The Daemon Knows, Literary Greatness and the American Sublime by Harold Bloom

Professor of literature at Yale since 1955, author of 40 books of criticism, Harold Bloom is still going strong. Dipping into the 500 pages of this book is like dropping in on the great old man’s graduate seminar. Here he holds court, rambling on and on in fascinating, sophisticated chatter about critics and poets he has known and debated, confessing his love–in just those words–of his pantheon of 19th and early 20th century writers who created an American literary voice.

He confesses his love of Whitman first of all, and of Emerson, Melville, Dickinson and Wallace Stevens. He delights in the first generations of literary artists, the founding fathers (and one mother) of American literature. Add to these five figures the names of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Mark Twain, Robert Frost and William Faulkner, and you have the professor’s Mount Rushmore of American poets and novelists who in their ambition and in their achievement created American literary art to rival England’s.

Two names occupy the very first and very last places in Bloom’s array of giants. T. S. Eliot is the goat of the group. According to Bloom, Eliot abandoned his true greatness and submitted to the authority of the Anglo-Catholic church. Hart Crane is the prince of Bloom’s party, the pinnacle of high American art, rooted in American soil, transcending time and place (not to mention interpretation).

from To Brooklyn Bridge by Hart Crane

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,–

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path–condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City’s fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

 

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