Donald Justice | Critical Essay by Dana Gioia

This literature criticism consists of approximately 8 pages of analysis & critique of Donald Justice.
This section contains 4,881 words
(approx. 17 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Essay by Dana Gioia

SOURCE: "Tradition and an Individual Talent," in Can Poetry Matter?: Essays on Poetry and American Culture, Graywolf Press, 1992, pp. 221-36.

In the essay below, Gioia argues that Justice creates an intertextual dialogue in his poetry through his conscious borrowing from and response to other writers.

Anyone who reads Donald Justice's poetry at length will eventually note how often his poems seem to originate out of other literary texts. While most poems conduct a conversation with the past—if only by employing a form or genre their audience will recognize—authors, especially Americans, often exert immense effort and ingenuity to disguise their literary antecedents. If poetry grows out of the dialectic between innovation and emulation, our literature has always prized originality over continuity. Originality is, after all, America's one strict tradition.

Donald Justice, however, appears unconcerned about revealing the extent to which his poems rely on the literary tradition. Departures, Selected Poems, The Sunset Maker, and A Donald Justice Reader all end with "Notes" in which the author identifies the sources of particular poems, including some borrowings that even a sophisticated reader would not have detected. Other poems begin with clearly labeled epigraphs that contain images or phrases used later in the text. Even Justice's titles openly advertise their genealogy: "Sestina on Six Words by Weldon Kees," "Last Days of Prospero," "After a Phrase Abandoned by Wallace Stevens," "Variations on a Text by Vallejo," "Henry James by the Pacific." Whereas most writers diligently hide their literary debts, Justice practices what accountants call "full disclosure." In this respect he writes as a historian would, carefully crediting all of his predecessors to acknowledge that scholarship—like literature itself—is a collective enterprise. Justice's meticulous notation not only attests to his integrity as a writer, but it also suggests that his borrowings are a conscious and central aspect of his poetics.

Until going through all of Justice's published poetry, however, even a careful reader may not realize the full extent and diversity of the author's appropriations. Moreover, such an examination also reveals the surprising fact that Justice's conscious employment of other texts for his own imaginative purposes is not part of an early imitative stage but has increased with each collection. Whereas his first volume, The Summer Anniversaries (1960), contains only five poems (out of thirty-two total) that have overt literary sources, Justice's second collection, Night Light (1967), includes no less than eleven (out of forty). In Departures (1973), the ratio increases with ten out of twenty-nine poems openly drawing material from other literary works. In Selected Poems (1979), four of the sixteen previously uncollected poems employ borrowed literary models. (This count does not include the Tremayne poems, which show an oblique debt to Kees's Robinson and Berryman's Henry poems). Finally, in The Sunset Maker (1987), not only do nine of the twenty-five poems owe debts to other literary works (three are translations), but the last half of the book constitutes two internally referential sequences of poems, stories, and memoir that borrow and develop material from one another.

I do not claim this census is scientific. Another critic might arrive at a slightly different total or make a convincing argument why a particular poem does or does not belong on the list. But by any count, it appears that at least one quarter of Justice's published poems utilize openly borrowed material—even if it is only something as small as a memorable phrase. His appropriations vary from entire poems (like Attila József's 1927 "O Europe," which Justice rewrote about the American landscape as "1971") to borrowed situations and characters ("Last Days of Prospero"). He may steal an opening line (as he did from the beginning of John Peale Bishop's "Ode," which now also starts Justice's "The Grandfathers"). He may adopt elements of a poet's style (as in his Guillevic homages) or a particular typographical arrangement (like Hart Crane's use of marginal commentary in The Bridge, which found its way into one version of Justice's "Childhood" before being revised away). He also has reshaped prose passages into verse while keeping much of the original phrasing, as in "Young Girls Growing Up (1911)," which recasts an incident from Kafka's diaries. And sometimes he simply quotes an author in a passing allusion. The sheer diversity of his textual appropriations is not only impressive but unusual, as is his habit of underscoring each debt with a conspicuous epigraph or end-note that heightens the reader's awareness of the transaction. One often reads an allusive author unconscious of his borrowings. Justice, a lifelong teacher, intends his allusions to be recognized—whether the reader is prepared for them or not.

When critics discuss the debt one poem owes to another, they usually analyze the relationship in terms of influence. In understanding the nature of Justice's textual appropriations, however, traditional concepts of influence are not especially helpful. Except for a few early poems influenced by Auden (one of which, "Sonnet," is equal to anything in its model, Auden's "In Time of War"), Justice has always had an identifiable tone and manner. His obsession with formal experimentation and his impatience with writing the same kind of poem for very long have given his work an extraordinary stylistic variety out of proportion with its relatively small size. But his poetic signature remains constant—clarity of expression, relentless economy of means, self-conscious formal design, unpretentious intelligence, and quiet but memorable musicality. Reading his work, one always senses an integrating and independent imagination.

Discussing literary influences, one also looks for the critical relationships between an author and one or two dominant predecessors. Reading Blake, one recognizes the crucial importance of Milton as a model. Studying Baudelaire, one considers his obsessive relationship with Poe. A contemporary writer like William Everson, for example, cannot be understood without constant reference to his lifelong master, Robinson Jeffers. Harold Bloom insists that such dominant influences must be seen in Freudian terms as decisive psychic struggles. In order to become strong and mature, a younger poet must assimilate and then overpower his elder authority figures. Such theories, however, do little to clarify Justice's case. Not only does one not sense any psychic wrestling with his three dominant early masters—Stevens, Baudelaire, and Auden—one also doesn't find much evidence of them in his poems outside of a few deliberate homages. Likewise, the broad range of Justice's borrowings—from T.S. Eliot's prose and Hart Crane's marginalia to Duke Ellington's lyrics and Mother Goose's syntax—makes it impossible to discuss dominant single influences. If Justice is, to use Bloom's term, a "strong poet," one aspect of his strength is the ability to draw from the breadth of world literature.

The one critic who provides a helpful model for Justice's appropriations is T.S. Eliot. In his 1920 essay on the Elizabethan dramatist Philip Massinger, Eliot wrote that one could learn a great deal about a poet by understanding the way in which he borrows:

Immature poets imitate: mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.

Except in his conscious homages, Justice does not imitate the styles or employ the thematics of the texts from which he draws material. Instead, like Eliot's mature poet, he steals an image or idea, a phrase or pattern to use in a new imaginative context. In "Counting the Mad," for example, Justice borrowed the meter and syntax of the Mother Goose toe-and-finger counting rhyme, "This little pig went to market." But Justice's poem imitates neither the style nor effect of its source:

      This one was put in a jacket,
      This one was sent home.
      This one was given bread and meat
      But would eat none,
      And this one cried No No No No
      All day long.
 
      This one looked at the window
      As though it were a wall,
      This one saw things that were not there,
      This one things that were,
      And this one cried No No No No
      All day long.
 
      This one thought himself a bird,
      This one a dog,
      And this one thought himself a man,
      An ordinary man,
      And cried and cried No No No No
      All day long.

The original nursery rhyme (or at least the most common modern variant, which Justice uses as his model) is playful and intimate—as befitting a verbal and tactile game a mother shares with a small child. By keeping the syntactic pattern of the original more or less intact but substituting shocking new subject matter, Justice achieves the double effect of familiarity and dislocation. The harmless market-day adventures of five childlike pigs become a nightmarish tour of an insane asylum. Significantly, Justice formalizes the idiosyncratic rhythms of the original nursery rhyme into a fixed stanza. Repeating this pattern three times, always ending with the staccato cries of the inmate who "thought himself a man, / An ordinary man," Justice creates a formal feeling of confinement analogous to the mad's physical incarceration. Imaginative literature about insanity often tries to re-create the disjunctive mental processes of the mad. This method tends to create complex imitations of the mad's interior monologue. In "Counting the Mad," however, Justice views the insane from a largely exterior perspective. He reproduces what a visitor would see or hear, and in doing so also reproduces the horror a visitor would feel. The only projection into the interior life of the mad is in the final stanza, where he states the central figure's self-image of normality. Although Justice's subject is potentially complex and unknowable, by using the Mother Goose paradigm he makes the finished poem simple, lucid, and accessible.

"Counting the Mad" also illustrates Eliot's point that good poets improve or transform what they take because Justice's poem is both more ambitious than and different from its model. This sort of appropriation is typical of Justice. He takes something from one context and uses it in another. Reading in a newspaper about "a hatbox of old letters" to be sold at auction, he transformed the item into the elegiac poem "To the Unknown Lady Who Wrote the Letters Found in the Hatbox." Finding a striking description in a John D. MacDonald detective novel ("One of those men who can be a car salesman or a tourist from Syracuse or a hired assassin"), Justice—who was then living in Syracuse—expands the passage into a menacing, metaphysical poem, mysterious in ways quite alien to MacDonald. Justice's poem "The Tourist from Syracuse" ends:

    Shall I confess who I am?
    My name is all names and none.
    I am the used-car salesman,
    The tourist from Syracuse,
 
    The hired assassin, waiting.
    I will stand here forever
    Like one who has missed his bus—
 
    Familiar, anonymous—
 
    On my usual corner,
    The corner at which you turn
    To approach that place where now
    You must not hope to arrive.

The way Justice elaborates MacDonald's brief description into an independent poem is characteristic of his creative method. "The Tourist from Syracuse," however, illustrates this intertextual procedure at its simplest. Although Justice's poem achieves a degree of linguistic and intellectual complexity beyond MacDonald's original, it nonetheless bears a paraphrasable resemblance to its prose parent. Justice rarely develops borrowed material in so linear a fashion. Usually his appropriations only provide a point of departure toward an imaginative end unforeshadowed in the original.

More typical of Justice's creative method is his "After a Phrase Abandoned by Wallace Stevens," which bears as its epigraph an eight-word fragment from Stevens's notebook ("The alp at the end of the street"). Justice has revised the poem significantly since its first appearance as a three-part sequence. Its most current version reads in full:

      The alp at the end of the street
      Occurs in the dreams of the town.
      Over burgher and shopkeeper,
      Massive, he broods,
      A snowy-headed father
      Upon whose knees his children
      No longer climb;
      Or is reflected
      In the cool, unruffled lakes of
      Their minds, at evening,
      After their day in the shops,
      As shadow only, shapeless
      As a wind that has stopped blowing.
 
      Grandeur, it seems,
      Comes down to this in the end—
      A street of shops
      With white shutters
      Open for business …

This poem does bear a family resemblance to Stevens's work. Justice not only borrows the opening line from his Hartford master. He also employs Stevens's characteristic dialectic between the sublime and quotidian suggested by the borrowed phrase. Moreover, Justice uses some Stevensian stock characters, the burgher and the shopkeeper. But no sooner has Justice established this Stevensian scene in the three opening lines than he liberates the town from the elder poet's metaphysics. The new poem uses the contrast between the cold, primal presence of the mountain and the increasingly self-contained, man-made reality of the village to make points quite alien to Stevens. Justice observes the psychological situation of the townspeople, who have banished the paternal image of nature to the boundaries of their consciousness. He postulates no Stevensian struggle with abstractions of reality. Rather than transforming his observations into the premises of a supreme fiction, Justice accepts the loss of mythic consciousness as a condition of modern life. Justice even celebrates—despite the touch of irony in the last stanza—the functional beauty of the burghers' workaday world. Without mocking Stevens's fixation on the loss of religious faith, Justice quietly moves beyond this late romantic concern to create a poem of contemporary consciousness.

Justice's poem acknowledges Stevens as its precursor. It even initiates a subtle ontological discussion between the younger and the elder poet. But there is no Bloomian struggle for displacement. Rather than the anxiety of influence, Justice displays a characteristic confidence and respectful tolerance. "True poetic history," Bloom has asserted, "is the story of how poets as poets have suffered from other poets, just as any true biography is the story of how anyone suffered his own family—of his own displacement of family into lovers and friends." Justice's example demonstrates the sheer inadequacy of such Freudian theories of poetic influence. As a means of apprehending how Justice works his intertextual appropriations, Bloomian displacement offers no more insight than does the simple theory of imitation. It is more helpful here to expand Eliot's notion of the "mature poet." No anguished rebel, Justice is a thoroughly mature writer—stylistically, intellectually, psychologically. His authorial identity meets its precursors with the self-assurance, independence, and discriminating affection found in a fully developed and healthy psyche.

"After a Phrase Abandoned by Wallace Stevens" also demonstrates the unusual manner in which Justice uses borrowed material to generate new poems. There were several distinctive ways in which quotations from other texts were commonly incorporated into Modernist poems. They were, for example, used as decorative devices, arresting local effects to add interest to the surface of the poem. Although Modernist poetics minimized the notion of decorative language, properly proportioned decoration remained one of its fundamental poetic techniques. Marianne Moore frequently employed striking quotations in this manner, as in, for example, the second stanza of "England." Quotation was also used as an emphatic device to add force or authority to a passage. Ezra Pound habitually inserted classical quotations into his poems to achieve this effect. Emphatic quotation became a central technique for his "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley." Quotation was also used as a contrapuntal device to provide an ironic contrast to other elements in a poem. Eliot borrowed lines of poems, songs, prayers, and nursery rhymes to use contrapuntally in The Waste Land and "The Hollow Men." Sometimes an author even used borrowed language architecturally, as Nabokov did in several of his novels, using, for instance, Poe's "Annabel Lee" as a recurring emotional scaffold in Lolita.

Although one Finds examples of decorative, emphatic, and contrapuntal quotation in Justice's work ("After a Phrase Abandoned by Wallace Stevens," for instance, borrows a decorative phrase from Auden's song "Fish in the unruffled lakes"), Justice's characteristic method is to use quotation as a generative device. He coaxes a new poem out of the unrealized possibilities suggested by a borrowed phrase or image. His Stevens poem proceeds directly from the images and ideas of the fragment. "The Tourist from Syracuse" likewise uncovers levels of meaning in MacDonald's phrase beyond the normal depth of the detective genre.

In the work of Pound or Eliot, borrowed quotations usually maintain their original identity despite their new context. Even when they are used ironically, one hears them as foreign words imported into the new text. Their quotation marks, as it were, remain intact. The final text often has the texture of a collage in which borrowed and original materials combine to create a novel effect. But in Justice's work, quoted material usually seems totally assimilated into the new poem. Not only does it no longer seem foreign to the text; the new poem appears to have grown organically and seamlessly out of it. One occasionally sees this generative technique in the early modernists, as in the opening section of Eliot's "Ash-Wednesday," which incorporates a line translated from Cavalcanti ("Because I do not hope to turn again"). But even in "Ash-Wednesday," Eliot ends the passage by returning to emphatic quotation. Having stolen a line to begin his poem, Eliot makes public penance by quoting the end of the "Hail Mary" as a self-standing coda.

Although Justice has appropriated other texts with the imaginative rapacity of an Eliot or a Pound, he has never been much drawn to the techniques of collage. The surfaces of his poems reflect such high polish, his syntax unfolds with such architectural assurance, that one suspects he found the disjunctive energy of high-modernist collage unappealing. Even when he began poems out of chance fragments (as in the aleatory poems in Departures), he left them with a seamless finish. Generative quotation has been a technique more compatible with his tastes, and no American poet has used it more effectively. When Justice titled his third collection Departures, he slyly but self-consciously confessed to this obsession. Stylistically the volume was a departure from his earlier formal work, but the book was also built around a series of poems that began as imaginative departures from other texts, some drawn from literary tradition, others from chance methods. Justice's title signals the author's unabashed reliance on the intertextual play between tradition and innovation. Tradition, to tweak Prof. Bloom one last time, is not a threatening father intimidating creation, but a generative matrix for new poems.

The reason why theories of influence as Romantic rebellion have so little applicability to Justice is that he is essentially a post-modern classicist, a contemporary artist who understands the sustaining power of tradition without seeking to stifle innovation and experiment. "Classicist" and "tradition" have often become code words for aesthetic and political reactionism, but Justice is no traditionalist in the narrow sense. As a poet, critic, and translator, he has assimilated the achievements of international modernism, but he has from the beginning also recognized that his historical position comes after that aesthetic revolution ended. Justice's response to the predicament of the post-modern artist is part of his originality. He fostered no illusions of perpetuating the superannuated avant-garde aesthetic (a temptation that ruined many artists of his generation, especially the composers). Instead, he confronted the burden of the past by exploring and consolidating the enduring techniques of modernism to create a style that reconciled the experiments of the previous two generations with the demands of the present.

A central means of achieving this synthesis was to borrow material and techniques from the major Modernists and determine—in practical poetic terms rather than the abstract critical concepts—what remained viable for the contemporary artist. Eliot, Pound, Stevens, James, Williams, Rilke, Crane, Vallejo, Lorca, Kafka, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, József, Alberti, and others provided the material for experiment. The imaginative mission of consolidating the heritage of modernism also explains why, despite his voracious appropriations, Justice so rarely borrows from earlier writers. With only a handful of exceptions, his appropriations begin chronologically with Baudelaire and Rimbaud, at the start of modern poetry. (And even his use of earlier sources like Dante in "Hell" often have an Eliotic or Poundian flavor). Contrasting the chronological range of Justice's allusions and quotations with those of a Pound or Eliot, Kees or Lowell demonstrates how closely focused Justice has been on Modernism.

In someone less talented or self-critical, Justice's allusive method might have proved dangerous. To borrow the words of great writers for inclusion in a new poem forces the reader to compare the new text with the original. Poetry so openly intertextual also risks seeming remote or pedantic, something drawn bloodlessly from books rather than learned firsthand from life. The common complaint of "academic formalism" leveled at members of Justice's generation is inadequate to address either the early work or ultimate accomplishments of poets like Richard Wilbur, Louis Simpson, James Merrill, Donald Hall, William Jay Smith, or Adrienne Rich. Nonetheless there does remain—as often is the case with unfair but enduring criticism—an uncomfortable kernel of truth in that generational stereotype. Some of Justice's contemporaries have produced dully learned and pointlessly self-conscious work. Poets are often scholarly creatures, and much intelligence and learning goes into every genuine poem. But intelligence cannot endow a poem with life in the absence of emotion or imagination. Perhaps a poet can never know too much, but a poem can.

Despite the literary models behind many of his poems, Justice rarely seems bookish. Although subtle in language and sophisticated in technique, his work—except for the overtly experimental pieces in Departures—is exemplary in its clarity and accessibility. One always senses the emotional impulse driving the poem (which is frequently a painful sense of loss or, more recently, bittersweet nostalgia), and that intuition clarifies all of the other elements, even when they are complex or deliberately ambiguous. But if Justice's language is often tentative, his poems never display the densely allusive or obscure manner of his teachers, Robert Lowell and John Berryman. His learning is assimilated into the total experience of the poem. One need not know the source of his allusions to understand what they mean in their new context. Even writing about literary subjects such as Henry James or the forgotten poet Robert Boardman Vaughn, Justice remains accessible. In this respect, his work reminds one of the poems of Jorge Luis Borges. Despite their formidable learning, Borges's poems are not difficult, because their intellectual content is always integrated into their imaginative and emotional fabric. Borges might have been speaking for Justice when he said, "I am also living when I dream, when I sleep, when I write, when I read." Reading is a natural part of Justice's poetic process because it is an integral part of his life.

Justice has fulfilled Eliot's challenge in "Tradition and the Individual Talent." He has demonstrated what Eliot called a poet's indispensable "historical sense," the ability to perceive the literary past in order to develop his own contemporary identity. Tradition, Eliot maintained, "cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labor." Not every poet is willing to make the effort. Most are content to work within a received (and therefore entropic) idea of tradition. Aside from the sheer excellence of his poetry, Justice's importance comes from his determination to explore and redefine the traditions available to contemporary poets. The Modernists accomplished the task for their generation largely in their prose. Justice, however, has conducted his inquiries almost entirely in verse.

Prefacing Platonic Scripts, his only prose collection (which includes more pages of interviews than essays), Justice regrets having written so little criticism. "I see now," he remarks, "that criticism can be of enormous value in helping to define and refine one's own thinking." But even while sharing Justice's regret, one must point out that his poems have performed an important critical function in evaluating the heritage of Modernism. Without ever becoming didactic or dully programmatic, they have clarified the possibilities of contemporary poetry. They are intellectually challenging without losing their emotional force. Although his poems pursue an investigative mission, they never forget that their primary purpose is to be good poetry. They are experimental in the happiest sense—experiments that succeed. His achievement has been to synthesize the diverse strands of Modernism into a powerful, new classical style.

Justice's poetry combines the concentration and energy of Modernism with the clarity and accessibility that typify classical styles. Although the tradition out of which he writes is the Modern movement, his sensibility exhibits the chief features of classicism—unity of design and aim, simplicity of means, clarity of expression, and a governing sense of form, all grounded in an informing tradition. There is also a notable element of restraint, but not in the stereotypical sense of excluding violence and emotion, which classical styles do not do (Beethoven, after all, was the apogee of classicism). Instead, classical styles control and balance emotional energy within a total design. Classicism has never had much good press in America. Our nation prefers the technicolor claims of Romanticism. But classicism is not a single style; rather, it is a sensibility that must in each age reinvent its own means of expression. At its best—which in contemporary art is very rare—classicism can achieve a unique balance of accessibility and profundity, of energy and concentration.

To demonstrate how effectively Justice's style achieves classicism's double aims of simplicity and profundity, we will end by examining "The Grandfathers." In this short, early poem Justice had already created a style with an accessible surface and complex subtext, Characteristically, he did this by appropriating another poet's words to create a subtle intertextual argument. "The Grandfathers" begins with the opening line of "Ode" by John Peale Bishop (a largely forgotten figure who wrote half a dozen of the best American poems of the twenties and thirties). Here is Justice's poem:

    THE GRANDFATHERS
 
    Why will they never sleep?
    John Peale Bishop
 
    Why will they never sleep,
    The old ones, the grandfathers?
    Always you find them sitting
    On ruined porches, deep
    In the back country, at dusk,
    Hawking and spitting.
    They might have sat there forever,
    Tapping their sticks,
    Peevish, discredited gods.
    Ask the lost traveler how,
    At road-end, they will fix
    You maybe with the cold
    Eye of a snake or a bird
    And answer not a word,
    Only these blank, oracular
    Headshakes or headnods.

On a narrative level "The Grandfathers" is a descriptive poem about taciturn country elders, the sort of old men one might observe while traveling backwoods roads. Read as a realistic lyric examining archetypical figures of American folklore, "The Grandfathers"—with its quirky irregular rhyme scheme and sharp images—is a haunting poem. Aside from compliments, it does not appear to need much commentary. But if one goes back to its source, Bishop's "Ode," one finds an unexpected poem, which begins:

     Why will they never sleep
     Those great women who sit
     Peering at me with parrot eyes?
     They sit with grave knees; they keep
     Perpetual stare; and their hands move
     As though hands could be aware—
     Forward and back, to begin again—
     As though on tumultuous shuttles of wind they wove
     Shrouds out of air.

Bishop's poem describes a frightening vision of the three Fates, who become symbols for a tragic pagan worldview. The three sisters serve as horrific reminders of man's mortality and the transience of human accomplishment. Bishop has no protection from them because his Christian faith, with its promise of salvation and resurrection, is dead. "Ode" ends:

     There was One who might have saved
     Me from the grave dissolute stones
     And parrot eyes. But He is dead,
     Christ is dead. And in a grave
     Dark as a sightless skull He lies
     And of His bones are charnels made.

Returning to "The Grandfathers" after studying Bishop's poem of existential dread, one sees a different text. What seemed like a macabre but naturalistic lyric now also reads as a densely metaphorical examination of how religious anxiety persists even after the religion itself has died. One now notices, for instance, the ambiguity of reference for "they" in the opening line. Does it refer to "the grandfathers," as one might initially have assumed, or to "The old ones," or to something else left unstated (such as the "they" in Bishop's original, quoted in the epigraph)? One also notes that the grandfathers themselves may not be as entirely literal as they as first appeared. These ancient figures consistently operate on both a realistic and metaphorical level. Continuing through the poem, the reader now finds that many of the seemingly realistic details also have sinister, religious meanings. If they are indeed divinities, Justice's "old ones," those "Peevish, discredited gods." may indeed "have sat there forever." Two carefully elaborated levels of meaning coexist in the poem, each becoming a metaphor for the other. On a realistic level, "The Grandfathers" is a study of malign but impotent backcountry elders; on the intertextual and metaphorical level, it describes the silent but troubling gods who still haunt the modern psyche. Characteristically, Justice designs the poem so it can be read satisfyingly on the first level alone, but he also creates a mythic subtext that can be understood only by reference to the poem's source. Justice's headnote from Bishop, therefore, isn't only an acknowledgment of the poet's borrowing; it is also a necessary clue to the poem's tradition, which includes not only Bishop's "Ode" but other Modernist poems about the death of religion.

Poems like "The Grandfathers" demonstrate the centrality of textual appropriation to Justice's aesthetic. Without understanding the intertextual complexity of his work, one cannot fully read his poems. Placing Justice in his own self-defined Modernist tradition and appreciating the hidden complexity of his sometimes deceptively simple classical style, however, reveals a profound and challenging poet. He has shown that Modernism remains a living tradition for artists strong enough to approach it with imagination and independence.

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