I’m thrilled to find someone else who has reacted the same way I did to my own recent discovery of Tuckerman (courtesy of a good friend who, when I voiced my appreciation, promptly sent me a copy of Selected Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman
, with its illuminating introduction by Stephen Burt). It’s funny that I can so admire this writer whom Burt considers an “anti-Transcendental” even though I’ve held the candle for Thoreau and Emerson my whole life. Says Burt,
[Tuckerman] became an American poet of natural history, the American poet who best records the failure of the great nineteenth-century enterprise called natural theology. The Tuckerman of the sonnet series looks into himself, looks at the mullein’s golden stalks and at the ocean’s crests and troughs, looks for evidence of a just God there, and discovers—perhaps without ever having read Darwin—that such evidence is not to be found.
Tennyson, Hawthorne, and to some degree even Emerson did recognize the genius of Tuckerman in his own time, and according to Burt, “a few modern critics have called Tuckerman (it is genuine praise) ‘the American Tennyson.’” However, others panned his work for its eccentricities of form and syntax, and some Americans parodied him, as in this excerpt from "A Sonnet--After F.G.T":
The cloudy style, the verbal mist that floats
And glooms between the daylight and the dark—
The book, whose choicest lines we never mark,
The laurel, poisonous to nibbling goats…
For my part, Aaron, I, like you, relish this poet's continual experimentation with rhyme schemes and how well Tuckerman tends to pull off even the most daring of these. His relentless individuality, his precise observation of natural detail, and his sheer complex eloquence—all these traits led me quickly to recognize this poet as an undersung master.