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The Function of the Poet and Other Essays   By: (1819-1891)

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In "The Function of the Poet and Other Essays," James Russell Lowell, one of America's most prominent poets and critics, presents a collection of thought-provoking essays that delve into the role and significance of poetry in society. Published in 1886, this volume showcases Lowell's deep understanding of literature and his profound insights into the world of poetry.

The book begins with the titular essay, "The Function of the Poet," wherein Lowell posits poetry as an essential means of elevating the human spirit and fostering social harmony. He ardently argues that through their craft, poets should strive to communicate universal truths and emotions, ultimately aiming to inspire their readers to pursue virtue and appreciation for beauty. This essay serves as a foundational piece for the subsequent writings and allows readers to grasp Lowell's central theme.

The subsequent essays explore a wide array of topics, ranging from examining the characteristics of great poetry to insightful critiques of renowned poets and their works. Lowell adopts an erudite and intellectual approach, enhancing the appeal of his analysis for both scholars and poetry enthusiasts alike. By drawing from various examples, Lowell skillfully illustrates his arguments, offering readers a deeper understanding of the ideas he presents.

One of the standout essays is "The Moral Influence of Poetry," where Lowell contemplates the impact of poetry on shaping societal values. He contends that poetry possesses a unique power to influence and shape the moral character of individuals. Furthermore, he argues that a society devoid of poetry risks losing its ability to reflect deeply on its own virtues and vices. This essay, like many others in the book, showcases Lowell's ability to seamlessly intertwine literary analysis with philosophical insights.

Lowell's prose is characterized by its elegance and its sophisticated command of language. His writing style shows a deep appreciation for the power of poetry itself, often incorporating poetic devices in his essays. This not only conveys his love for the art form, but also adds richness to his arguments, making them all the more persuasive.

This collection of essays stands the test of time, as most of Lowell's observations and theories remain relevant to this day. His persuasive arguments and sharp intellect engage readers by provoking contemplation and encouraging further exploration of the poetry genre. Although the book was initially written over a century ago, many of Lowell's ideas continue to resonate with modern readers, establishing his enduring legacy as a prominent literary figure.

Overall, "The Function of the Poet and Other Essays" is a captivating and enlightening collection of essays by James Russell Lowell. Through his profound insights, Lowell offers readers a comprehensive understanding of the role of poetry and its impact on society. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the art of poetry, literary criticism, or the broader cultural and social implications of literature.

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1920 by Houghton Mifflin Company

Reissued in 1967 by Kennikat Press


The Centenary Celebration of James Russell Lowell last year showed that he has become more esteemed as a critic and essayist than as a poet. Lowell himself felt that his true calling was in critical work rather than in poetry, and he wrote very little verse in the latter part of his life. He was somewhat chagrined that the poetic flame of his youth did not continue to glow, but he resigned himself to his fate; nevertheless, it should be remembered that "The Vision of Sir Launfal," "The Biglow Papers," and "The Commemoration Ode" are enough to make the reputation of any poet.

The present volume sustains Lowell's right to be considered one of the great American critics. The literary merit of some of the essays herein is in many respects nowise inferior to that in some of the volumes he collected himself. The articles are all exquisitely and carefully written, and the style of even the book reviews displays that quality found in his best writings which Ferris Greenslet has appropriately described as "savory." That such a quantity of good literature by so able a writer as Lowell should have been allowed to repose buried in the files of old magazines so long is rather unfortunate... Continue reading book >>

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