Averno (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
There is an inherent paradox in the concept of a “philosophical poetry.” Either the poetic properties dominate to the extent that the philosophical aspects are reduced to a shallow summary that betrays the essence of the proposition, or the weight of the thought is so dense that it detracts from the qualities of language that give poetry its primary appeal. The lyric impulse that is so fundamental to poetic power tends to be antithetical to reasoned discourse, as Plato feared to the degree that he proposed banishment of the poet from his ideal republic. While it may be argued that a poet’s way of seeing is philosophical in the most fundamental fashion, Emily Dickinson’s contention that she recognized the occurrence of a poetic impulse by the feeling that the top of her head was about to blow off reinforces the disparity between “mind” and “skin.”
Nonetheless, there is a tradition of meditative verse, which flourished in the seventeenth century in the work of writers such as Richard Crashaw (c. 1613-1649), Henry Vaughan (1621-1695), John Milton (1608-1674), and, most notably in the latter part of his life, John Donne (1572-1631). It is significant that each of these men was ruled by a religious perspective notably absent from much modern American poetry, which is built on the rhythms, language, and styles of vernacular speech and makes the...
(The entire section is 2128 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
America 194, no. 12 (April 3, 2006): 34.
Booklist 102, no. 13 (March 1, 2006): 56.
Library Journal 130, no. 20 (December 15, 2005): 134.
The New Republic 235, no. 6 (August 7, 2006): 29-32.
The New York Review of Books 53, no. 11 (June 22, 2006): 16-19.
The New York Times Book Review 155 (March 12, 2006): 16.
Publishers Weekly 252, no. 42 (October 24, 2005): 39.
(The entire section is 36 words.)