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Given And The Made

Overview

Join Professor Helen Vendler in her course lecture on the Yeats poem "Among School Children". View her insightful and passionate analysis along with a condensed reading and student comments on the course.

How does a poet repeatedly make art over a lifetime out of an arbitrary assignment of fate? By asking this question of the work of four American poets--two men of the postwar generation, two young women writing today--Helen Vendler suggests a fruitful way of looking at a poet's...

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Overview

Join Professor Helen Vendler in her course lecture on the Yeats poem "Among School Children". View her insightful and passionate analysis along with a condensed reading and student comments on the course.

How does a poet repeatedly make art over a lifetime out of an arbitrary assignment of fate? By asking this question of the work of four American poets--two men of the postwar generation, two young women writing today--Helen Vendler suggests a fruitful way of looking at a poet's career and a new way of understanding poetic strategies as both mastery of forms and forms of mastery.

Fate hands every poet certain unavoidable "givens." Of the poets Vendler studies, Robert Lowell sprang from a family famous in American and especially New England history; John Berryman found himself an alcoholic manic-depressive; Rita Dove was born black; Jorie Graham grew up trilingual, with three words for every object. In Vendler's readings, we see how these poets return again and again to the problems set out by their givens, and how each invents complex ways, both thematic and formal, of making poetry out of fate.

Compelling for its insights into the work of four notable poets, this book by a leading critic of poetry is also invaluable for what it has to tell us about the poetic process--about how art copes with the obdurate givens of life, and about the conflict in art between the whim of fate and the artist's will to choose.

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Editorial Reviews

Nation

Vendler is a critic readers of poetry, inside the academy and out, should take seriously...She writes less as a scholar (though her learning is prodigious) than as one impelled by the special pleasure she finds in poems to trace each instance of that pleasure to its source...While [The Given and the Made and The Breaking of Style] offer complex, sometimes difficult interpretations of work that is itself often difficult, they hew close to the primary experiences of wonder and conviction that is poetry's special power to evoke. Her prose is...lucid and elegant...[In The Breaking of Style,] the chapter on Hopkins is a tour de force, the most concise and helpful account I have seen of the dense, jarring, strangely musical meter the Victorian Jesuit called 'sprung rhythm'...Vendler's argument, in The Given and the Made, is that poetry is a special way of confronting, and symbolically resolving, the hard facts of life. And poetry, which has for so long seemed to be approaching an ultimate marginality, surely needs defenders like Vendler, so committed to protecting its singularity as an art form...These [are] illuminating books.
— A. O. Scott

New York Review of Books

[review of Soul Says, The Given and the Made, and The Breaking of Style]
Helen Vendler is justly admired as the author of critical studies of George Herbert, Keats, W. B. Yeats, and Wallace Stevens. Her current project is a study of Shakespeare's sonnets. She is also the most influential reviewer of contemporary poetry in English: her reviews of new books of poetry appear frequently and forcefully in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, Parnassus, and other journals...[H]er gifts are so immense...The new books have a number of such [acute] analyses, continuously alert to the detail of the poems...One of the pleasures of reading Vendler's criticism is that of seeing a poet's achievement lavishly appreciated...The most valuable chapters in the three new books are those in which Vendler leads us through difficult poems...After [she does so], the poem is still to be read, and read again, word by word, line, sequence, image cut into image. We have to get back from the discursive model, which Vendler so clearly describes, to the local movement and texture of the poem. But after Vendler's commentary we are in a much better position to do so. I cannot think of a better justification for a critic's work.
— Denis Donoghue

World Literature Today

In the collections of essays The Breaking of Style and The Given and the Made Helen Vendler...firmly positions herself as one of our most authoritative voices on modern and contemporary poetry. Already an authority on Keats and Stevens among others, Vendler moved several years ago into the realm of contemporary poetry, where she has quickly established herself as a major critic. Vendler has always been a skilled practitioner of close reading, but in the essays of these two volumes she becomes an articulate apologist for the intensive attention to details of style and form that has come to be identified with New Criticism. Eschewing the current hegemony of theory in literary scholarship, Vendler makes the case in these essays that not only is there still a place for an exclusive engagement with the details of textual analysis, but to fail to address the details of a poem's making is to ignore its physical presence.
— Mary Kaiser

Nation - A. O. Scott
Vendler is a critic readers of poetry, inside the academy and out, should take seriously...She writes less as a scholar (though her learning is prodigious) than as one impelled by the special pleasure she finds in poems to trace each instance of that pleasure to its source...While [The Given and the Made and The Breaking of Style] offer complex, sometimes difficult interpretations of work that is itself often difficult, they hew close to the primary experiences of wonder and conviction that is poetry's special power to evoke. Her prose is...lucid and elegant...[In The Breaking of Style,] the chapter on Hopkins is a tour de force, the most concise and helpful account I have seen of the dense, jarring, strangely musical meter the Victorian Jesuit called 'sprung rhythm'...Vendler's argument, in The Given and the Made, is that poetry is a special way of confronting, and symbolically resolving, the hard facts of life. And poetry, which has for so long seemed to be approaching an ultimate marginality, surely needs defenders like Vendler, so committed to protecting its singularity as an art form...These [are] illuminating books.
New York Review of Books - Denis Donoghue
[review of Soul Says, The Given and the Made, and The Breaking of Style]
Helen Vendler is justly admired as the author of critical studies of George Herbert, Keats, W. B. Yeats, and Wallace Stevens. Her current project is a study of Shakespeare's sonnets. She is also the most influential reviewer of contemporary poetry in English: her reviews of new books of poetry appear frequently and forcefully in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, Parnassus, and other journals...[H]er gifts are so immense...The new books have a number of such [acute] analyses, continuously alert to the detail of the poems...One of the pleasures of reading Vendler's criticism is that of seeing a poet's achievement lavishly appreciated...The most valuable chapters in the three new books are those in which Vendler leads us through difficult poems...After [she does so], the poem is still to be read, and read again, word by word, line, sequence, image cut into image. We have to get back from the discursive model, which Vendler so clearly describes, to the local movement and texture of the poem. But after Vendler's commentary we are in a much better position to do so. I cannot think of a better justification for a critic's work.
World Literature Today - Mary Kaiser
In the collections of essays The Breaking of Style and The Given and the Made Helen Vendler...firmly positions herself as one of our most authoritative voices on modern and contemporary poetry. Already an authority on Keats and Stevens among others, Vendler moved several years ago into the realm of contemporary poetry, where she has quickly established herself as a major critic. Vendler has always been a skilled practitioner of close reading, but in the essays of these two volumes she becomes an articulate apologist for the intensive attention to details of style and form that has come to be identified with New Criticism. Eschewing the current hegemony of theory in literary scholarship, Vendler makes the case in these essays that not only is there still a place for an exclusive engagement with the details of textual analysis, but to fail to address the details of a poem's making is to ignore its physical presence.
Nation
Vendler is a critic readers of poetry, inside the academy and out, should take seriously...She writes less as a scholar (though her learning is prodigious) than as one impelled by the special pleasure she finds in poems to trace each instance of that pleasure to its source...While [The Given and the Made and The Breaking of Style] offer complex, sometimes difficult interpretations of work that is itself often difficult, they hew close to the primary experiences of wonder and conviction that is poetry's special power to evoke. Her prose is...lucid and elegant...[In The Breaking of Style,] the chapter on Hopkins is a tour de force, the most concise and helpful account I have seen of the dense, jarring, strangely musical meter the Victorian Jesuit called 'sprung rhythm'...Vendler's argument, in The Given and the Made, is that poetry is a special way of confronting, and symbolically resolving, the hard facts of life. And poetry, which has for so long seemed to be approaching an ultimate marginality, surely needs defenders like Vendler, so committed to protecting its singularity as an art form...These [are] illuminating books.
— A. O. Scott
World Literature Today
In the collections of essays The Breaking of Style and The Given and the Made Helen Vendler...firmly positions herself as one of our most authoritative voices on modern and contemporary poetry. Already an authority on Keats and Stevens among others, Vendler moved several years ago into the realm of contemporary poetry, where she has quickly established herself as a major critic. Vendler has always been a skilled practitioner of close reading, but in the essays of these two volumes she becomes an articulate apologist for the intensive attention to details of style and form that has come to be identified with New Criticism. Eschewing the current hegemony of theory in literary scholarship, Vendler makes the case in these essays that not only is there still a place for an exclusive engagement with the details of textual analysis, but to fail to address the details of a poem's making is to ignore its physical presence.
— Mary Kaiser
New York Review of Books
[review of Soul Says, The Given and the Made, and The Breaking of Style]
Helen Vendler is justly admired as the author of critical studies of George Herbert, Keats, W. B. Yeats, and Wallace Stevens. Her current project is a study of Shakespeare's sonnets. She is also the most influential reviewer of contemporary poetry in English: her reviews of new books of poetry appear frequently and forcefully in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, Parnassus, and other journals...[H]er gifts are so immense...The new books have a number of such [acute] analyses, continuously alert to the detail of the poems...One of the pleasures of reading Vendler's criticism is that of seeing a poet's achievement lavishly appreciated...The most valuable chapters in the three new books are those in which Vendler leads us through difficult poems...After [she does so], the poem is still to be read, and read again, word by word, line, sequence, image cut into image. We have to get back from the discursive model, which Vendler so clearly describes, to the local movement and texture of the poem. But after Vendler's commentary we are in a much better position to do so. I cannot think of a better justification for a critic's work.
— Denis Donoghue
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a few provocative pages, Harvard professor and author of the NBCC winner Part of Nature, Part of Us: Modern American Poets, once again demonstrates her talent for smart and sympathetic reading of poetry. She looks at four poets and their particular uses of a donne (meaning theme but derived from the ``given'' of the title): for Robert Lowell, it is the persistent drive of history; for John Berryman, the mischievous and frightening id; for Rita Dove, the color of her skin; for the trilingual Jorie Graham, the problem of translating thought into language, into phenomenon. Almost all of the chapter on Berryman is devoted to his brilliant, funny and disturbing Dream Songs, while in Dove, Vendler follows differing, equally intriguing manipulations of her theme from ``Parsley'' to Thomas and Beulah and Grace Notes. Perhaps most interesting, because personal and poetical are so vividly intertwined, is her examination of Lowell. Vendler carefully outlines his changing interaction with history and its effect on his style, from the often overwrought public historical passions of The Mills of the Kavanaughs and the more intimate history and form that followed his parents' deaths and his own bout with manic depression. Although she occasionally gives in to the lure of such words as victimage and necessitarian, which tend to reflect dully on her usually lucid style, it's a small thing in her subtle, beguiling essays. (Dec.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674354326
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/1995
  • Series: T. S. Eliot Lectures Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 154
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.36 (d)

Meet the Author

Helen Vendler is A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University.
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Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Robert Lowell and History
  • John Berryman: Freudian Cartoons
  • Rita Dove: Identity Markers
  • Jorie Graham: The Nameless and the Material
  • Notes

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