What is poetry "tradition"? Got into a little thread about that over here.
One thing that got me interested in the Cantos (20 yrs ago) was its blend of "wild & crazy Amurrican" with ancient/classical/Europe/epic. It's so extreme - including its ambition to re-do Dante.
Part of the extremity due to the poet's exalted valuation of the cultural specific gravity of poetry.
Thinking of J. Latta's post today about Whitman & printing books. Poetry as measure - language set to musical measure - measured by letters, alphabetical characters. WC Williams' interest in the capacity of poetry to reflect every level of social experience by means of just this (measurement). Yeats' emphasis on same ("in measurement began our might", or something like that - speaking of art in general).
Nicholas Cusanus' (very Renaissance) dwelling on the notion that to see - & to comprehend - is to measure.
Bible (psalms) - God creates all through "number, weight and measure". (Notice it took 6 + 1 days - thus fitting cosmos neatly within solar year - a sort of mirroring or inset/framing of scriptural logos with nature & time). Augustine's focus on the shared properties of poetry and music. Poetry is essentially measured speech.
Poetry unites music (measure) and rhetoric.
Kirsch (whose book I want to read) seems to scourge both moderns & contemporaries for neglect of poetic tradition (the knowledge of both music & rhetoric). To which I counterposed Whitman's remark (somewhere) that American poetry of the future would be "indirect" (in contrast, I assume, to the "direct" transmission of ancient forms & modes of European poetry).
What might Walt be getting at? The notion I have at the moment is that he was thinking of the global tradition of poetry as dual or bivalent. Because the poet has already mastered, in his or her bones, the ancient forms & motives of poetry (going back to prehistoric times), the new poetry will be indirect, by way of insisting on playing variations on these ancient modes. The tradition will always be implicit - because tradition itself is something more than imitation.
I guess this is all pretty obvious.
But this morning I'm thinking about Pound's (& Yeats', & Eliot's, & Whitman's) extremely exalted conception of poetry & the poet's cultural role. & adding to this the idea that measure, or music, is a reflection of nature itself. Something that the poet doesn't invent, but taps into (cf. the whole notion of inspiration, the Muse). & adding to this the consequence that perhaps despite all the roiling turbidity of artistic ambition & creative & imitative literary ferment, maybe on some level, societies - & poets themselves - do not choose their poetry. I'm thinking of the great "benchmark" works of art as having the character of historical events or forces of nature or acts of God.
Mandelstam's (& Akhmatova's, & Tsvetaeva's) writings about poetry greatly influenced my perspective on this. The Russians have a fateful sense of art (along with just about everything else).
Objectivity of critical judgement based on the notion that artifice is rooted in nature.
This actually is the sort of half-formed hunch or belief upon which I've based quite a bit of my seemingly irrational vocational choices over the years. & I still don't know if my gamble was correct. The one thing in poetry we cannot measure.