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Epilogue ‘If what parts, can so remaine’

  • James P. Bednarz
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Part of the Palgrave Shakespeare Studies book series (PASHST)

Abstract

There are 232 Shakespeare First Folios, but only two original copies of Love’s Martyr with ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’. If this volume had vanished along with Love’s Labour’s Won and Cardenio, we would still possess the core works for which Shakespeare is popularly revered today How essential or expendable then is this short poem to the Shakespeare canon? While there will always be some who, never having read it, would never miss it and others who, having read it, stand outside its charmed circle, immune to its strange music and dismissive of its literary value, from the end of the nineteenth century it has regularly elicited admiration as one of the most beautiful and mysterious poems ever written. With its iconic vision, startling ideas, complex structure and haunting rhythms, ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’ will undoubtedly continue to astonish inquisitive readers as Shakespeare’s ‘most notable exercise’ in ‘lyric wonder’.1 Its oracular fantasy provides one of the most profound experiences poetry can yield, with a lightness of touch and intellectual playfulness that make it even more compelling. For some it is a paean of hope and for others an epitaph for truth and beauty. Conjoined, these constantly recurring interpretations prove the extent to which it withholds solutions. Its chief function is to pose basic questions about the extent to which it is possible for us to realize our highest ideals and the extent to which our rituals of remembrance — such as poetry — can ameliorate or at least make comprehensible a shared human dilemma.

Keywords

Modern Poetry Chief Function Short Poem Literary Metaphor Iconic Vision 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    James Biester, Lyric Wonder: Rhetoric and Wit in English Renaissance Poetry (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 150, n35.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Howard Felperin, ‘Keats and Shakespeare: Two New Sources’, ELN 2 (1965): 105–9, explicitly points out Keats’s imitation.Google Scholar
  3. James L. O’Rourke, Keats’s Odes and Contemporary Criticism (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998), 85, concurs that ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’ ‘clearly informs the final conjunction of beauty and truth in Keats’s funeral urn’. He calls attention to lines 53–5 and 64, concerning “Beautie, Truth, and Raritie’ and ‘Truth and Beautie’. It is therefore odd to read Thomas Dilworth’s claim in ‘Keats’s Shakespeare’, TLS, 22 April 2011: 15, that ‘this relationship has not been noted in print’.Google Scholar
  4. See also Raymond Benoit, ‘Dickinson’s “I Died for Beauty” and Shakespeare’s “The Phoenix and the Turtle”’, ANQ: A Quarterly Journal 19 (2006): 31–3,Google Scholar
  5. and Helen Vendler, Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 216–18.Google Scholar
  6. Denton J. Snider in A Biography of William Shakespeare: Set Forth as His Life Drama (Saint Louis: William Harvey Miner, 1922), 247, comments that ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’ is ‘an Emersonian lyric more than two centuries before the birth of Emerson’ and concludes that ‘Shakespeare had his transcendental mood… in Old England without waiting for New England’. But the poem’s impact and influence is wider and deeper.Google Scholar
  7. 3.
    James Joyce, Ulysses (New York: Random House, 1961), 424:3–6.Google Scholar
  8. 4.
    For its multiple allusions to Shakespeare’s poetry and plays, see Anthony David Moody, Thomas Stearns Eliot, Poet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 59–60. In a later development, modern composers in the 1960s and 1970s, including Thea Musgrave, Phyllis Tate and Michael Hurd scored Shakespeare’s poem with their own ‘defunctive Musicke’ in different vocal and orchestral arrangements. Using the poem solely as a conceptual catalyst, Colin Brumby’s The Phoenix and Turtle, written for harpsichord and orchestra during the same period, was performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra on 9 July 2011.Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    Dorothy Wellesley, Letters on Poetry from W. B. Yeats to Dorothy Wellesley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940), 57.Google Scholar
  10. 6.
    Robert N. Linscott, ‘Faulkner without Fanfare’, Conversations with William Faulkner, ed. M. Thomas Inge (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999), 101.Google Scholar
  11. See also Joseph Blotner, Faulkner: A Biography (New York: Random House, 1974), 226, 456, 540 and 772.Google Scholar
  12. 7.
    William Carlos Williams, Something to Say: William Carlos Williams on Younger Poets (New York: New Directions, 1985), 134.Google Scholar
  13. 9.
    Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn (New York: Macmillan, 1942), anchors the chronology of his New Critical tradition with ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’, ‘The Canonization’ and ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’.Google Scholar
  14. 10.
    See also Warren Carrier, ‘Commonplace Costumes and Essential Gaudiness, Wallace Stevens’ “Emperor of Ice-Cream”’, College Literature 1 (1974): 230–5, for a more ironic rejoinder to Shakespeare’s poem.Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    I. A. Richards, Poetries: Their Media and Technology (The Hague: Mouton, 1974), 58;Google Scholar
  16. Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 4.Google Scholar
  17. 13.
    Park Honan, Shakespeare: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 193.Google Scholar
  18. 14.
    J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare (London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1881), 126.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© James P. Bednarz 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • James P. Bednarz
    • 1
  1. 1.Long Island UniversityUSA

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