Dec 22, 2008

What I Hope to Work On - Part 1

I said I would review what I have on my list of recent or somewhat recent writings on Yvor Winters that I would like to discuss on this blog. I hope my readers will write me about any other articles, essays, or books that they know of not listed here. This and the next post concern writings that are directly concerned with the poetry or criticism of Winters. In my third post, I will list a dozen writings or so that are somehow closely related to Winters’s work. ANYONE with ANY comments on these writings is welcome to post on this blog -- without my gloss (though I will almost certainly comment on anything posted).


Recent Essays on Winters:

1. In 2006, James Matthew Wilson published an essay on Emily Dickinson and Yvor Winters’s essay on her poetry. Wilson’s piece appeared in Christianity and Literature. I have been studying this dense essay and believe it deserves thoughtful consideration, which is the reason I haven’t yet discussed it.

Wilson, by the way, has become a columnist on American conservatism. He has been writing a regular column for the First Principles web site entitled “The Treasonous Clerk.” Though I am not a political conservative in most ways (as Yvor Winters, I pause to note, was not either), Wilson has already had some worthwhile things to say in his column. I believe his work bears watching.

2. In 2005, a professor by the name of David Reid published an essay, “Rationality in the Poetry of Yvor Winters,” in the Cambridge Quarterly. It was an insightful overview of some of Winters’s poetry and the idea that Winters’s commitment to reason met an intellectual and psychological need. The essay deserves careful study.

3. Going back even further, actually more than five years, to the annual poetry issue of the 2003 New Criterion, Adam Kirsch published a piece entitled “Winters’ Curse.” I have been planning for a long time to get to that one.

4. In 2001, Wesley Trimpi, poet, critic, and former student of Winters, published a piece on Winters and classicism in the International Journal of the Classical Tradition. The piece was entitled “Yvor Winters and the Educated Sensibility in Antiquity.” It is about the importance of Aristotle in Winters’s criticism and is deserving of careful study and discussion.

5. I want to discuss various introductions to Winters’s writings, such as to the Swallow Press’s edition of Winters’s Selected Poems (edited by Robert Barth). The erudite introduction to that volume was written by poet Helen Pinkerton, a superb (if not great) poet and a fine critical stylist.

6. Another introduction I have wanted to discuss is Thom Gunn’s brief one to the small Library of America volume of Winters’s selected poetry.

7. Going further back, another introduction that I think needs a look is Ken Fields’s to the most recent edition of Winters’s In Defense of Reason (1995 or so). I found his introduction to be puzzlingly weak. I need to explain why I think so. My guess is that Fields is no longer much of a Wintersian.

8. A fellow who has written of Winters on a blog entitled “God of the Machine” also has written on Wikipedia about Winters’s theories of the Renaissance plain style. Aaron Haspel is his name. I would like to discuss his take on the matter.

9. Haspel also has written on his blog about his views on Winters’s theories on scanning free verse. Haspel has written that he thinks his own theory of free verse scansion is stronger than Winters’s. By the way, Haspel has suspended “God of the Machine” for more than a year now. I hope he gets recharged and starts writing again -- and writing about Winters too.

10. Finally, Haspel wrote a piece entitled “Winters’ Discontents” at “God of the Machine.” It is an overview of Winters for web searchers, and it’s another of Haspel’s writings I would like to take a look at.


I have a dozen more writings directly concerned with Winters coming in my next post. That post will be followed by another concerning writings indirectly related to Winters.

Dec 15, 2008

On Finding Nazareth

Soon after reporting on the lack of response to this blog in my last post, a buddy of mine who has almost no knowledge of Yvor Winters wrote me that he had purchased a copy of the recent Selected Poems of Yvor Winters, edited by Thom Gunn and issued by the "Library of America." Greg Stone is my friend’s name, and he comes to Winters’s poetry cold. I think his reading of a short poem of Winters’s, one I discussed a couple years ago at Christmastime, to be enlightening. The following is our brief exchange. Greg’s letter is just the kind of thing I’d like to see happen more often on this blog.

From Greg Stone:


I'll give you my impression of "Fragment". I often feel that poems are structures that we fill with our own personal experience. As the structure fills, the meaning crystallizes.

First, despite being four lines the poem feels very complete so I take the title to be a comment, perhaps that Christianity is not a central theme in his life, but an unfinished discarded fragment of meaning.

I cannot find my way to Nazareth.
I have had enough of this.

seems clear enough. The first line refers in present tense to a pursuit. The second sentence in past tense shows a definite end. [Note: The photo, posted by Ben, is of the Basilica of the Annunication, which looms large in the city of Nazareth.]

Thy will is death, and this unholy quiet is thy peace.

More difficult - I take "will" (which is probably a double meaning) as a "last will and testament". He was promised eternal life, but understands now that he will be bequeathed simple death from an impersonal ("thy" uncapitalized) god, perhaps nature as god. A lifetime of an unresponsive god shows him that that quiet which had been charged with expectation of reassurance was simple emptiness.

Thy will be done; and let discussion cease.

Again, "will" maintains it's double meaning and "discussion cease" refers to the end of his pursuit and the end of his life.

I can't argue that this was Winters intent, but the poem connects to me in a complete and satisfying way.




A nice take on the poem -- and in the ball park as to what Winters intended, though that is far from certain. We do not know whether he tried to find God or what he called "the Spirit" from any of his writings. We do not exactly know what many of these terms mean, though some few writers have grappled with the issue in what are now very obscure writings.

I have written in my book on Winters on my web site about his views on Christianity. The passages are easy to find by using Google, such as searching on "Year with Yvor Winters Ben Kilpela Christianity". I could go on at length about Winters's views, but I'm not sure you are interested in them as deeply as I am, so I will forbear.

I enjoyed your note, though. I took it, at first, that you were agreeing with Winters, but I see, on closer inspection, that that is not the case. You're simply saying that you understand and appreciate what Winters appears to you to be saying to you as the reader. You must turn to "To the Holy Spirit" to dig deeper into these matters. Two poems by Edgar Bowers written in the 1950s, a one-time Winters student and very great writer, are directly concerned with such issues as well. I'll send them to you if you're interested ["The Virgin Mary" and "The Astronomers of Mont Blanc"]. Both poems were judged by Winters to be among the greatest ever written, and I would agree.

But, tell me, how does the poem "connect" to you. Do you mean something more than understanding? Do you agree to some extent?

Finally, may I publish this short note on my blog? It's exactly the kind of thing I wish to encourage. I'll try not to gloss your gloss with too much gloss.