The long poem arrived in North America carrying a heavy weight of associations. The august lineage that passes from Homer through Virgil and Dante to Milton and Wordsworth has meant that whenever an American poet has chosen the long poem form, that choice has had cultural and even political implications. Already for the Greeks, “epic” implied not simply a long narrative poem but a poem that defined the identity of a people. According to legend, Alexander the Great carried a copy of the Iliad with him on his expeditions of conquest, as a symbol of the Greek culture that he was spreading from Egypt to India. In the first century
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