The Poem

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...

(The entire section is 483 words.)

Forms and Devices

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 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 of w in “watchers of the civilized wastes.” In the second stanza the alliterative repetition is...

(The entire section is 574 words.)