This book shall focus on the evolving responses to this ultimately untenable model of identity and the poet’s sometimes solipsistic attempts to define the surrounding society that is like the hill surrounding the empty jar in Stevens’ “Anecdote of a Jar.”
An Overview of This Study
In what follows, I seek to find the intersection between the psychology inhering in Romantic assumptions and its effect on the “social contract” between the poet and the world. In other words, I wish to explore the political endpoint of the individual poet’s conflict between personal, social aspirations and the Romantic promise of power.
I begin with a discussion of Romanticism, discussing the many ways this deistic or pagan philosophy and metaphoric style may be seen as politically charged, and outlining my own vision of its political significance. Further, I lay the groundwork for my discussion of Emerson by noting some distinctions between British and American Romanticism.
Where the British Romantics proposed myths based on a dialectical or oppositional relationship between the material and immaterial, Emerson acknowledged no such opposition, much as his philosophy seemed built on dualities. His essays contain a paradoxical psychology of power, tying transcendental wisdom to a withdrawal from the world. I describe the inspirational power of his writings, which demand that the poet-scholar relinquish any attachment to traditional, discursive wisdom and to identity in the social sphere. In the pragmatic American spirit, Emerson’s poet was a man of actions, not thoughts. Successive poets, after Whitman’s foundational work, built a poetics by rejecting the elements of verbal communication: the author’s presence and the expression of ideas. The creation of the poem (on the “field” of the page) became their mode of action, as opposed to communication, and novel poetic forms were the result.