(1904—1965) R. P Blackmur's allusive and psychologically complex poetry of the mid-20th century reflects the influence of earlier poets of modernism, such as Ezra pound, T. S. eliot, and Hart crane. Black-mur's credo, that "only within order can you give disorder room" (Fraser 86), is reflected in his carefully crafted poems on themes commonly explored in the personal lyric (see lyric poetry), including love, death, loneliness, frustration, and faith, while a number of his later poems reflect more worldly concerns with the upheavals of the mid-20th century. Showing restraint and a distrust of the excessively emotional, they reflect Blackmur's wariness of speaking with finality.
Blackmur was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His first book of poetry, From Jordan's Delight, appeared in 1937, and from 1940 until his death he taught at Princeton University. Blackmur held Guggen heim Fellowships from 1937 to 1939 and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1956) and to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1964).
Blackmur's poems seem often to give the effect of almost straining to find their most effective expression, using striking and subtle juxtapositions of words with a difficult syntax that requires multiple readings. Consonance, assonance, and alliteration are used to subtle effect, and Biblical and other literary allusions as well as sea imagery are common. Blackmur writes in a variety of line, meter, and stanza forms and sometimes creates his own formal arrangements, while also using conventional ones, such as the sonnet.
In "Redwing," the first part of "From Jordan's Delight" (1937), stark sea imagery, alliteration, and assonance are used in an iambic pentameter line set in six-line stanzas to portray a seaman long ago jilted, who while "wilted waits for water still." His loneliness is offset, however, by an "excruciation that redeems," made possible through his work in the harsh marine environment. Blackmur writes in his more public mode in commenting on post-World War II political conditions in "The Communiqués from Yalta" (1947). While the "salvo sounds" of conventional warfare have been stilled, Blackmur describes a more insidious conflict symbolized by the sound of a metaphorical "fire raking" the hopes for an ultimate postwar peace. The final lines of the poem allude to the text of Luke 23:31 and end with a feminine rhyme, implying a resignation that such conflicts are bound to be eternal.
While Blackmur wrote poetry seriously throughout his life, he is today primarily known for his critical writings. With fellow poet-critics Robert Penn warren, Allen tate, and John Crowe ransom, Blackmur came to be associated with New Criticism (see fugitive/agrarian school). New Criticism greatly influenced the teaching of literature in American universities by introducing close reading techniques focusing on detailed and subtle linguistic and formal analyses of literature, particularly poetry Blackmur's critical works include The Double Agent (1935) and Language as Gesture (1952).
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