The Regenerate Lyric: Theology and Innovation in American Poetry

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Elisa New presents a major revision of the accepted account of Emerson as the source of the American poetic tradition. New challenges the view that Emerson not only overthrew New England religious orthodoxy but founded a poetic tradition that fundamentally renounced that orthodoxy in favour of a secular, Romantic approach. She contends that Emerson's reinvention of the religion as a species of poetry is tested and found wanting by the very poetic innovators whom Emerson addressed and that a counter-tradition is evident in his major heirs - Whitman, Dickinson, Crane, Stevens, Frost and Lowell. Indeed, Emerson's own poetry failed in many ways to live up to his views and instead revealed an inherent paradox: that co-opting of religion by a poetic theory alienates religion from its life principle - theology - and disables the poem as well.