I. WALT WHITMAN and HERMAN MELVILLE
FOURGROUNDING THE GIANTS
- Perhaps all that Whitman shared with Shakespeare, Goethe, and Henrik Ibsen was an implicit insight that the self was a necessary fiction, an illusion so desired that leaves of grass would sprout from the barren rock of being.
- Walt, confronted by sunrise, now and always could send forth sunrise from himself. Melville, opposing titan, would strike at and through the sun as another pasteboard mask. Moby-Dick is our national counter-sublime and Leaves of Grass the American Sublime, incarnated in a book that is also a man.
- Captain Ahab’s vaunt — “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me” — marks the difference between the Lucretian Whitman and the Gnostic Melville.
apotheosis: 神化; bequeathed: 遗赠; promiscuous; 淫乱; cavalcade: 行列; inscrutable: 高深莫测; hyperbole: 夸张; tamed: 驯服; conquistadores: 征服者; Lucretian: 鲁克里娅（古罗马的贞女）; Gnostic: 诺斯替教（真知派）; pagan: 异教徒; vaunt: 夸; incarnated: 化身
- The greatest literature is more a pageant than a history. I rather wish us to see it as a baroque dramatic celebration, spectacular alike for its pomp and its covert achieved anxiety, a mystery play with the disciplined imagination as dying god.
- I have learned to shrug off historicist overdeterminations, because they cannot account for aesthetic and cognitive splendors. Their contextualizations blur more than they illuminate. Yet as readers, writers, and teachers, our authentic context is the myriad countrymen and -women who live in a daily reality that is mostly not at all our own.
- Any strong poem, whether by Hopkins or Yeats, Bishop or Ashbery, eludes our drive to objectify it, and Whitman is no more ill-assorted than his compeers.
- No poem, Paul Valery remarked, is ever finished. Rather, the poet abandons it.
- We do not think of Walt as we recite this poem: What it celebrates and sings is not “myself” but the Lucretian way things are, though implicit magnificence remains its burden.
- Valery and Stevens help form my critical mind, and yet the presence of Walt Whitman overwhelms me, possesses me, as only a few others — Dante, Shakespeare, Milton — consistently flood my entire being.
- Inevitable phrasing — my criterion for the highest poetry — is a difficult matter for criticism to expound upon, since “inevitable” here is itself a trope dependent on aesthetic experience.
pageant: 盛会; pomp: 盛况; tempest: 暴风雨; myriad: 无数的; opiate: 鸦片; intransitive: 不及物; elude: 躲避; vault: 拱顶; fecund: 丰饶的; oxymoronic: 自相矛盾; trope: 比喻; expound: 阐述
OUT OF THE CRADLE ENDLESS ROCKING
LEAVES OF GRASS | 1855
- “It is not every day,” Stevens remarked, “that the world arranges itself into a poem.” Whitman wanted that daily transformation, even though he could not bring it about. No man, no woman, can live in a continuous secular epiphany, though it is the enabling fiction that made possible Song of Myself.
phantasmagoria: 千变万化的风; synecdoche: 提喻法