Daisy Fried reviews two new books about death for The New York Times. It’s an appropriate topic for the newspaper, since they always seem to be reporting on it!

Anyway, in “Til’ I End My Song,” Harold Bloom collects 100 “last poems” (some of which are not last poems), and in “Last Looks, Last Books,” Helen Vendler argues that the proximity of death gives poets a sort of “binocular vision,” through which they can inscribe the doubleness of language and the world (the doubleness of life and death) in the poems. But, as Fried points out:

Most good poems, whatever their subject matter, have binocularity, or doubleness, or negative capability — Keats’s term for the ability to hold contradictory ideas or emotions without resolving them. Vendler (a Keats scholar) surely knows this, so why leave the impression that death’s approach gives these poets binocular vision?

Ultimately, Fried praises both authors for their trouble-making, for their status as high-profile provocateurs. But she also ends by highlighting their resistance to the contemporary, and frames these books of “last poems” in light not simply of individual human death, but in the context of a changing world:

It takes a good reader and critic to start arguments. Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler are both fine argument-starters, modernist products of their time. One senses that besides death, these books are combatting another formidable antagonist: the 21st century.

Originally Published: December 7th, 2010