Tuesday, June 21, 2016

from a letter, Richard Wilbur to Robert Lowell, dated "Epiphany Eve" [1968].

I agree with you about the way that journeys—that fine Io speech in your Prometheus, Frost’s Directive, Shelley’s Alastor, the quest and trials in the Brothers Grimm, Beckford’s Vision—seem always to touch something radical, or primitive. What the old fellows chant in phalanx at the plaza, on the day of a Pueblo festival, is a story, or so I am told: how they came up out of the mud, how their heroes encountered the gods, where they traveled, how they came at last to Jemez or Zuni; are their ideas of what they are embodied in a string of happenings which at the clearest are parabolic, and are known darkly, not unperplexed as in theology. I wonder whether the first hearers of the Odyssey, sophisticated as it is, said to themselves in so many words that the story is a celebration of Suppleness and Adjustability and Shape-Changing. The journey-account seems not to work when it explains itself—as Shelley does at moments—or reeks of folklore like Yeats’ Oisin, or betrays a reading of Jung. However artful the work is, one wants the impression that it is flowing chancily as life and thought flow, simply saying and then and then, and then; believing what it sees; blundering into situations which threaten to mean something.

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