Knowledge and Opinion: Essays and Literary Criticism of John G. Neihardt

By John G. Neihardt; Lori Holm Utecht | Go to book overview

THREE
Epic Landscape

In some of Neihardt's earliest writing he referred to the American West in epic terms and called for a poet to sing the epic songs of the American people. The first chapter of The River and I is entitled “The River of an Unwritten Epic.” 9 In one of his earliest reviews for the New York Times, Neihardt refers to the opening up of trade on the upper Ohio River country as “the last lap of civilization's age-long westward journey” and wonders “that America has not produced a full-sized National epic.” 10 Although he still directs the call to “some unknown poet, ” by the time he wrote “The Stuff of Our Unwritten Epic, ” he had already taken up the challenge himself.

Influences on Neihardt's concept of the epic came primarily from two writers. Lucile Aly credits Jane Harrison as the source of his epic theory, particularly a definition of the heroic spirit as “the outcome of a society cut loose from its roots, of a time of migrations.” 11 George Woodberry's ideas were also an inspiration, and among the volumes in Neihardt's library were several collections of Woodberry's essays. In them one can see the seeds of Neihardt's view of the stories of America as epic material. Woodberry, too, called for an epic poet to celebrate the story of America's past, for although “Never since the Hellenes first looked on the Mediterranean has there been such a moment of beauty and power in the great human migration, ” no imagination had yet arrived to recast the story. “The field is open and calls loudly for new champions.” 12

Neihardt's casting of the western landscape in epic terms, celebrating, as it does, the actions of Euro-Americans responsible for the displacement and death of hundreds of thousands of original in habitants, seems at odds with the eloquent portrayal of Black Elk's vision. Indeed,

-23-

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Knowledge and Opinion: Essays and Literary Criticism of John G. Neihardt
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - Tradition 1
  • One - As from a Height of Time 3
  • Two - Ancient Seers 9
  • Three - Epic Landscape 23
  • 2 - Troubled Planet 33
  • Four - Tremendous Mood of War 35
  • Five - Breadlines and Bursting Granaries 43
  • Six - Social Turmoil 53
  • 3 - Trends in Contemporary Literature 69
  • Seven - Genuine Criticism 71
  • Eight - Vandals in the Temple 77
  • Nine - Only Symptomatic 89
  • 4 - Of Making Many Books 111
  • Ten - The Glow of the Moment 113
  • Eleven - Impeccably Unremarkable 129
  • 5 - This Mysterious Universe 145
  • Twelve - Et Tu, Scientia? 147
  • Thirteen - Exploring the Unknown 161
  • Fourteen - The Flesh and the Spirit 172
  • 6 - Poetic Values 183
  • Fifteen - Hill of Vision 185
  • Sixteen - What is Literature Good For? 203
  • Notes 217
  • Sources 227
  • Index 233
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