Sunday, February 1, 2009

On Originality in Poetry

From John Berryman's essay, "The Poetry of Ezra Pound":

"All the ambitious poetry of the last six hundred years is much less "original" than any but a few of its readers ever realize. A staggering quantity of it has direct sources, even verbal sources, in other poetry, history, philosophy, theology, prose of all kinds. Even the word "original" in this sense we find first in Dryden, and the sense was not normalized till the midcentury following."


" "The old playwrights took old subjects," remarks [Yeats] .... "They were absorbed in expression, that is to say in what is most near and delicate." .... but our literary criticism, if at its best it knows all this well enough, even at its best is inclined to forget it and to act as if originality were not regularly a matter of degree in works where it is worth assessing at all. A difficulty is that modern critics spend much of their time in the perusal of writing that really is more or less original, and negligible."



(italics in the original, if you'll pardon the pun)

The more things change, the more ....

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