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June 21 , 2011

Lucifer in Harness: American Meter, Metaphor, and Diction


For nearly two hundred years the rebellious American poet has been reluctantly harnessed to the English language and literary tradition. In a triptych of essays, Edwin Fussell attempts "to explore the fundamental dilemma of American poetry as it appears in the three crucial fields of meter, metaphor, and poetic diction, the three crucial fields of American poetry (taken as a whole) most studiously avoided by American scholars, but not, as I intend to show, by American poets."

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Writing in a provocative critical style attuned to the poets he discusses, Edwin Fussell explores the dilemma of the American poet who wants to write a distinctly "American" poetry but must do so in a language imbued with the sensibility of English poetry and culture. Because these are different from and sometimes antithetical to American cultural ideals and commitments, the harness chafes. The emphasis is on those poets who have successfully created a truly American poetry—Poe, Whitman, Pound, Eliot, and Williams—but the author also discusses Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Emerson, Bryant, Lowell, and Frost, among others.

Originally published in 1973.

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