Famous works of American poetry, admired as they are by critics and public alike, have never been reproduced. Like a wonder in nature, a mountain or a canyon, or like a giant statue in the Soviet Union, they reign coldly and alone.
Forms like the haiku, the sonnet, the ode, the ballad, quickly became community property, but the masterpiece is admired—after all, is it not a masterpiece?—but it is never imitated. It breeds not. It stands aloof. It does not add its waters to the common spring.
There may be parodies of the acclaimed work, but the masterpiece does not give birth to anything. Poets die in its flame; generations destroy themselves attempting to match the spirit of the masterpiece, perishing in futile mediocrity.
Is this why originality is so urged? Is this why “make it new” is such a common cry?
But originality needs a vehicle; nothing is completely original. The great works do not provide these vehicles—for the very reason that no one can ride in them—their very genius and uniqueness makes this impossible.
So influence tends to happen along lesser lines.
“The Raven,” “Leaves of Grass” and “The Waste Land” are three iconic American works, and all of them escape imitation. They welcome readers, but they wreck the poet who dares to enter them.
The more iconic, the less influential?
Is this why great poems are so few and far between?