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R. P. Blackmur (Richard Palmer Blackmur) Biography

(1904–65), (Richard Palmer Blackmur), From Jordan's Delight, The Second World, The Good European

european poetry novel found

American critic and poet, born in Springfield, Massachusetts. Self-taught, at first a freelance essayist and man of letters, he later became a much-admired professor at Princeton University. He is often associated with the New Criticism, but too eccentric to be easily assimilated to any movement. He published three volumes of verse—From Jordan's Delight (1937), The Second World (1942), and The Good European (1947)—initially much influenced by Yeats but later developing a more personal, less secondary voice. The poetry is tense, carefully wrought, allusive, intelligent but sometimes rather cramped. Blackmur's prose is fluid, complex, and occasionally arcane, a perfect vehicle for the difficult, oblique insights he specialized in. Thought by T. S. Eliot and others to be the best close reader modern poetry had found, he demanded form in art, was fiercely opposed to what he saw as the fallacy of immediate expression, but understood that form itself needed to be various and could look formless to conventional eyes. He concentrated on contemporary poetry in his early critical works—Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Eliot, Ezra Pound—but later became interested in the European novel and in large questions of culture. The modern world, he thought, had developed ‘techniques of trouble’ in art and science, but had not learned how to deal with the trouble it found; so that the anni mirabiles of Modernism (Anni Mirabiles was the title of a series of lectures Blackmur gave at the Library of Congress in 1956) were not only triumphant and dramatic years but prophetic ones, announcing a difficult, possibly unmanageable period we have scarcely begun to know. Blackmur was a great believer in the dignity and authority of failure—earned failure, that is, the sort that comes harder than success. Throughout his career he was much interested in Henry James and Henry Adams, whom he regarded as opposite and complementary poles of the American imagination. His chief critical works are The Double Agent (1935), The Expense of Greatness (1940), Language as Gesture (1951), The Lion and the Honeycomb (1955), and Eleven Essays in the European Novel (1964). See also post-modernism.

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