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M.E. Bradford

M.E. Bradford

It is a paradox of our times that close observers of the American literary scene residing beyond our borders receive, from the self-appointed guardians of “high” culture and the life of the mind within this country, so little really useful direction or assistance in identifying what American writing is worthwhile or likely to retain its importance. Most of these mandarins teach in the universities of our Northeastern Megalopolis or in some other way define themselves by the use they make of the language. They owe their status to what they write for the newspapers and magazines of that almost closed society. By and large, they address only one another. Concerning the rest of the Republic, they have only conventional responses proceeding not from reflection but from fear, ignorance, and animosity. That this other America, in all of its antique multiplicity, should foster or possess serious literature is for them a contradiction in terms. Therefore I frequently advise Europeans of my acquaintance that they are mistaken in forming their view of American letters (or, for that matter, any other facet of our cultural life) through the filter of Boston/New York/Washington and their California satellites. To support this injunction I often advert to the confusion of the late Professor Lionel Trilling of Columbia University, a great authority on the modern era, when he brought to bear the myopia and insularity of (in his own words) “a narrow class of New York intellectuals” upon the handiwork of Robert Frost, our most respected twentieth-century poet, and William Faulkner, our finest novelist of the same generation.[1]

Trilling stands out in my mind because some twenty-five years ago I heard him deliver a lecture which, despite his standing among American scholars, convinced me immediately that his vision of the world was too special and small to account for the full spectrum of American literature. He published this address under the title “On the Teaching of Modern Literature.”[2] In it he speaks knowingly of Yeats and Eliot, Joyce and Proust and Kafka, and invokes the examples of Nietzsche, Freud, and Mann. Rebellion, “a bitter lie of hostility to civilization,” Angst and alienation are his themes. Only “patricians” and stupid boys will, in his opinion, dispute the modernist proposition that “art . . . is to liberate the individual from the tyranny of his culture.”[3] A few years earlier (1959) he had ventilated the same assumptions in his celebrated speech on the occasion of Robert Frost’s eighty-fifth birthday-a performance in which he abstracted from the verse of his subject all that was “rural” or hostile “to the lie of the city,” full of “old virtues, simplicities, pieties and ways of feeling,” gathered in an “image of the old America,” leaving us what Trilling called “my Frost”: a writer “full of bitter modern astonishment at the nature of human life.”[4]

Trilling and his associates in the Morningside Heights circle or with the Partisan Review had also by 1962 (the year of the novelist’s death) begun to manipulate the public perception of William Faulkner by attributing to his work meanings not implicit there. In the thirties and forties some of the same advanced spirits did all they could to delay (or prevent) recognition of the Mississippian’s artistic achievements. As an illustration of this activity, I mention only the criticism of Irving Howe, Norman Podhoretz, and Alfred Win. But there was much more of the same ilk, and worse. Even after devastating correction of its wrongheaded and provincial character by such authorities as Cleanth Brooks and Michael Millgate, it continues to appear.[5] As with Trilling on Frost, the cause of confusion in all of this commentary is the determination to discover the modernist alienated artist, one of the “brothers of Icarus,” a counterpart of Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, where none exists.

Yet it is not surprising that in a milieu created by Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, created by Pound, the French Symbolists, Gide and Hegel, Nietzsche and Freud, that the exegetical habitus of which Trilling is symptomatic should have no way of recognizing artistic activity which does not fit its calculus. For that practice and frame of mind have shaped the dominant aesthetic tradition of our time, have (until very recently) faced little in the way of intellectually serious theoretical challenge, and could be illustrated and instanced from the words of gifted critics working in the contexts of Western cultures a long way from New York. I think immediately of Frank Kermode and Erich Heller. It would not be difficult to expand the list. For these causes (and by reason of this ambiance) I must admit that it is not only Europeans who are in danger of misconceiving the best American writing of this century. They are not alone in bringing to these texts cultural expectations such as those which warp the gloss and Modern Age explication of the metropolitan cognoscenti. It is only that these literati are somewhat more concentrated in their part of the United States than in the rest of the civilized world which requires me to connect them with a place.

Indeed, even my own students (few of whom are from New York) find it difficult to describe an artist who derives his creative impetus from being rooted inside the Gemeinschafi-as a full member of a society that sustains his identity as a man and writer. And when, as they read their own national literature, their cultural assumptions as to what is possible do not fit artistic facts, they experience a shock to their system and their taste. With surprise they are opened to the thought of an alternate model of the poet: as vates or memory keeper, craftsman and vessel of prescription; as bard or scop who in the operations of his imagination assumes the fundamental legitimacy of his society.

Using the careers of Robert Frost and William Faulkner, with James Joyce set over against them as foil and archetypal modern, I will attempt to replicate the ground for this insight of awakening, to construct a corrective overlay, a better-colored glass through which to read their characteristic work, and to foster with it a notion of American complexity, of the variety of cultures operating within the total pattern of our national life, which may help to enrich and clarify our view of recent literary history.

The idea of the artist as one who transcends his inherited culture by power of intellect and will to belong to an invisible (and international) “republic of letters” is as old as the Renaissance or Die Aufklarung. Disinterested rationality and skill in discourse were the preconditions for membership in this select company. Later this civil dream was rejected by a more turbulent aristoi of sensibility, a group of enthusiastic souls who have troubled all Christendom with the superiority of their insights since Thomas Gray first wandered in his country churchyard and Werther’s Charlotte murmured “Klopstock” while the lovers listened in rapture to the rumbling of distant thunder. However egalitarian their official politics, they knew themselves to belong to a higher human order, a visionary class of Ubermenschen ready “to follow where airy voices lead,” above the laws that bind mere ordinary men and women. Finally, late in the nineteenth century the pattern was extended with the rise of aestheticism. At this point we may invoke the spirit of Matthew Arnold, Professor Trilling’s hero, who once proposed that great literature might some day (in its social role) replace the sacred texts of organized religion. Modernism begins with such pretensions. Summarizing the relation between ethics and modernist aesthetic theory, Trilling speaks of the “experience of art projected into the actuality and totality of life as the ideal form of the moral life,” which in turn is reflected in the language of Joyce’s hero when he aspires to “form in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”[6] The momentum from all of this self-congratulation and intellectual pride gathered behind the Irish master’s alter-ego when he prayed to Daedalus (an equivalent of Faust), “Old Father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.”[7]

No conception of the origin and function of poetry could be more remote from that which operates in Joyce’s Portrait than the hard pastoral, elegiac aesthetic of Robert Frost.[8] In language directly recalling Stephen’s denial of home, fatherland, and church, Frost wrote to a friend, “Freedom for taste and intellect?. . . . Freedom from every prejudice in favor of state, home, church, morality, etc . . . ? I am too much a creature of prejudice to . . . listen to such stuff . . . I’d no more set out in pursuit of the truth than I would in pursuit of a living unless mounted on my prejudices.”[9] Elsewhere Frost announces that “very few people that leave the good old folkways can keep from getting all mixed up in the mind.”[10] These words reflect not just Frost’s conscious convictions, but his entire temperament. He was a man of the prescription.

Frost’s career as a poet begins when, after a visit to England, where he sought to gain perspective on his craft, he turned back to the place of his ancestors to find his muse-not to London, Paris, or New York, or the deracinated life of urban intellectuals. North of Boston is the aggressive title of his first major book. Much of it was written in England. For, in the poet’s own words, “I never saw New England as clearly as when I was in old England.”[11] Early on Frost had admired Shelley and thought himself a freethinker. (Faulkner passed through a similar “poetic” phase and preserved it in affectionate memory in his story “Carcassonne.”[12]) But by 1915 Frost had renounced the poetry of Utopia (which he equated with hell), of “running after super-wisdom” and escape in “huge gobs of sincerity.”[13] His post of observation, speaking out of (but not simply to) New Hampshire, would be that of the sage, offering in his quiet sayings and narratives “a momentary stay against confusion.” That it was a conscious choice of posture he specified, saying, “My dream would be to get the thing started in London and then do the rest of it from a farm in New England where I would live cheap and get Yankier and Yankier.”[14] In this plan he succeeded rather well.

John F. Lynen in his fine book The Pastoral Art of Robert Frost observes that “the speaking voice in Frost’s lyrics is certainly that of a particular person, but this person is also the spokesman of a community.”[15] His pastoral is “concerned more with the rural way of life than with its scenery, more with the sense of values shared by a local society than with the intuitions of a single mind.”[16] It is hard pastoral because it involves a testing and toughening through transactions with nature. Frost writes, “I make a virtue of my suffering.”[17] The individual in society, men who “work together.. . . / Whether they work together or apart,” is a constant theme in Frost’s verse. And his manner is suited to his matter: either understated and gnomic, like the riddle and wisdom poetry of the Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon; or discursive and conversational, combining the strategies of Horace with something of the tone of Wordsworth.

Deservedly one of the most famous of Frost’s lyrics is “Birches,” a poem which grows directly out of his life on a New Hampshire farm, one whose central image counters directly the motif of total transcendence or liberation so important in modernist literature. Frost begins with meticulous description and then eases almost imperceptibly into metaphor. The bending of birches makes him recall the games played with them by country lads and the great bending that occurs with ice storms. He remembers his own delight in “kicking his way down through the air” and compares the beauty of these trees to that of girls with their hair thrown before them as they kneel to dry it in the sun. Then comes the turn which we learn to expect in Frost’s work:

So was I once myself a swinger of birches

And so I dream of going back to be.

… … … … …

I’d like to get away from earth awhile

And then come back to it and begin over.

May no fate willfully misunderstand me

And half-grant what I wish and snatch me

away

Not to return. Earth’s the right place for

love:

I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.

I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,

And climb black branches up a snow white

trunk

Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no

more,

But dipped its top and set me down again.

That would be good both going and coming

back.

One could do worse than be a swinger of

birches.[18]

For Robert Frost such guarded epiphanies are more than enough. Poetry provides them. But when this poet swings up, he always swings back down-to the place where he began. Refreshment through a moment of exultation is naturally a gift of pastoral. But the transcendence is defined in relation to the ordinary business of man’s life. The anxiety about sailing too high toward an arrival that would exclude the possibility of return to the world of promises and human connections is characteristic of Frost at his best.

The advantages of not expecting to swing too high, of resignation to the gravitational pull of a given reality which confines our will, and of preparation through rehearsal and ritual for our commerce with the ineluctable things are, of course, a major part of the burden of the elegiac lyric. Frost said often (in reaction to the kind of poetry that assumes an infinitely malleable world, one that can be “fixed”) that his verse concerned “grief, not grievance.” For its matter he chose “woes that nothing can be done for.”[19]

In this vein of understatement in the face of difficulty, he writes in “Acceptance”: “Let the night be too dark for me to see /Into the future. Let what will be, be.” And in the same spirit, in “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” the poet says:

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.[20]

His longer pastorals are in the discursive mode and are manifestations of his development from farmer/teacher/elegiac poet into national sage. That wisdom should belong to the world of small towns and independent freeholders is part of the original American proposition-Jeffersonian. And like his Southern contemporary, the “sole owner and proprietor” of Yoknapatawpha County, Frost was a Jeffersonian Democrat, an advocate of state’s rights, minimal government, and agrarian independence-part of the Old Republic whose lineaments are still visible in back-country places such as Derry, New Hampshire, and Oxford, Mississippi.

“New Hampshire” and “Build Soil-A Political Pastoral” explicitly reject (and make sport at the expense of) the cosmopolitan culture of the great cities of the Northeast. “New Hampshire,” shaped on the example of the second and third epodes of Horace, begins with representative figures from three other states (or ways of life) and, with almost garrulous informality, brings Frost to speak of his state, his own place there, and the relation of setting to performance in his own career. The theme of the poem emerges at that point: New Hampshire as “the mean and sure estate” where life “goes so unterribly.” That its citizens are not the lofty radical souls Emerson wished them to be, determined to change the world, is altogether pleasing to this poet. The vast social experiment under way in the Soviet Union proves what happens to a writer living under the authority of abstract ideals. There, in Frost’s phrase, “it’s Pollyanna now or death.”[21] Higher mountains, on the other hand, or a greater propensity to mischief among his neighbors would be good for the poet, would help him to put human nature in its place-though not too many New Hampshire folk require such correction, understanding as they do man’s “middle” condition. Then suddenly Frost comes to his point:

Lately in conversation with a New York

alec

About the new school of the pseudo-phallic

I found myself in a close corner where

I had to make an almost funny choice.

“Choose you which you will be-a prude

or puke,

Mewling and puking in the public arms.”

“Me for the hills where I don’t have to

choose.”[22]

A prude in this antithesis is one afraid of nature. A puke glorifies it, as in modern naturalistic fiction, with words-joins nature with words, and takes it over. To this false dilemma, Frost responds as did Faulkner. Neither total surrender nor outright total aggression will be Frost’s way-neither pride nor humility:

Well, if I have to choose one or the other,

I choose to be a plain New Hampshire

farmer.

Though we may not recognize them as such, these lines are as much a statement concerning poetry as a comment on political economy. This poet’s persona will situate himself north of Boston, because his language and his vision of the world derive from that context.[23]

“Build Soil-A Political Pastoral” is more directly political than “New Hampshire.”[24] In imitating Virgil’s first eclogue, Frost moralized his song. Using characters from his source, Melliboeus, a young farmer, and Tityrus, an older pastoral poet, Frost delivers a manifesto of regional self-reliance-a public poem for reading at that citadel of modernity, Harvard College. Here again Frost asserts that subsistence farming is the essentially human enterprise, and speculative politics (especially socialism) its enemy. Farmers may work “together” and “alone,” be both neighborly and ruggedly individualistic. Yet still he writes pastoral. For the survival of the yeoman farmer is important to Frost’s imagination. As he told a reporter in the year before he wrote this poem, “Poetry is more often of the country than the city. Poetry is very rural-rustic. It stands as a reminder of rural life-as a resource-as a recourse.’’[25] Frost would see his small farms in the hands of people who have a more than commercial reason for preserving their situation-holding on to the land in self-reliance: in a symbiosis almost religious in its implications.

“Build Soil-A Political Pastoral” helps us to understand the relation of Frost’s pastorals to his famous anthem, “The Gift Outright”:

The land was ours before we were the

land’s.

She was our land more than a hundred

years

Before we were her people. She was ours

In Massachusetts, in Virginia,

But we were England‘s, still colonials,

Possessing what we still were

unpossessed by,

Possessed by what we now no more

possessed.

Something we were withholding made us

weak

Until we found out that it was ourselves

We were withholding from our land of

living,

And forthwith found salvation in

surrender.

Such as we were we gave ourselves

outright

(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)

To the land vaguely realizing westward,

But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,

Such as she was, such as she would

become.[26]

The tug of these lines goes in the opposite direction from the Daedalian image with which Joyce’s Portrait concludes. But the distance between the mature work of William Faulkner and the modernist model may be even greater. The Faulkner of The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom! is, of course, a master of the modernist technique. In these novels the action occurs within a consciousness, which is itself the subject. (We should recall here the incident of the young Faulkner in Paris, staring in silence across the room at Joyce.)

But before Faulkner published The Unvanquished (1938), modernity was more often the subject of his work than its doctrine. Indeed, much of his early fiction is an exposé of modernist attitudes toward rebellion, gnosis, solipsism, and self-realization. Dilsey, the black mammy who is the most self-effacing, religious, and traditional character in The Sound and the Fury, is the normative center of that fiction. Quentin Compson, the protagonist/narrator in Absalom, Absalom! is a young man undone by his inability to follow the (for him) commanding example of Henry Sutpen-whose story he recovers-as brother, son, and heir. Quentin is a foil to the tireless will and vast design of the Promethean Thomas Sutpen, Henry‘s father. Pathos is the effect of Quentin’s action, and tragedy that of his formal antagonist. Addie Bundren, the center of consciousness in As I Lay Dying, identifies with “the wild geese going north and their honking coming faint and high and wild out of the wild darkness.”[27] She is in contrast with the near passivity or stasis of the rest of her family. Other Faulkner novels from the same period-Hags in the Dust, Sanctuary, Light in August-also depict a social reality that is hollow at its core, a vacuum where no enduring figure, balancing pride and humility, holds the social fabric together at its center. Faulkner’s vision of a Mississippi fallen on evil days presupposes a much more patriarchal, hierarchically structured society than Frost’s New Hampshire. Yet even the tortured work of his first decade resembles that of the New England poet in at least one respect: there is no brief for modernism, for a new and private perception of the good, in any of this material.

After 1938 the mature Faulkner rejects the style of modernist fiction, with its emphasis on subjective truth, as much as he does its point of view and thematic preoccupations.[28] The action in most of Faulkner’s post-1938 fiction, once the overvoice as spokesman for corporate concerns begins to function in its unfolding, is the passing through time, between generations, of the values of stewardship and social responsibility to the inheritors of proprietary authority. Sometimes, as in the case of Ike McCaslin in Go Down, Moses, the transmission goes awry, is diverted from its course by overreaction to previous offenses committed against its standard-or by an excessive enthusiasm for an uncircumstanced freedom in “the communal anonymity of brotherhood”: the kind of freedom learned in the company of woodsmen. Sometimes it is blunted or broken off by the unwillingness of well-born young men and women to live up to the obligations of their place in the world-because of a failure of nerve disguised in the empty rhetoric of liberation. Such is almost the case in Intruder in the Dust, Requiem for a Nun, and The Mansion. But the impetus of these fables is back toward the given world of tribe and nation, not outward toward transcendence of origins.

Professor Trilling in The Liberal Imagination writes that the situation of the modern world made Faulkner know the “wrongness of the very tradition he loves.”[29] This is an illustration of Orwellian “goodthink”-and a very mistaken judgment of the case. When asking how modern Faulkner was, we should also ask if any serious critic could imagine a Joyce novel which begins with “Grandfather said (The Reivers); or one that ends (like The Reivers) with an unironic discussion of the conduct expected of a gentleman. A county attorney, a man of the law like Gavin Stevens, is also an unlikely hero for the author of the Portrait. But it is with The Unvanquished that Faulkner becomes vates, the artist who has submitted his imagination to the inherited corporate spirit of his people as personified in the Sartoris family. These gentlefolk are, collectively, the protagonist in that novel and are saluted in its title as having survived enemies within and without during the War Between the States. The code of the planter class is given a positive treatment in most of Faulkner’s later works-as if he meant them to be for subsequent generations a kind of conduct literature, as in Castiglione’s Courtier. It is that social tradition which, from within the structure of the books, judges the events depicted in the Snopes trilogy, Knight’s Gambit, and Intruder in the Dust. And that tradition is explicitly revived in the high comic coda to the Yoknapatawpha series, The Reivers.

An argument could be made that Faulkner is sometimes closer to the ethos of Balzac, Thackeray and Sir Walter Scott than to James Joyce. Even in the debate over race relations in the United States, Faulkner searched within the tradition for a way of revising it. It is himself that he represents in that passage in The Town where on a hill above his mythical kingdom Gavin Stevens speaks of how “looking back and down, you see all Yoknapatawpha in the dying last of day beneath you” and “stand suzerain and solitary above the whole sum of your life.”[30] And he put even more of his own experience into the texture and urgency of his language when he wrote:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on the July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armstead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time. . . . [31]

So much for Professor Trilling on Faulkner.

Yet the link between the New Hampshire poet and the Mississippi novelist has a positive side that goes beyond a taste for archaic forms, beyond regional loyalties and hostility to modernist aberrations. For Faulkner also wrote hard pastoral-in memory of the nation’s frontier past. Like Frost, he called himself a farmer. Like Frost, he was an antirationalist and refused to be identified with intellectuals. His farmer/hunters are his finest characters. In Go Down, Moses the process by which they are instructed (the ritual of the hunt) is detailed but then undercut by sentimentality, moral trauma, and muddled theology in the life of Ike McCaslin. But with “Race at Morning,” Faulkner indicates what it is that Ike McCaslii misread from his education in “The Bear.”[32] In a conversation between Mr. Ernest, a yeoman farmer who is the central character, and his foster son, an abandoned twelve-year-old whom the gruff widower found forted up in his sharecropper’s house and took up behind him on his horse, the burden of the story unfolds. They have been two weeks in the Big Bottom, a place of communion with the ground of all being, with a Deity who “broods” and “watches,” a place where God himself would “have wanted to live . . . if He had been a man-the ground to walk on, the big woods, the trees and water and the game to live in it.”[33] While in the forest, boy and man have pursued a stag which they finally bring to bay and then decline to kill. At this point the youthful narrator announces part of the meaning of this annual retreat to the hunting Camp: that “the hunting and the farming wasn’t two different things at all-they was jest the other side of each other.’[34] Retreat and self-renewal lift the heart, confirm the dignity and value of lie, and help the hunters to keep their promises in those social situations where men depend on one another and work is to be done. But the farm leads to the forest, just as the forest leads to the farm-as in Professor Northrop Frye’s definition of pastoral qua archetypal action.[35]

Then Mr. Ernest expands this version of pastoral. What the hunters absorb during their retreat as it feeds into the other fifty weeks of their year must be rendered in discursive language and shared with other men. To that end the boy must go to school and then share his consciousness of pride and humility with his neighbors- “tell the folks that never had no chance to learn it; teach them how to do what’s right, not just because they know it’s right, but because they know now why it’s right because you just showed them, told them, taught them why.”[36] Which is precisely what Faulkner accomplishes in “Race at Morning,” taking his transcendence back to earth-to serve family, state, and moral system.

So there is a great variety of American literature, some of it, as Europeans must recognize, reflecting views of the social role of the poet as old as the classical world, some of it implying the characteristic poetics of our early Republic, the United States before 1860, in which the writer was neither Promethean nor escapist but at peace with the fixed or providential and the inherited qualities of his condition. To find this literature on its own terms, we should not seek directions from philosophes or aesthetes who see in art an “alternate reality.” But to identify it in the works of Frost and Faulkner is to locate part of what remains of the essential America, not visible in homogenizing goals or in the latest literary fashion from New York. That labor is worth one’s while.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreReprinted with the gracious permission of Modern Age (Summer/Fall 1986). 

More poetry by Robert Frost:

The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged, by Robert Frost

Notes:

1. Lionel Trilling, Beyond Culture (New York, 1968), p. ix.

2. Ibid., pp. 3-30; originally published in Partisan Review for January-February, 1961; delivered as an April 1960 address at Vanderbilt University.

3. Beyond Culture, p. xiii.

4. “Speech on Robert Frost: A Cultural Episode,” Partisan Review 26 (Summer 1959), 445- 52.

5. For a sample of Howe I suggest William Faulkner A Critical Study (New York, 1952); for Podhoretz, the Faulkner essays in Doings and Undoings: The Fifties and After in American Writing (New York, 1964), pp. 13-30 and for Kazin, On Native Grounds (New York, 1942), pp. 453-70 or “In the Shadow of the South’s Last Stand,“ New York Herald Tribune Books, February 20, 1938, p. 5. Podhoretz (p. 15) declares “I cannot discover a genuine sense of history in the Yoknapatawpha series.”

A persistence in the New York view of Faulkner is indicated by such works as Myra Jehlen’s Class and Character in Faulkner’s South (New York, 1976) and Edmond L. Volpe’s A Reader’s Guide to William Faulkner (New York, 1964).

The basic correction for this literary provincialism is contained in Cleanth Brooks’s William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (New Haven, 1963) and in Michael Millgate’s The Achievement of William Faulkner (New York, 1968).

6. Lionel Trilling, The Opposing Self (New York, 1955), p. xiv.

7. I quote here from the conclusion of Joyce’s Portrait. A corrective to the modern reading of Joyce’s masterpiece appears in Thomas H. Landess’s “James Joyce and Aesthetic Gnosticism,” Modern Age 23 (Spring 1979), 145-53. Joyce’s language on spiritual revolution recalls a passage in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Literary and Philosophical Essays (New York, 1955), trans. Annette Michelson, p. 252, where that savant observes that “revolutionary philosophy should be a philosophy of transcendence.”

8. A good discussion of Robert Frost’s submissive imagination appears on pp. 28-49 of Richard Poirier’s Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing (New York, 1977).

9. Lawrance Thompson, Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph, 1915-1938 (New York, 1970), p. 121.

10. Ibid., p. 351. These words reflect not just Frost’s convictions but his entire temperament.

11. John C. Kemp, Robert Frost and New England (Princeton, 1979), p. 94.

12. William Faulkner, “Carcassonne,” pp. 895-900 of Collected Stories (New York, 1950). See for discussion my ‘”The Knight and the Artist: Tasso and Faulkner’s ‘Carcassonne,’ ” South Central Bulletin 41 winter 1981), 88-90.

13. Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph 1915-1938, pp. 349, 387.

14. Lawrance Thompson, Robert Frost: The Early Years, 1874-1915 (New York, 1966), p. 476.

I5. John F. Lynen, The Pastoral Art of Robert Frost (New Haven, 1960), p. 61.

I6. Ibid.

l7. Quoted from “New Hampshire” in The Poetry of Robert Frost (New York, 1969), ed. Edward C. Luthen, p. 166.

18. Ibid., pp. 121- 22.

19. Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph, 1915-1938, p. 452.

20. The Poetry of Robert Frost, p. 222; the line from “Acceptance” appears on page 249.

21. Ibid., p. 168. The entire poem is printed on pp. 158-72. Frost attacked the tendency away from a society of self-made men-as he proudly considered himself- toward the welfare state, that he thought was the legacy of the New Deal. See Lawrance Thompson and R. H. Winnick, Robert Frost: The Later Years, 1938-1963 (New York 1976), pp. xvi-xvii.

22. The Poetry of Robert Frost, p. 170.

23. In Robert Frost: The Later Years, 1938-1963, p. 23, we find evidence that Frost thought long and hard about the social role of the poet. For he decided early that “his hope must be that his work will prove to have fitted into the nature of people. . . not into the nature of the Universe, but in some small way, at least into the nature of Americans.” See also his letter to Senator Robert Taft on p. 186 of the same volume.

24. The Poetry of Robert Frost, pp. 316-25.

25. Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph, 1915-1938, p. 431.

26. The Poetry of Robert Frost, p. 348.

27. William Faulkner As I Lay Dying (New York, 1957), p. 162.

28. On the aesthetic of Faulkner’s early fiction see Lewis Simpson, “Faulkner and the Legend of the Artist,” pp. 69-100 of Faulkner: Fifty Years After the Marble Faun (University, Ala., 1976), ed. George H. Wolfe. I disagree with Professor Simpson about the implicit poetics of Faulkner’s later fiction. For after The Unuanquished Faulkner, for the most part, put aside the drama of consciousness and often spoke as vates.

29. Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (New York, 1954) p. 283. A telling instance of Trilling’s myopia in reading Faulkner appears in his commentary on Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” as published in his textbook The Experience of Literature (New York, 1967), pp. 745-48.

30. The Town (New York, 1957), pp. 315-18.

31. Intruder in the Dust (New York, 1948), pp. 1194-95. The ironic distance between this language and the author is slight, as is obvious in its texture.

32. See William Faulkner, The Big Woods (New York, 1955), pp. 175-98.

33. Ibid., p. 205.

34. Ibid., p. 195.

35. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, 1957), pp. 182-85.

36. The Big Woods, p. 196; for commentary on this story see my essay “The Winding Horn: Hunting and the Making of Man in Faulkner’s ‘Race at Morning,’” Papers on English Language and Literature I (Summer 1965), 272-78. 282 Summer/Fall 1986.

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2 replies to this post
  1. One of Mel’s very best. He brings together the Confederate and the Yankee in a way that transcends region and time and yet remains rooted in home. One cannot read much Bradford without snickering a little at the pretensions of our chattering classes.

  2. I look forward to giving this article the attention it clearly deserves….Bradford was a national treasure.

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