The right kind of different


"The revelation came in Bloom’s 'misreadings' — the linkages he found. He made the reader see how John Ashbery really had emerged from Wallace Stevens, just as Stevens had from Whitman; that Browning harbored the ghost of Shelley; that Tennyson issued from Keats. The point was not that 'father' and 'son' sounded alike. Much of the time they didn’t. The affinities occurred outside the familiar realm of echoes and allusions, of intended references.

Bloom’s theory, he explains in his new book, was the offshoot of his own reading habits, principally his freakish capacity for memorization. He discovered it in childhood, and it never left him. In the early 1960s, he 'memorized at first hearing' W. S. Merwin’s 'Departure’s Girl-Friend,' a poem of some 40 lines, after Merwin gave a reading at Yale. And even now 'I possess almost all of Hart Crane by memory.' The ability to grasp poetry in this way is rare but not unprecedented. Bloom’s hero, Samuel Johnson, had it as well. 'His memory was so tenacious,' Boswell writes in his great biography, 'that he never forgot anything that he either heard or read. Mr. Hector' — Johnson’s schoolmate — 'remembers having recited to him 18 verses, which, after a little pause, he repeated verbatim, varying only one epithet, by which he improved the line.'"

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