Mark Jarman: From “Happiness: The Aesthetics of Donald Justice”

[F]ormal interest is always present in a poem by Donald Justice, at any stage of his career; part of the pleasure of reading him is in discovering what he is doing and finding out what he has discovered by doing it. For example, "The Wall," the famous sonnet he wrote for John Berryman's class at Iowa, has always seemed to me like an attempt to write Paradise Lost in fourteen lines.

The wall surrounding them they never saw;

The angels, often. Angels were as common

As birds or butterflies, but looked more human.

As long as the wings were furled, they felt no awe.

Yet it is also an Italian sonnet that apparently disguises its turn in the fall itself ("As for the fruit, it had no taste at all."). I have heard that Berryman was impressed by the caesura in line two ("The angels, often."). But among the many happy chances of the poem I would include the way the rhymes tell the story, and the way our original happiness, now lost, is memorialized in angels that were as "common as birds or butterflies" whose awesome wings remain "furled."

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Criticism Overview
Title Mark Jarman: From “Happiness: The Aesthetics of Donald Justice” Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Mark Jarman Criticism Target Donald Justice
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 10 Aug 2013
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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