Syncopations: The Stress of Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry

By Jed Rasula | Go to book overview

3
News and Noise
Poetry and Distortion

Davy Crockett had a literary style. Rather than blow his squirrel to
bits he’d strike the tree just under its belly so that the concussion
would stun it.

William Carlos Williams, “The Great American Novel”

Friedrich Schiller’s distinction between the sentimental poet and the naive poet, while two centuries old, still provides serviceable parameters for considering contemporary practices. The naive poet embodies a fusion of form with content, an unproblematic union with nature, bestowing on the reader a gratifying sense of totality. Such a model has often been called “classical.” But Schiller sensed that something else was in the air, a tendency in poetry to forgo a pristine alliance with the way things are. So he had to admit that the naive poet “completes his task, but the task itself is a limited one” (234). While it hadn’t quite arrived, Schiller glimpsed the alternative: Romantic longing, an insatiable yearning for the infinite that would transfigure the face of poetry. It sounds counterintuitive to accept Schiller’s term sentimental, his name for an agitation at the heart of poetry’s enterprise that would catapult it from one accomplishment to another without settling for any finality. In English Romanticism, the naive perspective is embodied in Keats’s Grecian urn, its union of beauty and truth prompting the affirmation “that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” The sentimental is found in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode,” when he ruefully concedes, “I may not hope from outward forms to win/The passion and

-89-

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