of T. S. Eliot, 98 Smith, Grover, The Waste Land, 94, 104 Smith, Richard E., 151

Qian, Zhaoming, 77; ed., Ezra Pound and China, 74 Queneau, Raymond, 167, 168 Rabaté, Jean-Michel, 59, 94 Rao, Nageswara, The Peace Which Passeth Understanding, 103 La révolution surréaliste, 168 Reznikoff, Charles, 63 Ribot, Théodule, 97 Rich, Adrienne, 215 Richardson, Mark, ed., Robert Frost, Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays, 35 Rieke, Alison, 124 Roberts, Andrew, ed., Poetry Value, and Contemporary Culture, 28 Rock, Joseph Frances, 73-89 passim; The Ancient Na-khi Kingdom of Southwest China, 73, 88 Rolfe, Edwin, 22; Collected Poems, 23; Trees Become Torches, 23 Romantic, 3, 5-9, 64, 92, 115; Romanticism, 115, 176 Roosevelt, Franklin D., 63, 65 Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 28 Rotella, Guy, ed., Critical Essays on E. E. Cummings, 120 Roth, Joseph, Radetsky March, 13 Roubaud, Jacques, 168 Rudge, Olga, 75 Said, Edward, 128

Index Smithson, Robert, Spiral Jetty, 28 Social Credit, 64, 69 Sommerkamp, Sabine, Der Einfluß des Haiku auf Imagismus und Jüngere Moderne, 141, 143, 147-48, 153, 158 sonnet, 2, 35-41, 44, 46-47, 51, 120, 217, 220-21 Soupault, Philippe, 63, 164 Spenser, Edmund, 37, 97, 102 St Elizabeths Hospital, 54, 6465, 77, 79-81, 83, 85 Stade, George, ed., Selected Letters of E. E. Cummings, 116 Stein, Gertrude, 12-14, 16, 2427, 30-32, 139, 186, 191, 195; The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 13, 186; Four in America, 32; Stanzas in Meditation, 16; Tender Buttons, 16, 25-26, 191, 195 Stevens, Holly, ed., Letters, 129, 172 Stevens, Wallace, 1, 3, 4, 13, 14, 18, 30, 37, 53, 91, 12134 passim, 144, 148, 155, 162, 170-72, 176, 186-89, 214; The Collected Poems, 122, 148, 155, 186; Harmonium, 130; Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, 171; Opus Posthumous, 121, 124, 128, 130, 131, 171; “Adagia”, 121, 130; “Arrival at the Waldorf”, 187; “Dezem-

241 brum”, 131; “Domination of Black”, 129; “The Irrational Ele-ment in Poetry”, 124, 131; “Man Carrying Thing”, 122, 124, 130; “The Motive for Metaphor”, 125; “Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing itself”, 148, 155; “Of Mere Being”, 130; “On the Road Home”, 186; “Peter Quince at the Clavier”, 128; “The Search for Sound Free from Motion”, 187; “The Snow Man”, 125; “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, 155; “The Well Dressed Man with a Beard”, 130 Stock, Noel, 86 Stout, Janis P., The Journey Narrative in American Literature, 176, 184 Stoicheff, Peter, The Hall of Mirrors, 78 Suberchicot, Alain, Treize façons de regarder Wallace Stevens, 131 subjectivity, 42, 71, 103, 151, 175, 188, 212, 216, 220 Sultan, Stanley, Eliot, Joyce, and Company, 104 Sun, Veronica Huilan, 84 Surrealism, 4, 162, 163, 16566, 172; Surrealist, 4, 98, 161-73, 185 Suzuki, D. T., 137, 141, 157; Die große Befreiung, 158; Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism, 138, 144; Zen and

242

Modernism Revisited Valdes, Mario J., ed., Identity of the Literary Text, 128 Valéry, Paul, 18 van Geyzel, Leonard, 122 van Velde, Bram, 7 Vanity Fair, 96 Vedanta, 107 Vendler, Helen, 20; On Extended Wings, 131-32; Wallace Stevens: Words Chosen Out of Desire, 123 Verlaine, Paul, 97, 100 Verrochio, Andrea, 180 Victorian, 25, 28, 29-30 Virgil, 97 Voltaire, François Marie Arouet, 175 vortex, 71, 103, 131; Vorticism, 151, 179 Wagner, Richard, 21, 97, 100 Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed., Interviews with William Carlos Williams, 165 Wald, Priscilla, Constituting Americans, 24, 27 Wallace, Emily Mitchell, 54, 56, 74, 82 Walzock, Karlheinz, 140 Weaver, Mike, William Carlos Williams, 171 Webster, John, 97 Weeks, Kathy, 18 Welch, Michael Dylan, 148 Wellelsey, Dorothy, 29 Weston, Jesse L., 21, 101, 109; From Ritual to Romance, 98

Japanese Culture, 139, 14246, 152, 153 Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 208; Symbolism, 4, 98, 169-73; symbolist, 4, 170; French Symbolist, 94, 147, 189 Tachisme, 7 Tadié, Jean-Yves, 34 Tal Coat, Pierre, 7 Taoism, 80; Taoist, 88 Tarot, 102 Tashjian, Dickran, William Carlos Williams and the American Scene, 165, 167 Tennyson, Alfred, 29 Terrell, Carroll F., 78, 83; A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 73; ed., Robert Creeley, 193, 198; ed., William Carlos Williams, 171 Thirlwall, John C., ed., The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams, 58-59, 70, 168 Tibet, 78, 85; Tibeto-Burman, 3 Tiedemann, Rolf, 16 Times Literary Supplement, 26 Traubel, Horace, ed., Walt Whitman, An American Primer, 200 Untermeyer, Louis, 44, 51 Upanishad, 97, 107; Upanishadic, 109

Index Whitman, Walt, 4, 32, 72, 183, 189, 191, 196, 200, 202; “A Noiseless Patient Spider”, 202; “Song of Myself”, 115; Wicke, Jennifer, Advertising Fictions, 19 Wilder, Thornton, 31, 32 Williams, William Carlos, 1, 2, 4, 30, 32, 53-72 passim, 91, 111, 143, 148, 154, 155, 161-73, 176, 178, 185-89, 190-96, 200, 203, 209, 218; Autobiography, 163; The Collected Earlier Poems, 154, 186; The Desert Music, 65; Imaginations, 172, 193; In the American Grain, 63; Interviews with William Carlos Williams, 165; Journey to Love, 65; Kora in Hell: Improvisations, 164, 165; Others, 54, 62, 65, 132; Paterson, 57, 61, 62, 65, 67, 71; A Recognizable Image: William Carlos Williams on Art and Artists, 163; The Selected Letters, 58, 59, 70, 168; Selected Essays, 143; Spring and All, 63; A Voyage to Pagany, 63, 185, 186; William Carlos Williams and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, 168; “La Flor”, 57; “The Locust Tree in Flower”, 195; “The Poem as a Field of Action”, 185; “The Red

243 Wheelbarrow”, 154, 169; “The Wanderer”, 66, 186 Willis, Patricia, 162 Wilson, John, ed., Robert Creeley’s Life and Work, 190 Witemeyer, Hugh, 62, 65; ed., Pound/Williams: Selected Letters, 54-72; ed., William Carlos Williams and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, 168 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 189-90; Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 19, 157; Zettel, 30 Woolf, Virginia, 30 Wright, G. H. von, ed., Zettel, 30 Yasuda, Kenneth, The Japanese Haiku, 142, 155 Yeats, William Butler, 12, 14, 15, 29, 30, 62, 207; Letters on Poetry from W. B. Yeats to Dorothy Wellesley, 29; ed., The Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935, 207; A Vision, 15, 30 Yezierska, Anzia, Salome of the Tenements, 22 Yunnan, 3, 74, 76, 78, 84 Zen Buddhism, 135, 136, 147, 158 Zizek, Slavoj, The Puppet and the Dwarf, 27 Zukofsky, Louis, 23, 63