Emerson as Whitman

What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions,
if I live wholly from within?
No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.
Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this;
the only right is what is after my constitution,
the only wrong what is against it.
A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition,
as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he.
I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names,
to large societies and dead institutions.
Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right.
I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways.
If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass?
I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me.
I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim.
I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation.

Emerson as Ginsberg 

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members!

Society is a joint-stock company in which the members agree to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater!

The virtue in most request is conformity!

Self-reliance is its aversion!

It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs!

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist!

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind!

Emerson as Ezra Pound

If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of Abolition, and comes to me with his last news from Barbadoes, why should I not say to him, ‘Go love thy infant; love thy wood-chopper: be good-natured and modest: have that grace; and never varnish your hard, uncharitable ambition with this incredible tenderness for black folk a thousand miles off. Thy love afar is spite at home.’ Rough and graceless would be such greeting, but truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it, — else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company. Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies; — though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

These excerpts from “Whitman,” “Ginsberg,” and “Pound” are from the same page of the same essay: “Self-Reliance.”


  1. thomasbrady said,

    April 13, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    The guy Emerson may do best, however, is Nietzsche…

  2. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 13, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    Only a cynic bent on character assassination could find one word of these passage anything but uplifting. The fact that the words are all in the same passage proves absolutely nothing other than the genius of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

    If you hate everything generous in the human soul you are obviously going to hate such optimisim.

    If you are determined to prove that there was a conspiracy in the 19th Century to create the Modernist discourse you will see your theory confirmed almost everywhere, as Modernism, like all literary-historical movements, arose out of its antecedents.

    This is poppycock, Tom. Get over it.


  3. thomasbrady said,

    April 14, 2010 at 12:53 am


    Of course it proves the genius of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

    And also the genius of Whitman, Ginsberg, and Pound.

    What is “it” that is “poppycock,” exactly? Is it the trail of influence that is “poppycock?” Is it the pointing it out that is “poppycock?” How can the genius of one man (Emerson) be a “conspiracy?” How can the cold and placid depiction of genius, without any obstreperous commentary, be “poppycock?”


  4. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 14, 2010 at 2:01 am

    It’s The Conspiracy Theory, Tom, and you’re being disingenuous when you suggest you didn’t mean that.

    We’ve been listening to it for so long now we know it by heart.

    It’s pretending that Emerson somehow willed it, gathered together influential people around him at the time and instructed them to prepare the way for The Dial, Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.

    Which is poppycock indeed.


    Like suggesting that “The Red Wheelbarrow” is “pretentious,” as if William Carlos Williams wrote it to deliberately open the floodgates of Modernism and create Creative Writing Workshops!

    It’s just a poem. It was written sometime before 1923, and only has 15 words. No one would ever have guessed where it was headed, and you blame the little poem for that, and you won’t even read it.

    Well, now read Poe, read “The Raven” and tell us why you think modern poetry would be better if everybody wrote like that instead. Come on, do it. Tell us what’s in Poe’s actual poetry that should have stopped “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”


    • thomasbrady said,

      April 14, 2010 at 3:17 am


      You brought up ‘conspiracy.’ I didn’t. There’s nothing in the post or my comments below the post about ‘conspiracy.’

      Yvor Winters asked:

      “Is it possible to say that Poem A (one of Donne’s Holy Sonnets, or one of the poems of Jonson or of Shakespeare) is better than Poem B (Collins’s Ode to Evening) or vice versa?
      If not, is it possible to say that either of these is better than Poem C (The Cremation of Sam Magee, or something comparable)?
      If the answer is no in both cases, then any poem is as good as any other. If this is true, than all poetry is worthless; but this obviously is not true, for it is contrary to all our experience. If the answer is yes in both cases, then there follows the question of whether the answer imiplies merely that one poem is better than another for the speaker, or whether it means that one poem is intrinsically better than another. If the former, then we are impressionists, which is to say relativists; and are either mystics of the type of Emerson, or hedonists of the type of Stevens and Ransom. If the latter, then we assume that constant principles govern the poetic experience, and the poem (as likewise the judge) must be judged in relationship to those principles. It is important, therefore, to discover the consequences of assuming each of these positions.

      If our answer to the first question is no and to the second yes, then we are asserting that we can distinguish between those poems which are in the canon and those which are not, but that within the canon all judgment is impossible. This view, if adopted, will require serious elucidation, for on the face of it, it appears inexplicable.”

      Before we go any further, perhaps you could respond to the Winters excerpt?

      I obviously don’t think everyone should imitate the Raven!


  5. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 14, 2010 at 2:15 am

    And control your dog — he’s just pooped 5 times again.

    Tell Bob Tonucci that if he’s interested in all those old threads, which are indeed wonderful, he should tell us exactly why, not just pop them up on the Recent Comments thread with a poop.

    So what is Bob doing here on Scarriet, Tom? Could you explain his role, because he never says anything.

    Has he looked at “About Scarriet?” https://scarriet.wordpress.com/about/ Does he have anything whatever to do with that, or is he just here for the numbers?

    • Bob Tonucci said,

      April 14, 2010 at 9:16 am

      The Beautiful Bowel Movement

      John Updike

      Though most of them aren’t much to write about–
      mere squibs and nubs, like half-smoked pale cigars,
      the tint and sink recalling Tuesday’s meal,
      the texture loose and soon dissolved—this one,
      struck off in solitude one afternoon
      (that prairie stretch before the late light fails)
      with no distinct sensation, sweet or pained,
      of special inspiration or release,
      was yet a masterpiece: a flawless coil,
      unbroken, in the bowl, as if a potter
      who worked in the most frail, least grateful clay
      had set himself to shape a topaz vase.
      O spiral perfection, not seashell nor
      stardust, how can I keep you? With this poem.

  6. thomasbrady said,

    April 14, 2010 at 3:19 am

    Bob is his own man. Everyone has his own way of expressing himself. He prefers the work to pontification on the work. I’m different from you, he’s different from both of us. I told him to go easy, and he’s aware of the ‘clouding up the left hand margin where recent comments are’ issue, and the drowning out a post’s comment thread. I told him that, and he listened.

  7. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 14, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Christopher sees Scarriet as a perfectly tended, pebbled Japanese rock garden, where every tadpole is named and genome-mapped (by him). I think this does injustice to poetry, which is a 5000+ year old cabinet overflowing with tablets, and constantly being added to.

    Everyone has his own personal agenda and vision, and everyone tries to impose it. From the tussle emerges reality–and Scarriet.

    Yes, the old posts are great, and it’s better they are seen on the left margin than gather dust. I’ll only “resurrect” Tom’s, no worries, Christopher’s are tucked in safe in the archives.

    Back to posting poems now….

  8. Wfkammann said,

    April 14, 2010 at 3:32 pm



    If you talk only to yourself it will always sound good!

  9. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 14, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    When the red, red robin comes bob, bob bobbin’ along

    by Harry Woods

    When the red, red robin comes
    Bob, bob bobbin’ along, along,
    There’ll be no more sobbin’ when
    He starts throbbin’ his old, sweet song.
    Wake up, wake up, you sleepy head;
    Get up, get up, get out of bed.
    Cheer up, cheer up – the sun is red.
    Live, love, laugh and be happy.
    What if I’ve been blue,
    Now I’m walkin’ through fields of flow’rs.
    Rain may glisten, but
    Still I listen for hours and hours.
    I’m just a kid again,
    Doin’ what I did again,
    Singin’ a song
    When the red, red robin comes
    Bob, bob bobbin’ along.

  10. thomasbrady said,

    April 14, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    File this under Emerson, among other things:

    Craig Santos Perez has put his AWP paper on Harriet, and turn me every way but loose but…are people talking about John Crowe Ransom and the Fugitive/Agrarians/New Critics again thanks to Scarriet and Thomas Brady?

    I copy some of Perez below:

    “One: white poets don’t want to be New Critical Fugitive Southern Agrarians “taking their stand” against america’s move towards the urban, national, international, industrial, and integrative progress within a self-contained, insular, united and banded expression of a confederate aesthetic.

    Two: white poets don’t want to be Kenneth Goldsmith hoarding and molding the provisional disorienting detritus of digital empty signifiers cut pasted skimmed forwarded spammed and downloaded into unboring, uncreative writing without allegiance to anyone’s real.”

    “I blame Ron Silliman. For many things, but most of all for propagating the simplistic binary reading of poetic history into quietude & avant garde. Let’s face it, it’s Silliman’s poetry world and we just blog in it.

    Of course, Silliman solved this binary long ago…by becoming Silliman. but most white poets don’t want to be Silliman either, which I don’t understand because he gets tons of free books! Anyways, Silliman forced white writers into the binary of Ranson [sic] or Goldsmith, creating white cultural-aesthetic anxiety, which necessitated the formation of an “ideal hybrid,” the publication of a white American hybrid anthology, the establishment of this panel, and thus me spending time writing this paper.

    However, I must thank Silliman because if this panel didn’t exist I wouldn’t have gotten funding from my university to attend AWP because the 8 other panels my name was on were all rejected because the AWP selection committee is either racist or sexist or ageist.

    In conclusion: white hybrid aesthetics is the rejection of being Ransom, being Goldsmith, or being Silliman.”

    Thank you, Craig Santos Perez!

    Much more historical work is needed but this is a good start.

    We need to treat American poetry with respect in terms of historical study, because poetry in terms of history has been highy distorted.

    Perez is correct that Silliman’s scheme of Avant v. Quietude is a deeply false “radical” v. “conservative” formula, a big fat lie, really, that goes way beyond mere taste, just as William Logan’s/Dana Gioia’s/New Criterion’s scheme of Good Old Modernism v. Post-Modernism is a big fat lie. These must be exposed, and quickly, if progress is to be made. This is not to say that every part, Ransom, Emerson, Bernstein, etc etc are falsehoods, for we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, the parts have integrity, but it’s the way the parts have been put together by historians and presented which is the great problem.

    Scarriet has been driving this point home, and more, since we came into being in September of 2009, and we will continue to do so. Thanks, Mr. Perez. We don’t have to agree on everything (I’m not comfortable with the racist talk) but there’s a big ugly edifice which needs to be chipped away…

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