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James Longenbach

James Longenbach is the author of five distinguished critical studies of modern literature, most recently The Resistance to Poetry (Chicago, 2005). His three books of poems, including the forthcoming Draft of a Letter, are published by Chicago. Starting in the fall of 2006, he will be the Bain-Swiggett Professor of Poetry at Princeton University.


Purity, Restraint, Stillness

Summer 2006 | Essays

The word surrender makes this achievement sound easy, as if the victory of each day were to wake up looking exactly like yourself. But even if we all possess certain rhythms, certain callings, not everyone is able to exist in the simple act of recognizing them. The surrender of the will is itself impossible merely to will, and we may struggle with the act of surrender more deeply than we struggle with the act of rebellion. W. B. Yeats called the moment of recognizing oneself a “withering into the truth,” and the word “wither” seems just right, for the discovery does not feel like a blossoming. Nor does it happen only once, like an inoculation. Proust’s Elstir does not inhabit himself truly until he has achieved great age.