The title of John Ashbery’s 1965 poem “Clepsydra” alludes to Charles Baudelaire’s “L’Horloge,” from Les Fleurs du mal, and reading Ashbery’s poem as a response to “L’Horloge” helps refine our understanding of his place in literary history, a process this essay pursues by considering “Clepsydra” in relation to influential readings of poetry offered by some of Ashbery’s major contemporaries (Marjorie Perloff, Paul de Man, and Harold Bloom). Exemplifying the allegorical mode of modernism that the young Ashbery resists, Baudelaire’s poem manifests the triumph of linear time; “Clepsydra” imagines time as circular flow, averting allegorical time chiefly by means of prosopopoeia and metalepsis. The most old-fashioned of allegorical devices, prosopopoeia abounds in “Clepsydra,” but Ashbery repeatedly endeavors to counteract it, and metalepsis by its nature resists linearity. Despite the poem’s astonishing inventiveness, however, in the poem the resilience of allegory and of linear time is ultimately reaffirmed.
(De)Facing Time: Ashbery’s “Clepsydra” and Baudelaire’s “L’Horloge”
Shawn Normandin is associate professor of English at Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul. He is author of Chaucerian Ecopoetics: Deconstructing Anthropocentrism in the “Canterbury Tales” (2018) and Jane Austen and Literary Theory (forthcoming).
Shawn Normandin; (De)Facing Time: Ashbery’s “Clepsydra” and Baudelaire’s “L’Horloge”. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 March 2021; 67 (1): 31–56. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-8912260
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