Modernist Alchemy: Poetry and the Occult

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Cornell University Press, 1995 - Literary Criticism - 218 pages
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The occult has been a source of both ideas and images for modern poets from W. B. Yeats to James Merrill. Poets as diverse as Ezra Pound, H.D., Sylvia Plath, Robert Duncan, and Ted Hughes were both fascinated by, and skeptical of, such phenomena as alchemy and astrology, Ouija boards and Tarot cards, Indian mysticism, the kabbalah, and gnosticism.
All of these poets, Timothy Materer says, approached the occult with a modernist sophistication and a self-consciousness that are not entirely credulous nor entirely skeptical. Modernist Alchemy takes a close look at the work of twentieth-century poets whose use of the occult constitutes a recovery of discarded beliefs and modes of thought: Yeats and Plath try to dismiss conventional religion, Hughes captures a sense of adventure, H.D. seeks to liberate repressed concepts, while Duncan and Merrill hunt for a lost understanding of sexual identity which will allow for androgyny and homosexuality.
Materer ends with Merrill, whose attempt to suspend both doubt and belief marks the culmination of the poetic style initiated by Yeats.
 

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Contents

Introduction Literary Occultism
1
Two Ezra Pound as Magus
49
Occultism as Heresy
71
Five Robert Duncan and the Mercurial Self
107
Seven Ted Hughess Alchemical Quest
141
Eight James Merrills Romantic Unconscious
157
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About the author (1995)

Timothy Materer is Professor of English at the University of Missouri. He is the author, most recently, of James Merrill's Apocalypse, also from Cornell.

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