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Warren's novel in verse, Brother to Dragons, is most notable in its philosophy and psychology and summarizes vividly his continuing metaphysical and ethical themes. Aware in his moralist's zeal “that poetry is more than fantasy and is committed to the obligation of trying to say something about the human condition,” Warren is in this work more than ever haunted by an anguished sense of the disparity in man between recurrent beatific vision and the ubiquitous evil which blights it. Accounting for the force of the book are Warren's realization of character, his flair for the arresting image and apt phrase, his evocation of situation and atmosphere, and his instinct for the telling structural contrast. Indispensable as are these aspects of literary talent to the precise rendition of value through form, they are all subordinate to Warren's tense brooding over human motivation and human destiny.
Recent teaching duties have obliged me to reread the bulk of Unamuno's published writings. In this rereading I have been struck by three or four clusters of images that recur with what seems like obsessive frequency. The purpose of this essay is to exhibit these images and to attempt to discover what function they fulfill in Unamuno's writing.
The studies of Melville's poetry have been singularly few. Certainly we could rightfully have expected more in the light of contemporary interest in his prose, and few critics would have been more likely to encourage others to further and fuller studies than those who have discussed these poems in print.
In 1866 Hardy bought a small volume published the year before in “The Cottage Library” series at Halifax called Queen Mab and Other Poems by Percy B. Shelley. The “other poems” are “Alastor,” “The Revolt of Islam,” and “Prometheus Unbound.” This book is now in the possession of Frederick B. Adams, Jr., who has most kindly allowed me to copy the numerous markings Hardy made in the text of “The Revolt of Islam” and “Prometheus Unbound.” Under Hardy's autograph, address, and the date “1866” on the title-page is the following inscription written by Sir James Barrie in 1933: “This Shelley and another volume like it were given to me by Mrs Hardy after Τ H's death. In his early days when he was in an architect's office (Blomfields) in Adelphi Terrace he carried these two books in his pockets and often read them aloud and discoursed on them to [sic] the other clerks. All the linings and marks on them were made by him in those days.” “Another volume like it” suggests a matching selection from Shelley's lyrics, but such a book has not come to light and Mr. Adams thinks that the other volume Barrie referred to was the Swinburne that Hardy is known to have carried about with him at the same time.
Whitman's “Song of Myself” has long been considered a loosely organized, perhaps even chaotic poem which is held together, if at all, by his own robust personality. He himself may have contributed to this concept of the poem. Untitled when it appeared in the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855, it was called “Poem of Walt Whitman, an American” in the 1856 edition; “Walt Whitman” in the 1860 edition, and was given the present title in the 1881 edition. This frequent change of title together with the many revisions made in the numbering of the sections and in the text itself suggests one of two possibilities: either Whitman was uncertain, perhaps confused as to the basic nature of what he was writing; or he was struggling to perfect a work of art the execution of which had fallen short of the conception. Too frequently the critics have assumed as self-evident the first of these possibilities. Inability to find a structure in “Song of Myself” has resulted, I believe, from a failure to find a center of relevancy, an “informing idea,” to which the parts of the poem may be related. It is the purpose of this paper to propose such a center, to show how it gives structure to the poem, and to examine the parts of the poem in detail to test their relevancy to this central “informing idea.”
One of the things which mark Carlyle as a Romantic is the way he had of seeing the world in his own magnified image. When dyspepsia tormented him, he suffered like Prometheus, for all mankind. In the face of religious doubts he first complained bitterly, then fought like a panther, and the struggle, as fold in Sartor Resartus, was magnificent. Everywhere in Carlyle's writings, in his published works, his notebooks, and his letters, there is a playing-up of the specific to the general, the immediately personal to the universal. Small wonder if the student of his writings grows suspicious of Matilda crying Fire! And wonders whether many of the things which look autobiographical may not be, after all, largely imaginary, the products of a fertile romantic imagination. Consequently, against his steady complaints of ill health it has been observed, by Norwood Young, that Carlyle “never had a day's serious illness in his life.” And against the autobiographic character of Teufelsdroeckh's religious and moral crisis, described in Sartor, it was argued by Frederick W. Roe that Carlyle's “religious life underwent no convulsive transformation” at Leith-Walk. Finally, despite, the three chapters in Sartor and despite what Carlyle said on the subject, “The Everlasting Yea” itself may be denied, as when Sir Herbert Grierson declared in 1940 that Carlyle never really got beyond “The Everlasting No.”
Uring wordsworth's lifetime, the epic lost a good deal of its prestige in England. One reason was of course the growing tendency to regard literature not as static and unchanging but as essentially organic and evolutionary. Believing that a principle of progress is secretly operative in the mind of man and therefore in the things he writes, many critics were now disposed to brand the epic as an outmoded form of literature and to censure earlier neo-classicists for their high praise of this particular genre. They suggested that, for the modern world at least, there is considerably more of worth and of interest in the spontaneous self-expression of the lyric and in the skillful character-probing of the Elizabethan drama and of the modern novel.
Although Middleton Murry, Swift's latest biographer, treats his subject with grateful sympathy and respect, he has, like every other writer on the problem, ignored the amazing consistency which framed Swift's relations with women. Yet the pattern need only be pointed out to be perceived, for it is recurrent, unusual (if not unique), and extraordinarily illuminating. Naturally enough, it is a pattern which originates in the author's childhood.
For many generations symbolism has dominated the poetry of America and Europe. In time, of course, the critics found out what was happening and they began to investigate the movement. They have carried their investigations further and further afield over the literature of the last four centuries and in the process they have enormously widened our knowledge of poetry. Through their labors we read with clearer eyes and a deeper enjoyment than before.
It is well known that Shakespeare's depiction of battles was limited by space, personnel, and equipment. It is not well known why, despite Ben Jonson's instructive ridicule and his own professed awareness of these limitations, he persisted in staging battle after battle almost to the end of his career. In endorsing his statement of what was wrong with his dramatization of war, we have failed to inquire what was right about it. Principally, I believe, we have neglected to look for the aspect of warfare that steadily interested him and his audience.
The erudite and industrious Georg Rollenhagen is usually remembered only as author of the Froschmeuseler. Among the authors of the sixteenth century who are accorded at least a paragraph or two in our modern histories of German literature probably none has been so much ignored or become so mistreated a step-child. Study of his life and works reveals a seeming jack-of-all-trades, but he was a master of many. He was a man who spent his life in the narrow limits of a region between Berlin and Magdeburg, yet he created a great school and, more than that, wrote vivid pictures of his time and a long poem, an animal verse-epic, that everybody read.
When Thoughts and prejudices become stereotyped, they seek the fixed expression and convenient reference of a visual symbol. The Renaissance, with its Christian, classic, and neo-Platonic imageries, afforded an excellent demonstration of this. During that period, which enlarged consciously and unconsciously the implications of ut pictura poesis, this imagery could be examined in either the poetry or the painting. Nowhere does one find, however, a more harmonious marriage of artistic and literary metaphor than in the innumerable and popular emblem books of the Renaissance, depositories, as Henri Stegemeier writes, of so many traditions, themes, and opinions both belletristic and bellartistic. These emblemata were the perpetuating vehicles by which neoclassic metaphor was brought to the thousands of Europeans whose only contact with the painting of their time was an occasional glance at the religious figures over the candlelight of their local basilica and whose contact with literature was the sporadic reading of racy novelle or those antecedents of the novels which the Renaissance lumped under the term of “heroic poem.” Everyone read the emblem books, or looked at them, and there were more editions of Alciati in the sixteenth century than there were of Rabelais.
A solution to the mystery of Pearl must meet certain tests if it is to answer the questions: What is typified by the jewel and the jewel-maiden, and how are they related? What is the symbolic import of the story? Specifically, as J. P. Oakden has indicated, the gem must stand for something which the poet could represent as a pearl and at the same time as a maiden who had died in infancy and had been redeemed by Christ. Further, says Oakden, it must signify something that the poet (or his protagonist speaking in the first person) “lost, mourned, and could recover through the grace of God, strengthened by partaking of the Blessed Sacrament.”
When the author of Beowulf undertook to create in English a secular narrative poem of epic amplitude, he set himself to a task for which there was no precedent in the native tradition. In the Germanic past, narrative poetry had been confined to the heroic lay. This was a short poem, not exceeding some two hundred long-lines. It held to a single action, the sequence of which it presented with abrupt economy. Preoccupied with the scenic and the climactic, it had little leisure for any element which might retard the pace or attenuate the impact. To this tradition, the digressive, the repetitious, and the dilatory were alien. Only in style was the static indulged, in variation, in the ornamental and the vicarious epithet, and here only with restraint.