Category Archives: Study

The Treasures That Prevail: On the Prose of Adrienne Rich

By Sandra M. Gilbert

Adrienne_Rich-4Toward the end of “Diving into the Wreck,” one of her most renowned poems, Adrienne Rich explains the goals of her underwater journey:
I came to explore the wreck.

The words are purposes.

The words are maps.

I came to see the damage that was done

and the treasures that prevail.

I stroke the beam of my lamp

slowly along the flank

of something more permanent

than fish or weed
the thing I came for:

the wreck and not the story of the wreck

the thing itself and not the myth
Here, she says, is the imperative of investigation: needful research into “the damage that was done / and the treasures that prevail.” Arguably, as she confided that she discovered sometime in the sixties, such research into reality—“the thing itself and not the myth”—was a major aim of her work as a poet. But perhaps it hasn’t yet been clearly enough understood how crucially her writings in prose complemented, supplemented, enriched, and, yes, inspired her writing in verse. For in these writings she was not just one of many contemporary poets illuminating her verse through confessional glosses but a major memoirist, essayist, theorist, and scholar.

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Auden on No-Platforming Pound

Edward Mendelson
Auden gave much thought to the question of writers “whose works / Are in better taste than their lives,” as he wrote with ironic understatement in his poem “At the Grave of Henry James.” When he wrote to [Bennett] Cerf that he got “very exasperated with the people who argue that Pound should be acquitted or let down gently because he is a poet, which is obviously nonsense,” he was refusing a subtler temptation that he, perhaps like every successful artist, knew from experience. “You hope, yes, / your books will excuse you, / save you from hell,” he wrote in a poem addressed to himself, part of his “Postscript” to a poem about poetry-writing, “The Cave of Making.”
In the same poem, he refused any fantasy that his work justified his faults—the same nonsense that he refused when others used it to justify Ezra Pound. Instead, he sensed, his faults had damaged his work: had he been a better person, he might have written better poems. In print and in private, he seems never to have condemned other writers’ work on the basis of their personal faults. He knew too little about them to judge. But his own self-knowledge led him to imagine a moment when his self and his work would both be subject to judgment:

                    God may reduce you

on Judgment Day

                    to tears of shame,

reciting by heart

                    the poems you would

have written, had

                    your life been good.

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Blake, Beethoven, and the Tragic Genius of Outsiderdom


Blake, Beethoven, and the Tragic Genius of Outsiderdom“It is the mark of a genius like Blake … that what is purest and most consistent in his thought burns away his own suffering and fanaticism, while his art speaks to what is most deeply human in us.”
“In 1827 there died, undoubtedly unknown to each other, two plebeian Europeans of supreme originality: Ludwig van Beethoven and William Blake.”

[from the opening essay for The Portable William Blake by Alfred Kazin]
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Arch Bishop

elizabeth_bishop-2Listen to Seamus Perry and Mark Ford discuss the life and work of Elizabeth Bishop, through the lens of the pieces written about her in the LRB archive.

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Is the human brain hardwired to appreciate poetry?

by Frontiers

Is the human brain hardwired to appreciate poetryIn 1932 T.S. Eliot famously argued, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”
In a recent article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, Professor Guillaume Thierry and colleagues at Bangor University have demonstrated that we do indeed appear to have an unconscious appreciation of poetic construction.
“Poetry”, explains Professor Thierry “is a particular type of literary expression that conveys feelings, thoughts and ideas by accentuating metric constraints, rhyme and alliteration.”
However, can we appreciate the musical sound of poetry independent of its literary meaning?

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The Circus Animals’ Desertion

WB Yeats

The Circus Animals’ DesertionI

I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,

I sought it daily for six weeks or so.

Maybe at last being but a broken man

I must be satisfied with my heart, although

Winter and summer till old age began

My circus animals were all on show,

Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,

Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.


What can I but enumerate old themes,

First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose

Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,

Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,

Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,

That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;

But what cared I that set him on to ride,

I, starved for the bosom of his fairy bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,

‘The Countess Cathleen’ was the name I gave it,

She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away

But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.

I thought my dear must her own soul destroy

So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,

And this brought forth a dream and soon enough

This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread

Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;

Heart mysteries there, and yet when all is said

It was the dream itself enchanted me:

Character isolated by a deed

To engross the present and dominate memory.

Players and painted stage took all my love

And not those things that they were emblems of.


Those masterful images because complete

Grew in pure mind but out of what began?

A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,

Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,

Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut

Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone

I must lie down where all the ladders start

In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
Read a brief analysis of this poem.

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By Emily Temple

THE 32 MOST ICONIC POEMS INToday is the anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost’s iconic poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” a fact that spurred the Literary Hub office into a long conversation about their favorite poems, the most iconic poems written in English, and which poems we should all have already read (or at least be reading next). Turns out, despite frequent (false) claims that poetry is dead and/or irrelevant and/or boring, there are plenty of poems that have sunk deep into our collective consciousness as cultural icons. (What makes a poem iconic? For our purposes here, it’s primarily a matter of cultural ubiquity, though unimpeachable excellence helps any case.) So for those of you who were not present for our epic office argument, I have listed some of them here.
NB that I limited myself to one poem per poet—which means that the impetus for this list actually gets bumped for the widely quoted (and misunderstood) “The Road Not Taken,” but so it goes. I also excluded book-length poems, because they’re really a different form. Finally, despite the headline, I’m sure there are many, many iconic poems out there that I’ve missed—so feel free to extend this list in the comments. But for now, happy reading (and re-reading):

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By Abigail Williams

READING ALOUD WITH OTHERSOn 15 April 1802, Dorothy and William Wordsworth took one of the most significant walks in literary history. They set out in blustery weather, across the fells near Ullswater in the Lake District. It was misty and mild, with a strong wind, and the first signs of spring were emerging in the hedgerows. Passing Gowbarrow Park, they saw a few wild daffodils, and then as they walked along, they discovered a whole belt of them, almost as broad as a road. Dorothy’s journal entry reads:
I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing.
Brother and sister continued their walk and later found refuge in a tavern, where they enjoyed a robust meal of ham and potatoes. After supper, Dorothy recounts: “William was sitting by a bright fire when I came downstairs. He soon made his way to the Library piled up in a corner of the window. He brought out a volume of Enfield’s Speaker, another miscellany, & an odd volume of Congreve’s plays. We had a glass of warm rum & water—we enjoyed ourselves & wished for Mary.”
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Excerpted from THE SOCIAL LIFE OF BOOKS: Reading Together in the Eighteenth-Century Home by Abigail Williams.

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The Moon And The Yew Tree

Sylvia Plath

The Moon And The Yew TreeThis is the light of the mind, cold and planetary

The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.

The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God

Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility

Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.

Separated from my house by a row of headstones.

I simply cannot see where there is to get to.
The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,

White as a knuckle and terribly upset.

It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet

With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.

Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky —-

Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection

At the end, they soberly **** out their names.
The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.

The eyes lift after it and find the moon.

The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.

Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.

How I would like to believe in tenderness —-

The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,

Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.
I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering

Blue and mystical over the face of the stars

Inside the church, the saints will all be blue,

Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,

Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.

The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.

And the message of the yew tree is blackness — blackness and silence
Read A Short Analysis of Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’

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Letters from a Young Poet

The final correspondence of Sylvia Plath


Letters from a Young PoetSTEADILY ACCUMULATING over the fifty-six years since Sylvia Plath’s death, the abundance of books, scholarship, reportage, gossip, and errata about the poet (not to mention material to do with her husband, Ted Hughes, or the adjacent subfield that has grown up around Assia Wevill, the woman for whom Hughes left Plath) can seem excessive. The uninitiated may be excused for not comprehending the reason for it all. Everyone else may be forgiven for their fatigue.
The diehards, of course, make no apology. The devotee, the obsessive, is perpetually and unapologetically hungry for anything that will provide a more complete understanding of the life as much as the art, a chance of more comprehensive identification. With Plath, the feeling is unaffected by the quantity of material, which, though vast, was for many years limited: The diaries were abridged, the letters selected. The poems are only so many poems. Hughes admitted in an early introduction to Plath’s journals to misplacing or destroying their final volumes (he was fuzzy on the details)—the pages, in other words, that Plath wrote during the last months of her life, and the account that promised, to the appetitive student of her biography, some answer for how and why we lost her. For all that has been written by and about Plath, the whole picture was not available, and you were forced to piece it together.
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