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60 THEMISSOURIREVIEW CRITICISM—STARTING FROM SCRATCH / M. L. Rosenthal I herewith offer some thoughts about criticism that start with two premises not very widely accepted, at least in practice. The first premise is that we must always start from scratch with individual works, learning from the works themselves as we proceed. Although this thought is self-evident, everything in our intellectual life militates against following where the self-evident leads. Presumably the subject matter of critical theory is the vital character of particular writings; but in fact traditional theory has as its material an inherited terminology, with associated sets of classification, more or less independent of actual literary works. The second premise is that we must give the same deep attention to writings by "unknown" authors of interest as we give to the supposed canon. As editor and reviewer, I have read a good deal of poetry that was entirely new to me. In such circumstances one can all too easily be stupidly dismissive and unconsciously dogmatic. If a poem by X appears, and seems in its way to "have something," we shall not see far enough into it unless we treat it, however tentatively, with the same regard as we would a poem by Donne or Yeats. To illustrate, I have chosen to look especially at some poems by a friend who has, as yet, published very little. She is someone I would call an instinctive poet, by virtue of her sense of form and of language. What I mean here is still a bit elusive even to me. It has to do with the connection, absolutely tangible in her art, between her inner personality , or the inner reality that she feels, and the way she copes with the shaping of her poems. In artistic terms, we are aware of her facility with the plastic possibilities of poetry, yet equally aware of the resistant life of her phrasing. The signs of this connection are what we value in a poet, and in one important way we cannot go much further in evaluation. We do go further, of course. Of those who give to us of themselves with any grace at all we demand more and more, as they demand it of themselves . But once we see that the grace shines within them, that they are truly angels, then the demand for grace falls on us, the receivers. Hence my insistence that the recognition of undeveloped talents calls for the same openness as does the recognition of masterpieces. The mind must be a living mirror of grateful recognition. My friend's poems have "weaknesses," as all poems must. All poets have great weaknesses, obvious ones, because each is only himself or herself—with two eyes gazing forward and a slender, rippling line of electric memory streaming backward. Any learned fool could see Whitman's weaknesses at a glance—no problem. But . . . She writes: We love in tree-flickering light; while strange birds singing down the past, the swelling murmur of the blood, weave the lattice of your face. M. L. Rosenthal 61 That is the opening stanza of a poem. Separate out the first line, and you have something a great poet might have written. It is a fully active line: lovers together, sunlight filtering through the leaves, a visual and kinaesthetic pattern of passionate awareness, made sacred by the light, a concentration of the same nature that moves all around the speaker and her lover. Her eyes see everything there, and the sense of the unconscious density of memory in the next two lines—presented as the sound of the lovers' state of aroused and gratified desire—becomes a bridge to the closely focused vision of the fourth line. There the phrase "weave the lattice of your face" is exactly reciprocal, in its sensuous absorption, with the opening line. Borrowing a phrase from Longinus or Wallace Stevens—probably both—I call this beginning noble diction: purity of phrase, a music of feeling brought into play, sensuous accuracy without grossness. One word in the final line, together with the associations of sunlight and desire, summons up for comparison the refrain in Eliot's "La Figlia che Piange": "weave, weave the...


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