Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (London, Oxford, NY: Oxford UP 1973).

[Source: University of Pennsylvania holds chapter-length extract, being “Apophrades, or The Return of the Dead” - available online; accessed 23.05.2011, ]

Apophrades, or The Return of the Dead [pp.139-55]

Empedocles held that our psyche at death returned to the fire whence it came. But our daemon, at once our guilt and our ever-potential divinity, came to us not from the fire, but from our precursors. The stolen element had to be returned; the daemon was never stolen but inherited, and at death was passed on to the ephebe, the latecomer who could accept both the crime and the godhood at once.
The genealogy of imagination traces the descent of the daemon, and never the psyche, but analogues abound between these two descents:

It may be that one life is a punishment
for another, as the son’s life for the father’s.

It may be that one strong poet’s work expiates for the work of a precursor. It seems more liekly that later visions cleanse themselves at the expense of earlier ones. But the strong dead return, in poems as in our lives; and they do not come back without darkening the living. The wholly [139] mature strong poet is peculiarly vulnerable to this last phase of his revisionary relationship to the dead. This vulnerability is most evident in poems that question for a final clarity, that seek to be definitive statements, testaments to what is uniquely the strong poet’s gift (or what he wishes us to remember as his unique gift. [Quotes from The Triumph of Life ... from ‘I arose ...’ to ‘oblivious melody, confusing sense’] (pp.139-40.)


The apophrades, the dismal or unlucky days upon which the dead return to inhabit their former houses, comes to the strongest poets, but with the very strongest there is a grand and final visionary movement that purifies even this last influx. Yeats and Stevens, the strongest poets of our century, and Browning and Dickinson, the strongest of the later nineteenth century, can give us vivid instances of this most cunning of revisionary ratios. For all of them achieve a style that captures and oddly retains their priority over their precursors, so that the tyranny of time almost is overturned, and one can believe, for startled moments, that the are being imitated by their ancestors.
 In this observation, I want to distinguish the phenomenon from the wittty insight of Borges, that artists create their precursors, The might, as for instance the Kafka of Borges creates the Browning of Borges. I mean something more dramatic and (presumably) absurd, which is the triump of having so stationed the precursor, in one’s work, that particular passages in his work seem to be not presages of one’s own advent, but rather to be indebted to one’s own achievement, and even (necessarily) to be lessened by one’s greater splendor. The mighty dead return, but they return in our colors, and speaking in our voices, at least in part, at least in moments, moments that testify to our persistence, and not to their own. (pp.140-41).
 The strangeness added to beauty by the positive apophrades is of that kind whose best expositor was Pater. [142] Perhaps all Romantic style, at its heights, depends upon a successful manifestation of the dead in the garments of the living, as though the dead poets were given a suppler freedom than they had found for themselves. [...] (pp.142-43.)

The mystery of poetic style, the exuberance that is beauty in every strong poet, is akin to the mature ego’s delight in its own individuality, which reduces to the mystery of narcissism. The narcissism is what Freud terms [146] primary or normal, “the libidinal complement to the egoism of the instinct of self-preservation.” The strong poet’s love of his poetry, as itself, must exclude the reality of all other poetry, except for what it cannot be excluded, the initial identification with the poetry of the precursor. Any departure from initial narcissism, according to Freud, leads to the development of the ego, or in our terms, every exercise of a revisionary ratio, away from identification, is the process generally called poetic development. If all object-libido indeed has its origin in ego-libido, then we can surmise also that each ephebe’s initial experience of being found by a precursor is made possible only through an excess of self-love. Apophrades, when managed by a capable imagination, by the strong poet who has persisted in his strength, becomes not so much a return of the dead as a celebration of the return of the early self-exaltation that first made poetry possible.
 The strong poet peers in the mirror of his fallen precursor and behold neither the precursor nor himself but a Gnostic double, the dark otherness or antithesis that both be and the precursor longed to be, yet feared to become. Out of this deepest evasion, the complex imposture of the positive apophrades constitutes itself, making possible the last phases of Browning, Yeats, Stevens - all of whom triumphed against old age. [...] It is as though the final phase of great modern poets existed neither for last affirmations of a lifetime’s beliefs, nor as palinodes, but rather as the ultimate placing and reduction of ancestors. But this takes us to the central problem of apophrades: is there still an anxiety of style as distinct from [147] the anxiety of influence, or are the two anxieties one? if this book’s argument is corect, then the covert subject of most poetry for the last three centurie4s has been the anxiety of infuence, each poet’s fear that no proper work remains for him to perform. (p.148)


The fear of godhood is pragmatically a fear of poetic strength, for what the ephebe enters upon, when he begins his life cycle as a poety, is in every sense a process of divination. The young poet, Stevens remarked, is a god, but he added that the old poet is a tramp. If godhood consisted only in knowing accurately what is going to happen next, then every contemporary Sludge would be a poet. But what the strong poet truly knows is only that he is going to happen next, that he is going to write a poem in which his radiance will be manifest. When a poet beholds his end, however, he needs some more rugged evidence that his past poems are not what skeletons think about, and he searches for evidences of election that will fulfill his precursors’ prophecies by fundamentally re-creating those prophecies in his own unmistakeable idiom. This is the curious magic of the positive apophrades. [152]
  Yeats, whose ghostly intensities of the final phase are mixed with a disinterested enthusiasm for violence, violence largely for its own sake, succeeded brilliantly in making the dead return in his own idiom. [Here quotes Shelley’s The Witch of Atlas, ending: “... she unwound the woven imagery Of second childhood’s swaddling bands, and took The coffin, its last cradle, from its niche, And threw it with contempt into a ditch.’

We feel, in reading The Witch of Atlas, that Shelley has read too deeply in Yeats, and is doomed never to get the tonal complexities of the Byzantium poems out of his mind. (pp.153-53.)


It is important only that we learn to distinguish this phenomenon from its aesthetic opposite, the embarrassment, say, of reading The Scholar Gipsy and Thyrsis, and finding the odes of Keats crowding out poor Arnold. Keats can seem a touch over-affected by Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites, even by Pater, but never does he seem the heir of Matthew Arnold. (p.154.)


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