This Week in Literary History: The Week of Harold Bloom
July 11 was the 80th birthday of Harold Bloom, famed 19th-century Romantic critic, Sterling Professor at Yale and all-around crazy genius. This guy digests books in the time it takes you and I to get out of bed in the morning. He is a self-proclaimed "monster of reading" and as his former Cornell advisor (and editor of the Norton Anthology of English Literature) M.H. Abrams called him, "a prodigy, beyond anything I'd ever seen -- and there was never anyone since who came close." Here's a video of Bloom reading Wallace Stevens' poem, "Tea at the Palace of Hoon". Bloom regarded Stevens as possibly the greatest American poet after Whitman and Dickinson. And here's a cool interview Bloom did with super-duper hipster mag, Vice.
On July 13, 1793, the original Romantic poet and constant subject of Bloom's critique, William Wordsworth, took a stroll with his sister Dorothy to check out the ruins of the church, Tintern Abbey. Poetry ensued. Now, Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey is regarded as the defining poem of Romanticism, the poem that Bloom writes, has "the distinction of inaugurating the major Wordsworthian myth of memory as salvation." Or as Wordsworth himself put it, "moments recollected in tranquility."
Lord Byron, the playboy of Romanticism, returned to England on July 14, 1811 from his two-year hiatus that took him all around Europe and the Near East. Byron fled England after the publication of his second book, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, which didn't hold back on its criticism of the English literary establishment and forced him to flee into exile. It was while traveling through Greece and Turkey that Byron composed the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, a poem Bloom called "a descriptive medley, mixing travel and history" and under the "quest-theme of romance," something Byron picked up "under Wordsworth's influence."
Finally, it was on July 16, 1951 that J.D. Salinger introduced the world to Holden Caulfield, the angst-ridden teenager of Salinger's only novel, Catcher in the Rye. Yup, you guessed it, Bloom has written about this guy too.
Reading through the current issue of The Iowa Review this morning, I came across Matthew Rohrer's poem, aptly titled, "Poem". The poem would make Harold Bloom proud. It begins, "I know Shelley killed himself / or allowed himself to die / in that boat," a hefty accusation but one that might not be entirely implausible. After all, he did sort of forecast his own death in "Adonais." Check out The Iowa Review online, and then subscribe.