Monday, November 15, 2010

Harold Bloom's "Till I End My Song"

Harold Bloom is a professor at Yale, a former professor Harvard, the author of more than 30 books ranging from The Best Poems of the English Language to Kabbalah and Criticism and the recipient of numerous literary prizes and recognitions. He is also 79, and that fact more than any other is what lies behind Till I End My Song: A Gathering of Last Poems.

In this volume, Bloom has selected deceased poets covering six centuries, beginning with Edmund Spencer in the Elizabethan period and ending with Agha Shahid Ali in the 21st century. And then he’s chosen either the last poem they wrote or a poem that could be recognized as a kind of final poem.

The selected poems could easily do double duty – both a requiem as well as an introduction to each of the poets, all of whom have written in English and generally represent the United Kingdom, Ireland or the United States. Bloom also includes poets who clearly represent the canon of English-language poetry – he’s not into political correctness and so you won’t find obscure writers who make it into the volume because they represented a particular class or category.

That said, Bloom does seem to go out of his way to point out which poets were homosexual and which were generally anti-Christian (Bloom appears to be an atheist himself and not terribly fond of Christianity). As the volume progresses, the emphasis on these two areas at times distracts from the poets and poems being featured. (Bloom’s anti-Christian sentiment does not prevent him from recognizing such poets as John Donne (“A Hymn to God the Father”), Samuel Johnson (“On the Death of Dr. Robert Levet”), William Blake (“To the Accuser Who Is the God of this World”), T.S. Eliot (from “Little Gidding”) and others.

The two sub-themes aside, there is some wonderful poetry included here, and they demonstrate not only the extraordinary poetry written in the English language but also Bloom’s understanding of that poetry and his depth of scholarship. All the “names” are here – from Spencer and Shakespeare through Longfellow and Emerson to Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens and Robert Penn Warren. The more contemporary poets are not neglected either, and there are many poignant moments when Bloom recounts the loss of close friends.

Till I End My Song allowed me to rediscover poets I had not read in years and meet poets whom I’ve never read. And for both of those things Harold Bloom is to be thanked. This book stands as essentially his own book of poetry, and his own final poem.

(Attention Federal Trade Commission: No one gave me this book to review; I went into a Border’s Bookstore in suburban St. Louis to buy a gift for a friend and saw the book featured prominently on the “New and Notable” table. So I bought it.)


Louise Gallagher said...

Ohh, this sounds intriquing. I can't wait to add it to my reading pile!

Think I'll start a Winter's Reading pile -- what do read in the cold dark nights of winter.

Anonymous said...

really interesting bood review.

i like to hear of your trips to the book stores. it sounds as if you always find something of interest.

as for the book on review...i would like to say that i really like the front cover design.

Maureen said...

In an interview at Publishers Weekly, Bloom says of his book, "Poetry can be a kind of final consolation. We hope to learn from the poets how to stand against uncertainty...." I love that.