By James E. von der Heydt

From pop culture to politics to vintage novels, quintessentially American texts take their concept from the belief of infinity. within the notable literary century inaugurated by way of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the lyric too looked as if it would come across probabilities as unlimited because the U.S. mind's eye. This increases the query: What occurs whilst boundlessness is greater than only a determine of speech? Exploring new horizons is something, yet truly taking a look at the horizon itself is whatever altogether various. during this conscientiously crafted research, James von der Heydt shines a brand new mild 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 prior and opened it as much as vastness; within the following century, a succession of terrific, rigorous poets took the philosophical demanding situations of such freedom all too heavily. dealing with the unmarked horizon, Emersonian poets seize - and are captured by means of - a stark, astringent model of human good looks. Their uncompromising visions of limitlessness reclaim infinity's right legacy - and provides American poetry its area. Von der Heydt's booklet recovers the secret in their international

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Additional resources for At the brink of infinity : poetic humility in boundless American space

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Frequently ignoring the footprint in favor of abstract, silent seas of alienation, Emerson can seem an airy, old-fashioned thinker whose poetics are no more useful to later poets than his poems are. It is the task of this chapter to reclaim true sensation as an Emersonian feature of art, and to find it precisely in that very image of alienation — the sea that dwarfs the beach-walker. The ocean horizon bears a human aspect (albeit a cold one): it is imprinted by the senses just as much as the sand is by the writer’s foot.

This difficulty with infinite (as opposed to merely continental) space is not a critique of Emersonian philosophy. The issue is of crucial concern to Emerson himself, a fact that becomes apparent when the category of size is foregrounded in key passages in Emerson — not only the late Emerson of “Experience” but also the more buoyant early Emerson of Nature. The tininess of the head and the eye in the locus classicus, the “transparent eye-ball” passage, contrasts starkly with the absolute vastness into which nature introduces the senses: Standing on the bare ground — my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space — all mean egotism vanishes.

The issue is of crucial concern to Emerson himself, a fact that becomes apparent when the category of size is foregrounded in key passages in Emerson — not only the late Emerson of “Experience” but also the more buoyant early Emerson of Nature. The tininess of the head and the eye in the locus classicus, the “transparent eye-ball” passage, contrasts starkly with the absolute vastness into which nature introduces the senses: Standing on the bare ground — my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space — all mean egotism vanishes.

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