Affirming limits: essays on mortality, choice, and poetic by Robert Pack

By Robert Pack

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It is this composite self from which poems should be born. Keats expresses the same idea in his letter to Richard Woodhouse, October 27, 1818: As to the poetical character itself . . it is not itselfit has no selfit is everything and nothingIt has no characterit enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevatedIt has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher, delights the camelion poet. . A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence; because he has no Identityhe is continually filling some other body.

And probably even our many selves are felt to be insufficient, for the space of empty nothing cannot be filled, and our desire for life and yet more life, is infinite. " Nothing himself, the poet must seek to project himself into lives other than his own. " Thus the poet becomes himself in the re-creation of himself as other, as someone else. " Out of his fear, out of his sense of incompleteness and limitation, the poet is able to extend himself into new, imagined identities. And this greater fullness of life, as long as one gives credence to these fictions, drives back the dread of deathwhich is the idea of nothingnessso that one can catch one's breath in a moment that feels replete with life.

Page viii For the convenience of my readers, I have included within my own text the poems that are being discussedwhen they are relatively short. It is assumed that the reader will have access to such longer works as King Lear, Paradise Lost, and The Prelude even in a time in America of the dominance of television and popular culture. I trust that this always will be so. I wish to record my gratitude to Harold Bloom, John Elder, Paul Mariani, Gary Margolis, John Bertolini, Syd Lea, and Jay Parinifor their insights which have helped me test my own, for their detailed editorial suggestions, and, especially, for their friendship.

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