Emerson as Poet

Emerson as Poet

Copyright Date: 1974
Pages: 219
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  • Book Info
    Emerson as Poet
    Book Description:

    Since Yvor Winters' famous denunciation of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his writings in the 1930s, major critics have been silent on the subject, and Emerson scholars have generally avoided critical evaluation. Hyatt H. Waggoner reopens the debate, arguing that past criticism of Emerson has been limited by the inevitable but unfortunate influences of cultural relativism and personal taste. He suggests that by concentrating on the stabilities, on the recognizably similar patterns of response by critics to Emerson as poet, one can arrive at a portrait that transcends changing cultures and preferences. His book thus combines a full critical re-evaluation of Emerson's poetry with a thoughtful commentary on the ways in which critics and readers approach poetry.

    Originally published in 1975.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7165-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. A Note on the Texts Used
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
  6. INTRODUCTION: A Century of Critical Agreements and Disagreements
    (pp. 3-52)

    I take it to be a truism needing only acknowledgment that poetic reputations grow or diminish, or at least alter in character, more or less predictably in harmony with cultural changes that modify the expectations readers bring to poetry and the demands they make of it. The attempts of literary critics and philosophic aestheticians to release us from the bondage of cultural relativism and personal taste by describing the characteristics that distinguish good poetry in any age or any culture seem to me never to have proved more than temporarily and partially successful. No doubt this is because the critical...

  7. CHAPTER I Rediscovering the “Voyager of Light and Noon”
    (pp. 53-74)

    Emerson has long been a problem for modern readers. Should we read him at all? If so, why? What does he have to offer, what values capable of touching our lives may we expect to find in his work? Andhowshould we read him, if we do? As a man of wisdom, “the Sage of Concord” his later contemporaries honored? As a gifted visionary, a “Seer,” as William James reverently suggested? As “the” “Philosopher of Democracy,” as John Dewey thought he deserved to be called? As “a Puritan mystic with a poetic fancy and a gift for observation and...

  8. CHAPTER II The Apprentice Years: Composer of Verses
    (pp. 75-107)

    When he was still a small boy, perhaps when he was only nine, certainly by the age of ten, Emerson was impressing first his family and later his friends and teachers by the talent he showed for versifying. In an age when, in proportion to the population, more educated people than now read and wrote poetry, when poetry occupied a more prominent place in formal education, he still seemed distinguished by the apparent ease and obvious skill with which he could compose correct eloquent verses. Years later, writing of Shakespeare, “the” poet, inRepresentative Men,he would contrast poets with...

  9. CHAPTER III The Achievement of the Poems: “Artful Thunder”
    (pp. 108-160)

    By the early 1830’s, then, when he himself was about thirty, Emerson had proved that he could make prosodically “smooth” and “correct” verses in several traditional forms of “measured language,” but he had not yet written any whole poems that would make him seem worth remembering today as anything more than one of the minor versifiers of the period. A decade earlier in “Good-bye” he had achieved a sufficiently craftsmanlike blending of Wordsworthian sentiments and language with echoes of Wordsworth’s predecessors to cast doubt on the seldom-questioned judgment of his nineteenth-century critics that though he had the “soul” of a...

  10. CHAPTER IV The Poetry of the Prose
    (pp. 161-191)

    After we have granted Emerson his rare but impressive triumphs in verse, and granted too that a sympathetic reading of his collected poems today would be likely to discover a larger number of successful poems, or parts of poems, than critics in the past have generally allowed him, we may still find ourselves agreeing with perhaps his most perceptive early critic, Chapman, that he is more often at his poetic best in his prose than in his verse. The reasons given by the detractors of his verse may strike us as unsatisfactory today, for we are not likely to demand...

  11. CHAPTER V Vision and Voice
    (pp. 192-202)

    If Emerson had been alive to read James’s review of Cabot’sMemoir,with its combination of high praise for the man and his work and its doubt that the writings could really be said to have been “composed,” he might have smiled and, realizing that it was not so intended, have taken James's qualification as a compliment anyway, for had he not always said that mere compositional skill could not give a writer greatness? Today we are likely to feel that both Emerson's Platonism—all poetry was written before time was—and James’s formalism—style is everything—are equally one-sided...

  12. Index
    (pp. 203-211)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 212-212)