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The Form of the Unfinished

The Form of the Unfinished: English Poetics from Spenser to Pound

BALACHANDRA RAJAN
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 328
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvrwq
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  • Book Info
    The Form of the Unfinished
    Book Description:

    Distinguishing between the incomplete poem and the unfinished poem, Professor Rajan sees the unfinished poem as remaining in dialogue with its own dissensions. He contributes to current critical debates by showing how the long poem resists assimilation to the forces of both unification and undecidability, finding its significance on the line of engagement between them.

    Originally published in 1985.

    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: 978-1-4008-5477-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-23)

    The unfinished poem is an important strand in the literary heritage. In fact three of the most notable long poems in that heritage—The Faerie Queene, Don Juan,andThe Cantos—are unfinished. A fourth major long poem,Paradise Lost,achieves closure only by placing a completed structure of understanding around a deeply uncertain outcome. The strong affiliation which prevails between the unfinished and the history of the long poem in English is thus a matter of simple record. Yet no extended study of the unfinished seems to have been undertaken so far. This book seeks to initiate such a...

  5. Andrew Marvell: The Aesthetics of Inconclusiveness
    (pp. 24-43)

    The danger of a chapter on the aesthetics of inconclusiveness is that it may end in an inconclusiveness that is anything but aesthetic. I had thought of safeguarding myself against this danger by subtitling this chapter “Some Preliminary Evasions.” This kind of anticipatory deflation, it will be remembered, was regarded by the new critics as a sign of maturity. However recklessness is more in vogue today than ironic self-insurance, so like Marvell, though without Marvell’s agile elegance, I must proceed to definitions that are “begotten by despair/Upon Impossibility.” Indeed in the interests of controlled over-statement, I shall proceed to talk...

  6. The Faerie Queene: How the Poem Vanishes
    (pp. 44-84)

    This chapter begins with a necessary distinction. It proposes to use the word “incomplete” to describe works of literature which it is possible and proper to complete and the word “unfinished” to describe works of literature which have evolved in such a way as to make it improper to finish them. The impropriety is relative. An unfinished work might be a work which it would be possible to finish and which might be satisfactory in its finished state. But that state should be less satisfactory than the state in which the author chose to leave it.

    There is no ground...

  7. Areopagitica and the Images of Truth
    (pp. 85-103)

    In the epilogue toComusthe Attendant Spirit leads us through an ascending series of marriages, the highest of which is the union of the soul with virtue. Preparatory to that final relationship, in which the mind finds its destiny in the good, is the marriage of Cupid and Psyche. Youth and joy are the outcome of that marriage, an outcome underwritten by a heavenly commitment. Both the local realities of the language and the previous dispositions of the masque put it to us that youth and joy find their identities as the children of that discipline represented by the...

  8. Paradise Lost: The Uncertain Epic
    (pp. 104-127)

    The problem of the genre ofParadise Lostseems to have been a problem from the day the poem was published. Dryden may have said that “this man . . . cuts us all out and the ancients too”¹ but it did not take long for the caution of the critic to make its inroads on the generosity of the poet. In thePreface to Sylvae(1685) the objections are stylistic—to the “flats” among Milton’s elevations, to his “antiquated words” and to the “perpetual harshness” of their sound. But eight years later in theDiscourse concerning the Original and...

  9. Interchapter: The Hollow Rent
    (pp. 128-147)

    Towards the end of September 1943 Thomas Mann was working on Chapter II ofDoctor Faustus.He was however by no means satisfied with his existing version of Chapter VIII, Kretschmar’s lecture on Beethoven’s unfinished Opus 111. A month or two earlier he had read Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno’s manuscript, “Zur Philosophie der Modernen Musik.” The manuscript illuminated for Mann certain aspects of his hero’s predicament. Early in October he spent an evening with the Adornos. After a discussion of humaneness as romantic resistance to society and convention (Rousseau) and as rebellion (the prose scene in Goethe’sFaust), Adorno played Opus...

  10. Don Juan: The Sea and St. Peters
    (pp. 148-183)

    In the fourth Canto ofChilde Harold,the wanderer en route from Venice to Rome pauses before “a matchless cataract.” The scene is one of “endless torture” and of “agony” wrung out between the darkened rocks “That guard the gulf around, in pitiless horror set.” The “fierce footsteps” of the delir iously bounding waters crush the cliffs, forcing them to yield, “a fearful vent” to the torrent’s straining passage (LXIX-LXXI).¹ Byron’s language vividly recalls the descent inThe Preludeto Domodossala from the Simplon pass with the “muttering crags” looming over the “raving stream,” as it fights its way along...

  11. The Triumph of Life: The Unfinished and the Question Mark
    (pp. 184-210)

    Until recently the reader ofThe Triumph of Lifewould probably have found the poem cut short by a question mark. Thomas Hutchinson’s text, edited for the Clarendon Press in 1904 and still in print in the Oxford Standard Authors series, maintains this ending. Though C. D. Locock’s twovolume edition for Methuen (1910) proceeds beyond the question mark and though the Julian edition by Ingpen and Peck follows suit, the addition was not decisively influential.¹ It is Donald Reiman’s text first published in 1965 and now available in the Norton Anthology which makes many of us aware of how the...

  12. The Two Hyperions: Compositions and Decompositions
    (pp. 211-249)

    About september 1818 Keats began the writing ofHyperion. On September 21 of the following year he wrote to Reynolds stating that he was “giving up”Hyperion.¹ WhichHyperionhe meant can be a question for dispute but that both were left unfinished is a matter of history. The year that is ushered in and out by these events and that is variously entitled the living year, the fertile year, and Keats’sannus mirabilis,is described by Walter Jackson Bate as “the most productive in the life of any poet of the past three centuries.”² As befits a poet, it...

  13. T. S. Eliot: Mythos, Logos, and the Design of Accident
    (pp. 250-270)

    Let us begin with what we hope will be a useful simplification. The myth in Eliot is a myth of the search for the word. Having registered this simplification, let us ask ourselves about the probable dispositions of an œuvre in whichmythosandlogosare joined in this special manner.

    It is apparent, to start with, that a search for the word can be initiated only when there is a premonition that the word exists, or a felt need for its presence, or a felt discontent with what can come to be known as the symptoms of its absence....

  14. Ezra Pound and the Logocentric Survival
    (pp. 271-294)

    AfterThe Faerie Queene, The Cantosis the longest unfinished poem in English. The centuries in between make the long poem more intractable, make it wrestle more strenuously with its fore-conceit and proclaim itself more emphatically as the inquisitor of intention. To study notThe Cantosbut, more restrictively, the unfinished nature ofThe Cantosis an enterprise that deserves a book. A monograph would be confusingly insufficient. A brief chapter such as this at least dismisses that confusion by adequately proclaiming its own inadequacy.

    Like Spenser’s poem Pound’s is unfinished. It too surrounds itself with promises of pattern which...

  15. Afterword
    (pp. 295-310)

    In moving through examples of the unfinished ranging from Spenser to Pound it is possible to detect a line of continuity. The unfinished is maintained by Spenser as an aesthetic necessity through the engagement between purposiveness and errancy, between closure and the deferral of closure. Deferral can attest to the plenitude of createdness; it can also attest to the intractability of the actual. Finally, it can argue that true closure is the privilege of a supreme fiction to which lesser fictions must consent to remain open. The extraordinary opening encounter ofThe Faerie Queenein which not simply Error, but...

  16. Postscript Rig-Veda Χ, 129
    (pp. 311-312)
  17. Index
    (pp. 313-318)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 319-319)