By Helen Vendler
While a poet addresses a residing person--whether pal or enemy, lover or sister--we realize the expression of intimacy. yet what impels poets to jump throughout time and house to talk to invisible listeners, looking an incredible intimacy--George Herbert with God, Walt Whitman with a reader sooner or later, John Ashbery with the Renaissance painter Francesco Parmigianino? In Invisible Listeners, Helen Vendler argues that such poets needs to invent the language that may enact, at the web page, an intimacy they lack in life.
Through brilliantly insightful and gracefully written readings of those 3 nice poets over 3 various centuries, Vendler maps out their relationships with their selected listeners. For his half, Herbert revises the standard "vertical" handle to God in desire of a "horizontal" one-addressing God as a pal. Whitman hovers in a occasionally erotic, occasionally quasi-religious language in conceiving the democratic camerado, who will, following Whitman's instance, locate his actual self. And but the camerado may be changed, in Whitman's verse, by means of the last word invisible listener, dying. Ashbery, looking a fellow artist who believes that paintings regularly distorts what it represents, reveals he needs to trip to the distant earlier. In tones either gentle and skeptical he addresses Parmigianino, whose striking self-portrait in a convex replicate furnishes the poet with either a conception and a precedent for his personal inventions.
By growing the kinds and speech of perfect intimacy, those poets set forth the potential for a extra entire and passable human interchange--an ethics of relation that's uncoerced, figuring out, and loose.
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Extra resources for Invisible Listeners: Lyric Intimacy in Herbert, Whitman, and Ashbery
Shoulder your duds,3 and I will mine, and let us hasten forth; Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go. If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip, And in due time you shall repay the same service to me; For after we start we never lie by again. [lines 1197, 1212–1216; p. 705 ] The marks of physical mutuality here—the bodily contact, the reciprocity of physical gestures given and received, the “duds,” and the promise of first-person-plural perpetuity on the open road— appear throughout “Song of Myself,” as does the ﬁction of one person conﬁding in another.
Each stanza of “Unkindnesse” ends with the poet’s disgrace, as he not only treats God worse than he does his friends, he treats Him—in the shamefaced last line—worse than he treats his foes: I would not use a friend, as I use Thee. . I could not use a friend, as I use Thee. . I cannot use a friend, as I use Thee. . Nor would I use a friend, as I use Thee. . 7 [93–94] It is not surprising, then, that Herbert—who ﬁnds in Jesusthe-friend a model of what could be his own best self—in certain 16 George Herbert moments of writing encounters God with no hint of distance.
Echo. Leaves. What leaves are they? impart the matter wholly. Echo. Holy. 21 CHAPTER ONE Are holy leaves the Echo then of blisse? Echo. Yes. Then tell me, what is that supreme delight? Echo. Light. Light to the minde: what shall the will enjoy? Echo. Joy. But are there cares and businesse with the pleasure? Echo. Leisure. Light, joy, and leisure; but shall they persever? Echo. 9  This exquisite poem incarnates a fantasy of perfect intimacy, in which the celestial Friend’s mind musically echoes our own.