By James E. von der Heydt
From pop culture to politics to vintage novels, quintessentially American texts take their notion from the assumption of infinity. within the striking literary century inaugurated by way of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the lyric too appeared to stumble upon percentages as unlimited because the U.S. mind's eye. This increases the query: What occurs while boundlessness is greater than only a determine of speech? Exploring new horizons is something, yet truly the horizon itself is whatever altogether assorted. during this rigorously crafted research, James von der Heydt shines a brand new gentle at the lyric craft of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and James Merrill and considers how their seascape-vision redefines poetry's purpose.Emerson famously freed U.S. literature from its previous and opened it as much as vastness; within the following century, a succession of tremendous, rigorous poets took the philosophical demanding situations of such freedom all too heavily. dealing with the unmarked horizon, Emersonian poets trap - and are captured via - a stark, astringent model of human attractiveness. Their uncompromising visions of limitlessness reclaim infinity's right legacy - and provides American poetry its area. Von der Heydt's publication recovers the secret in their international
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Extra info for At the brink of infinity : poetic humility in boundless American space
The speaker is starkly confined by her finitude just as she surmounts it. And such spatial tableaux tend to offer a glimmer of representational success. The poet’s final mark, the crossbar for the “t” in the word “Diameters,” a line that in the manuscript floats free of the word itself, fails to name those lines coherently. But it also represents them, with vigor and panache. Boldly substantive, unlike the small transitional dashes of the poem’s sequential propositions, this stroke is an image of the diametric slice the poet herself superimposes on the world of objects, spanning all the truth but making it a slant.
When infinity is involved (Emerson’s ocean instead of Thoreau’s lake or even Thomas Cole’s mountains), subject and object stand irrevocably apart: nothing can mediate between the human scale and the writer’s horizons of knowledge. Infinity may be the primal human prospect; but in encounter with infinite space, writing knows only its own failure, and can only gather souvenirs like the seashells. Dutifully, the four poets featured in this book set about this task, keeping their eyes on the horizon and keeping sharp the awareness of incommensurability that Holmes lacked.
As the last two clauses suggest paradoxically, that troublesome “something” is found equally in humanity and in nature — which is to say, everywhere. This “striving upward” threatens to render meaningless all the previous paragraph’s celebration of earthy writing driven by gravity. Even worse, this claim — that the transcendent unity a human mind imposes on the world undermines, rather than guarantees, the status and integrity of each object — disrupts a central tenet of the empiricist Emerson described above.