Emerson's Secret Theory of Great Poetry.
Underground in the university, in the stacks, under my breath, alone, I find and chant Emerson's poem: "Threnody".
Beside it, in a short book, one Charles Foster has shoehorned Emerson's gnomai into a theory of poetry. In it I find the secret to great poetry. Emerson says the secret of great poetry...is great character.
Only critics disagree; why, every poet in history from Plato to Milton takes seriously their own greatness! But is it true?
If poetry is character, then good and bad poetry is good and bad character. Great poetry is great character. The poem reads the poet's character back at him, if Emerson is right!
If poetry is character, we only understand poetry by understanding character, what that means. Character is not personality. "Persona"; an actor's mask. Character's from the Greek kharakter, a stamp, impression, mark. A blemish, even. It passed via old French into the term "to write". So we write from our character, and our character is a kind of writing in the form of our works and days.
If poetry is character, then we moderns inscribe our characters onto machines. Are we men like men past, to inscribe soul into cyberspace? Does the Internet imprint, as we print on it?
Emerson goes on to say all great books seem written by one hand. What is this irreducible and timeless character of the hand that writes those books? Have we moderns got the character to mark this single hand whose writing Emerson reads?