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Cheltenham Elegies/Keats' Odal Cycle by John…
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Cheltenham Elegies/Keats' Odal Cycle

by John Keats

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This chapbook, published by Gyan Books of New Delhi, India, features English poet John Keats' five major Odes with the Cheltenham Elegies by American poet Adam Fieled. It also includes an introduction by Fieled. ( )
  afieled | Aug 3, 2015 |
The process of critical comparison in literature reveals and adumbrates, over a long expanse of time, that in the interstices between works of literary art, of perhaps equal value, a system of compensations binds and fastens comparison and chiasmus. When positing the Cheltenham Elegies in relation to Keats’ Odal Cycle, and bearing in mind the preponderant strength and subtlety of Keats’ prosody, I would like to suggest this compensatory chiasmus for the Elegies— just as Keats’ prosody not only vivifies the Odes but justifies the entire Odal endeavor, the Cheltenham Elegies are vivified and justified by the exquisite tensions and dramatic intimacies between the specific characters who populate them. Keats’ Odes, it must be iterated, are populated by no specific person other than the Odal protagonist— the intimacy between this protagonist and Art and Nature must suffice. The intimacies thus explored are Platonic intimacies. As human drama must compensate for metrical sublimity in the Elegies, what should be sublime in them are the intricate complexities (scaffolding again) between the characters, and the sense of crescendo/decrescendo inhering in the miniaturized dramas which unfold and coalesce from line to line, and from (as certain characters are carried over) from Elegy to Elegy. The precise substitution is humanism for formalism— and heightened psychological acuity for heightened diction. Poets and critics are free to decide, in their own systems of compensation, which counts for more, within the context of poetry, rather than in drama, philosophy, or literary criticism itself.
 
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To the extent that there is American literature worth considering, American literature about the American suburbs has never been particularly edifying. John Updike’s “Rabbit” books flounder beneath a third person narrative voice too light, complacent, and tepid to render many details vividly or sharply. As such, it’s a voice of little long-term relevance, or of any relevance on a “world” level. Updike is generally, when he assays the suburbs, light literature about a realm darker and more ponderous then is usually supposed. The weight of American materialism, transposed onto a landscape freighted with expectations of complete (and naively imagined) placidity, creates an ambience of dullness charged (in a contradictory way) with menace and foreboding. Human life is not placid, but in the American suburbs, it’s supposed to be. So, the suburban trap is to ape placidity. When the charade is carried through in a time of great, national economic crisis, it becomes an expression of despair and self-parody. Despair and self-parody is what I always perceived in Cheltenham— its indigenous interior landscape. In 2011, as a national economic crisis coalesced and suburban casualties began to escalate, it was natural for me to look back and ponder, in elegiac mode.
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