Ben Belitt Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Ben Belitt (buh-LIHT), a major translator of verse into English, translated works by Arthur Rimbaud, Jorge Luis Borges, Federico García Lorca, Rafael Alberti, and, preeminently, Pablo Neruda. He also wrote about both the problems of translation and poetics in general.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Ben Belitt’s poetry is, by common assent, difficult, owing to its casual erudition, allusiveness, exacting vocabulary, and compact figuration. He so assiduously avoided being a public poet that his reserve seems an explanation of why his work is not more anthologized. Nevertheless, his poetry has not escaped recognition: Belitt received the Shelley Memorial Award (1937), the Oscar Blumenthal Award (1957), the Union League Civic and Arts Poetry Prize (1960), the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1965), and the Russell Loines Award (1981). He was twice a candidate for the National Book Award (in poetry and in translation), and he was a recipient of fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Boyers, Robert. “Ben Belitt.” Salmagundi 141/142 (Winter, 2004): 56. The editor of this magazine describes his personal impressions of Belitt and his poetry in this obituary.

Goldensohn, Lorrie. “Witnessing Belitt.” Salmagundi 44 (1979): 182-196. Analyzes Belitt’s habit of “cannibalizing” prior books so as to enrich his current approach to a theme, a habit that goes beyond the borrowing of a line or image; it entails whole poems, which when newly placed revisit, enlarge, and reshape a concern. Also offers insight into Belitt’s “gloominess” and spirituality.

Landis, Joan Hutton. “A Wild ’Severity’: Toward a Reading of Ben Belitt.” In Contemporary Poetry in America, edited by Robert Boyers. New York: Schocken, 1974. Excellent overview of Belitt’s work (excepting the new poems in Possessions) links the poet’s dominant attitude to Keats’s “melancholy.” Treats also the recurrent balancing of opposites in the poems, whether the rock and flower of the world or the joy and despair of humanity.

Nemerov, Howard. “The Fascination of What’s Difficult.” In Reflexions on Poetry and Poetics. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1972. Nemerov argues the efficacy of Belitt’s difficult-to-grasp verbal associations and demanding vocabulary. He sees Belitt’s typical manner as a blending of “great elaboration” and “great intensity” (conciseness) and contends that one must read “around” rather than “through” his lyrics and see them in combination.

Salmagundi 87 (1990): 3-231. An indispensable issue devoted to readings of Belitt’s poems. Mary Kinzie’s “A Servant’s Cenotaph” is broadest in scope, taking up the whole of The Double Witness and noting that there as elsewhere Belitt’s “vision of human experience is fateful and symbolic.” Hugh Kenner’s “Meditations on ’Possessions’” deals with Belitt’s predilections for lists and the “rite” of naming. He sees these characteristics as the poet’s means for manifesting both the intense particularity of things and the dilemma of valuing what one is attached to but cannot possess. Terence Diggory’s “On Ben Belitt’s ’The Bathers: A Triptych’” discusses the poet’s work as frequently conscious of itself as art. It characterizes Belitt’s particularly rich way of revealing the division between the work and the object it contemplates.