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New World Poetics

Nature and the Adamic Imagination of Whitman, Neruda, and Walcott

George B. Handley

Publication Year: 2007

A simultaneously ecocritical and comparative study, New World Poetics plumbs the earthly depth and social breadth of the poetry of Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, and Derek Walcott, three of the Americas' most ambitious and epic-minded poets. In Whitman's call for a poetry of New World possibility, Neruda's invocation of an "American love," and Walcott's investment in the poetic ironies of an American epic, the adamic imagination of their poetry does not reinvent the mythical Garden that stands before history's beginnings but instead taps the foundational powers of language before a natural world deeply imbued with the traces of human time. Theirs is a postlapsarian Adam seeking a renewed sense of place in a biocentric and cross-cultural New World through language and nature's capacity for regeneration in the wake of human violence and suffering.

The book introduces the environmental history of the Americas and its relationship to the foundation of American and Latin American studies, explores its relevance to each poet's ambition to recuperate the New World's lost histories, and provides a transnational poetics of understanding literary influence and textual simultaneity in the Americas. The study provides much needed in-depth ecocritical readings of the major poems of the three poets, insisting on the need for thoughtful regard for the challenge to human imagination and culture posed by nature's regenerative powers; nuanced appreciation for the difficulty of balancing the demands of social justice within the context of deep time; and the symptomatic dangers as well as healing potential of human self-consciousness in light of global environmental degradation.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. ix-xi

Although I cannot pass on responsibility for the weaknesses of this manuscript, I can lay claim to having received the help of generous friends and institutions. My home university, Brigham Young University, has been extraordinarily generous. I received financial support for research assistants, travel, book funds, and flexible teaching arrangements and a formal...

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pp. 1-15

It is fair to wonder if terms such as "New World" and "adamic" haven't long since lost their utility, but this study is an exercise in revisiting the assumptions that inform these suspicions. Instead of an argument for a new terminology, this is an effort to extract more value from old and familiar resources, a kind of literary recycling project. My environmental...

Part One

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1. Ecology, the New World, and the "American" Adam

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pp. 19-41

The New World? Of course it wasn't new, least of all to the estimated 54 million native inhabitants in the hemisphere, nor did it prove to be younger than the Old World, as some naturalists would theorize in the wake of 1492. These anachronisms have resulted in understandable uneasiness or downright displeasure with this term. Edmundo...

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2. A New World Poetics

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pp. 42-67

To write with an adamic imagination like Whitman, Neruda, and Walcott brings attendant risks, especially the prospect of denuding a place of its history, both human and natural, in order to facilitate the perception of newness. Longings for Eden tend to lay the ground for the decimation of peoples as well as of the landscape that appears to lie in wait for...

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3. Reading Whitman in the New World

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pp. 68-104

Between his 1605 publication of part 1 of Don Quixote and the 1615 publication of his promised part 2, Cervantes was beaten to the punch. An unknown author, Avellaneda by pen name, published a faux part 2 of the Quixote just one year before Cervantes. Instead of being stifled, Cervantes took full advantage of this crisis of authenticity. Knowing full well that his...

Part Two

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4. Nature's Last Chemistry

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pp. 107-155

The figure of Adam appeals to a desire for innocence in apprehending and naming the world so as to ensure a New World originality and authenticity. Such yearning for a complete break from the Old World has paradoxically fostered a Hegelian belief in the inevitable and utterly reliable directive of Western history and a paradoxical lack of interest in social and...

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5. Natural History as Autobiography

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pp. 156-216

Pablo Neruda was born in Parral in the southern region of Chile, an area that Neruda insists in his Memorias was analogous to the American Wild West. The area, known as La Araucanía, is also called La Frontera and is named after the monkey puzzle tree used by the Mapuche Indians for its nutritious nut, pehuen. It is important not to understate the influence...

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6. Hemispheric History as Natural History

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pp. 217-276

Neruda began to search the roots of his own autobiography at the same time that he became more aware of the greatest threat to the survival of human community: the rise of fascism, World War II, and the birth of the cold war. This was the context, of course, in which the modernist hope in the redeeming powers of art was threatened. Roberto...

Part Three

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7. The Muse of (Natural) History

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pp. 279-317

Derek Walcott's poetics of the environment developed in the context of a small geographical space of extraordinary beauty. Born in 1930 on the island of St. Lucia, he was offered a dual education in his youth; his mother and other mentors and teachers exposed him to the great poetic traditions of English, European, and American literature while he and his...

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8. Impressionism in the New World

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pp. 318-354

If poetry is the ideal medium for seeking a conceptual balance between natural and human histories, it also runs the risk, as the discussion in the last chapter implied, that it will always need to historicize and humanize nature. It may be insufficient, in other words, on its own to reach for an adamic apprehension of nature, or what Walcott calls in...

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9. Death, Regeneration, and the Prospect of Extinction

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pp. 355-396

Derek Walcott's persistent interest in visual art is just one of the many facets of a wide-ranging eclecticism that is characteristic of his New World poetics. This poetics democratically cannibalizes multiple influences in the name of simplifying the poet's elemental adamic contact with the natural world. While Walcott's poetry has always been difficult to define in...

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pp. 397-403

While the foundation of an environmentally and socially healthy society must begin with a deep appreciation for place, affection is not a panacea. As Wallace Stegner has warned, "we may love a place and still be dangerous to it" (55). In addition to greater affection for land we need what novelist Marilynne Robinson in her compelling book...


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pp. 405-412

Works Cited

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pp. 413-427


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pp. 429-441

E-ISBN-13: 9780820336718
E-ISBN-10: 0820336718
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820328645
Print-ISBN-10: 0820328642

Page Count: 456
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 647901167
MUSE Marc Record: Download for New World Poetics

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ecology in literature.
  • Nature in literature.
  • Philosophy of nature in literature.
  • Ecocriticism.
  • English poetry -- 20th century -- History and criticism
  • Walcott, Derek -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Chilean poetry -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Neruda, Pablo, 1904-1973 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • American poetry -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Whitman, Walt, -- 1819-1892 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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