Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 749

The standard view of the Romantic poets is that they derived their poetic powers from their view of nature. As a result, the general thrust of most criticism of the Romantics has been analysis of their identity and subject matter. For Harold Bloom in The Anxiety of Influence, however, neither nature nor the content of the poet’s work is of concern. His interest is in the inner life of the poet, how the poet thinks and how he frees himself from the influence of his predecessors in order to create great poetry. Relying primarily on the theories of Freud in conjunction with the philosophy of Nietzsche, Bloom delineates in this work a pattern for the mental processes of the poet.

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The resulting psychological portrait of a poet is developed in six stages: clinamen, tessera, kenosis, daemonization, askesis, and apophrades. Each step builds on the one that precedes it, so the writer who begins in full awareness of the influence of other poets and essentially unable to create original poetry eventually emerges to stand as a truly independent individual.

Each new poet is seen as having one primary precursor, one dominant influence which he must overcome to establish his own voice. The new poet must fight this preceding poet for possession of the poetic muse, for it is only by destroying this father figure that the new poet will be able to find his own voice. Bloom’s images are deliberately aggressive: The poet as son and heir must kill his poetic father in order to become completely independent and achieve his own poetic voice.

The emerging poet begins in the state of clinamen, in which he misreads a work of the dominant predecessor. Though he begins by reading the poem correctly, somehow he shifts from a recognition of his predecessor’s true meaning to a misinterpretation of the work. This “mistake” gives him the opportunity to correct what he perceives to be a misdirection within his own work. He perceives his predecessor as having misstated the true meaning of his poetry, and he attempts to complete in his own work what has been left undone by previous poets. This drive to complete what he perceives to have been left undone by the great poets before him is tessera, and it is in this state that the poet begins to assert himself in his own right.

Kenosis is the humbling or emptying stage that follows tessera. In this state, the poet appears to lose the almost godlike power of creation with which he began, the power that makes him a poet. Yet it is not simply the poet who is humbled, for the precursor is as well. Thus, both poets are reduced to a human level, and great poetry appears to be lost. This loss of poetic ability is a temporary state, and the poet quickly moves into the phase of daemonization in which the now-humbled poet opens himself to the greatness in his precursor’s poetry. This greatness is not, however, now seen to reside in the precursor himself, but rather in his poetry. The new poet perceives the essential truth that he sees his predecessor as having missed. The image of the preceding poet as a powerful being capable by his very existence of influencing the emerging poet is now completely lost.

The next stage, askesis, is one in which the poet consciously separates himself from other poets, including the one who is his immediate precursor. This separation occurs not only in the poet’s mind but also in his poetry. He perceives himself to be alone and uninfluenced and his work to be original, completely lacking in the imprint of another’s creative genius.

Having passed through all these steps, the emerging poet at last reaches apophrades. Perceiving himself to be standing alone in the poetic field, he situates his poetic work so that it appears that the precursor is in fact indebted to his own work for its greatness. His poem becomes the original, and the precursor’s poetry seems to be indebted to it.

Through these steps, the poet who begins in debt to his precursor reverses positions with that previous poet. He becomes his own poetic father, creating the image of himself and reducing the precursor poet to a totally secondary figure who appears to draw his creative strength from the new poet. He stands alone, at last totally independent, and all who have gone before him are reduced by his new power.

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Critical Context