Sunday, March 1, 2015

Emerson and Surprise

I’ve begun Harold Bloom’s Wallace Stevens, The Poems of our climate. On page 5 he writes, “I return to Emerson’s lecture on The Poet, where he says of Pegasus, ‘Surprise and wonder always fly beside him. There is no poetry where they are not.’ The same emphasis upon surprise is at the center of the later, rambling essay, Poetry and Imagination, where after rightly observing that ‘conversation is not permitted without tropes,’ Emerson more daringly makes of natural change only a series of tropes: ‘The poet accounts all productions and changes of Nature as the nouns of language, uses them representatively, too well pleased with their ulterior to value much their primary meaning. Every new object so seen gives a shock of agreeable surprise.’”

I have never appreciated Emerson but can’t remember why. At one time I thought Whitman wonderful (as Bloom still does) but Emerson struck me as someone who studied Eastern religion.  I thought why study Emerson when I can study Eastern religion for myself? But this passage and a few others quoted by Bloom are interesting. I confess that I feel as Emerson (via Bloom) suggests when I am most . . . intensely . . . a poet.  That was some of what was going on in the poem “in the wind.” Even though I myself have been as argumentative and insistent upon logic as anyone (in past forum discussions), I don’t feel that way at the present time, a time when I’m concentrating upon poetry. Besides, I thought, the words people fight over don’t really mean much, or rather their meanings don’t count for much in light of the tropes one can bring about in a poem – at least not enough for someone to say “I am too offended to stay here any longer” – and I hasten to confess that I’ve done that very thing in the past – when I was someone else.

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