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Breaking the Silence

Poetry and the Kenotic Word

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Edited By Malgorzata Grzegorzewska, Jean Ward and Mark Burrows

This book of essays on poetic speech, viewed in a literary-critical, theological and philosophical light, explores the connections and disconnections between vulnerable human words, so often burdened with doubt and pain, and the ultimate kenosis of the divine Word on the Cross. An introductory discussion of language and prayer is followed by reflections linking poetry with religious experience and theology, especially apophatic, and questioning the ability of language to reach out beyond itself. The central section foregrounds the motif of the suffering flesh, while the final section, including essays on seventeenth-century English metaphysical poetry and several of the great poets of the twentieth century, is devoted to the sounds and rhythms which give a poem its own kind of «body».
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“One feels its action moving in the blood”: Arrhythmia as the Art of Reality in Wallace Stevens’s “Esthétique du Mal”

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If a poet aims to affirm the material body as the centre of man’s experience, is it still possible for his poem to illustrate man’s relationship with the divine? I propose that we might try to answer this question by focusing on the theme of “flesh made word” in Wallace Stevens’s poem “Esthétique du Mal”. Informed primarily by Nietzschean philosophy, Stevens’s poem certainly does not affirm the existence of a divine being. However, while Nietzsche’s philosophy would imply that divinity and reality are mutually exclusive, I believe that Stevens suggests one can escape these binaries of metaphysical and physical representation by endowing the poet’s words with the realities of the flesh. The primary goal of this discussion is to demonstrate how Stevens joins his subject’s inner desire for life everlasting with the transient rhythms of his corporal existence through his use of a literary technique that Homi Bhabha calls “the language metaphor” (Location of Culture 176–9). To begin, I shall try to establish the specific Nietzschean themes that Stevens addresses in the poem: most importantly, man’s resentment of his mortal nature, the precariousness of language, and the truthfulness of rhythm. Then, using these themes as the basis for my close reading, I shall show how Stevens uses the rhythm of the human heartbeat, not only to affirm the material world, but also to illustrate man’s persistent desire to find a life beyond this world.

According to Nietzsche, man’s aversion towards time begins with his...

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