Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems
is available for $16.00 from FootHills Publishing, P.O. Box 68, Kanona NY 14856 or see www.foothillspublishing.com.

Tourist Snapshots is available for $8.95 from Randy Fingland, CC Marimbo, P.O. Box 933, Berkeley CA 94701 or see www.ccmarimbo.com.

Dada Poetry: An Introduction was published by Nirala Publications. It may be ordered on Amazon.com for $25 plus shipping. American buyers may order a copy from me for $23 including shipping.

The other books are also available from the author William Seaton. Write seaton@frontiernet.net.


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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Notes on Recent Reading 6 [Jewett, Addison, Crabbe]

Country of the Pointed Firs [Jewett]

Reading Jewett one thinks of William Carlos Williams’ line in “To Elsie”: “The pure products of America/ go crazy—“ Though Jewett’s bona fides as an old-line downeaster are impeccable, she writes as though the region was populated entirely by eccentrics with the exception of the normative detached narrator. Just as pastoral poetry was originally written by urbanites amusing themselves with a mythological projection of country life, the late nineteenth century regional American writers virtually all wrote from a doubled perspective: familiar with the local culture yet not contained within it.

Indeed, Jewett marvels at what she sees of “the waste of human ability” along the Maine coast where individuals are stranded like sea-wrack. A person in a small town may have “a fine able character” yet feel “caged” by “a narrow set of circumstances.” (467) A devolution has occurred: the earlier generations were “more vigorous.” (473) When the chunky Mrs. Todd is compared to Antigone (417), Jewett is plainly playing an endgame of belated epigones. The poignancy of her one romance and the dull marriage that followed is sentimental rather than tragic. Her plodding tidy decent endurance, however admirable, falls far short of heroic.

In historic terms, many of the odd characters that populate Dunnet’s Landing testify to the passing of the old order in which sea captains not only commanded a prosperous industry but also brought a cosmopolitan viewpoint to an otherwise small and isolated seacoast town. Travelers know that the economic backwaters are always the most colorful tourist destinations, and, in spite of her own Maine origins, Jewett, like her narrator from Boston, was just passing through.


Cato [Addison]

Joseph Addison’s play was a hit when it premiered in 1713. Written to conform to the neoclassical literary theory of the sort advocated by Thomas Rymer, it set the standard for a generation of tragedies and maintained its popularity on the stage well into the nineteenth century. Since that time, despite academic interest and occasional revivals, it has lingered in some obscurity while the author’s marvelous essays, casual and elegant at once, have always commanded readers.

Addison’s blank verse is pallid compared to Shakespeare, but whose is not? Cato the Stoic (great-grandson of the Censor) speaks in a rhetoric that is nothing if not dignified, uplifted with sublime sentiment. The listener can only be charmed by the self-abnegating virtues of the hero. The love interests of Marcus, Portius, and Juba are adventitious; what the play presents is the grandeur of tragic submission, contemptuous of mere passion. Though Cato must argue himself into acceptance of immortality, noting, in a line later quoted by the pleasant Mr. Micawber, “Plato, thou reasonest well,” his detachment from desire and devotion to others are exemplary.

The more-or-less “natural religion” of Stoicism was not the only reason Cato was the rage in the Enlightenment era. Addison was an active Whig, and participated in the struggle to decrease the prerogatives of the monarchy. His play was read as part of a developing critique of tyranny that impressed both American and French revolutionaries. George Washington, in fact, had the play performed for the troops at Valley Forge. Cato himself had been elected plebian tribune and had, with Cicero, opposed the patrician Catiline conspiracy, and so might be regarded as something of a progressive. At any rate the old Stoic is surely innocent of the fact that his name is used today by rightwing sycophants of our own tyrannical Caesar, the corporate dollar.


Collected Poems [Crabbe]

We tend to accept the idea of the penniless poet as natural, though the poor had little voice until the Romantic movement created a new interest in the lives of the humble and an audience for poets like Burns, Crabbe, and Clare who had themselves experienced real privation. For a man like Crabbe, the English countryside inspired neither the confectionary fantasies of classical pastoralism nor the mystical afflatus of Wordsworth. Like American writers a hundred years or so later such as Edwin Arlington Robinson or Edgar Lee Masters, he described struggles and dramas taking place far from the centers of power, often with a dark or tragic tone.

In Byron’s phrase, Crabbe was “Nature’s severest painter, yet her best,” and The Borough, The Village, and “Sir Eustace Grey” remain worth reading for their psychology and pathos. The tales in verse are well-shaped and satisfying, even if most would agree with Émile Legouis’ observation that “His ear has no fastidious requirement.”

As much a poet of depression as of rural life, it is no wonder that some categorize him as a pre-Romantic, yet Leavis places him last of the Augustan Tradition, and Horace Smith called him “Pope in worsted stockings.” Though he says he “sought the simple life that Nature yields” it was in fact his circumstance from birth, and it is to his credit that he set down as much of its horror as of its picturesque charm. He was a competent craftsman, and in his often easy-going heroic couplets (sometimes ballad-like stanzas), if he rarely comes up with striking images or thrilling thoughts (we are no longer impressed with his sententiae), he sustains a consistent simmer of interest and generally hits his mark. While he rarely soared, he regularly looked closely at his surroundings, material and emotional, and recorded what he saw in carefully wrought language.

What is Poetry?

See How and Why to Signify (July 2011) for some ideas about literary art in general.

It does little good to ask poets themselves. They are, after all, generally not critics, and their answers are likely to be fancifully impressionistic. Dylan Thomas, for instance, said “Poetry is what makes my toenails twinkle.” [1] He was trying to accommodate an interviewer, but it was in private conversation that Emily Dickinson said, “If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?” [2] As we can be quite sure Thomas’s toenails never actually twinkled and Dickinson knows no more than we what it feels like to have one’s head blown off, what they were really providing was a sample of poetic language rather than a definition.

The question seems simple to those with a shallow knowledge of the subject. The most heavily used internet reference, a favorite of students, says simply that in poetry “language is used in a manner that is felt by its user and audience to differ from ordinary prose.” This would qualify a telephone book, I should think, or a physics research report sooner than a passage in Milton. Often definitions seem to consider all poetry as lyric, mentioning such qualities as short length or personal content – but what about epic? Or emotion, though some poetry is highly intellectual, witty, or centered in abstract form. Is there to be a quality standard? Is poor poetry necessarily not poetry at all?

Of course, etymologically the word simply means a “made thing,” an artifact if not an objet d’art, something shaped by human consciousness. In the Middle Ages the word poetry referred to all literature, that is, to aesthetic texts, whose consumers experience imaginative pleasure which is likely to be formal, emotional, and intellectual all at once. This classification is distinct enough to be useful, but it is not inherent in the work. Such pleasure can only arise in the reaction of the reader or listener susceptible to the text. Obviously some texts are far more likely than others to elicit an aesthetic response, but none are certain to do so for every consumer, and some critics may find aesthetic values unsuspected by an author or by earlier readers. [3]

What, then, marks off poetry from prose in modern usage? To note simply that it is laid out in lines of irregular length comes far closer to the mark than most answers and would have worked in a rough sort of way until quite recently. To explain how exactly the line breaks function is considerably more challenging, but verses serve very well as a sort of field guide identification key. The good sense of this criterion is not affected by the contested territory on the margins: on the one hand “prose-poetry” and, on the other, art-prose and rhyme-prose. [4] Still, as this descriptive attribute has so little theoretical value it remains unsatisfying.

I contend that, apart from the line breaks and the distinct traditions that have developed since the distinction emerged, prose differs from poetry only in degree. For instance poetry is musical. So is some prose. In 1945 John S. Barnes published a book of passages from Thomas Wolfe set as poetry, and recently David Amram has used passages from Kerouac’s On the Road as song texts. Poetry can still be said to be more likely to be more musical. In the same way poetry uses figures of speech and thought. A prose work such as Lyly’s Euphues or Philip Sidney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia is heavily figured, yet in general it is true that poetry makes more frequent use of such devices than prose. A similar pattern obtains with all the frequently-cited characteristics of poetry.
For me this issue of poetry then turns out to be a matter of probability. Now that some scientists speak of reality as waves of probability this should, I suppose, seem an adequate, perhaps a superior, answer.

The cognitive argument of poetry, the modern form of the old notion of the poet-prophet’s privileged access to truth, is the claim that images are more precise than syllogism, and metaphors the most factual of data. To that deeply-held conviction I will add the anecdote of Robert Creeley who, as a onetime student recalled, entered the first session of his Modern Poetry class and began the class with a story. He explained that during World War II the Naval Air Corps had been having difficulties with fliers in the Pacific. It seems the pilots were frightened, not so much of Japanese adversaries, but of sharks once they hit the water. After the Navy began issuing canisters labeled shark repellent, they found their men had more confidence, greater success, and fewer casualties. The fact that the “repellent” had no effect of sharks did not mean it did not work. “Modern poetry,” said Creeley, “is like shark repellent.”


1. From “Notes on the Art of Poetry.”

2. Quoted in T.W. Higginson’s letter to his wife of 16 August 1870.

3. Prose poetry flowered in nineteenth century France though there are isolated earlier examples. In antiquity the borderline between prose and poetry was ill-defined and artful speech included highly poetic “Gorgian figures” and even rhyme-prose. For Aristotle, good prose is rhythmic (Rhetoric 3.8). Rhyme-prose was a popular form in the Latin Middle Ages.

4. Many readers of Gibbon, Freud, Marx, and James Frazer seek literary rather than scientific value. One might think also of secular appreciators of religious art or of Hayden White’s treatment of historians as rhetoricians.

5. From “Heaven's Commonplace: Hoc Opus, Hic Labor Est: Remembering Robert Creeley” by Donald Revell in Poetry.



Readers might enjoy having a look at the following exercise, written for a workshop.

Is this poetry? -- Why or why not?

1. Dad a dad a
Dad a da a
Dad a dad a
Da kata kai
Australian aboriginal song

2. If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?
Lincoln’s second inaugural address

3. I'm Chiquita Banana, and I've come to say
Bananas have to ripen in a certain way.
And when they are flecked with brown
and have a golden hue,
Bananas taste the best, and are the best for you.
Original 1944 advertising jingle

4. “You and me down like four flats on a Cadillac.”
Prison inmate, 2002

5. I like Ike.
1950s political slogan

6. This style seems wild
Wait before you treat me like a stepchild
Let me tell you why they got me on file
'Cause I give you what you lack . . .
“Louder Than A Bomb” Public Enemy

7. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Job 38, 4-7

8.The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead.
“Casabianca” by Felicia Dorothea Hemans

9. “You’re the most beautiful in the world”
anonymous impassioned lover

Dionysos and the Pirates

This story [1] is, in the most general terms, an epiphany. The god appears numinous, both frightening and fascinating [2] to the mortal. The frisson of a listener (for the hymn was surely oral whether or not it was in some way liturgical) experiencing a vicarious glimpse of the divine may have had something of the appeal of a science fiction or horror film today. The hymn has a handsome leading man, fast action, and impressive special effects, what with the cascading vines and materializing beasts, topped off with the sailors’ metamorphosis into dolphins.

Moros is sometimes translated fate, but, considering that Hesiod deemed moros “hateful,” perhaps doom is a better translation. As the parthenogenetic son of Night, Moros carries dark associations, but then the Moirai (Fates) themselves, though euphemistically called the Parcae (“Sparers”) in Latin, are described as ugly hags, closely associated with mortality and with death. Their worship arose in Mycenaean cult practice and, even in later times, they generally seem to operate independently of the Olympians. A dying and reborn god imported from barbarian realms, Dionysos is an appropriate partner for these archaic powers.

Further, the incident presents an illustration of the imponderable and sudden turns of the wheel of fortune. The captain is particularly brought low, the helmsman, who was treated with disrespect is elevated, and the crew, anticipating a routine voyage, are suddenly transformed in a moment.

In this hymn’s first line, the god’s semi-mortal origins are highlighted. He is the son of Semele (herself also semi-divine) who is herself undone by her encounter with the fully divine, though Dionysos later rescued her from the underworld just as he himself was reborn after being torn to pieces by Titans. The affinities to figures like Osiris, Adonis, Attis, Tammuz, Asclepius, and Orpheus are clear. Surely, these cults as well as the Mysteries and Christianity were imported by ancient Romans seeking personal salvation. Dionysos invites believers to identify with him, even to become him in rites of of enthusiasm and ecstatic possession.

In this poem, though, his divine omnipotence is stressed. Though taken for mortal, the theophany is a markedly extraordinary human. Dionysos is youthful, well-dressed, strong and sexy, consistent with his role as a fertility deity. He is long-haired and probably beardless, the sort of representation that might be associated with his epithet Androgunos (“androgynous”). He smiles (line 14) with profound confidence and works his will with cunning means.

The incident may be considered, like the story of Pentheus, as a cautionary simple tale of retributive justice. With Dionysos pulling the strings, a moral reading is certainly present. The greedy pirates are punished, their ringleader first of all, and the virtuous helmsman is blessed. The sailors had been interested in a ransom, preceded, perhaps, by a bit of fun, but they found their egos chopped for grabbiness. Even after the miracle of the bonds falling away, their selfishness blinds them to the god’s power. The captain is warned, but will not listen. Those who in the end suffer dire consequences for their actions are offered opportunities to reconsider, but they persist in error. Like the moral reading of tragedy this is true but reductive. [3]

When wine swamps the decks and an ambrosial scent arises, the men are paralyzed in awe. Foliage leaps forth from grapes and ivy, bursting with fruit and flowers in a wild excess of generative power, recalling other epithets of Dionysos: Phleon (luxuriant, said of foliage) and Auxites (giver of increase ). Then, however, the fierce beasts, the lion and bear, materialize, reminding the reader of the Dionysian predilection for homophagia, the eating of raw meat after sacrifice. [4] The vicious captain falls victim to the lion, while the crewmen become dolphins, animals regularly considered beneficent by the Greeks. [5] Their animal form then becomes a kind of purgatory where, by doing good services, they may expiate their guilt. Surely, these ordinary sailors bear a limited guilt, neither vicious like the captain nor as insightful and scrupulous as the helmsman. The latter appears as a sort of saving remnant, offering a better fate to the more pious individual.

Violent though it be, the tale lacks the macabre horror of Pentheus’ end, but the interlacing of death with life is tight and consistent in myth. Even the Ikarios story of the introduction of Dionysos’ gift of wine includes murder, suicide, merciless revenge and the founding of a propitiatory festival to placate the angry deity. Dionysos Lysios means the Undoer, recalling Dionysos’ literal “undoing” in his being eaten and the tragic hero’s cry “I am undone!” as well as implying the Liberator, the one who frees humankind. [6]

The poem concludes by noting that Dionysos’ aid is essential to the poet. Of course, the origins of the dithyramb, from which, according to Aristotle, tragedy developed were Dionysian, and all theater was offered to the god whose image was seated up front. For moderns, Dionysos corresponds to the unconscious from which arise metaphor and image. The worshipper’s loss of ego in the god is similar to the reader’s participation in the poet’s vision. And in modern times Dionysos has been the popular favorite in his contention with Apollo for the lyre. It is he to whom Nietzsche appeals for the punishment of his critics in his first dithyramb. [7]



1. References to the story also appear in Eur. (Cycl.11), Ovid (Met. iii. 582-691), Nonnus (Dion. xlv. 105-168). Briefer mentions in Apollodorus (iii. 5. 3), Hyginus (fab.134), poet. astron. ii. 17 (after the Naxica of Aglaosthenes), Seneca (Oed.449-466), and Nonnus (Dion. xliv. 240-249) Servius (on Verg. Aen.i. 67), Oppian (Hal. i. 650)]

2. The terms are Otto’s: mysterium tremendum, inspiring fear and trembling; and mysterium fascinans, the tendency to attract, fascinate and compel.

3. See my “Oedipus and the Meaning of Polysemy” (July 2011).

4. Dionysos is also called Aigobolos (goat-killer), Taurophagos (bull-eater), Bouphagos (cow-eater), Moschophagos (calf-eater), as well as Anthroporraistos (man-killer).

5. Apart from having rescued Arion, they were considered to guide ships. The very name of Delphi derives from Apollo’s arrival in dolphin form.

6. Still another of the god’s names is Eleuthereus (of freedom).

7. In “Dionysos Dithyrambs 1” Nietzsche describes being ridiculed as a foolish poet and imagines the “hot-hungry” god descending to avenge him by “tearing to pieces the god in man/ as well as the sheep in man,/ and laughing while tearing.”

The Homeric Hymn to Dionysos

Of Dionysos, Sem’le’s famous son,
I sing, who came once, looking like a youth,
atop a headland over fruitless sea,
so fine! His lovely hair all down his neck,
so dark! A purple cloak about his muscled frame!
A well-benched fleet Tyrrhenian pirates’ ship
came fast upon the wine-dark sea. Their fate
was dark. On seeing him each nodded to the next,
Then they jumped out and right away they seized
him, thrilled to force him up into their ship.
A son he seemed of god-groomed kings. They sought
to tie him up with painful ropes – the bonds
broke free, the withes fell altogether off
his hands and feet. And still he smiling sat
with deep dark eyes. At once the helmsman knew,
cried out to all his comrade crew, and said,
“Possessed! You’ve grabbed and bound some god who’s strong.
No well-made ship can hold this one for long!
For Zeus it is, Apollo with his silver-bow,
or else Poseidon. He’s not like a man,
not mortal but divine, Olympian.
Come now, let’s put him out on this dark shore
right now. Don’t touch him, or, irate, he’ll bring
us grievous winds, and he’ll incite great storms.”
That’s what he said. The captain then rebuked him,
“You’re mad! Look to the breeze and hoist the sail!
Haul on the ropes! And we’ll take care of him!
He must be bound for Cyprus, Egypt, or
the ends of earth or further yet. He’s sure
to name his friends, admit his wealth, his kin.
Some god has surely given him to us.”
He spoke, then ordered mast and sail raised;
wind filled the canvas; sailors pulled lines taut;
but soon unfolded marvels on that ship,
for first sweet fragrant wine swamped all the deck
of that black ship. Ambrosial fragrance rose.
Amazement seized the sailors when they saw.
Then sudden grapevines grew from highest sail,
in clusters grapes hung down on every side.
And then dark ivy twined about the mast,
with blossoms bursting, lovely berries, too.
Each thole was wreathed about. On seeing this
the crew called , “Helmsman, bring our ship to shore!”
No god was high on deck; a lion fierce
now loudly roared; he made also a bear
with shaggy neck midship that glowered huge.
Sure signs enough. The lion on the deck
in fury glared. They fled back to the stern
about the helmsman where they stood
amazed in thought. The lion sprang and seized
the captain. Fleeing their dark fate, they leaped
into the holy sea – what things they’d seen! –
and dolphins they became. The helmsman, though,
got mercy and was held and blessed with words:
“Take heart, my man, for you are dear to me.
Loud-shouting Dionysos is your friend
whom Cadmus’ Sem’le bore in love with Zeus.”
I hail the fair-faced Sem’le’s son! Without
your aid no one can weave sweet words in song.

Rereading the Classics [Kleist]

Kleist’s drama is also rewarding but not nearly as immediately entertaining as the stories. I hope to treat his plays in a future post.


Kleist is the great narrator of self-consciousness. His essay “On the Puppet Theater” suggests that, since the Fall, humans are at something of a loss, having lost the absolute rightness of animals [1] without gaining in compensation the omniscience of the divine. Though the opinions are given with ironic distance through the persons of a dialogue, the author seems in fact to have felt Angst bordering on despair until his death in a suicide pact with Henriette Vogel in 1811 when the writer was thirty-four. Some biographers say the poet came to the conviction that life was not worth living based on his reading of Kant which left him a helpless skeptic. Others have made a good deal of what might reasonably be taken to be partially repressed homosexuality and his close relationship with his cross-dressing half-sister Ulrike. His existential sensibility, though, was doubtless natural to him, of a piece with his Poe-like interest in the Gothic and his fiercely painful sense of irony.

The form of the Novelle is most appropriate for Kleist’s imagination. In a phrase often used to characterize the form, Goethe said that the Novelle should detail a “strange, unheard-of experience.” [2] With this license as well as the era’s taste for the supernatural, Kleist could compose with a very free hand, and he excelled at plotting. Of course, most of the world’s stories have been told with little regard for verisimilitude. Folk tales, fables, allegories, parables, Longus, the Legenda Aurea, Boccaccio, Margaret of Navarre, through the great German Novelle of the nineteenth century, none had much concern with direct representation of everyday events.

Given the freedom allowed by the form, Kleist proceeded to bend circumstance beyond coincidence into paradox. “The Marquise of O--” opens with a bizarre notion: a high-minded and aristocratic lady is advertising publicly to find who might be the father of her baby. No sooner has the reader swallowed this notion then the narration is suddenly swept up in the madness of war with flames, explosions, and soldiers bent on rape. The story works out at somewhat greater length than strict economy might suggest and, at the end, just when the neat denouement is imminent, the Marquise rejects her reappeared lover, This proves a mere hiccup as she accepts him eventually, but the reader wonders what further oscillations might occur beyond the tale’s horizon.

In “The Duel” the innocent Littegarde similarly finds herself unjustly maligned; even the divine verdict seems to have condemned her. She suffers the moral equivalent of Job’s afflictions, appearing guilty without having sinned.
Michael Kohlhaas, hero of what is doubtless Kleist’s best-known story, was, the reader learns at the outset, “one of the most upright and at the same time one of the most terrible men of his day” which sounds a bit like what one might have said of Old John Brown of Osawatamie. Philosophically, the principled horse-dealer enacts the disaster of idealism. His refusal to accommodate to the gravely flawed institutions of his day leads inevitably to his death. Still, his integrity remains a powerful statement both of the inevitably “failed” society around us and of the all-but-foolhardy rectitude of those who challenge it. Who will not cheer when Kohlhaas issues manifestos from the provisional Capital of the World? But who would join him?

In Kleist’s world (as indeed in all times) the wheel of fortune can turn exceedingly swiftly. The students in “Cecilia” change in a moment from light-hearted though anti-clerical to morbidly serious and pious. In “The Foundling” a kindly act leads to destruction as the most benevolent of men is drawn by circumstance into gradual brutalization until he actually embraces hell. In “The Earthquake in Chile” the dramatic noose is pulled tight from the very start. Love brings tyranny; love’s persistence brings a couple of death penalties. The lovers are miraculously saved, though thousands of other lives are lost in the process. Finally, their victory proves illusory, or at any rate temporary, and they are killed by a post-apocalyptic mob among the city’s ruins, a mob that fancies itself doing God’s work by killing a pair of lovers.

“The Beggarwoman of Locarno” is a simple little karmic haunt, illustrating how what dangers threaten the soul of the proprietor of a wealthy estate. Its primary appeal is Poe-like, a pure relish for the creepy.

Kafka thought so highly of Kleist that he described his predecessor as a “blood-relation.” In a rare public performance, he chose to read aloud from “Michael Kohlhaas.” The earlier writer’s influence, in both world-view and narrative style, led Oskar Walzel, in an early review of “Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”) and “Die Heizer” (“The Stoker”), to find “etwas Kleistisches.” [3] Though Kleist may have thought himself the loser in his contention with an Olympian Goethe, he now seems prescient, like Byron a Romantic existentialist. Kleist’s essay “On the Gradual Production of Thoughts Whilst Speaking” anticipates the concept of the unconscious, recognizes the strength of the irrational, and portrays language as a tool for the discovery of knowledge but as one which is always to some extent inadequate.

The space between readings is politically evident. Kleist’s military service, described as the result of family coercion by most biographers, seemed exemplary to the Nazis. The playwright’s characters who might be today considered Existentialist “men of action” in an absurd world struck the Third Reich as admirably nationalistic. After a performance of The Prince of Homburg Goebbels said of him “What a man!” [4] In some respects a mirror image of this distortion was provided by East German critics who, primarily because of “Michael Kohlhaas” made him a proto-socialist. In fact Kleist adopted the progressive politics of most Romantics. For instance, he applauded the French Revolution, considering it a beneficial if insufficient opening toward liberation.

His rhetoric is consistent with the carnival ride of his plotting. Kleist took full advantage of the ability of his German language, just when a sentence may seem to be coming to a natural conclusion, to throw off new clauses with dependent phrases hanging in clusters, yet, realizing that all effects are heightened by contrast, he also employed the barest paratactic annal-like phrases to convey his hairpin narrative turns. His stories resemble folk narrative in their dependence on incident and the deadpan lack of affect. The reader is virtually never told what goes on in a character’s mind yet there is never any doubt.

For all his apparent sensationalism and singularity, all his neuroses and depression, indeed, to a large extent because of these characteristics, he portrayed a world recognizable to most of us in the twenty-first century.



1. The speaker tells a marvelous story, worthy of Zhuangzi, of a fencer’s duel with a bear whose unerring responses never fail to block the human’s artfully cultivated moves.

2. In one of the conversations with Eckermann. The German phrase is a “seltsamen, unerhörten Ereignis.”

3. Walzel found “something Kleist-like.” "The Stoker” is the opening chapter of the unfinished novel Amerika.

4. In fact, two twentieth century members of his family, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin and his son, though still maintaining the military tradition, participated in plots to assassinate Hitler.