Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill

Author(s): Helen Vendler

Writing, Language & Reference

In Last Looks, Last Books, the eminent critic Helen Vendler examines the ways in which five great modern American poets, writing their final books, try to find a style that does justice to life and death alike. With traditional religious consolations no longer available to them, these poets must invent new ways to express the crisis of death, as well as the paradoxical coexistence of a declining body and an undiminished consciousness. In The Rock, Wallace Stevens writes simultaneous narratives of winter and spring; in Ariel, Sylvia Plath sustains melodrama in cool formality; and in Day by Day Robert Lowell subtracts from plenitude. In Geography III, Elizabeth Bishop is both caught and freed, while James Merrill, in A Scattering of Salts, creates a series of self-portraits as he dies, representing himself by such things as a Christmas tree, human tissue on a laboratory slide, and the evening/morning star. The solution for one poet will not serve for another; each must invent a bridge from an old style to a new one. Casting a last look at life as they contemplate death, these modern writers enrich the resources of lyric poetry.


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Helen Vendler is one of the most lucid and incisive critics with which the art of poetry has been blessed, and this is one of her finest books--brilliant, moving, and a pleasure to read. -- James Longenbach, University of Rochester This is an elegant, expressive, and often very poignant book. One can only admire Helen Vendler's skill in showing how these American poets confronted their own leave-taking. -- Angus Fletcher, City University of New York

Helen Vendler is the A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University. Her many books include "Invisible Listeners: Lyric Intimacy in Herbert, Whitman, and Ashbery "(Princeton), as well as studies of Shakespeare, Keats, Yeats, Stevens, and Heaney. She is a frequent reviewer for the "New Republic", the "New York Review of Books", and other publications.

Acknowledgments ix Chapter 1: Introduction: Last Looks, Last Books 1 Chapter 2: Looking at the Worst: Wallace Stevens's Th e Rock 25 Chapter 3: Th e Contest of Melodrama and Restraint: Sylvia Plath's Ariel 47 Chapter 4: Images of Subtraction: Robert Lowell's Day by Day 70 Chapter 5: Caught and Freed: Elizabeth Bishop and Geography III 94 Chapter 6: Self-Portraits While Dying: James Merrill and A Scattering of Salts 117 Notes 143

General Fields

  • : 9780691145341
  • : Princeton University Press
  • : March 2010
  • : 216mm X 140mm X 20mm
  • : United States
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Helen Vendler
  • : Hardback
  • : English
  • : 811.509
  • : 176