Chapter 2: Originality as a policy tool: Shaping the breadth of protection
Poetic history … is held to be indistinguishable from poetic influence, since strong poets make that history by misreading one another, so as to clear imaginative space for themselves. My concern is only with strong poets, major figures with the persistence to wrestle with their strong precursors, even to the death. Weaker talents idealize; figures of capable imagination appropriate for themselves. But nothing is got for nothing, and self-appropriation involves the immense anxieties of indebtedness, for what strong maker desires the realization that he has failed to create himself? Oscar Wilde, who knew he had failed as a poet because he lacked strength to overcome his anxiety of influence, knew also the darker truths concerning influence. The Ballad of Reading Gaol becomes an embarrassment to read, directly one recognizes that every lustre it exhibits is reflected from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; and Wilde’s lyrics anthologize the whole of English High Romanticism. Knowing this, and armed with his customary intelligence, Wilde bitterly remarks in The Portrait of Mr. W. H. that: ‘Influence is simply a transference of personality, a mode of giving away what is most precious to one’s self, and its exercise produces a sense, and, it may be, a reality of loss. Every disciple takes away something from his master.’ This is the anxiety of influencing, yet no reversal in this area is a true reversal.
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