Title

Attending to Elysium: Henry David Thoreau, William Bronk, and the continuity of an American poetry

Date of Award

1997

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Advisor(s)

Philip Borer

Keywords

Thoreau, Henry David, Bronk, William

Subject Categories

Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Applied Linguistics | Comparative and Historical Linguistics

Abstract

Attending to Elysium argues that an American poetry has evolved out of the philosophical, socio-political, and aesthetic issues as articulated in Thoreau's writing. Namely, modern and postmodern American poets have been influenced by Thoreau and his claim that a work of art is an act of ethical, social, historical, and literary significance. And the writers in this tradition--from Thoreau to Susan Howe--consider their texts to be addressing directly the very nature of a democratic society and the role of poetry therein. Consequently, I place Henry David Thoreau as one of the chief progenitors of an American poetry alongside Whitman, Emerson, and Dickinson, which argues for a realignment of the twentieth-century American poetry canon and a reconsideration of Thoreau's place within that canon.

As the self-claimed inheritor of the tradition of Thoreau, William Bronk provides the connective tissue that links Thoreau to the other poets in this study. Through my close analysis of Bronk's poetry, The Brother in Elysium, and Bronk's correspondence with other poets in this tradition, I investigate the relation of Thoreau's writings to a range of modern and postmodern poets that includes Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and other modernist writers; George Oppen and the Objectivist poets; Charles Olson and the Black Mountain School of poetry; and contemporary poets such as Susan Howe. Each chapter focuses upon a particular aspect of Thoreau's philosophical and political ideology, which is read against the poetry of Bronk, Oppen, Olson, and Howe in order to bring into greater relief certain issues relevant to each particular poet and Thoreau.

Attending to Elysium investigates a much overlooked literary genealogy. The text takes into consideration historical, theoretical, and aesthetic issues in order to provide the necessary context to understand what is at stake in these particular poets and American poetry in general by explicating the relationship between transcendentalism and what has been perceived as an American "democratic" society. Consequently, these poets share a web of textual, philosophical, and political affinities with one another, and their poetry reveals the degree to which each is part and parcel of that network.

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