American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Posts Tagged ‘Urabi

Dickinson, Longfellow, and Arab Nationalism

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(part one of an essay; part two here; part three is here)

Tewfik Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan

Khedive Tewfiq, 1883

There are holes in time, call them events, around which a poet’s words leave the most intriguing traces. Not powder burns or blood spatter, but smudges, odors, rubble; signs that somebody lingered where others pass quickly. Events, of course, take many shapes, and some indeed are wounds. But the holes I have in mind are peepholes, or entranceways; moments of understanding set at a distance from the thing understood.  And yes, I know that this metaphor is faulty. But how else evoke the special character of moments when a castoff sentence draws our attention, leading us to see what is always there anyway: history. And the closer we look, the farther we see.

Call the above a hypothesis; I’m not sure it is really workable as a model of understanding. Holes of time rimmed with language quickly enough become holes of language rimmed by time. The reversibility is beffudling; the fact that texts can be “in,” “of,” and “about” history, all at the same time, makes nonsense of all prepositional knowledge. And knowledge of history is indeed prepositional: it establishes direction, articulates relationships, arranges an order. Where is poetry, or a poet’s language, in all this?

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Written by Ben Friedlander

January 19, 2009 at 5:33 am