Charles Segal surveys the literary treatment of the Orpheus myth as the myth of the essence of poetry - the ability to encounter the fullest possible intensity of beauty and sorrow and to transform them into song. The first half of the book concentrates on the ancient literary tradition, from the myth's Greek origins through the influential poetic versions of Ovid and Virgil and its treatment by other Latin authors such as Horace and Seneca. Later chapters focus on the continuities of the myth in modern literature, including the poetry of H.D., Rukeyser, Rich, Ashbery, and, especially, Rilke. Segal's leitmotif throughout is the relation of poetry to art, love and death, the "three points of the Orphic triangle". Through close readings of individual texts, he shows how various versions of the myth oscillate between a poetry of transcendence that asserts its power over the necessities of nature - including the ultimate necessity, death - and a poetry that celebrates its immersion in the stream of life.
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