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Marshall Brown

Lyric poems have often been treated as expressions of pure or immediate feeling. “Amaze,” by Adelaide Crapsey, exemplifies the pervasiveness of thought even in a seemingly innocuous trifle. Philosophers and aestheticians have wrestled with the relationship between thought and feeling in poetry. Notable formulations come from Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger, but the most persuasive is from an essay by Herder, “On Knowledge and Sensation in the Human Soul.” The opening of Dante’s Divine Comedy and Mallarmé’s sonnet “Le Cygne” illustrate how poems struggle to confront feelings, with the smallest words—connectives, deictics, pronouns—bearing the burden of capturing the movement of the mind in thought. The apodictic language of de Manian deconstruction misses the subtleties, as do quasi-mystical theories of the power of imagery and New Critical faith in the formalized rhetoric of “the poem itself.” “Loving in truth” are the opening words of Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella; this first sonnet and the entire cycle instantiate poetic discourse as the unending search amid the byways of truth. In a study of Wallace Stevens, Charles Altieri calls the thinking of poetry “aspectual,” and Stevens’s poem “Metaphors of a Magnifico” presents the basic task of poetic cognition through its satire of the magnifico’s failure to think. “Lyric poetry’s exemption from rationalism,” as one new study puts it, is really an exemption from preemptive assertion in the service of exploring and representing the mind’s coursing.