Archive for January, 2011

The American Epic?

Posted in poetry, Stuff I assume other people care about with tags , , , , on 2011/01/21 by jamiejthomas

Questions in search of answers:

The Columbiad, Song of Myself, The Bridge, The Cantos, Paterson . . . many cite these works as American Epics. . . but which of these most lend themselves to actually fitting the Epic mold?


If an Epic is poetry with History (Pound thought that, and why wouldn’t he . . . seems to accurately describe The Cantos) do we have enough History, as a Nation, to qualify?

If, as Joel Barlow wrote in his Preface to The Columbiad, “there are two distinct objects to be kept in view . . . : the poetical object and the moral object. The poetical is the fictitious design of the action; the moral is the real design of the poem” (from Pearce’s The Continuity of Poetry), and if Song of Myself, the Cantos, The Bridge, and Paterson are “plotless epics in which poetical and moral objects are fused; poems in which the working imaginative language itself is managed in such a way that the fictitious and the real design of the poem have become one” then why must we call them Epics? Why all the qualifying language? They seems less “Epic” and more “Cultural road maps.” Song of Myself owes more to The Prelude than it does to The Iliad to be sure.

Do we, as Americans, have an Epic?

Do we need one?

Why do we love to simultaneously embrace and eschew tradition in so many ways?

To make it ours? Or to cover for our newbie traditionless artistic legacy?