AMERICAN POETS: From the Puritans to the Present by Hyatt H. Waggoner

AMERICAN POETS: From the Puritans to the Present

Email this review


This is one of the most thoughtful, ambitious, and interesting studies of American poetry to have been published in the last fifteen years. It has been written with great care, covering almost all significant aspects from colonial days to the present, attempting to make clear two currents of thought and sensibility which Professor Waggoner takes to be the dominant ones within his historical account. These are the closed, dark metaphysical world of Edward Taylor, deriving from the English or European tradition, influencing both early American poetry and then found present behind much of the Modernist preoccupations of Stevens, Eliot, Pound, and even Frost, and the open transcendental personalism of Emerson, flowering first in Whitman and now once again taking command re Roethke, the later Lowell, and various younger poets. This is an imposing thesis, but it is more compelling in its general outline than in most of the particular observations used to bolster the argument. What is unfortunate is not merely the array of debatable or quirky statements, e.g. Pound's ""Canton rest on and imply scientific determinism, or mechanism,"" but rather the strange new weight placed on Emerson who emerges in these pages as some sort of revolutionary culture hero whose philosophy, poetry, and biography not only influenced his own century but also is seen as embodying the entire mid-twentieth century swing towards mystic affirmation, Dionysian consciousness, and so forth. This is the picture generally drawn of Blake; Emersonian individualism is of a different order. Still, an important work.

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 1967
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin