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The All-Sustaining AirRomantic Legacies and Renewals in British, American, and Irish Poetry since 1900$
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Michael O'Neill

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199299287

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199299287.001.0001

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‘The All‐Sustaining Air’: Variations on a Romantic Metaphor

‘The All‐Sustaining Air’: Variations on a Romantic Metaphor

(p.15) 1 ‘The All‐Sustaining Air’: Variations on a Romantic Metaphor
The All-Sustaining Air

Michael O'Neill (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

The chapter explores the ways in which a metaphor central to Romanticism, that of ‘air’, reappears in the work of 20th-century poets. The metaphor is suggestive because of its multi-faceted associations. In Hart Crane's ‘The Broken Tower’, the poet is said to allegorise the Romantic tradition as the ‘tribunal monarch of the air’: awe-inspiring but, in the end, not inhibiting Crane's own inspiration. Shelley rhymes ‘air’ with ‘despair’, as if to keep in view the proximity of inspiration and dejection, and subsequent writers such as Wallace Stevens have a comparably double understanding of what Stevens calls ‘the mere air’. For Stevens, who is central to the chapter, the ‘air’ represents a poetic present both different from and imbued by the Romantic. Other post-Romantic poets whose work is discussed include Yeats (responding to Shelley and Wordsworth), Elizabeth Bishop (responding especially to Blake, Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Hemans), Adrienne Rich (responding to Blake and Wordsworth), and Sylvia Plath (responding to Coleridge). All are seen as sustaining even as they qualify and even interrogate Romanticism.

Keywords:   post-Romantic, air, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Yeats, Elizabeth Bishop, Rich, Sylvia Plath

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