Other literary forms
Jones Very (VEH-ree) wrote a few critical essays, the best of which were originally collected, along with a selection of his poetry, in Essays and Poems. Such essays as “Epic Poetry,” “Hamlet,” and “Shakespeare” have been particularly rich resources for biographers and literary critics interested in understanding Very’s poetic goals and practices. Also, about 117 sermons survive in manuscript form, the results of his service as a supply minister for nearly four decades.
Both during his life and after, Jones Very’s significance as a poet has generally been understood in relationship to the American Transcendentalist movement. Of particular importance to biographers and critics has been Very’s connection toRalph Waldo Emerson, Transcendentalism’s chief spokesperson and writer. Certainly, Emerson’s sponsorship of Very resulted in the only book-length publication of Very’s poems during Very’s lifetime, in 1839, a volume which Emerson edited and for which he made the necessary contacts with a publisher. For a very short period, during the years 1838 and 1839, Very seemed to Emerson and his associates to be the epitome of the American Transcendentalist poet linked to divinity, expressing intuitive insights and truths about the universe in pure and beautiful language.
Later biographers and literary critics have been able to observe that Very’s connection to the Transcendentalists and Emerson was at best a mixed blessing. Although it resulted in early publication of his efforts, it also made it difficult to perceive that Very, at least for a short time, was a unique and powerfully mystical poet in his own right. Interestingly, many of the poems that Emerson chose not to include in his selection of poetry for Very’s first publication are the ones that now seem most central and original. Since the majority of Very’s poems are sonnets, he also has assumed importance as one of the most successful of America’s writers of poetry in the sonnet form.
Barlett, William Irving. Jones Very: Emerson’s “Brave Saint.” Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1942. This first “modern” biographical and critical study of Very presents a balanced analysis of his life and poetry, and perhaps most important, publishes numerous poems heretofore uncollected, thus bringing to light some of the best poetry of Very written during his ecstatic period.
Clayton, Sarah Turner. The Angelic Sins of Jones Very. New York: Peter Lang, 1999. This full-length study of Very centers on a New Historicist approach to how readers in various decades have received and understood Very’s poetry, from the time of the Transcendentalists to the present age. The book is particularly effective at bringing together an abundance of scholarly and critical responses to Very’s poetry while illuminating how certain lasting qualities of Very’s writing continue to fascinate readers.
Gittleman, Edwin. Jones Very: The Effective Years, 1833-1840. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967. This work presents an exhaustive treatment of Very’s life and writing during the years of his religious awakening. Gittleman approaches Very’s biography from a psychological perspective and asserts that Very’s religious mania had its roots in family relationships.
Very, Jones. Jones Very: Selected Poems. Edited by Nathan Lyons. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1966. Perhaps more important than the poems selected by Lyons are his considerations of Very’s religious stance and his interpretations of key Very poems in the introduction to this work.
_______. Jones Very: The Complete Poems. Edited by Helen R. Deese. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993. Deese has provided an inestimable service for readers interested in Very’s poetry by bringing together all the poems and editing them with an appropriate scholarly approach and apparatus. Of immense value, also, is her introduction to the volume, which covers Very as a person, thinker, and poet, perhaps the most concise and insightful review of the research on Very.