Against literary idolatry


19 April 2006, 19.28 CET

“‘All metaphor breaks down somewhere,’ said Robert Frost, ‘that is the beauty of it.’ This evasive charm is something that [The Faerie Queen] is always tracing, even as it struggles with an equally disturbing truth: some metaphors refuse to break down, and that is the beauty and danger of them.

The strenuous play of Spenser’s writing involves more than working out a redemptive iconography or syncretistic plenitude of of symbolic meanings. Spenser always multiplies and opposes perspectives in his poem, always sets one mode of imagination against another—not for the sake of rhetorical display but to keep his ideals from turning into idols, his tropes into traps. The poem tries to keep its hieratic icons from becoming reductive types, ideologically determined vehicles for propaganda, or a mere home for private obsession.”

—Gross, Kenneth. Spenserian Poetics: Idolatry, Iconoclasm, & Magic. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985. p. 15.