Selected and with a Critical Introduction by
Wild Poets of Ecstasy broadly represents this tradition in bringing together ancient and modern poetry from the world’s literary treasuries. Containing poems from over 100 secular and religious writers, this anthology is a sustained celebration of human beings in their best moments"the soul at the white heat," to use Emily Dickinson’s line.
Wild Poets of Ecstasy offers a cornucopia of poems depicting peak states of being and positive, life-affirming emotions, such as serenity, awe, wonder, rapture, gratitude, and love. The selections praise the goodness of life, the abundance of nature, and the intimate interrelation of the whole cosmos. To read it is not only an exercise in holistic thinking but also something of an ecstatic experience.
“Can an anthology of poetry be called a ‘breakthrough’? This one is. For over a century, canonical literature in general and poetry in particular have been prisoners of an academic posture which elevates the voices of despair, depression, and alienation to high culture, and relegates those of optimism, joy, and well-being to the superficial and ill-informed. D.J. Moores, in a courageous departure from this convention, has crafted a soaring collection of exuberant, joyful, and ecstatic verse. The general reader must be grateful to him for envisioning nothing less than a ‘Positive Humanities.’” MARTIN SELIGMAN, Fox Leadership, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and former President of the American Psychological Association
“While teaching Dante’s Paradiso, I kidded the class that I was done with ‘critique.’ I wanted to take up ‘Paradise Studies.’ This anthology is a lot closer than I thought scholarship and good taste were likely to come to such studies. Its rendering of the varieties of ecstatic experience is as thrilling as it is informative.” CHARLES ALTIERI, Professor of English at the University of California-Berkeley and author of The Particulars of Rapture
“In a dark time, it is salutary to be reminded of the many varieties of light still available to us in the work of poets from Homer to the present. D.J. Moores has given us that gift in this new anthology.” DON FREDERICKSON, Professor of Film at Cornell University and Chairman, International Association for Jungian Studies
“Sometimes both ordinary language and the language of science fail to capture what we experience, what we want to say, to speak of or about. So it is with ecstatic experience. D.J. Moores has given us a treasure trove, a book meant for grazing, for feeling one’s way into the poetic language in which, near as we can, commonplace experiences of unusual positive states of mind can be met, evoked, recalled, and valued in the ways they deserve in a rich, meaningful human life.” OWEN FLANAGAN, James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy and Neurobiology at Duke University, former President of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and author of The Nature of Consciousness
“The various voices of the poets Moores brings together in this inspiring anthology remind us that ecstasy is a common human experience and invite us to reconnect with our own ecstatic moments. The critical introduction, an insightful and remarkably wide-ranging analysis of this aspect of human experience, demonstrates that ecstasy can be as complex as tragedyand at least as importantand advances the cause of a much-needed positive turn in literary theory and the humanities in general.” JAMES PAWELSKI, Director of Education and Senior Scholar in Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Executive Director of the International Positive Psychology Association, and author of The Dynamic Individualism of William James
“D.J. Moores’s anthology serves up intoxicating fare in a festival for the soul. A healthy dose of madness, it begs us to let go and experience self-transcendence through the imagination on the soaring wings of poetry.” BETH DARLINGTON, Professor of English at Vassar College and practicing Jungian analyst
“A poetry anthology devoted to poems that make a person feel better about life...? What a genuinely good idea, one that may create a whole new generation of folks who read and write poems.” CHRISTOPHER PETERSON, Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan and founding figure in the Positive Psychology movement
“D.J. Moores’ stunningly capacious, wide-ranging anthology, Wild Poets of Ecstasy, enhanced with his expert, probing critical introduction, illuminates a vitally important strain of poetic imagination, as deep in history as it is current today, as darkly demonic as it is brilliantly divine. With this new exciting collection, Moores convenes men and women, poets we know well, and poets we’ll want to know better, all writing poetry not only to report and record the ecstasies of imagination but turning to poetry itself as a vital medium of ecstatic experiencein events of language that are at once unique and resonant within a long and various tradition. One of the arresting paradoxes of ecstatic poetics is awareness that the radical ecstatic experiences are ineffable, beyond languageand that it takes the languages of poetry to evoke this sensation at the very limits. In Moores’ seemingly infinite archive we feel this limit is far from a defeat. It is a vital inspiration, perhaps even the inspiration for ecstatic poetry, born ‘standing outside’ and vibrating with the relays of its ordinary and extraordinary demarcations.” SUSAN J. WOLFSON, Professor of English at Princeton University, President of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers, and author of Romantic Interactions
“Wild Poets of Ecstasy is a rich and fascinating anthology. Moores’s introduction provides an illuminating history of the theory and experience of ecstasy and of its expression in the poetic imagination.” EUGENE GOODHEART, Professor of English at Brandeis University and author of The Reign of Ideology
“Is ‘ekstasis’ (being on the outside of oneself) possible? These poems do not provide an answer, but reveal how the experience of being ‘outside one’s self’ may arise from having never been completely ‘inside’ one-self to begin with. The wide ranging poems in this volume chart something of the perforated membrane between the inside and outside of being where and who we are (becoming). Ekstasis, as it appears in poetry, presences more than a sensation (the so-called ‘ecstatic’): it offers a communal conception of being.” JONATHAN STALLING, Professor of English at the University of Oklahoma and author of Poetics of Emptiness
“Moores’s excellent new anthology is a vital gathering of much needed inspiration. In a culture cringing with conformity, Wild Poets of Ecstasy helps us dream impossible futures and expand the human creature itself. I salute such a brave and splendid undertaking.” SUSAN ROWLAND, Professor of English and Jungian Studies at the University of Greenwich, former Chair of the International Association for Jungian Studies and author of The Ecocritical Psyche
“This book provides an eclectic selection of ecstatic poetry from the classical period to the present. General readers and specialists alike will find rich and varied manifestations of various mystical traditions from all over the world. A fine achievement.” ROBERT STANTON, Professor of English at Boston College and author of The Culture of Translation in Anglo-Saxon England
“This extraordinary volume performs two essential services for poetry lovers: it provides a rich, wide-ranging collection of ecstatic verse, and it initiates the reader into the world of ecstasy via an insightful introduction. I am delighted to have found it!” RICHARD GRIGG, Professor of Religious Studies at Sacred Heart University and author of Gods after God and Beyond the God Delusion
“By mining the ecstatic tradition of poetry, Moores transcends the usual anthologizing by geography, period, or politics. Familiar poems sparkle anew in this setting, framed by solid scholarly discussion and annotation. Here are mystics we know, mystics we have not yet metand a few, like Louisa May Alcott or Ezra Pound, we may never have considered in a mystical light. Lyric by lyric, readers of Wild Poets of Ecstasy will deepen their understanding of the varieties of ecstatic experience." JENNIE-REBECCA FALCETTA, Professor of English at Sacred Heart University and author of Poet Descending a Staircase: Literary Modernism’s Aesthetic Engagement with Avant-Garde Visual Art
“In his fascinating anthology . . . Moores reminds us that in the throes of rapture the self one stands beside calls out to one and says: Look at the poetry exploding around you; there are the true and the beautiful: may you walk in their footsteps.” ALAN BOTSFORD, poet and author of Walt Whitman of Cosmic Folklore
Table of Contents
Foreword by Susanna Rich
THE ACTS OF JOHN
GONZALO de BERCEO
ST. FRANCIS of ASSISI
LALLA (LAL DED)
JUAN DE LA CRUZ
FRIEDRICH VON SCHILLER
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
GEORGE GORDON, LORD BYRON
JOSEPH von EICHENDORFF
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
RALPH WALDO EMERSON
SARAH F. ADAMS
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING
JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER
JOHN STUART BLACKIE
ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON
AUGUSTA THEODOSIA DRANE
COVENTRY KERSEY DIGHTON PATMORE
DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT
ALFRED COMYN LYALL
THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH
GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS
JOHN BANNISTER TABB
CHRISTINA CATHERINE FRASER-TYTLER
WILLIAM JAMES DAWSON
AGNES MARY FRANCES DUCLAUX
DUNCAN CAMPBELL SCOTT
TETON SIOUX SONGS
RICHARD LE GALLIENNE
GEORGE WILLIAM RUSSELL
RAINER MARIA RILKE
D. H. LAWRENCE
WILLIAM ALEXANDER PERCY
EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
PEDRO REQUENA LEGARRETA
Index of First Lines
To define ecstasy is a nearly impossible task, since any definition will by necessity reduce the experience to human understanding and ultimately restrict its range of possibilities. Ecstasy has myriad psychological implications, and psychological theories can thus shed some kind of light on its impact on the human psyche. And yet, it would be wrongheaded to reduce the experience to a mere psychological state. Often confounding rationality, ecstasy is beyond language, no doubt, because it is beyond reason itself. The greatest ecstatic poets have left us a veritable treasure chest of verse in their attempts to capture in language this ecstatic layer of being beyond the mind, but they have also washed their hands of the difficult task of fully articulating what they were trying to capture. As Whitman says in “Song of the Rolling Earth,” “I swear I see what is better than to tell the best, / It is always to leave the best untold” (103-04). Words, even from those with the greatest facility with language, fail to describe the ecstatic experience in its fullest sense. Scholars of mysticism, a variety of ecstatic experience, have long held that one of the principle characteristics of mystical states is their ineffability. They are beyond language and cannot be put into words.
The term description, rather than definition, is probably better served because the latter will always be susceptible to criticism on various grounds, whereas the former will allow for a greater range of configurations. Implied in this “range of configurations” is that ecstatic experiences exist on a spectrum of possibilities that spans feelings of oneness with nature, euphoria while dancing, deep contentment, being in the “zone,” and the like, to life’s most fulfilling moments, such as intense bliss, deep gratitude, overpowering awe, the joys of love, and the many varieties of spiritual experience. The purists will invariably object at this inclusivity, arguing for a more exclusive definition. Real ecstasy, they will say, is not mere happiness, and, what is more, there are genuine differences among ecstatic experiences. Indian samadhi, Japanese satori, shamanic visions, Christian mystical illuminations, sexual ecstasy, and a lovely day spent communing with nature in the woods are all in some ways very different experiences. The value of scholarship that points to such differences cannot be overstated in that it demonstrates nuanced variability and highlights the role of cultural determinants in conditioning ecstatic states. To hold fixedly to distinctions, however, is to miss recognizing a whole species by fixating on the differences among its members.
These two approachesone sees difference while the other sees similarityare mirrored in the prevailing approaches to the study of mystical states. On the one hand, scholars such as William James, Evelyn Underhill, F. C. Happold, and Aldous Huxley are called perennialists because, for them, the experience crops up perennially, again and again, seemingly in every time and place throughout history. On the other hand, historicists, such as Jess Byron Hollenback, Henri Delacroix, Steven Katz, and others, emphasize the importance of history and context and the different ways in which these condition the ecstatic experience. As in so many fundamental debates, both camps seem to have a measure of truth, but in raising it to absolute status, it becomes a falsehood. The perennialists are guilty of essentializing the experience by overlooking important differences in cultural determinants, while the historicists perhaps make so much of differences that they prevent cross-cultural connections and a fuller understanding of what is a global phenomenon. Yet, both have something valuable to contribute to our understanding.
So what is the core experience? Ekstasis is a Greek word that means to stand (stasis) outside (ek) of oneself. Its opposite is enstasis, or to remain fixed within oneself. It is possible to experience ekstasis in a variety of emotional states. A few years ago, a friend of mine said that, when he lost his father, he felt as though he were being “swallowed in a sea of grief.” He was experiencing ekstasis, however tragically, in feeling overpowered by his loss. The expression, “I was beside myself with anger,” is also an example of ekstasis, which can be present in any moment in which we act in ways that seem contrary to our self-definitions. To be ekstatic in this etymological sense is simply to experience in any variety a feeling of being other than oneself. Experiences of this kind can result in horrible circumstances, as in killing one’s best friend in a drunken rage. Ancient Norse warriors, called berserkers, knew this type of ekstatic experience quite intimately. The trance-like states of fury they entered before battle empowered the berserkers to fight with the ferocity and savagery of wild animals, the symbolism of which was captured in the animal pelts they wore.
Ekstasis can result in a simply neutral experience of feeling estranged from one’s normal sense of self. While on a trip through Mexico a few years ago, for instance, I awoke in a strange hotel room and for about fifteen seconds could remember neither where I was nor who I was. I had uncannily forgot myself, and it took some gentle self-coaxing for me to remember the arbitrary markers by which I define myselfmale professor named Don, on vacation to explore the Mayan ruinsbefore I came back from my otherwise emotionally neutral, ekstatic experience. The term ekstatic can thus refer to any experience of feeling outside of one’s normal bounds, the enclosure normally referred to as ego, selfhood, and/or subjectivity. In many cases this self-transcendence can seem like a form of self-completion rather than the uncanny feeling of otherness. Regardless, the experience carries with it a transformation of one’s sense of selfhood, however this alteration manifests.
As a term, however, ecstasy has evolved over time to signify a more positive experience, one accompanied or followed by such feelings as joy, bliss, rapture, euphoria, and/or intense happiness. It is thus necessary to distinguish between the terms ekstatic and ecstatic, the former referring to negative and/or neutral experiences of self-transcendence and the latter signifying an experience of standing outside of self accompanied or at least immediately followed by an intense degree of positive affect. The two elementsintense, positive emotion and a feeling of being outside of one’s normal boundsmust be present for an experience to be called an ecstasy. One without the other, as in the cases of euphoria with no sense of self-transcendence or feelings of otherness with no accompanying or following positive affect, is not ecstasy. While the former is simply a strong emotion, the latter is ekstasis but not ecstasy per se. Given this simple description, it seems a number of experiences can be labeled ecstatic. Ecstasies are thus not only found in religious but also in secular contexts. Most people have countless ecstatic experiences in the course of a lifetime. In one survey, for instance, more than 30% of people in a sampling of 1000 responded affirmatively to the following statement: “You felt as though you were very close to a powerful spiritual force that seemed to lift you out of yourself.” Of those who responded positively, 12% reported having such experiences on multiple occasions. Ecstasies thus occur very frequently, and in many cases they frequently recur in the course of a given lifetime.
Pelican Pond, 2011
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