Quotes

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Last Updated on September 25, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541

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You can analyze the music of poetry but it's difficult to conduct an argument about its value, especially when it's gotten into the blood. It becomes autobiography there. (3)

In the book's first essay, "Lowell's Graveyard," Hass writes about how differently he perceived poetry as a young person. He writes about the first time he came across Robert Lowell's "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket," Theodore Roethke's "The Lost Son," and Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." Hass was moved by the "incantatory power" (3) of the poems, meaning their rhythmic quality in concert with their religious, even trancelike, feel. He was enthralled by the beauty of the words and their form. The poems became part of him, part of his blood, in the same way a song might. He associates reading poetry with the memories he has of first reading the poems, so the poems have become part of his own life story. Therefore, it's hard for him to look at the poems with distance, as a critic.

The first fact of the world is that it repeats itself. I had been taught to believe that the freshness of children lay in their capacity of wonder at the vividness and strangeness of the particular, but what is fresh in them is that they still experience the power of repetition, from which our first sense of the power of mastery comes. (56)

In this quote from the essay "One Body: Some Notes on Form," Hass writes about the way in which the human mind is primed to recognize and gravitate toward repetition. From the earliest age, humans look for repetition as a way to reassure themselves and make sense of the ways of the world. Children use repetition to get to know the world around them. In a similar way, readers of poetry get used to form—and breaking it, then (either within an individual poem or by way of modern and contemporary movements' use of free verse), becomes a way of making meaning by way of surprise. Readers have to have an expectation of form and repetition in order to appreciate experiences that break that form.

The balloon frame, the clapboard frame, and the Windsor chair. American forms, and Leaves of Grass which abandoned the mortise and tenon of meter and rhyme. (71)

In this quote, also from "One Body: Some Notes on Form," Hass compares the development of American free verse to the development of the balloon frame in the construction of American houses. He writes that in the United States, materials were plentiful but skilled labor was scarce. In this context, the balloon frame became a way to construct houses quickly, as opposed to the mortise and tenon method used in Europe. Entire cities, such as Chicago and San Francisco, were built this way. Hass believes that American forms of poetry arose from American life and its needs in the same way that American forms of construction arose—because they responded to a need and to the American environment. Free verse, such as that used by Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass, exploded from a more constrained form. When free verse developed, Hass says, readers could feel the difference, just as the balloon frame developed out of the more traditional form of mortise and tenon construction.

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