American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

The Casquet of Literature

with 3 comments

Casquet-title.php I want to write something about Emerson’s poem “The Romany Girl,” which was first published in the first issue of Atlantic Monthly (1857), then in Emerson’s second and last book of poems, May-Day and Other Pieces (1867). The poem was subsequently reprinted in a  variety of contexts, including the British anthology illustrated on the left. The title of that anthology and the title page for the first volume, the one in which “The Romany Girl” appeared, are so suggestive of Emerson’s fate as a poet, that I thought I’d savor the image while preparing my notes on the poem.

Emerson is hardly the only poet buried in literature, but he at least is remembered from time to time, his casket lifted up and admired, for its craftsmanship and sturdiness, perhaps, or out of fondness for the memory of his prose. But what of those poets who were simply tumbled into the earth, buried without even a stone to mark their brief time under the sun? What sort of casket has literature given them?

In asking this question, I’m reminded of the story of McDonald Clarke, the mad poet of Broadway, whose funeral was attended by Lydia Maria Child and Walt Whitman. He died penniless, but friends arranged for his burial in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and raised money for an obelisk, which is still standing today, though none of his works remain in print.

I’d like to write about Clarke too someday.


Written by Ben Friedlander

June 13, 2009 at 4:43 pm

3 Responses

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  1. The phrase “horizon walls” is more than sturdy, but I know what you mean. I remember a poet (teaching at Temple) offended by the phrae “minor poet”.


    June 13, 2009 at 8:01 pm

  2. I shouldn’t be surprised you know that poem, David! Yes, more than sturdy…

    I happen to love minor poets, I mean I’m drawn to them as a category, but then major and minor are measures of readership and influence, not poetic worth. Longfellow was major in his own time and he’s become fairly minor, but either way he’s pretty great. Eliot has to be counted major, but I find him far less rewarding to read than, oh, I don’t know, Laura Riding or Stephen Crane. It’s a wonderful thing when a minor poet is reappraised and becomes major, something that only happens at rare intervals.

    Ben Friedlander

    June 14, 2009 at 9:50 am

  3. Hi Ben,

    Didn’t Eliot announce himself at some point as a minor poet? Like, he knew that when the dust settled on the century and his talent was held up against the Tradition or whatever, he’d be ranked below his greats?

    I had an old “Latin Poets of the Silver Age” once, and have loved that designation for poets ever since. Except it’s not applied to the poets–the whole period’s written off as autumnal and minor. What does a major poet in a minor period write like? Do Whitman and Dickinson get so much shine from all the silvery period foil behind them?

    I heart this blog.

    rodney k.

    June 24, 2009 at 12:23 pm

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