The Orphic Voice: Poetry and Natural History (Paperback)

The Orphic Voice: Poetry and Natural History By Elizabeth Sewell, David Schenck (Introduction by) Cover Image

The Orphic Voice: Poetry and Natural History (Paperback)

By Elizabeth Sewell, David Schenck (Introduction by)


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A wondrously written book of literary criticism and philosophy that maps the relationship between poetry and natural history, connecting verse from poets such as Shakespeare and Rainer Maria Rilke to the work of scientists and theorists like Francis Bacon and Michael Polanyi.

Taking its bearings from the Greek myth of Orpheus, whose singing had the power to move the rocks and trees and to quiet the animals, Elizabeth Sewell’s The Orphic Voice transforms our understanding of the relationship between mind and nature. Myth, Sewell argues, is not mere fable but an ancient and vital form of reflection that unites poetry, philosophy, and natural science: Shakespeare with Francis Bacon and Giambattista Vico; Wordsworth and Rilke with Michael Polanyi. All these members of the Orphic company share a common perception that “discovery, in science and poetry, is a mythological situation in which the mind unites with a figure of its own devising as a means toward understanding the world.” Sewell’s visionary book, first published in 1960, presents brilliantly illuminating readings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, among other masterpieces, while deepening our understanding not only of poetry and the history of ideas but of the biological reach of the mind.
Elizabeth Sewell (1919–2001) was an author and academic best known for her criticism exploring the links between literature and science. She taught at numerous universities during her career, including Vassar College, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In addition to her books of criticism, she published several novels and poetry collections along with a memoir, An Idea, and a book of essays, To Be a True Poem

David Schenck is a writer and academic, and was a friend of Elizabeth Sewell.
Product Details ISBN: 9781681376011
ISBN-10: 1681376016
Publisher: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2022
Pages: 496
Language: English
“This is an inspired book, an argument which is poetry in action. It may very well be that Elizabeth Sewell is of the visionary company which her work describes. I regard The Orphic Voice as a book of tremendous originality and importance.” —George Steiner

“Esoteric [and] engrossing . . . Sewell contends that poetry is our most inclusive form of thought, the best instrument yet devised for dealing with wholes, for unifying all the forms in nature, whether they pertain to inner or outer landscape.” —Stanley Kunitz

The Orphic Voice is important both in the literature of the history of ideas and as a kind of source-book for working poets (and readers of poetry).” —Denise Levertov

The Inaugural Santa Fe Literary Festival was a huge success!

Collected Works was very proud to have been on-site all weekend as the official bookstore of the Santa Fe Festival. Bestselling, prizewinning authors and literary legends like Margaret Atwood, Joy Harjo, Colson Whitehead, Sandra Cisneros, Jon Krakauer, amongst others, spent time in our mini-bookstore in the lobby of the Convention Center and signed hundreds of books, which we now have in stock. So if you missed the festival but are looking for a signed copy of one of their books, please call us or come in to browse.

Purchase your books by festival authors directly from CW below:

Margaret AtwoodFreddie BitsoieSandra CisnerosLynn ClineWilliam deBuysAshley FordJohn GrishamRoshi Joan HalifaxJoy HarjoAnne HillermanCheryl Alters JamisonCraig JohnsonAsma KhanPhil KlayJon KrakauerValeria LuiselliDeborah MadisonEmily St. John MandelGeorge R. R. MartinJames McGrath MorrisSarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich of Honey & Co.Carmella Padilla   Douglas PrestonKirstin Valdez QuadeBob ShacochisHenry ShukmanHampton SidesBryant TerryDarryl Lorenzo WellingtonColson WhiteheadDon WinslowLawrence Wright