At the Brink of Infinity: Poetic Humility in Boundless by James E. von der Heydt

By James E. von der Heydt

From pop culture to politics to vintage novels, quintessentially American texts take their notion from the belief of infinity. within the amazing literary century inaugurated by means of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the lyric too appeared to stumble upon percentages as unlimited because the U.S. mind's eye. This increases the query: What occurs while boundlessness is greater than only a determine of speech? Exploring new horizons is something, yet really the horizon itself is anything altogether diverse. during this conscientiously crafted research, James von der Heydt shines a brand new gentle at the lyric craft of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and James Merrill and considers how their seascape-vision redefines poetry's purpose.Emerson famously freed U.S. literature from its earlier and opened it as much as vastness; within the following century, a succession of magnificent, rigorous poets took the philosophical demanding situations of such freedom all too heavily. dealing with the unmarked horizon, Emersonian poets capture—and are captured by—a stark, astringent model of human attractiveness. Their uncompromising visions of limitlessness reclaim infinity's right legacy—and supply American poetry its side. Von der Heydt's publication recovers the secret in their global.

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Extra info for At the Brink of Infinity: Poetic Humility in Boundless American Space

Sample text

21 Indicating the shore’s beauty but no longer of it, the shells are failed symbols of the speaker’s experience of wholeness. The shell’s integrity, which for Holmes made it readable as a clue to nature’s progress toward freedom, for Emerson renders it stiff and ugly — an eyesore on his mantel (despite its liberation from the incidental, ugly “weeds and foam” of the beach). The collected shell is totally alien to the context of iridescent flux in which he found it — the very context of which it was meant to be a lasting emblem.

Each small circle of comprehension is an emblem of the great circle of the horizon. Every part is adequate to teach us about the whole: this is a classic tenet of empiricism that Emerson was the first to test in the crucible of language. Since the part and the whole are interdependent, every piece of his writing emphasizes the importance of both. That principle, in turn, accounts for the distinctive style of Emerson’s essays: he seeks to accustom his reader to the awkward but crucial leaps involved in knowledge’s transmission, the leaps from world to mind, from sentence to sentence, and (fundamentally) from part to whole and back again.

Pragmatism has no handle on the limitlessness of experience Emerson demands of his Romantic whole. Any token of nature may speak to the scholar, but Emerson’s “All,” the absolute, mentally pure distance of the sea, corresponds to nothing smaller, nothing that can be studied in camera. Its restless swirl, unbounded like humanity’s own potential, is incommensurate with anything we know. Yet it is precisely the oceanic horizon’s vastness that Emerson insists upon as the key to American imaginative freedom.

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