Fall 1989 • Vol. XI No. 4 NonfictionOctober 1, 1989 |

The Long Embrace: Philip Levine’s Longer Poems

I hold that a long poem does not exist. I maintain that the phrase, 'a long poem,' is simply a flat contradiction in terms," wrote Edgar Allen Poe in his "The Poetic Principle." For Poe, the essence of poetry is an intense moment that "excites, by elevating the soul," and such moments can only be brief because any intense spiritual or psychological event is always, for Poe, "transient." It is for this reason that he calls Paradise Lost "a series of minor poems" and The Iliad a collection "intended as a series of lyrics" (Poe 24). Now for Poe the poem is a sort of trance, a dream, something beyond language, and this is a view that has been a major force in modern and contemporary poetry from the imagists to the deep image poets and beyond. It is a view that helps explain the fragmented construction of poems like The Cantos, The Bridge, and The Waste Land. However, as the influence of the deep image poems has waned in the last decade or so, there has been a resurgence of the longer po

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