As we consider how Wilbur merges his poetic vision with the world beyond the window, we might find it useful to borrow Taylor’s observation about the critical response to Wilbur’s “well-wrought” surfaces and to superimpose it on the latter’s conception of Edgar Allan Poe’s work. For Wilbur, who maintains in his essay “On My Own Work” that his own writing can be understood, in large part, “as a public quarrel with the aesthetics of Edgar Allan Poe,” Poe’s poetry reveals the hazards inherent in language so overwrought that its surfaces sever the reader from reality (160). If Poe, as he states in his essay “The Poetic Principle,” sees poetry’s purpose as providing an “elevating excitement” through which both poet and reader can escape the real and make contact with an ideal defined by “supernal beauty,” Wilbur regards such elevation with wariness (71-92). He believes that the “excitement” Poe strives to create derives not just from subject matter emphasizing the supernal above the earthly, but also, perhaps more dangerously, from sonic effects that announce their artificiality at too high a pitch. Contending in his essay “Edgar Allan Poe” that Poe sees the writing process as “casting a spell” and therefore imbues his poetry with the “repetitiveness, sonority, and impressive rhythmic monotony of a charm or incantation,” Wilbur argues that he demonstrates an overreliance on “incantatory techniques” that “further the general effort of his poetry to nullify—in a logical and denotative sense—the words with which it is made” (89). Because Wilbur worries about what can happen when sound drowns out meaning in a poem, he sees Poe’s work as embodying an aesthetic value system that estranges us from words and, by extension, from the world.
Wednesday, October 02, 2019
… The World’s Weight: Artifice and Reality in Richard Wilbur’s Poetry | Literary Matters. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)