Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill
  • Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill
  • Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill

Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill

by Helen Vendler
     
 

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In Last Looks, Last Books, the eminent critic Helen Vendler examines the ways in which five great modern American poets, writing their final books, try to find a style that does justice to life and death alike. With traditional religious consolations no longer available to them, these poets must invent new ways to express the crisis of death, as well as the

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Overview

In Last Looks, Last Books, the eminent critic Helen Vendler examines the ways in which five great modern American poets, writing their final books, try to find a style that does justice to life and death alike. With traditional religious consolations no longer available to them, these poets must invent new ways to express the crisis of death, as well as the paradoxical coexistence of a declining body and an undiminished consciousness. In The Rock, Wallace Stevens writes simultaneous narratives of winter and spring; in Ariel, Sylvia Plath sustains melodrama in cool formality; and in Day by Day, Robert Lowell subtracts from plenitude. In Geography III, Elizabeth Bishop is both caught and freed, while James Merrill, in A Scattering of Salts, creates a series of self-portraits as he dies, representing himself by such things as a Christmas tree, human tissue on a laboratory slide, and the evening/morning star. The solution for one poet will not serve for another; each must invent a bridge from an old style to a new one. Casting a last look at life as they contemplate death, these modern writers enrich the resources of lyric poetry.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Close reading of poems, especially for nonacademic audiences, is hard to find. This makes Helen Vendler's Last Looks, Last Books an attractive proposition. Vendler, long a tastemaker equally respected inside and outside the academy, wants to find out how her subjects 'do justice to both the looming presence of death and the unabated vitality of spirit.'
— Daisy Fried
New York Review of Books
[A] book that needs to be read and heeded.
— Peter Brooks
Times Higher Education
Helen Vendler is our great biographer of the poem. . . . Her lucid, plain-spoken narratives make the poem seem as engrossing as a 'life of the poet' tale.
— David Gewanter
Choice
Vendler convincingly demonstrates how this liminal moment demanded that each poet render a new style in his or her verse. By illuminating the varied and fluid poetic equilibrium between life and death in her precise, nuanced readings, Vendler shapes the reader's own last look at a major vein of American poetry.
Rain Taxi Review of Books
[A] sumptuous banquet.
— John Cunningham
Prague Post
Vendler's insightful critical study is essential for lovers of these American poets. . . . Vendler makes an especially important case for Lowell . . . and thus provides readers a new means of appreciating these late poems.
— Stephan Delbos
Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies
Last Looks, Last Books is a valuable contribution to the understanding of the five poets' aesthetics and can thus be useful for both scholars and students as a source of new insights on these oeuvres, as well as for those interested in the interaction of death and artistic creation.
— Boglárka Kiss
New York Times Book Review - Daisy Fried
Close reading of poems, especially for nonacademic audiences, is hard to find. This makes Helen Vendler's Last Looks, Last Books an attractive proposition. Vendler, long a tastemaker equally respected inside and outside the academy, wants to find out how her subjects 'do justice to both the looming presence of death and the unabated vitality of spirit.'
New York Review of Books - Peter Brooks
[A] book that needs to be read and heeded.
Times Higher Education - David Gewanter
Helen Vendler is our great biographer of the poem. . . . Her lucid, plain-spoken narratives make the poem seem as engrossing as a 'life of the poet' tale.
Rain Taxi Review of Books - John Cunningham
[A] sumptuous banquet.
Prague Post - Stephan Delbos
Vendler's insightful critical study is essential for lovers of these American poets. . . . Vendler makes an especially important case for Lowell . . . and thus provides readers a new means of appreciating these late poems.
Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies - Boglarka Kiss
Last Looks, Last Books is a valuable contribution to the understanding of the five poets' aesthetics and can thus be useful for both scholars and students as a source of new insights on these oeuvres, as well as for those interested in the interaction of death and artistic creation.
Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies - Boglárka Kiss
Last Looks, Last Books is a valuable contribution to the understanding of the five poets' aesthetics and can thus be useful for both scholars and students as a source of new insights on these oeuvres, as well as for those interested in the interaction of death and artistic creation.
From the Publisher

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2011

"Close reading of poems, especially for nonacademic audiences, is hard to find. This makes Helen Vendler's Last Looks, Last Books an attractive proposition. Vendler, long a tastemaker equally respected inside and outside the academy, wants to find out how her subjects 'do justice to both the looming presence of death and the unabated vitality of spirit.'"--Daisy Fried, New York Times Book Review

"[A] book that needs to be read and heeded."--Peter Brooks, New York Review of Books

"Helen Vendler is our great biographer of the poem. . . . Her lucid, plain-spoken narratives make the poem seem as engrossing as a 'life of the poet' tale."--David Gewanter, Times Higher Education

"Vendler convincingly demonstrates how this liminal moment demanded that each poet render a new style in his or her verse. By illuminating the varied and fluid poetic equilibrium between life and death in her precise, nuanced readings, Vendler shapes the reader's own last look at a major vein of American poetry."--Choice

"[A] sumptuous banquet."--John Cunningham, Rain Taxi Review of Books

"Vendler's insightful critical study is essential for lovers of these American poets. . . . Vendler makes an especially important case for Lowell . . . and thus provides readers a new means of appreciating these late poems."--Stephan Delbos, Prague Post

"Last Looks, Last Books is a valuable contribution to the understanding of the five poets' aesthetics and can thus be useful for both scholars and students as a source of new insights on these oeuvres, as well as for those interested in the interaction of death and artistic creation."--Boglárka Kiss, Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691145341
Publisher:
National Gallery of Art
Publication date:
03/21/2010
Series:
A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts Series
Pages:
152
Sales rank:
1,122,537
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

What People are saying about this

James Longenbach
Helen Vendler is one of the most lucid and incisive critics with which the art of poetry has been blessed, and this is one of her finest books—brilliant, moving, and a pleasure to read.
James Longenbach, University of Rochester
Angus Fletcher
This is an elegant, expressive, and often very poignant book. One can only admire Helen Vendler's skill in showing how these American poets confronted their own leave-taking.
Angus Fletcher, City University of New York

Meet the Author

Helen Vendler is the A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University. Her many books include "Invisible Listeners: Lyric Intimacy in Herbert, Whitman, and Ashbery "(Princeton), as well as studies of Shakespeare, Keats, Yeats, Stevens, and Heaney. She is a frequent reviewer for the "New Republic", the "New York Review of Books", and other publications.

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