Daniel Hoffman Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Daniel Hoffman is as well known for his literary criticism as for his poetry. He began his scholarly career by exploring myth and folklore, primarily in American literature. In Paul Bunyan: Last of the Frontier Demigods (1952), he examines the effect of folk materials on literary forms. The story of the master-logger Paul Bunyan is interesting to Hoffman because for such writers as Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, W. H. Auden, and Louis Untermeyer, it has served as a national myth.

Hoffman’s brilliant Form and Fable in American Fiction (1961) demonstrates the shaping role of folklore in nineteenth century American romances and tales, including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Maypole of Merry Mount” and The Scarlet Letter (1850), Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: Or, The Whale (1851) and The Confidence Man: His Masquerade (1857), and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Hoffman chose these authors because they wrote in the formative period of the American literary identity. In this book, he attempts to delineate the generic American folk hero, one who reflects the culture of the New World—a man without a past or a family or a lifecycle, one with all the virtues and defects of youth, who never matures but metamorphoses into a stronger version of the self. Hoffman is interested in the moral or cultural meaning of folkloristic motifs. In his analysis of The Poetry of Stephen...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Daniel Hoffman has received many awards for his verse. His An Armada of Thirty Whales was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1954, and he received the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award in 1967. He served as chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (1972-1997) and consultant in poetry (poet laureate) to the Library of Congress (1973-1974). From 1988 to 1999, he was poet-in-residence of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City. Brotherly Love and Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe both were finalists for the National Book Award. Hang-Gliding from Helicon won the Paterson Poetry Prize in 1988. Hoffman’s translations into Hungarian received the Memorial Medal of the Maygar PEN. He received the Theodore L. Hazlett Memorial Award for Excellence in the Arts (1984), Sewanee Review’s Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry (2003), the Arthur Rense Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2005), and the L. E. Phillabaum Poetry Award (2009), as well as grants and fellowships from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Hoffman served as the Felix E. Schelling Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania until 1996 and was given an honorary doctorate from Swarthmore College.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Allen, John Alexander. “Another Country: The Poetry of Daniel Hoffman.” Hollins Critic 15, no. 4 (October, 1978): 2-11. In an intensive exploration of Hoffman’s early poems, Allen exposes what makes Hoffman the “durable master poet” that he is.

Breslin, Paul. “Four Poets.” The New York Times Book Review, March 22, 1981, pp. 14, 31. In this review of Brotherly Love and the works of three other poets, Breslin notes some reservations regarding Hoffman’s work. One is regarding Hoffman’s alliance with Voltaire’s idealization of the Quakers’ relationship with the Native Americans, and the other is the poet’s uneven treatment of the poems. Nevertheless, Breslin commends Hoffman on his distinguished writing, some of which is “deeply moving.”

Cotter, James Finn. Review of Brotherly Love. America 145 (July 25, 1981): 37-38. Cotter calls this poem a “true epic waiting to be explored and absorbed.” He comments favorably on Brotherly Love’s concluding message of hope (letting the seeds remain on fertile ground), and says that this gives all that could be hoped for from a poet.

Howard, Richard. Alone with America: Essays on the Art of the Poetry in the United States Since 1950. New York: Atheneum, 1980. The essay on Hoffman, titled “A Testament of Change, Melting into Song,” provides commentary on An Armada of Thirty Whales and The City of Satisfactions. Also includes reviews of Broken Laws and The Center of Attention. Recommended reading for its useful insights into Hoffman’s work.

McHenry, Eric. “Freedom’s Yoke.” Review of Beyond Silence. The New York Times Book Review, May 25, 2003, p. 16. McHenry concludes that the years the poet has spent in pursuit of a poetic aesthetic are deserving of attention and reward.

Rosenthal, M. L. “Critical, Lyrical, Literal, and Rapt.” Review of Striking the Stones. Saturday Review 51 (June 22, 1968): 72-73. Cites “Testament” as the most effective poem because of its simplicity and grace. However, Rosenthal says that much of Hoffman’s work does not match the standard set by “Testament.” Discusses other poems from this collection, in particular “This Day” and “A Marriage.”