Sailing into the Unknown (Magill's Literary Annual 1979)
When M. L. Rosenthal enters the first leg of his Sailing into the Unknown, he carries with him and his reader as crew member the words from Ezra Pound’s “Canto 47”: “Knowledge the shade of a shade/Yet must thou sail after knowledge.” Knowledge, for Rosenthal as he looks at the work of three modern masters, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and W. B. Yeats, becomes understanding that arises from “an openness to what’s there, a [giving] of love when love is indeed called for.”
The premise that seems to underlie Sailing into the Unknown, as well as the author’s other critical efforts, is that the intrinsic life of a work of art should not be made minor by terminology or eviscerated by the academic knife. Assuming that he is not begging the question, one watches to see how he avoids this. Agreed: to keep the vitality and delight that play in a poem, one must not strain its passion and mystery through a net of intellectuality. He mostly sticks to his own guns, and to the guns of Rilke, Cummings, and Lawrence, who urged a little tenderness and respect “for the grace that shines within” poems “that demand a living mirror of grateful recognition.” Rosenthal says that any fool can see Whitman’s weaknesses, for instance. This insight takes no particular ability; one suspects that any fool can also see Whitman’s shining graces.
Sailing into the Unknown makes an insistent plea for criticizing at levels above...
(The entire section is 1710 words.)
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