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Weiss, Theodore 1916–
Weiss is an American poet, critic, and editor. In opposition to the current popularity of the loose confessional style of poetry, Weiss has primarily written long, carefully constructed narrative poems. He is most noted for his "Gunsight," a narrative poem described by some critics as the best long poem since William Carlos Williams's "Paterson." (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1954
[Weiss's long poems should alert us] to the narrowness of range of many of the short poems of our time. Weiss's own shorter poems (very few of them under thirty lines) have always presented an uncommon combination of dense texture and subtle, sometimes elusive, substance. The texture of these poems often turns out to be the substance, and the time-bound experience of reading his poems is, more than with most poets, the apprehension of a meaning which can rarely be ordered into structural, spatial schemas after it has impressed itself on the reader. The poems are of a supremely articulate emotional and perceptual progress.
Technically, Weiss's work began in The Catch as a manipulation of rhymes, strung like beads on the characteristically long thread of his sentence. His poems were occasions formalized less according to rule than in accord with the poet's ear, which hears echoes and half-rhymes nearly everywhere (punning is simply one instance of this). At times the reader had the sense of standing inside a carillon as the bells resounded with harmonics of each other's pitches…. But Weiss's range also extended to a less self-conscious sort of language, appropriate to more occasions, which offered the reader a music based on a kind of hovering metric never fully established…. (pp. 18-19)
Further, there was something of William Carlos Williams' casual artfulness and eye for the tableau…. [However, the poems] do their work over the span of the whole, not in the aggregate of the parts; they give precedence to music and syntax over image.
Weiss's range of tone is employed from the beginning to capture not so much a wide range of experience as his sense of the plenitude of each experience…. And the presentation of perception and emotional flux—that oblique articulation of emotion, as perception takes hold and unveils what it has already grasped—gives the poems their characteristic texture.
From his first poems to Fireweeds … Weiss's method has been consistent: His distinct sense of language produces the conflation of perception and emotion…. [For] example, the outspoken musings of Caliban in "Caliban Remembers" (1968) amaze in the way Caliban's capabilities—in Shakespeare little more than robust Elizabethan grunting and complaint—prove greater than Shakespeare (or Browning) took them to be. What seems a speech of limited grasp and what is certainly a mind of limited scope are granted nonetheless a vivid immediacy of perception which in fact springs from Caliban's strange language (not, after all, native to his tongue, which was originally dumb). The emotional range of the forsaken monster lies in the very possibilities of this language.
The characteristic voice of Weiss's mature work is not so thickly textured as Caliban's, however. There is a richness not so much of metaphor as of close-packed, simpler figures, often linked by apposition, to which a symbolic significance cannot always readily be assigned. The plenitude of experience fascinates on its own, and Weiss's quick succession of perceptions continues to govern his syntax. By stretching out and harnessing a whole team of energetic figures, this syntax gives at once an inimitable sense of time passing as we read, and of the simultaneity of diverse emotions and recognitions. It is a technique which is Weiss's signature…....
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[If] Weiss is a poet interested in complex perceptions, this is not for him a question of bizarre correspondences, or deep images only an eyeblink from inarticulateness. On the contrary, his impulse has been to stare long. As if his varied line-indentations were a slight shifting of the head, to gain perspective as a painter or a heron might, he has filled many of his poems with probing, tentative, reflective catalogues. By registering the way things look, these catalogues construct a progress of emotion through stages toward [congealment]….
In [Fireweeds] this method is at work more consistently and more successfully than it was in any previous volume. Still glossing the "great catch" of experience, the poems insist on the irreducibility of the life of man, the marvel that—at times—it is. This insistence on plenitude (even the plenitude of sorrow) comes also from a struggle against the most reductive, obsessive, and modern of the seven deadly sins, despair. Even at his most somber, as in "The Polish Question,"… Weiss can maintain a sad jauntiness, although in doing so he does not rely too heavily on conveying his own personality to the reader. The self-consciousness of language is still there, but it is no more a reflection of the poet's self than a singer's voice thrown from stage to audience is a measure of his ego. (p. 23)
It has been objected on occasion that Weiss's poems are difficult, and it is usually … close harmony (which in longer poems breaks chords into arpeggios) and the involved syntax that strike some readers as calling too much attention to themselves to allow the whole poem to take shape. But Weiss's poems are meant to be read through; they are events in time. Their method is rarely one of isolated brilliancies; instead of the presentation of an emotional complex in an instant of time, they give the reader the time-bound unfolding of an emotional progress. In addition, the urge behind this sort of difficulty—if it is difficulty—seems to me to arise primarily out of our culture. Frederic Jameson, in discussing music and literary style, establishes that the modern writer has striven—must strive—to create works which resist the drive of the culture to turn them into commodities. (pp. 25-6)
[Every] writer must agree with Jameson that "real thought demands a descent into the materiality of language and a consent to time itself in the form of the sentence…. It is enough to evoke the fad for rapid reading and the habitual conscious or unconscious skimming of newspaper and advertising slogans, for us to understand the deeper social reasons for the stubborn insistence of modern poetry on the materiality and density of language, on words felt not as transparency but rather as things themselves."… This is the clue to Weiss's work, especially when we consider the aspect of timing in his poetry. He does ramble; rambling is the heart of his method. It is an encompassing, through tentative stages, through ceaseless apposition and parenthesis, of the sinewy, back-tracking syntax of thought, of the shifting kaleidoscope of perception, until one reaches revelation. Whether this revelation is of the strange or of the familiar it is always a product of passionate feeling, which, as Pound said, "causes patterns to arise in the mind."
But Weiss is not simply interested in the pattern—he wants the prodigality of things themselves which, as they form and reform in patterns, retain their own unpatterned bounty…. (p. 26)
[If] not clarity, then cohesion is the watchword of Weiss's use of language. This cohesion is especially present in the way he telescopes his syntax by deleting relative pronouns. Thus the compressed, knotty quality of the phrase: "satisfied that no voice lives [that] can sever it from itself."… (p. 27)
But can one simply record, with a kind of stunned pleasure, the very excesses not only of natural beauty when we are lucky, and of human contact when we are vitally alive, but also of brutality, waste, fear, and the multitudinous sufferings we inflict on each other? In fact, Weiss seems to say that the very capability of seeing the many, the richness of the proliferation of evil itself, fascinates even as it horrifies. (pp. 27-8)
Odysseus and Penelope have been constant presences in Weiss's work, leading him on yet remaining out of reach, instructing him in love as well as in loneliness and wandering. In "The Storeroom," Penelope steps forth as the center of Weiss's interest (which in a way makes him an imagining Odysseus). In and out of the storeroom where Odysseus' bow lies waiting for what is inevitable, Penelope goes back over this story, which Weiss so loves that he catalogues not only what the storeroom holds but also what Penelope has managed to make of her life without her husband. The mood throughout is of a sort masked anticipation, as the mere mention of items in the storeroom promises the fury and resolution of Odysseus' return. (pp. 29-30)
[Weiss never shies] away from the reference to high culture, and its assumption of familiarity with the literary classics and with painting. Each allusion serves to slow the progress, so that the savor may intensify. Nor is the allusiveness confined to explicit references to art, music, books. There are also technical resources which themselves allude to Weiss's concord with the rhythmic energy of Robert Browning and Gerard Manley Hopkins. All this is both a common ground for the poems, and their burden. The pacing of the poems, which we have placed at the center of their particular method, is a kind of further experimentation with the elliptical quality of Browning's monologues and the highly self-conscious rhythmic artifice of Hopkins' poems.
But adopting neither Browning's fascination with the odd and the perverse, nor Hopkins' fitfulness of emotion as it is reflected in his rhythms, Weiss prefers a more even-keeled, yet at the same time, more oblique method. He inspects the ordinary but places it in an odd light; he maintains a tension between an artificial syntax and the speech rhythms on which it is based. As a result both these rhythms and the aspect of the ordinary are heightened as the reader sees each in the slow-motion sequence of the poem. This poetic strategy, so consistent throughout Weiss's work, necessarily leads to larger questions, the most important of which develops precisely out of the presence in his work of these pronounced emblems of high culture: what is the link between the artist's way of history-making and the overwhelming history that has been, and is being, made around him? Weiss's response is "The Polish Question."
Not things as they are but as they ought to be, was what poetry presented over and above history, according to Aristotle. This implies that poetry, even better than history, can make sure of its interpretation, and "The Polish Question" addresses this problem. As if the poem were speaking in a voice of its own, it expresses the wish that poems and paintings could so seal themselves up, with their own attendant light and shadow, that there would never be any doubt in the reader or spectator about what was meant, and when it was meant, and where. But to achieve this, the poem must then suggest, even as it begins, that the reader will inevitably—necessarily—supply some details himself. The hope of utter completion, of faithful representation to anything that was, must be abandoned even as it is mentioned. The reader's own individual history will enable him to add to the poem his own [variation]…. As if to emphasize the variability of the individual's response, Weiss's sort of verisimilitude makes it impossible to rush through this poem. Each reader has to turn it in his hands in the hope that, from some angle, the lines of the table, as in Cézanne's still-lifes, will seem to meet each other in an imagined center, behind the living solidity of apples and pears. But like Cézanne's tables, these poems will not resolve themselves into the view from a single perspective. They want to hold the reader in that moment of active perception. As the mind struggles to form the whole out of the progress of the parts, it finds that the struggle is the whole. It is a process in time. Not "Make it new," but "Make it last." (pp. 31-3)
Reginald Gibbons, "The Cure: Theodore Weiss's Poetry," in Modern Poetry Studies (copyright 1978, by Media Study, Inc.), Vol. IX, No. 1, Spring, 1978, pp. 18-33.
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[Views & Spectacles] should serve to introduce new English readers to an urbane, spikily intelligent writer for whom the making of poetry is a delighted idiosyncratic conversation shaped around parentheses, hesitations and qualifications, breaking out at intervals into sheer affirmation. Often seeming a little awkward (even wilfully mannered) at first reading, these are poems which demand careful attention until their voice is assimilated and the necessary balance of mind achieved in one's response. Not that they are obscure but, both in their syntax and in a habit of shooting off at ruminative tangents from what appears to be a direct narrative line, they are surprising and often refreshingly unpredictable. A number of them begin, deceptively, as anecdotes but then the event dissolves into the larger questions it has raised or … is peremptorily dismissed….
[Despite] the ironic checks and balances which dictate the style and pace of his work, [Weiss is] a celebrator, a yes-sayer, a kind of upper-case e. e. cummings for whom every last is a first….
[Like William Carlos Williams], his work is that of a complex, restless optimist…. For Williams it was "no ideas but in things". For Professor Weiss it is "at once to see / nation, no poetry. The spectacles he asks for, in the selection's title poem, are "a pair … apt / to spot at least two times / at once … or at least dismiss / the blur and tenses between what's / in what's out". They become emblematic of the emphasis he places on the significance of small particulars closely observed and precisely arranged to make sense of the world ("parts / that must harmonise into something / that rewards them for being, rewards / with what they are") and views become more or less spectacular depending upon the intensity with which they are absorbed…. We notice what we can, and the bits that Professor Weiss is able to use become his quirky celebrations, fragments cohering into distinctive, sharp-minded poems.
Less successful are those occasions when his habitual accentuation of the positive becomes banal statement—"Somewhere in all this / I have a sense of what it is to be really / alive"—and although in a poem such as "A Letter from the Pigmies" Dear Whoever-You-Are-That-You-Are is addressed with a whimsically engaging intimacy, an embarrassing note of cock-eyed optimism inflates things to a pitch of sentimental rhetoric which verges on the back-slapping cheerfulness of a Rodgers and Hammerstein chorus….
Despite these lapses, though, Views & Spectacles contains many good poems and a handful of outstanding ones….
John Mole, "Celebrating the Crumbs," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3994. October 20, 1978, p. 1215.
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Theodore Weiss' poetry is among the most demanding (which is not necessarily to say obscure) currently being written, not because it is erudite, far-ranging, uncompromising, and oblique, as it certainly is, but by virtue of the poet's modus operandi of reconciling fragments through the fashioning of multi-faceted wholes. His rich thematic diversity, various but specific characterization (for his work abounds in real people), and accelerated interplay between objects and notions, all combine to keep the reader in an intensely mobile state, as befits a poetry of the "demeanors of the mind."
Although I propose to indicate a number of Weiss' recurrent motifs, one, fragmentation, must be mentioned at once; for much of his poetic method, as well as his obliquity, stems from this theme. More than a theme, it is the underlying structure, the form and sign, by which passion may be brought to equal hope. (pp. 1-2)
Ideal phenomenalism, in its zeal to reduce material to patterns made up of sensa and the gaps between, has left the physical world in fragments…. The problem faced by Weiss, and perhaps faced more critically by him than by any other of our contemporary American poets, is: how to reconstruct a world in shambles in such a way as to fill in the gaps in sense patterns, so that pterodactyls and antarctic rock, never seen by man, may nevertheless exist? What is the continuant that constitutes the world whole? Weiss, whose approach is similar to phenomenology's, recommends the intent examination of immediate experience…. The intention (in the phenomenological sense of the word) to follow such a course is, in fact, the sought-after continuant. (p. 2)
Now Weiss, in thought and language radically opposed to his only world in ruins, must notwithstanding present the appearance of fragmentation, for the texture of object-gap-object-gap is the result of centuries of a false metaphysics of perception,… and that is how his readers behold reality…. [Fragmentation] has to be presented only to be made whole and continuous once more. Consequently his very language must find the tropes and syntax to enact the twin drama of destruction and reconstruction, wounding and healing, division and integrity. Weiss addresses several strategies to this end.
One such strategy is prolepsis, the figure of anticipation, whose building blocks look random but fit securely and handsomely. Others are dislocation and disassociation. It is tmesis, however, that provides Weiss with his most dramatic and persistent means of division and re-integration. Tmesis: welding together fragments; a cutting. A familiar example is Hopkins' "brim, in a flash, full," constructed from brimful in a flash. Tmesis admits of a texture as tightly woven as Pindar's Greek or Horace's Latin, and permits syntactic elements to avoid or combine with whatever other elements the poet finds significant, a property not common to the rigidity of English grammar. Moreover, and more importantly, tmesis divides insofar as it introjects a middle between parts of a conventional phrase (as in the example from Hopkins) or word (as in "ungoddamned-dependable"). Its division is purely formal; its re-integration is meaningfully formal. (pp. 2-3)
A mattersome property of tmesis is its two-fold directional mobility. Its poles, although stretched apart by the intruded matter, exert pressure against both sides of the middle: the stretching can bind or alienate the terms; the pressure can be a grave threat or a subtle caress. It behooves the crafts-man either to maintain the terms in tension or to control the degree of stretch and pressure according to what is appropriate to form and content. Weiss is past-master of this aspect of his art, and his utilization of it is ubiquitous; it is everywhere in lines and phrases, but can extend to embrace total poems. Dramatic enjambment is its preferred linear means, comma and dash its characteristic punctuation. Dashes set Weiss' world between something more intimate than parentheses, more binding than brackets, more present than the blank spaces of a Dickey. Dashes circumscribe Weiss' phrases with the zero phonetic value of silence; reading them is like tiptoeing over mined ground, confronted at every moment with the threat of fragmentation. But it must be remembered that dashes, if disjunctive, are also conjunctive. (p. 3)
Tmesis, then, the characteristic mode of Weiss, is simultaneous fragmentation and unification, a passion equal to hope. (p. 4)
[At] the age of 35, Weiss, already a mature poet widely published in literary magazines, decides that it is time to issue a first book. Thus it is not surprising that so many of his techniques, themes, and central symbols are already established in The Catch. Nor will his future work be one of radical changes that give the impression of false starts; rather he will develop, broaden, deepen, consolidate. And he will meet earlier selves in later poems, like Shelley meeting himself in the garden.
To make a catch you need a hook, so Weiss at the outset provides us with "The Hook." Here we are immediately plunged into his sea of the imagination…. It is a paeon to hope, a fusion of passion and hope. But all the while the artist is refining his craft of juxtaposition and tmesis, deftly transforming scenes from cafeteria to quarry to sea, from inner to outer: a revelation of order within the seemingly fragmentary. Every future triumph will be such a catch…. [The] poles of Weiss' language are the Swan of Avon and the Passaic Goose, Shakespeare and William Carlos Williams, and the effort at fusion is here—and in his most recent book, Fireweeds,—in progress. More than two disparate ways of speaking are at stake, however; here are two epochs (with many more between), two worlds, two sets of moral values. Sometimes Weiss' syntax buckles under the stress and urgency (as in the first stanza of his marvelous "The Dance Called David"), but almost never his diction…. Weiss has the delightful temerity to load his puns with meaning till they groan more obstreperously than any irreverent reader possibly could…. "Shades of Caesar" is the most ambitious poem in The Catch. Weiss' erudition is enormous, and he is not too timid or squint-eyed to employ it, here or in any other appropriate place. "Shades of Caesar" avails itself of this erudition to view the city's desecration from the vantage of the academic community. While observing the loves of Caesar-Cleopatra and Odysseus-Calypso merge in the troubled waters of the Nile and "the lordly Hudson" (I believe Weiss' use of the adjective precedes Paul Goodman's), the reader experiences the collapse of the heroic dimension. Seeds of Weiss' masterpiece, "Caliban Remembers," are to be found embedded in this poem.
Despite the breath-taking successes of this first book, his second, Outlanders, is clearly an advance. Symbols and lemmas are developed not only within each poem but also from poem to poem in a more deliberate manner than in the earlier book; there is a greater cohesiveness and unity achieved. One such lemma is "the state of weeds," and, by means of poetry's reflexive nature, here turned explicit, the state of poems. In the singable opening poem, the book's title is defined as weeds, their persistence and pride in lowliness…. "The Greater Music" is attended by a delicate train of inner- and off-rhymes, as befits orphic song. As though he were saying it for the greatest music, the wholly integrated occasion, Weiss rarely indulges our ears with rhyme. This omission, since it implies that his other efforts are secondary, not "the greater," seems to me a basic defect: the poet has sacrificed his most reverberating string to a hierarchy of value judgments that is, after all, putative and only argumentative…. The stoicism that Weiss associates with Odysseus recommends that over-integration be resisted with courage. Stoicism, it should be indicated, is in itself a major Weissean theme, and usually appears accompanied by joy. Except for Richard Wilbur and the Spanish Jorge Guillén, Weiss is perhaps the most joyous poet now celebrating in America. But the stoical attitude requires courage, too, and a stance of bear-the-world-and-it-will-bear-you. (pp. 4-6)
In the opulent scene-painting of "An Egyptian Passage" he describes two disparate worlds, and, by a thrilling change in point of view, the poet "sitting on a polar star," recomposes the world in a visual-spatial epiphany. Weiss' version of St. Francis occurs in "Descent," and characteristically he is "pining to compose the world." But primarily this poem is a lament for loss of belief in a golden Orphic Age. Because love can partially restore this age, self-consolation does not cheapen sentiment. Richard Howard, in many respects an astute commentator on Weiss, woefully and implacably undervalues him as a love poet, whether that love be domestic or an aspect of agape. (p. 7)
Nothing in [Weiss'] work thus far had prepared his audience for such magnitude, complexity, and ambition [as emerged with the publication of Gunsight in 1962]. Nor had the poet overreached himself. The protagonist (or, better, the center of consciousness) of "Gunsight" is a young soldier who is experiencing (the only proper word for his complex of reactions) surgery under ether. Into his consciousness, clouded and distorted by the anesthetic, throngs a phantasmagoria of voices, distinct and typographically signaled, that are simultaneously the same and the other ("the same is the other," Weiss has written elsewhere), or, as he wrote in still another connection, "all things communicate invisibly, exchanging their fluids and messages." Thus are the Weissean themes continuant throughout the fabric of his work.
There is another voice, too, auctorial, a narrator's or the poet's, a voice dist nctly Shakespearean, whereas the phantasmagoria usually sounds like the Passaic goose. But even in the auctorial voice, even in the lines that serve as introduction, penetration into the wounded consciousness is profound and pervasive, for the poet will make no false and self-limiting claims to objectivity. So adroit is Weiss' handling of this polyphony of voices that the need for tmesis is obviated, and it is so coherent and dramatically textured that mere isolation of a word or phase (sometimes repeated from pages earlier) can return situations and notions to us without confusion, blending them into new situations and notions.
As the poem is built on particular voices, it also displays a scheme of varying temporal levels: the operating table is both past and present. Memory hearkens back to a childhood hunting expedition which blurs with soldiering episodes and exploits, his wound, and the operation itself, all accomplished through polyphonous (rather than syntactic) tmesis and multi-referent syntax and diction…. Throughout [this poem's] phantasmagoria of voicings and temporal levels the struggle between consciousness and anesthetic possesses moral overtones of the stoic theme, and provides, literally and figuratively, a feat of endurance. (pp. 7-8)
Amazingly, Richard Howard considers "Gunsight" to be without literary and classical references. This is so far from being true that the poem's crisis is a grand, commanding katabasis closely modeled on those of Homer and Vergil, and outdistancing Eliot's, Pound's, and even Crane's, in significance and ordinary, everyday application. In it the narrator-poet is transformed into a Tiresias-like figure, a boding tension…. And, indeed, this section bristles and sparkles with references to Homer, Vergil, Dante, and, if my reading is correct, the tragedies of Shakespeare. (pp. 8-9)
One feature of "Gunsight" is that it can be profitably read in different ways, each providing new perspectives. Experiment with reading only the wounded soldier's lines, then add the various voices in italics, and, finally, the narrator-poet's lines. It is instructive to confront the success of Weiss' voicings with the failure of James Dickey, in The Zodiac, to give voice to his Marsman's drunken speeches…. Weiss' moral force is evident in every word.
Weiss' next book, The Medium, elaborates on what the poet is able to redeem through art and love…. The most ambitious poem in The Medium is "Two for Heinrich Bleucher." Here Weiss returns to the ideas, so often twinned in his mind, of exile and the university as a viable community of scholars…. [The] poem leaves me just a trifle uneasy. I would blame the complication of roles inherent in the teacher-scholar-exile tmesis, and possibly the introduction of Socrates stretches the poem further out of shape and debilitates ideas as well as landscape. The poem's nobility remains intact, despite my quibbles.
The Last Day and the First (1968) seems to me Weiss' most accomplished book so far, and one among its poems, "Caliban Remembers," his crowning achievement. The realism of "Gunsight" is that of the play of intersubjectivity, whose true hero is the many, not the one. "Caliban Remembers" is the precise opposite insofar as it isolates and compresses realism into a single consciousness. If there is a multi-consciousness in any way operative, it derives from a quartet composed of Weiss and the poem's three great predecessors, Shakespeare, Browning, and Auden. Richard Howard sees the debt to Shakespeare and Auden, but only "permanent dispossessions" from Browning. I am not altogether certain I know what Mr. Howard means; I am certain I do not agree with what I think he means. Weiss conceives of Caliban as a composite which he must break down without dispossessing any of the resulting fragments. In fact, Weiss' language in this poem is a tribute to and a contemporary preservation of Browning's. The modern poet alters the Victorian's world view, nothing more, nothing less. "The Tempest" is an extraordinary tmesis whose poles are the newly forged myth of Ariel and Caliban; "Caliban Remembers" is a mythic tmesis, similarly extraordinary, whose poles are Caliban's consciousness and his bodysense, with the world in between at full stretch and pull…. As Prospero abandoned his wand, Caliban, now part Ariel, renounces possessive magic and the prevalent powers in order to immerse himself in the flux of efts and ooze, like William Carlos Williams baptized in the filthy Passaic. This work, the finest long poem in decades and entirely sui generis, is haunted by tutelary spirits. It is a pity that Weiss has not fully come to grips with the complementary figure of Ariel, though there are traces of him in the poet's gardeners of soil and university, as well as in Caliban. (pp. 9-11)
After the triumphs of The Last Day and the First, his next volume, The World Before Us (1970), marks time. The poet sits way back, invites his soul, experiments tried themes in new combinations, and performs the satisfying feats of reworking the fire-words and fishing symbols in the recollected light of "Caliban Remembers." (p. 11)
With Fireweeds (1976) … relaxation is over, tmesis returns, and the scholar-poet, perhaps reinvigorated upon completion of a long study of Shakespeare's early comedies and history plays, rides the crest of his intellect. In this book Weiss has need for all his courage and wit, for here he most specifically and forthrightly confronts our times and our evils; and yet there are high—I almost wrote lavish—praises given, too. All in all, Fireweeds does not contain his best poems, perhaps, but it is his ripest book. The title conjoins two ubiquitous Weissean symbols: the sparks and fire of words, i.e. the Word as pentecostal sacrament, and the weeds that must not be lost. It might be argued that the contents of this book tend to be wisdom-poems, not quests for wisdom, and at least two of them, "The Storeroom" and "A Charm Against the Toothache," approach his major work.
"The Storeroom" and "Another and Another and …" continue, augment and consolidate the Odyssean adventure in the stoic mind of the poems, while "As You Like It" contradicts Auden's contention that people are indifferent to the great event. (pp. 11-12)
[In poem after poem in Fireweeds, Weiss shows] no falling off, no embers, a burning house rather than a flaring up (though, like Marianne Moore, he must be permitted his modesty), weeds and flowers still carefully tended, swan and goose luxuriating together, a sacrament of words. This is "the passion equal to all hope," not merely to hope, and, no matter how his surroundings fragment, it shows no sign of weakening. (p. 12)
Robert Stock, "A Passion Equal to All Hope: Theodore Weiss," in The Hollins Critic (copyright 1979 by Hollins College), Vol. XVI, No. 2, April, 1979, pp. 1-12.