Invisible Listeners: Lyric Intimacy in Herbert, Whitman, and by Helen Vendler

By Helen Vendler

While a poet addresses a residing person--whether buddy or enemy, lover or sister--we realize the expression of intimacy. yet what impels poets to jump throughout time and house to talk to invisible listeners, looking an awesome intimacy--George Herbert with God, Walt Whitman with a reader sooner or later, John Ashbery with the Renaissance painter Francesco Parmigianino? In Invisible Listeners, Helen Vendler argues that such poets needs to invent the language that may enact, at the web page, an intimacy they lack in life.

Through brilliantly insightful and gracefully written readings of those 3 nice poets over 3 varied centuries, Vendler maps out their relationships with their selected listeners. For his half, Herbert revises the standard "vertical" handle to God in want of a "horizontal" one-addressing God as a pal. Whitman hovers in a occasionally erotic, occasionally quasi-religious language in conceiving the democratic camerado, who will, following Whitman's instance, locate his actual self. And but the camerado could be changed, in Whitman's verse, via the final word invisible listener, dying. Ashbery, looking a fellow artist who believes that paintings regularly distorts what it represents, unearths he needs to commute to the distant previous. In tones either gentle and skeptical he addresses Parmigianino, whose notable self-portrait in a convex replicate furnishes the poet with either a conception and a precedent for his personal inventions.

By developing the kinds and speech of perfect intimacy, those poets set forth the opportunity of a extra entire and passable human interchange--an ethics of relation that's uncoerced, realizing, and loose.

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Extra resources for Invisible Listeners: Lyric Intimacy in Herbert, Whitman, and Ashbery

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Here, the speaker (unlike the narrator of “Love unknown”) is always “right” in his phonemes (his heart is in the right place), but he is not yet sure of his own future destiny, and so must be confirmed in his righteousness by having God’s Word—sounding from the immortal leaves of the Bible— replay (and wittily revise) his very words, in a reiterated celestial approval: Heaven O who will show me those delights on high? Echo. I. Thou Echo, thou art mortall, all men know. Echo. No. Wert thou not born among the trees and leaves?

But there are even better moments of intimacy to be had, and to learn from, than the asymmetrical, however gentle, moment of ethical instruction of the mistaken novice by a more able interpreter. These better moments are formulated in the last two poems of The Temple,“Heaven” [188] and “Love (III)” [188–89]. In the first of these—an echo-poem—Herbert suggests that to be an intimate friend is to answer, with improvements, a speaker’s questions, using, to his surprise, his own syllables to do so. Here, the speaker (unlike the narrator of “Love unknown”) is always “right” in his phonemes (his heart is in the right place), but he is not yet sure of his own future destiny, and so must be confirmed in his righteousness by having God’s Word—sounding from the immortal leaves of the Bible— replay (and wittily revise) his very words, in a reiterated celestial approval: Heaven O who will show me those delights on high?

I, the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare, I cannot look on thee. Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, Who made the eyes but I? Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame Go where it doth deserve. And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame? My deare, then I will serve. 23 CHAPTER ONE You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat. So I did sit and eat. [188–89]12 In “Love (III)” as in “Heaven,” the formal figure enacting intimacy is antiphony, but here Herbert presents antiphony of gesture as well as of language, as the following diagram of the back-and-forth movement of the poem will suggest.

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