Take Arms Against a Sea of Troubles: The power of the reader’s mind over a universe of death
Yale University Press, US$35 hb, 663 pp
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Harold Bloom died in 2019 at the age of eighty-nine. Always prolific, he continued working until the very end. Throughout his final book, he digresses at regular intervals to record the date, note his advanced age, and allude to his failing health. At one point, he reveals that he is dictating from a hospital chair.
Could a book composed under such circumstances be about anything other than death? Take Arms Against a Sea of Troubles: The power of the reader’s mind over a universe of death, the prolix title of which combines an instantly recognisable line from Shakespeare with a less obvious reference to Milton, can certainly be read as Bloom’s attempt to bring his career full circle. In its pages, the venerable literary critic presents us with his final reflections on a select group of canonical poets (Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Whitman, Lawrence, Frost, Stevens, Crane). He also, pointedly, returns to the subjects of his earliest critical studies (Shelley, Blake, Yeats) and includes a lone chapter on Freud, whose ideas he adapted into his idiosyncratic theories of literary influence and canon formation.