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This article is taken from PN Review 134, Volume 26 Number 6, July - August 2000.

On Freedom Clive Wilmer

Robert Hass is an American poet, celebrated in his own country, who deserves to be better known than he is in Britain. He is the author of several good poems, at least one of which, 'Meditation at Lagunitas', I am tempted to call major. He has written some stimulating and unconventional criticism and earned the gratitude of English speakers through his work on the translation of Czeslaw Milosz. Yet such is the nature of modern literary politics, especially in the United States, that he has occasionally been led to express views one cannot quite believe he takes seriously. Am I alone, for instance, in hearing the clash of brands and the grinding of axes in the following paragraph?

It would be easy ... to construct an argument that accentual- syllabic meters are a trick played on the autonomic nervous system, that they take a quite arbitrary and unnatural speech pattern that requires alternating stressed and unstressed syllables, and use it to establish a physiological habit, and therefore to give it the authority of bodily need. This is the principal way in which the educated classes of Europe mystified their utterance and gave it repressive authority, which they called poetry. The pattern makes the fall of syllables seem inevitable. Makes any kind of nonsense seem inevitable and therefore natural - because the poor body is subject to all sorts of addiction and because the soul craves the sensation of safety and order endlessly. Hence the repeated assurance ...


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