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TheCanadian Review of Amencan Studies, Volume 10. Number 1, Sprmg, 1979 InsideNarratives GeorgeBornstein. The Post romantic Consciousness t~/'E=ra Pound, Enl!h~h Literary Studies Monograph Series, ~o. 8. Victoria. B.C.: Th~l'nl\ersity of Victoria, 1977.84 pp. Ellen \V1lhams. Harriet l1fonroe and the Poerry Renaissance: TheFlt\! Ten }'ears o/'"Poetry," /91.:-:!:!. Urbana: University lit llhno1~Press, 1977. 312 pp. BernardDuffey. Poeu:r in America: E\JJression and Its Values 111the Times o/' Bryant, Whitman. and Pound. Durham, N.C.: Du~eUniversity Press, 1978. 358 pp. Leon Surelte In A Short Sad Book, George Bowering quips that "Canada is the country in \\luch writing about history is history." It might be said with equal truth that the United States is the c·ountry in which writing about literature is literature. Without books like R. W. B.Lewis's The American Adam or Roy Harvey Pearce's The Continuity qf'American Poe1r_r,there would be no American literature. Instead we would have American writers existing precariously and provincially on the edges of English literature. The first task of the American literary historian, then, has been to create American Literature out of the apparently uncoordinated efforts of numbers of his countrymen writing in the language of a foreign country. Bernard Duffey, coming after Pearce, and after Hyatt Waggoner's AmericanPoets , does not need to create American Literature or even American Poetry. His task is rather to revise the creation of his predecessors. The narrowing of topic to poetry, he explains, leads to greater clarity: "poetry has the more visibly continuous historical !ife, and this is especially true in American literature where the individually defined or even the idiosyncratic has taken an especially large part in both fiction and drama. Poetry certainly cannot be divorced from the culture that produces it, and normally it seeks to ~electfrom and mold that culture to its own possibilities of expression .... " Poetry, it seems, is a more reliable indicator of culture ("'culture" used here in the anthropological sense of common institutions, habits, and beliefs) because American poets have been greater conformists than novelists and dramatists, and because poetry has, in some sense, greater continuity. Both assertions 64 Leon Surette could be challenged, but they are, perhaps, implicit in earlier studies as well. Duffey follows Pearce's notion of an "inside narrative" in that he presents us with a "history ofliterary expression rather than a history ofliterary persons or reputations. Men and circumstances cannot be ignored, but in these pages they are taken as the background against which the movement of American poetry has conducted its own flow." The "events," then, in Duffey's history are the texts, which themselves are merely incidents in a larger drama whose plot has the structure of a river. The history begins with the smooth waters of the decades preceding the Civil War, labelled "poetry of coherence." In those placid waters Emerson kept to the deeps while Longfellow, Bryant, Whittier and Holmes sported near the surface. Edgar Allan Poe, out of key with his time, was scarcely able to make a dent in the coherence celebrated by his contemporaries. During and after the Civil War, poets are faced with "a contradiction between feeling and fact" and must swim as best they can in the turmoil of the "fiction of incoherence." James Russell Lowell, Timrod, Lanier. Whitman and Melville found themselves, in their various ways, "drifting toward a literary realism increasingly preoccupied with problem and finding the permanent and true most characteristically in blind event." Poetry had fallen, it seems, from Innocence into Experience. Whitman alone seemed to enjoy the ride. The fiction of incoherence dominates American Poetry for the balance oi the mneteenth century, but the waters become deeper, darker and ever more dangerous. Having "abandoned transcendence" the poets were required to shape "poems in the alien continuities of time alone." They were doomed "in restless movement; in loneliness; in a sifting among the timebound detaib creating and defining loneliness; in quest -inner and outer- but one that could seldom break through the iron ring of its own happening; in boredom: in the high immediacy of the senses and in ideals eaten away by the corrosl\e power...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 63-69
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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