A Fable for Critics

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Amy Lowell (1874—1925) American poet


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Verse satire by Lowell, published anonymously in 1848. Its eccentric “slap-dash” rhythm has been characterized as a “genial anapestic gait,” and the rhymes are equally careless, but besides the humor there are shrewd critical estimates of such contemporary authors as Emerson (“A Greek head on right Yankee shoulders”); Longfellow (“Why, he'll live till men weary of Collins and Gray”); Bryant (“A smooth, silent iceberg, that never is ignified”); Margaret Fuller (“She always keeps asking if I don't observe a Particular likeness 'twixt her and Minerva”); Poe (“… with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge, Three-fifths of him genius, and two-fifths sheer fudge”); Hawthorne (“His strength is so tender, his wildness so meek … He's a John Bunyan Fouqué, a Puritan Tieck”); Cooper (“He has drawn you one character, though, that is new … He has done naught but copy it ill ever since”); and Lowell himself (“… who's striving Parnassus to climb With a whole bale of isms tied together with rhyme …”). A disputed passage concerning two anonymous authors is considered to deal with Thoreau and W. E. Channing (“Fie, for shame, brother bard; with good fruit of your own, Can't you let Neighbor Emerson's orchards alone?”). The fable in which these comments are set deals with a gathering of the gods on Olympus, whereat a critic, worshipper of Apollo, attempts to satisfy the god's desire for a lily. The critic searches assiduously, passing the various authors in review, and at last produces a thistle. Apollo, disgusted, speaks of the happy period before the advent of critics, and the gods disperse. A similar plan is followed by Amy Lowell in her Critical Fable.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

James Russell Lowell (1819—1891) American poet and critic

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