Harold Bloom, the Yale University eminence who died in 2019 at age 89, was the most famous, most prolific, and – to use the apt word – most influential literary critic in America from the time he published The Anxiety of Influence in 1973. The title of that book has entered our critical vocabulary, as has Bloom’s thesis that a “strong” poet must overcome the influence of a powerful precursor. To become himself, Wordsworth had to contend with Milton, for example, while John Ashbery had to endure a wrestling match with Wallace Stevens.
Each thing says one thing and the same:
I am me; who I am is what I do; my name
is flung like the tongue of a bell
rung, and I, young, le bête in the chill hall, a hell
of fame, pursue you, the belle of the ball.
Myself I speak before the fall,
before the wind with its wanderlust
blows away the leaves like mortal dust,
as fall they must,
the green, the red, the yellow, the rust.
As freedom to a slave, to a nomad is home,
or the scent of escape in the ocean foam
as sung by Helen Merrill (1965)
You’re my thrill,
my joint, my shot, my magic pill.
I dwell in that gaudy den
of smoke and mirrors where, when
you close my eyes,
I take a trip
a casino where I always win
as long as I’m within
of the labyrinthine dream I’m in.
I may never get wise,
may never disbelieve these lies.
Yet I know I must get high.
Admit it. You’re one of us.
You didn’t miss the bus.