Working with Thomas Weiskel’s definitions of the “positive” and “egotistical” sublimes, this essay traces A. R. Ammons’s engagements with these modes from some less read earlier poems to major, later works like “The City Limits” and Sphere. It argues that, despite maintaining an immanentist (meta)physics amenable to the positive and egotistical sublimes, Ammons approaches those modes with caution from the very start. Viewed in this light, Sphere’s skepticism about its own “privileged moments” doesn’t reject the earlier work so as much it offers a more complete analytical understanding of its caution. Over the course of Ammons’s career, then, we see how the imaginative apprehension of an immanent Presence devolves into skeptical awareness of its merely subjective origins.
Malcolm Woodland is associate professor emeritus in the department of English at the University of Toronto. His current research interests include the sublime in twentieth-century American poetry, and elegy and self-elegy in A. R Ammons.
Malcolm Woodland; Ammons’s Sublimes. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 March 2023; 69 (1): 29–52. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-10404926
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