Below are Harold Bloom’s thoughts on Whitman, Dickinson, Shakespeare, and more, from Bloom’s book How To Read and Why.
Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.
— Song of Myself
The Whitmanian soul, rather like the perpetual soul of America, is an enigma.
Poetry, at the best, does us a kind of violence that prose fiction rarely attempts or accomplishes.
We learn explicitly by reading Whitman what so many Americans seem to know implicitly, that the American soul does not feel free unless it is alone.
Dickinson, like Shakespeare and like William Blake, thought everything through again for herself.
Shakespeare was at once everyone and no one.
Shakespeare was the master ironist.
Does literary irony involve the reader’s consciousness, or is it internal?
Shakespearean tragicomedy, as in Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida, comes closest to the superb irony and charmed rancidity of Marcel’s grand quest (182).
Proust’s cosmos is as ironic as Jane Austen’s, yet the Proustian irony is less defensive and perhaps less an aid to invention. We can say that irony, in Proust, does not so much say one thing while meaning another, but rather makes intimations that are too large for any social context whatsoever. These intimations reach out to the corners of our consciousness, and search for the principles of right action in us. It seems peculiar to call such irony mystical or quietistic, and yet it is the secular equivalent of profound spirituality.
All of Proust’s characters are essentially comic geniuses; as such they give us the option of believing that the truth is as funny as it is grim.
More profoundly, Proust finds innumerable ways of telling us that the self and society are irreconcilable, which does not mean that our selves are mere delusions, whether of language or of social contexts.
Irony has many meanings in literature, and the irony of one age is rarely the irony of another. My experience of imaginative writing is that it always possesses some degree of irony, which is what Oscar Wilde meant when he warned that all ad poetry is sincere. But irony is not the condition of literary language itself, and meaning is not always a wandering exile. Irony broadly means saying one thing and meaning another, sometimes even the opposite of what is being said.