Berryman and Lowell: The Art of Losing by Stephen Matterson

By Stephen Matterson

PMContents: advent: Tumbles and Leaps; starting in knowledge; in the direction of a Rhetoric of Destitution; Excellence and Loss; background and Seduction; Defeats and desires; Notes and References; Index

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Extra info for Berryman and Lowell: The Art of Losing

Sample text

I am thinking here of W. K. Wimsatt's 'verbal icon' and of Cleanth Brooks's appropriation of the phrase 'well-wrought urn'. The poem is considered in spatial rather than temporal terms because, after all, its distinct quality is to enclose and preserve rather than change in time. So, when Berryman chooses symbols of timeless art he selects the statue and the painting, precisely because they are static. They are uncommitted to time and movement, unlike, say, music or dance: Berryman would undoubtedly have approved of Schelling's remark that 'architecture in general is frozen music'.

But in this poem Berryman has interrupted such a symbolist discourse, by resisting the temptation to make the boy's ball into a symbol. The reader may not resist this temptation, because perhaps the most obvious interpretation is that the ball is a symbol for time, the boy's loss of the ball thus involving his initiation into the idea that lost time is irredeemable. But the poem only hints at this possibility: the ball is neither obviously nor necessarily a symbol. Given the poem's themes, this strategy is crucial.

9 In short, Agrarianism was not merely an imaginative theoretical postulate offered by Ransom and Tate. To them it was a serious and considered political position; and from this position they advanced a poetic theory. To them, this poetics was quite inseparable from the theoretical and political concerns underlying it. Essentially, their aesthetic theories have three main divisions: the idea of poetry as 'whole knowledge', the idea of poetry as systematic memory, and the belief in a highly formal and difficult poetry.

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