Archer in the Marrow Themes
by Peter Viereck

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The central theme of Peter Viereck’s Archer in the Marrow is a crisscross. The first stroke of the crisscross is the biological nature of poetry as heartbeat and pulse, poetic formcraft, and strict wildness. It is the archer in the marrow of human bone who is liberated into making an emancipating arrow of applewood (the symbol of human self-surpassing). The battle fought by and among the father, the son, and the “you” of the poem is the other stroke of the crisscross, which is espoused by Viereck in the book’s appendix: the split between form and ethics that resulted when the distinguished literary jury at the Library of Congress awarded Ezra Pound, in 1949, America’s highest literary honor—the Bollingen Prize—for his, according to Viereck, Fascist and racist The Pisan Cantos (1948).

Although Poundians claim that The Pisan Cantos are meaningless and that their symbolism is obscure, Viereck agrees with Charles Tomlinson’s claim in Poetry and Metamorphosis (1983) that the main message of The Pisan Cantos was “to mourn the fall of Troy, “the Troy of the Axis powers,” and to compare to the unheeded warnings of Cassandra his own Radio Rome warnings against “Jewish” Roosevelt’s “Jew-Nited States” (Archer in the Marrow, page 235).

According to Viereck, in an article entitled “Pound at 100: Weighing the Art and the Evil,” published on December 19, 1985, in The New York Times Book Review:One should never judge art by its politics. But Nazism was not a matter of politics or economics. It was a matter of ethics and of a metaphysics of evil—contagious evil.Unlike politics, evil does fall within the purview of esthetic criticism, for it parches empathy and hence parches the artist’s creative imagination.

The “Auschwitz” cycle of the book quotes Frau Cosima Wagner’s diary note of 1881 about a theater fire that killed four hundred Jews: “Richard Wagner makes a drastic joke to the effect that all Jews should be burned at a performance of Nathan the Wise.” The parallels between the Pound controversy and the Archer in the Marrow issue of “self-surpassing” are striking.

Pound had been an ardent follower of Benito Mussolini since 1920, and Viereck remembers one broadcast in particular in which Pound approved the massacre of the Eastern European Jews and warned the American Jews that their turn was coming (The New York Times Book Review , December 19,...

(The entire section is 588 words.)