Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry

Overview

U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass considers some of the twentiethcentury poets who bring him pleasure: Robert Lowll, JamesWright, Tomas Transtromer, Joseph Brodsky, Yvor Winters,Robert Creeley, James McMichael, Czeslaw Milosz, and others,in this, his first collection of essays. Originally published in1984, Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry won theNational Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. A new collection of Robert Hass's essays will be published by Ecco in 1998.

...
See more details below
Paperback (Reprint)
$13.67
BN.com price
(Save 19%)$16.99 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (24) from $3.18   
  • New (6) from $7.99   
  • Used (18) from $3.18   
Sending request ...

Overview

U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass considers some of the twentiethcentury poets who bring him pleasure: Robert Lowll, JamesWright, Tomas Transtromer, Joseph Brodsky, Yvor Winters,Robert Creeley, James McMichael, Czeslaw Milosz, and others,in this, his first collection of essays. Originally published in1984, Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry won theNational Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. A new collection of Robert Hass's essays will be published by Ecco in 1998.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780880015394
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 324
  • Sales rank: 521,754
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Hass is the author of two earlier collections of poems, Field Guide and Praise, and a book of essays, Twentieth Century Pleasures. He has also collaborated with Czeslaw Milosz on the translation of his poems, most recently Collected Poems. His many honors include a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur fellowship and the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism. He has taught for many years at St. Mary's College of California and is currently a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Lowell's Graveyard

It's probably a hopeless matter, writing about favorite poems. I came across "The Lost Son," "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket" and "Howl" at about the same time. Some of the lines are still married in my head and they still have talismanic power: snail, snail, glister me forward; Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated; this is the end of running on the waves. I see now that they are all three lost son poems, but at the time I didn't see much of anything. I heard, and it was the incantatory power of the poems that moved me. Enchantment, literally. I wandered around San Francisco demolishing the twentieth century by mumbling to myself, blue-lunged combers lumbered to the kill and managed to mix up Roethke's ordnung! ordnung! papa's coming with the Lord who survived the rainbow of his will.

You can analyze the music of poetry but it's difficult to conduct an argument about its value, especially when it's gotten into the blood. It becomes autobiography there. The other night in a pub in Cambridgeshire (named The Prince Regent and built just before the regency in the year when the first man who tried to organize a craft union among weavers was whipped, drawn, quartered and disemboweled in a public ceremony in London) the subject of favorite poems came up and a mild-looking man who taught high school geology treated us to this:

For it's Din! Din! Din!
You limpin' lump o' brick dust, Gunga Din!
Though I've belted you and flayed you,
By the livin' Gawd that made you,
You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

And he began to talk about his father's library in a summer cottagein Devon. I thought of bow my older brother bad loved that poem, bow we had taken turns reading Vachel Lindsay and Kipling aloud on summer nights in California, in our upstairs room that looked out on a dusty fig orchard and grapevines spilling over the wooden fence.

Poems take place in your life, or some of them do, like the day your younger sister arrives and replaces you as the bon enfant in the bosom of the family; or the day the trucks came and the men began to tear up the wooden sidewalks and the cobblestone gutters outside your house and laid down new cement curbs and asphalt streets. We put paper bags on our feet to walk back and forth across the road which glistened with hot oil. That was just after the war. The town was about to become a suburb in the postwar boom. The fig orchard went just after the old road. I must have been six. Robert Lowell bad just published in the Partisan Review a first version of "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket."

Thinking about this a long time later made me realize that "The Quaker Graveyard" is not a political poem. I had assumed that it was, that its rage against the war and Puritan will and the Quakers of Nantucket who financed the butchery of whales was an attack on American capitalism. But a political criticism of any social order implies both that a saner one can be imagined and the hope or conviction that it can be achieved. I bad by then begun to have a way of describing such an order, got out of a melange of Paul Goodman, Camus and To the Finland Station, but what lay behind it was an imagination of early childhood, dusty fig leaves and sun and fields of wild fennel. Nostalgia locates desire in the past where it suffers no active conflict and can be yearned toward pleasantly. History is the antidote to this. When I saw that my paradise was Lowell's hell, I was forced to see that it was not a place in time I was thinking of, but a place in imagination. The fury of conflict is in "The Quaker Graveyard" but I went back to the poem looking for the vision of an alternative world. There is none. There's grief and moral rage but the poem imagines the whole of human life as sterile violence:

All you recovered from Poseidon died
With you, my cousin, and the harrowed brine
Is fruitless on the blue beard of the god ...

and it identifies finally with the inhuman justice of God:

You could cut the brakish waters with a knife
Here in Nantucket, and cast up the time
When the Lord God formed man from the sea's slime
And breathed into his face the breath of life,
And blue-lunged combers lumbered to the kill.
The Lord survives the rainbow of his will.

There are no choices in this history of the experiment of evolution and so there can be no politics. "The Lost Son," all inward animal alertness and numbed panic, contains the possibility of a social order by imagining return. And "Howl" wants to imagine a fifth international of angels.

It struck me then that the poem was closer in sensibility to someone like Robinson Jeffers than to most of the poets whom I had come to associate with Lowell. Both poets are forced to step outside the human process and claim the vision of some imperturbable godhead in which the long violence of human history looks small. But in "The Quaker Graveyard" it is important to say that is the position the poem finally arrives at because it is a poem of process, and of anguish. Warren Winslow drowns, the Quakers drown, the wounded whale chums in an imagination of suffering and violence which it is the imperative of the poem to find release from, and each successive section of the poem is an attempt to discover a way out. When I was beginning to read poetry to learn what it was and what it could be, this seemed the originality of the poem and its greatness.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Lowell's Graveyard 3
James Wright 26
One Body: Some Notes on Form 56
Transtromer's Baltics 72
What Furies 91
Listening and Making 107
Lost in Translation 134
What He Did 141
Creeley: His Metric 150
McMichael's Pasadena 160
Reading Milosz 172
Some Notes on the San Francisco Bay Area As a Culture Region: A Memoir 214
Looking for Rilke 226
Images 269
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)