Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Robert Duncan: Roots and Branches


Roots and Branches, Robert Duncan (1964; New Directions, 1967)

Looking back at my poems a couple years ago, I was astonished at how deeply my own modes & formal conceptions had been shaped by an early reading of Duncan's late work – from Bending the Bow forward, especially the sequence "Passages." Surprising then it's taken me so long to make my way – after many abortive starts, much reading here & there – completely thru Roots and Branches. So much that puts me – reticent, Protestant, skeptical, puritanical (?) – off: the operatic emotionalism, the wide-eyed mysticism, the persistent play with theosophical themes. All of which, to other eyes, could be seen as among the very glories of RD's poetry. I'm still divided, but find it impossible to gainsay the vatic power of the verse, the continual sense of a keen mind striving at questions on the very verge of knowledge, the exquisite modulations of a Romantic lyric voice almost unsurpassed in the 20th century.

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