Emerson's Literary Criticism

By Eric W. Carlson; Ralph Waldo Emerson | Go to book overview

Recut the aged prints,
And write my old adventures with the pen
Which on the first day drew,
Upon the tablets blue,
The dancing Pleiads and eternal men.

Poems, W 9:125-27; first published in Poems ( 1846).


Merlin

As in " Bacchus," here the poetic function is conceived in terms of an epic teleology or cosmic humanism (cf. ll. 14-26). "Merlin's mighty line" echoes the primal forces in the universe and in the hearts of men, both primitive and civilized (ll. 14-26). But most of part I is an essay in method, the right use of the poet's medium, gift, or skill in keeping with his high aims (II. 1-13, 27-58), contrasting genuine creativity with the "meddling wit" that lacks inspiration (ll. 59-77). Merlin the bard represents the Emersonian ideal of the creative poet who mounts by "the stairway of surprise" (unpredictable moments of inspiration) to the highest levels of realization and power. As for its poetic qualities, "Merlin" has been praised as one of Emerson's most noteworthy achievements in organic form. Indeed, within the limits of its mostly end-stopped four-stress lines, it makes very effective functional use of alliteration, assonance, syntax, metrical variation, rhyme pattern, and line variation, with strong suggestions of free verse. As Hyatt Waggoner says, its movement seems inevitable, not arbitrary.9 Part II develops the theme of polarity, briefly introduced earlier in lines 51-58. The poet's art (insight) enables him to realize the law of polarity as it is manifested throughout balance-loving nature: the complementary nature of colors, tones, tastes, and touching; the androgynous nature of the human psyche; the polar nature of thinking, of imagination, and of justice; animal life; and the Fates or forces that rhythmically sing and spin, build and unbuild, our lives. Merlin's poetic insight must function on all levels of Transcendental Reality.

-73-

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Emerson's Literary Criticism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Emerson''s Literary Criticism *
  • Contents v
  • List of Abbreviations vii
  • Introduction *
  • I- Art as Experience *
  • Beauty (1836) 3
  • Language 8
  • Art 14
  • The Poet 24
  • Beauty (1860) 45
  • II- The Creative Process *
  • Intellect 59
  • Bacchus 70
  • Merlin 73
  • III- The Art of Rhetoric *
  • Diction and Style 81
  • Art and Criticism 84
  • The Craft of Poetry 96
  • IV- Toward a Modern Critical Perspective *
  • Emerging Critical Concepts 103
  • Thoughts on Modern Literature 108
  • The Novel of Character vs. the Costume Novel 121
  • V- Writers and Books *
  • Europe and European Books 127
  • Literature 134
  • Preface to Parnassus 143
  • Chaucer 151
  • Bacon 156
  • Montaigne 159
  • Shakespeare 162
  • Milton 179
  • Burns 187
  • Byron 190
  • Shelley 193
  • Tennyson 194
  • Wordsworth 197
  • Carlyle 204
  • Coleridge 206
  • Dickens 210
  • Scott 212
  • Margaret Fuller 216
  • Hawthorne 219
  • Thoreau 222
  • Whitman 227
  • Bibliography 237
  • Acknowledgments 245
  • Index *
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