Criticism | December 01, 1980

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Believing Too Much in Words:

W.S. Merwin and the Whitman Heritage


One of the continuing concerns of postmodern American poetry is the questioning of the anthropocentric values of traditional Western humanism.  This questioning has particular import in the context of American literary history, for the first great flowering of our literature was nourished by transcendentalism, with its radical claims for the power and value of the human.  While most of today’s poets find these claims suspect, W.S. Merwin is particularly critical of them.  Merwin believes that the most significant legacy of Emerson and Whitman is a mistaken and destructive pride in ourselves and our prerogatives, our speech and its powers.

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