This essay was originally published in Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary Relations, Volume 12.1 (April 2008) 17–39
Keywords & Topics
Christopher Smart, Song to David, Jubilate Agno, Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, Theodore Roethke, James Dickey, Ginsberg’s Howl, Jack Kerouac, Philip Lamantia, Delmore Schwartz, Galway Kinnell, W.S. Merwin, Anthony Hecht, Mona Van Duyn
The impact of the eighteenth-century poet Christopher Smart on poets of the mid-twentieth century ‘American Renaissance’ did not go unnoticed by critics at the time, but has barely entered into academic accounts of twentieth-century American poetry so far. For the generation of poets who came to maturity in the 1950s Smart had the same kind of vital contemporaneity as certain other poets of the past, both English and American; yet he remains the invisible man of American literary history. His entry on to the literary scene dates principally from the publication in New York in 1950 of Poets of the English Language, edited by W.H. Auden and Norman Pearson. Their highly popular anthology included the whole of Smart’s Song to David, one of his hymns, and, most importantly, substantial portions of Jubilate Agno. This text, written while Smart was confined in a madhouse, is probably his best known work nowadays but it was unknown and unpublished until 1939. Reviewing Poets of the English Language in 1951, the poet and critic Louise Bogan acclaimed it as ‘a peculiarly modern achievement’, implicitly recognizing as ‘modern’ both the swerve away from mainstream literary tradition and the rejection of Enlightenment rationality.
About the author
Karina Williamson, University of Edinburgh