Humboldt The Poet And His Gift English Literature Essay Free Essay

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau writes, “ The mass of work forces lead quiet lives of despair. ” Thoreau ‘s mild words speak greatly of his sentiment on the corrosiveness of American industry. In 1854, the twelvemonth Walden was published, America was rife with economic enterprises from the California gold haste to transcontinental railway enlargement. Yet, as a ardent naturalist and transcendentalist, Thoreau chose non to assent to those mercenary criterions and took commiseration on those who hoped to profit from them. As Thoreau takes on a new life at Walden Pond, he builds an intrinsic connexion with nature ( hence the Thoreauvian oculus ) and becomes capable of understanding the balance between the religious and external universe. Therefore, nature, from Thoreau ‘s position, becomes the poetic ointment for his torment in such frantic times.

More than a century subsequently, Saul Bellow manifests a similar poetic connexion within his 1977 Nobel Prize winning novel, Humboldt ‘s Gift. The book is a Roman a clef, which tells the narrative of Charlie Citrine, a superb maestro of letters. Through his assorted literary chases from biographer to playwright, Charlie has earned two Pulitzer Prizes and the function of rational celebrity-mingling with persons such as Robert Kennedy and New York Senator Javits, and playing charity hoops with Harlem schoolchildren. Although Charlie was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, he has spent about all of his life in Chicago. The secret plan, which takes topographic point during the 1970s, is narrated by Charlie and is comprised of long nostalgic flashbacks that represent the myriad of helter-skelter minutes and experiences that encapsulate Charlie ‘s life. The novel solemnly yet hopefully ends with the reburial service of the dead poet and beloved friend of Charlie ‘s, Von Humboldt Fleischer, in New York City. The remainder of Humboldt ‘s Gift is deeded to the blustery and captivated memories of Charlie.

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Charlie Citrine, the immature aspiring poet and author, comes to New York in 1938 from the University of Wisconsin. Enamored by the poetic abilities of the luminary Humboldt and the specific book of verse forms, Harlequin Ballads, Charlie becomes associated with the Greenwich Village literati where he writes verse forms and reappraisals. And after merely a few months, he and Humboldt become great friends-their relationship exceeding that of a mentor-student. Charlie lauds Humboldt the “ prince of conversationists ” and continues by stating, “ His soliloquy was an oration in which he sang and played all parts ” ( 14 ) . Furthermore, the connexion between the poet and the pupil is a dream achieved, harmonizing to Charlie. It is the “ beaming centre ” and “ hope of a new beauty ” that Charlie has yearned for while sunken in the bindings of his Modern Library classics. The Wisconsin author confesses, “ I had come to hear that great things might be true… Fantastic gesture had to be made and Humboldt made them ” ( 11 ) .

While this camaraderie merely strengthens traveling into the 1940s and 50s, it takes a whipping after Humboldt ‘s calling becomes unsure due to ego-related fortunes. The poet becomes an illustration of a bird falling from a high perch-but his wings are excessively heavy with a apparently convoluted perceptual experience of the existence and himself to counter the autumn, and he can non raise the same literary force as he had antecedently done in Harlequin Ballads. While on the other manus, Charlie ‘s place as a literary leading light is being waxed through his Broadway drama Von Trenck. This disagreement in success leads to arrant enviousness on the portion of Humboldt, as he pickets the Belasco Theater, makes accusals of plagiarism, and bargains money from Charlie ‘s bank history. The terminal and death of Humboldt is starkly characterized by his effort to slay his married woman, Kathleen ( he subsequently divorces her ) with his Buick and his forced internment in New York ‘s Bellevue mental infirmary. Bellow notes Humboldt ‘s shriek: “ … you fucking Thomas Hobbes ” ( 157 ) in disapprobation of Charlie ‘s success and immaculate rational Ascension. Humboldt ‘s circuit de force is merely to be felt subsequently through Charlie ‘s religious manifestations.

Citrine ‘s connexion with Humboldt is one that goes beyond the sixtiess and past the poet ‘s decease. At the terminal of the novel, Charlie states, “ I ‘ve been attached to Humboldt for about 40 old ages… It ‘s been an enraptured connexion ” ( 477 ) . While these averments lack truth in the physical sense ( as their relationship truly ended after 1953 ) , Charlie ‘s “ I ‘ve been ” implies that his correspondence with the dead poet went beyond 1953-as though the reburial service ( the context in which Charlie makes this statement ) was Humboldt ‘s existent decease. This is an of import note that clarifies Humboldt ‘s symbolism throughout Humboldt ‘s Gift. As Mark Busby affirms in his essay Castaway, Cannibals, and the Function of Art in Saul Bellow ‘s “ Humboldt ‘s Gift ” , “ Bellow ‘s last novel, Humboldt ‘s Gift, turns off more once and for all from the possibility of a life-affirming human chance ; the lone existent flight from the universe ‘s jobs seems to be into the head and its creative activities. ”

A plausible analysis of Humboldt ‘s Gift is that the secret plan reflects the supporter ‘s correspondence with both the life and the dead. Charlie ‘s attentions are spread around many different topographic points. Those who love him include Renata Koffritz, Charlie ‘s girlfriend and attractive inside interior designer, his two girls, Mary and Lish, his brother Julius, a Corpus Christi real property baron, George Swiebel, an old grammar school friend, and Pierre Thaxter, an bizarre culturist with whom Charlie attempts to establish a periodical called The Ark. Charlie is besides affiliated with Rinaldo Cantabile, a Chicago manner Dickens ‘ Fagin, who is the prototype of American greed and larceny but besides of the state ‘s internally wilted sense of self-righteousness. At one point while in Charlie ‘s flat, Rinaldo offers a adult female to Charlie under the impression that they would all hold a 3. This homosexual hint reflects Cantabile ‘s deficiency of confidence and composure within himself.

In the novel, Charlie makes the statement that the dead “ were his staff of life and butter ” ( 116 ) . He frequently speaks of celebrated dead ( of class those whom he did non cognize personally ) such as Shakespeare, Blake, Whitman, Shelley, Wordsworth, Eliot, and Rudolf Steiner-a celebrated Swiss anthroposophist whom Charlie reads voraciously. In mention to Mark Busby ‘s statement, these persons become those whom make up Charlie Citrine ‘s mind. The subjects of Humboldt ‘s Gift are frequently found in Charlie ‘s consciousness-making Bellow ‘s Roman a clef format really effectual through its apposition of ideas and actions. In this sense, Charlie is a griever and a celebrant at the same time. He rises to the highest tableland and falls to the lowest-verbally deploring the decease of the poet in America and observing the great Romantics. Charlie therefore tries to raise the dead. While he visits Julius in Corpus Christi, Texas towards the terminal of the novel, he recalls the funeral of his male parent, “ I broke out into a perspiration. A little engine began to take down the casket on smooth-running canvas sets. There ne’er was a adult male so unwilling to travel down, to go through through the acrimonious Gatess as Father Citrine-never a adult male so unfit to lie still. Papa, that great sprinter, that broken-field smuggler, and now brought down by the tackle of heavy decease. ” ( 387 ) The emotions and feelings of Charlie at this minute perchance reflect his denial of “ heavy decease ” -his inability to grok its full weight. For this ground Charlie sides with Rudolf Steiner and his European transcendentalist Hagiographas because Steiner remains unfastened and optimistic to the possibility of an hereafter. Charlie ‘s sketch of his male parent ‘s funeral foils the quandary and position of Humboldt, for he is the 1 who died outside of the seamy 42nd Street hotel after enduring a bosom onslaught. In bend, Humboldt ‘s Gift is a contemplation of Charlie ‘s court to Humboldt. However, from Charlie ‘s position, Humboldt ‘s word picture as an single “ unfit to lie still ” is the consequence of America ‘s destructive wonts. Charlie states jeeringly, “ The state is proud of its dead poets. It takes terrific satisfaction in the poets ‘ testimony that the USA is excessively tough, excessively large, excessively much, excessively rugged, that American world is overmastering. And to be a poet is a school thing, a skirt thing, a church thing. The failing of the religious powers is proved in the puerility, lunacy, inebriation, and desperation of these sufferers. ” ( 118 ) Charlie ‘s tone here shows his elusive disgust for the manner in which America looks at its poets, as though they are mere initiates of America ‘s self-importance. In respect to Charlie ‘s doctrine of decease, he feels that Humboldt deserves more life than this short sweep of clip. Interestingly plenty, Charlie preoccupies himself more with postmortem Humboldt than he does with his parents or Demmie Vonghel, the adult female Charlie was to get married before she was killed in an aeroplane clang in South America. Therefore, Humboldt maintains a religious clasp on Charlie because of the failed nature of his literary calling ( hence America ‘s intervention of poets ) and Charlie ‘s compunction for holding left Humboldt in creaky status. The 2nd ground alludes to a invariably referenced twenty-four hours during which Charlie sees Humboldt, dirty and emaciated, eating a pretzel in New York on a kerb. Alternatively of recognizing the frail Humboldt, Charlie ducks behind parked autos out of deficiency of bravery. Bellow masterfully uses this imagination to expose the diminution and destiny of the American creative person.

As antecedently acknowledged, Bellow uses the impression of the ignored creative person in Humboldt ‘s Gift, which is strongly reflected in Charlie ‘s speculations. Citrine mentions the Gallic symbolists such as Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Rimbaud, amongst others, who portion the function of accurst poet. Surely, Humboldt is the poet against society in this circumstance because, as an American, he encounters more hinderances to his work here than in any other scene. In Humboldt ‘s defence, Charlie asserts:

… suppose the poet had been wrestled to the land by the constabulary, strapped into a sound jacket or handcugged, and rushed off dingdong in a paddy waggon like a huffy God, geting foul, and locked up ramping! Was this art versus America? To me Bellevue was like the Bowery: it gave negative testimony. Brutal Wall Street stood for power, and the Bowery, so near it, was the accusative symbol of failing. And so even with Payne Whitney where the moneyed derelicts lay. And poets like rummies and misfits or sociopaths, like the wretched, hapless or rich, sank into weakness-was that it? Having no machines, no transforming cognition comparable to the cognition of Boeing or Sperry Rand or IBM or RCA? For could a poem choice you up in Chicago and land you in New York two hours subsequently? Or could it calculate a infinite shooting? It had no such powers. And involvement was where power was. In ancient clip poesy was a force, the poet had existent strength in the material universe. Of class, the material universe was different so. But what involvement could Humboldt raise? He threw himself into failing and became a hero of misery. He consented to the monopoly of power and involvement held by money, political relations, jurisprudence, reason, engineering, because he could n’t happen the following thing, the new thing, the necessary thing for poets to make. Alternatively he did a former thing. He got himself a handgun, like Verlaine, and chased Magnasco. ” ( 156 )

In this discourse, Charlie inquiries the existent desires, aspirations, and conditions of America. He contrasts “ Wall Street ” and “ Bellevue ” to demo that the “ thaw pot ” term does non entirely refer to ethnicities, but besides to successes and failures-opposite extremes. Citrine so juxtaposes “ Boeing… Sperry Rand… IBM… RCA ” and “ a verse form ” . The former list shows names of corporations and companies. They all denote industry and industrialisation, but more significantly, “ involvement ” . Therefore, Charlie ‘s strong belief here is that when industry is compared to a verse form, the former will ever win out in America. Citrine ‘s besides makes the point that poesy does non develop and come on like industry, which is the ground why Humboldt fails as a poet. But possibly poetry serves another intent than to present “ the following thing ” or “ the new thing ” . Possibly there is a deeper intent for poesy and art in general. Styles evolve, like pragmatism to romanticism and symbolism to objectivism, but their core social suggestions and significances do non worsen with clip. The computing machine may surpass the ink, quill, and manuscript yet there are still many-sided readers of Dante, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, and others. However, Charlie shows throughout the novel that we need Humboldt, and his “ gift ” is merely hindered by the materialist arrested development of the twentieth century. For the few who do non reel and bow to this American money government, there is consolation-there is counsel. For the bulk ; on the other manus, that is blinded by the longings of the physical universe there is small hope.

Charlie suggests that it is Humboldt ‘s leaning to yield to America ‘s ends of aggrandisement ( “ money, political relations, jurisprudence, reason ” ) that leads to his ruin. All four of these illustrations represent “ power ” and because poesy merely serves a humble intent harmonizing to America ‘s criterions, those who specialize in it are prone to failure. At this point in the novel, Bellow evokes the nature of the existent poet, Delmore Schwartz, on whom he based Von Humboldt Fleischer. Schwartz, who was besides a suicidal rational, won many literary awards such as the Bollingen Prize, but was unable to go on his early life success because of alcohol addiction and mental unwellness. In effect, he became a hermit at the Marlon Hotel in New York. Nevertheless, Bellow shows that the poet has an even greater consequence after decease.

Peculiarly, no other dead person has the same consequence on Charlie. Humboldt ‘s phantoms are prevailing in Charlie ‘s life through legion mediums but the most common 1 is through his dreams and subconscious. Yet the messages sent to Charlie are obscure and vague, and as a consequence, Charlie spends much of his clip trying to decode the value of these communications. It is non until Charlie reads Humboldt ‘s will, that there is an “ end-of-the-line clarity ” . In the decision of the missive, Humboldt finishes, “ You are lazy, scandalous, tougher than you think but non as yet a dead loss. In portion you are humanely all right. We are supposed to make something for out sort. Do n’t acquire frenzied about money. Get the better of your greed. Better fortune with adult females. Last of all-remember: we are non natural existences but supernatural beings.-lovingly, Humboldt ” ( 347 ) . Humboldt ‘s line “ we are non natural existences but supernatural existences ” makes the statement that poets are most effectual when they are dead. While stockbrokers make lucks on Wall Street and existent estate barons thrive in development, poets make their grade in the “ place universe ” or the human head and imaginativeness. Charlie ‘s being in the novel shows that even the wealthiest and most successful of authors and poets are bound to neglect in the external universe. Resultantly, Charlie is comforted by these messages from Humboldt because he knows that they are applicable to his ain day-to-day battles. Furthermore, it is besides of import to observe the qualities in Humboldt ‘s personality, antecedently left out because of his decease, that are now being expressly shown in the missive. At an even greater degree of importance, is the sense of optimism and that Charlie incurs from reading Humboldt ‘s will. Citrine is given a new individuality because of the missive ‘s consoling properties and is able to transport out the thoughts of his friend, and do damagess for Humboldt ‘s sullied repute. Humboldt ‘s function in the novel is non merely a cause for Charlie but besides a friend.

The roots of Charlie ‘s continued arrested development on Humboldt ‘s thoughts, after the latter ‘s decease, prevarication in the Hagiographas of Rudolf Steiner. Humboldt ‘s individuality as a poet exhibits hints of Romanticism, since he is in fact a poet and the bosom of society ‘s commentary. This is in acute relation to the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner. Both Humboldt and Steiner carry similar weights of religious significance to Charlie because they portion traits of the English Romantic period. Rudolf Steiner, who was a twentieth century Swiss philosopher, wrote prolifically on phenomenology and religious scientific discipline. He promoted originative cognition, freedom, and individualism-three common ends sought to be achieved during Romanticism. These combined influences, in consequence, make a nonnatural experience for Charlie. Yet there are other influences on Charlie that are merely existing in the physical universe.

Through the transient experiences in Charlie ‘s life, he develops a “ moronic hell ” ( 35 ) of psychological activity. This “ hell ” comes from assorted aspects of his day-to-day modus operandi ; from being harassed by Rinaldo Cantabile, going invariably, chancing with Chicago bullies like Mike Schneiderman, playing racquetball with the Chicago rational clique, and enduring from the finance run outing clinch of his soon-to-be-divorced married woman, Denise. While Charlie is involved in his subconscious interactions with the dead every bit good as the tenet of Steiner, he writhes in torture from these combatant outside forces. The most powerful illustration of this is his strenuous divorce process with Denise. She has an insatiate thirst for Charlie ‘s money and at no point takes into consideration his mental status as a consequence of her financial goad. Charlie ‘s attorneies are overpaid and incompetent-and to add abuse to injury-the justice, Urbanovich, is unable to impart any sympathy towards him. At the same clip, because of his association with Cantabile, Charlie is arrested under unlawful intuition of being a hit adult male. Charlie ‘s disdain for this intimidation is evocative of Wordsworth ‘s ill-famed line from The World Is Too Much with Us ( 1807 ) : “ The universe is excessively much with us ; late and shortly, acquiring and disbursement, we lay waste our powers ” . Humboldt ‘s nonnatural counsel and intent for Charlie, is the perspective Wordsworth speaks of when he rejects the modern universe and yearns for “ glances that would do me less forlorn. ” This is the “ glance ” that gives Charlie ageless flight. As John W. Aldrige agrees in his book A Bend to the Mystical: “ His [ Charlie ‘s ] moral urge is to confirm life in some possibly nonnatural manner that will be commensurate with his sincere belief in human possibility. ” Furthermore, Charlie ‘s hunt for the nonnatural spirit is a rejection of the materialist. Charlie is non the poet, harmonizing to Bellow ‘s reading, but he is so an disciple who finds comfort in the presence of one. This is the “ ageless flight ” that Charlie finds non merely in Humboldt, but besides in Steiner, Blake, Wordsworth, Plato, Elliot, and others. While Charlie takes psychological safety from the “ mountains of platitude absurdness ” ( 477 ) , he mentally avoids Denise, Cantabile, Renata, Urbanovich, Szathmar, Thaxter, and the similar.

Regardless of whether Charlie manages these “ flights ” through anthroposophical transcendental philosophy or poetic rescue, they are both crystalline and give the same consequence on him. When Charlie is on a plane with his girlfriend, Renata, winging from Chicago to New York, he drowns himself in a mental discourse on the ego and the external universe: “ Once in a piece I get shocked into upper wakefulness, I turn a corner, see the ocean, and my bosom tips over with happiness-it feels so free! Then I have the thought that, every bit good as visual perception, I can besides be beheld from yonder and am non a distinct object but incorporated with the remainder, with cosmopolitan sapphire, purple blue. For what is this sea this ambiance, making within the eight-inch diameter of your skull? ( I say nil of the Sun and the galaxy which are besides at that place. ) At the centre of the perceiver there must be infinite for the whole, and this nil infinite is non an empty nil but a nil reserved for everything. You can experience this nothing-everything capacity with rapture. ” ( 313 ) This transition is a 1 of Romantic tone and anthroposophical significance. The “ endlessness of the skull ” alludes to Coleridge ‘s usage of “ the sacred river ” in his Kubla Khan ( 1797 ) . In Xanadu, the scene of the verse form, Coleridge gives offers a representation of Eden, which Bellow describes by his ain agencies as the “ sea ” or “ purple blue ” . Coleridge besides describes the supernatural forces- ” A barbarian topographic point! As sanctum and enchanted as e’er beneath a waning Moon was haunted by adult female howling for her demon-lover! And from this chasm, with constant convulsion seething as if this Earth in fast thick bloomerss were take a breathing, as mighty mountain momentarily was forced. ” While Coleridge had written unfinished verse form in an opium-induced daze, the forces he describes are highly graphic through metaphor. From the English poet ‘s position, this “ barbarous topographic point ” can be compared to swerve euphory. However, the images are besides similar to Charlie ‘s “ free [ dom ] ” he achieves in the pure imaginativeness since there is a physical ego, from which he leaves to make that of the subconscious. Harmonizing to both Charlie and Humboldt, this free imaginativeness is a sort of self-independence. Furthermore, these two transitions ( Charlie ‘s and Coleridge ‘s ) show the influence of Romantic transcendental philosophy ( a combination of the influences of Humboldt and Steiner ) on the immature author ‘s head and being.

In these contemplations on decease and the hereafter, Charlie compares his ain life to immortality. He describes the transition from life to the following universe as “ something to surge into, a infinite, fresh, neglected ” ( 328 ) . Despite the life author ‘s hunt for this “ following universe ” truth in order to reaffirm Humboldt ‘s being and significance, he realizes that immortality is a psychological quality instead than a physical experience. It therefore becomes evident that Humboldt ‘s clasp on Charlie ‘s mental province is his “ gift ” after all.

But within this gift, beyond its ambiguity and deficiency of lucidity, is the apprehension of the poet ‘s true intent in society. In add-on to an enclosed missive addressed to Charlie, Humboldt ‘s will besides incorporate an abstract for a movie about author named Corcoran, who is unable to print his plants because of personal and familial issues. He is the true poete maudit ( the Gallic term for accurst poet, or poet against society ) -the “ gift ” of an identifiable character to Charlie. In the will, Humboldt writes: “ To the highest types of Martyrdom the 20th century has added the ludicrous sufferer. This, you see, is the creative person. By wishing to play a great function in the destiny of world he becomes a rotter and a gag. A dual penalty is inflicted on him as the manque representative of significance and beauty. When the artist-agonist has learned to be done for and shipwrecked, to encompass licking and assert nil, to repress his will and accept his assignment to the snake pit of modern truth possibly his Orphic powers will be restored, the rocks will dance once more when he plays. Then heaven and Earth will be reunited. After long divorce. With what joy on both side, Charlie! What joy! ” ( 345-346 ) These “ Orphic powers ” of vocal and that Charlie hopes to accrue are common ends and desires for both him and Humboldt, and through this transition the latter reaffirms that despite their differing manners of being they in fact portion the same artistic “ martyrdom ” . In the concluding pages of the novel, during Humboldt ‘s reburial service, he says, “ Search me… I ‘m a metropolis male child myself. They must be crocuses. ” ( 471 ) Although some critics such as Ben Siegel contend that Bellow ‘s usage of dry linguistic communication during this scene promotes the statement that there is no metempsychosis of Charlie ‘s individuality, I disagree in this respect. Bellow intimates here that there are marks of a new spring. Whether or non his linguistic communication is wholly convincing is irrelevant. Charlie ‘s temper and construct of Humboldt has improved drastically since Menasha, Humboldt ‘s uncle, has given him the will. The contrast of “ metropolis male child ” and knowledge of “ crocuses ” is an indicant that Humboldt ‘s “ gift ” and message to Charlie has been clarified through this profound minute of reburial and re-recognition.

Bellow ‘s permeating inquiry in Humboldt ‘s Gift follows: what is a poet ‘s true social significance? As the writer ‘s voice, Charlie answers: “ [ the poet ] has the power to call off the universe ‘s activity, noise, and go fit to hear the kernel of things. ” ( 312 ) Surely, in an age when people ‘s neuroticisms are exploited and their attendings overtaken, the poet does non stand as a mighty power. But for some who reject the unsavoury philistinism and savageness of modern America, such as Charlie, are acute to take advantage of “ the poets ” intent. Humboldt is Charlie ‘s Muse, and frailty versa. Both persons are in demand of each other ‘s ability “ to hear ” , commiserate, and go on ( at least Charlie does for Humboldt ) . In the novel, Humboldt ‘s “ gift ” is this empathy, this usher to excel the physical being every bit good as facticity. In the concluding minutes of the novel, while Humboldt ‘s coffin is being lowered into the grave, Charlie reflects, “ Therefore, the condensation of corporate intelligences and combined inventivenesss, its overseas telegrams mutely whirling, dealt with the single poet ” ( 487 ) He contrasts this impression with the obvious mentioning that the lowering device had been made by applied scientists. Bawl farther denotes Humboldt ‘s greatest bequest as a religious instead than physical one. But while Humboldt is re-laid to rest and his “ condensation ” waters the “ crocuses ” , he is reaffirming Charlie ‘s strong belief the Humboldt-the poet-is existent.

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