Apology of Genius

by Mina Loy

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The Poem

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 483

The title “Apology of Genius” invokes the classical meaning of “apology” as apologia: a vigorous explanation and defense of the subject. In the poem the speaker will defend “genius,” or inborn talents and capacities beyond the normal or ordinary. In particular, the poem refers to an artistic avant-garde that creates new kinds of beauty unrecognized by the philistine masses. The voice in the poem speaks for this group, explaining that “we are with God” and “we come among you.” “We” appears to be those infused with genius, who are radically different from the audience being addressed. The audience within the poem is an indeterminate “you” representing those who are ignorant, insensitive, unreceptive, or otherwise incapable of comprehending the innovators and their productions.

At the outset the speaker, on behalf of all who embody genius, describes these artistic souls as superior and alienated: “Ostracized as we are with God.” The sentence is truncated, as the speaker abruptly turns to the guardians of convention, “watchers of the civilized wastes,” who “reverse their signals” in attempts to thwart the forward movement of the avant-garde. The theme of alienation recurs in the second stanza, when the geniuses are further characterized as “lepers” and “magically diseased.” The geniuses are unaware of how deeply they disturb the masses until suddenly they confront the “smooth fools’ faces” of a mocking, ignorant audience.

The next two stanzas emphasize again the separateness of geniuses from ordinary people: Geniuses are a special priesthood, “sacerdotal clowns” who can “feed on” the beauty of nature although they are materially poor. They are essentially different from ordinary people, for their inner life is structured by “curious disciplines” that are “beyond your laws,” not subject to commonplace rules of art or society.

The speaker then goes on to explain that, although geniuses may be related by birth or marriage to ordinary people, they are not bound by the same rules. The avant-garde acts without reference to the constraints of convention. In another fragmentary aside the speaker characterizes genius as an armor of the soul that “still shines” in spite of ignorant people who try to suppress such inspiration. The speaker then returns to the relationship of the inspired individual with a conformist family, stating that the geniuses simply pay no attention to the attempted possessiveness of relatives (or anyone understood under the general “you”).

The poem’s last two stanzas describe the artistic avant-garde as creative workers set apart from everyday people and at work in mysterious hidden places hammering out beautiful objects from the raw materials of indifferent matter. Although geniuses exert monumental labor in creating great and stunning works of art, their works are misunderstood and attacked by the ignorant. The speaker again castigates the “you” who do not see the beauty being created but who regard the birth of new, original art as a crime that must be controlled or even killed by censorship.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 574

In keeping with its subject, the defense of avant-garde art, “Apology of Genius” employs unconventional grammatical and poetic features. The only punctuation is four dashes; capital letters signal initial words of sentences as well as terms set off as abstract universals, and they mark other terms as ironic. Stanza divisions do not correspond with sentence endings, and indented lines occur in unexpected places. The first line is extended beyond the left margin, suggesting that the entire poem hinges on the initial statement of alienation and superiority. The metrical structure is thirty-eight short lines of “free verse” with a basic pattern of two-stressed lines.

“Apology of Genius” contains virtually no rhyme, with the possible exception of reverse rhymes...

(This entire section contains 574 words.)

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on “wills” and “laws” in the fifth stanza and “eyes” and “scythe” in the last. However, subtle effects of vowel assonance recur, as in “moon” and “among” in the first stanza, “passion” and “man” in the second, and “corrosion with possession” in the seventh; the echoing of “Beautiful” and “immortelles” at the end is another hint of rhyme. In contrast to the absence of rhyme, the poem’s rhythm is heavily marked by alliteration, with reinforcement from consonantal echoes. The second line introduces alliteration as a device with the repetition ofw in “watchers of the civilized wastes.” In the second stanza the alliterative repetition is suspended from “Lepers” at the beginning of the sentence to “luminous” five lines later, but the liquid sound pattern is sustained in “all” and “magically” and continues into the following stanza (still within the same sentence) in “lights,” “until,” and “fool’s.” Within the alliteration on the liquid l in the first stanza the poet introduces a nasal pattern on m and n with “moon” and “magically,” echoed in “among,” “innocent,” and “luminous” and continuing with “unknowing,” “passion,” “Man,” “until,” “turn,” and “smooth.” The delicate intricacy of these patterns contrasts with the harsh plosives that abruptly end the sentence by characterizing the poem’s audience as having “fools’ faces” resembling “buttocks bared.” The voiced plosive b then continues three lines down with unvoiced plosives in “pulverous pastures of poverty,” bringing the alliterative emphasis almost to the point of parody. Alliteration in the last three stanzas turns on the hard c of “cuirass” repeated in “confuse,” “corrosion,” “caverns,” and “Chaos.”

Metaphor is the predominant figure of speech. An implicit metaphor introduces the notion of the avant-garde: “Avant-garde” is a military term denoting soldiers who lead a charge into battle and was adopted by the modernists to describe artistic innovators. The speaker of “Apology of Genius” states that guardians of conformity “reverse their signals on our track,” suggesting an attempt to derail the forward progress of a group whom the poem goes on to characterize as innovative artists. The speaker returns to the metaphorical domain of the military in referring to an armor of the soul. Other metaphors are drawn from the realm of medicine and disease, as artists are called “Lepers” with “luminous sores,” and from religion in references to “spirit” and the “passion of Man,” to geniuses as “sacerdotal clowns” and to works of art as “mystic.” In the last stanzas the speaker suggests a mythological allusion in a vision of artists as blacksmiths or jewelers working in “raw caverns” to “forge” a kind of “imperious jewelry.” Finally, the speaker asserts that ignorant people construe new art in an organic metaphor as a “delicate crop” of “immortelles,” flowers preserved by drying.