The Columbia History of American Poetry

The Columbia History of American Poetry

The Columbia History of American Poetry

The Columbia History of American Poetry

Synopsis

A comprehensive study of American poetry from colonial times to the present day, which features a wealth of views and reviews by contemporary American literary critics. The poets discussed range from Longfellow and Poe to Ginsberg and Plath.

Excerpt

The relationship between poetry and national culture is always an intimate if troubled one, and to a large extent what American poets have accomplished as a whole is a measure of what American culture itself has accomplished. One can track the evolution of a national consciousness in the poems, as American poets, who begin as English Metaphysical poets abroad, gradually test their own voices and learn ways to absorb and embody the vision—the outer and inner landscapes—that spread out before them.

As one might expect, the story of American poetry involves our struggle as a people to achieve a national identity. "Nationalism," says an African character in a novel by Raymond Williams, "is in this sense like class. To have it, and to feel it, is the only way to end it. If you fail to claim it, or give it up too soon, you will merely be cheated, by other classes and other nations". In an essay called Nationalism: Irony and Commitment (1990) Terry Eagleton notes that nationalism, like class, inevitably involves an impossible irony. "It is sometimes forgotten," he writes, "that social class, for Karl Marx at least, is itself form of alienation, canceling the particularity of an individual life into collective anonymity." Marx separates himself from the usual liberal view here in his notion that to undo this alienation one has to go, not around class, but through it. The same might be said for nationalism: one must go through it, not around it, grasping all forms of national feeling (including alienation from the nation state or the national mood or ethos of a particular time or region, as in the war protest poetry of the 1960s).

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.