Bloom mentor speaks

Flashback: a Cornell English seminar 62 years ago. Professor Meyer “Mike” H. Abrams trades jokes with his student, Harold.

Harold Bloom GRD ’56, that is.

Cornell Professor Meyer Abrams, 97, the editor of the Norton Anthology and the teacher of Harold Bloom GRD ’56, speaks Monday.
Brian Chang
Cornell Professor Meyer Abrams, 97, the editor of the Norton Anthology and the teacher of Harold Bloom GRD ’56, speaks Monday.

The scene was recreated Monday when Abrams, a renowned critic and founding editor of the canonical Norton Anthology of English Literature, delivered a lecture before an attentive audience of more than 160 faculty members and students in Linsly-Chittenden Hall. Bloom, Yale’s eminent Shakespeare and poetry scholar, introduced his former professor’s 60-minute lecture, which was titled “The Fourth Dimension of a Poem.”

An English professor for six decades at Cornell, Abrams is an innovative critic who focuses on English Romantic poets, such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Abrams’s book of critical essays, “The Mirror and the Lamp,” ranked 25th among the Modern Library’s 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century.

Bloom appeared tired and shaky as he struggled to put on his glasses before reading a short introduction. He remained seated while he gave an overview of Abrams’s career and delved into their personal relationship.

“In the 55 years I have taught at Yale, I very frequently recall how Mike’s strong intellect and humane concerns helped me when I most needed it at the very beginning,” Bloom said. “My ongoing effort in teaching undergraduates is a result of his lifelong and ongoing influence upon me.”

Abrams, 97, lightened the mood with his humorous energy. He asked the audience to imagine what it was like for a young teacher to be confronted with a student like Harold Bloom.

“He seemed to have sprung full-fledged from the brow of Zeus,” Abrams said with a laugh, and the audience joined him.

He effortlessly began his lecture, which centered on the oral component of reading poetry. The “fourth dimension of poetry,” Abrams said, facilitates the reader’s interaction with the text.

Abrams applied his close reading technique — an auditory analysis of consonance and meter — by dissecting six poems and giving each a dramatic reading. He focused on how sound qualities convey the meaning of the words. For instance, he explained how the varying lengths of “s” sounds mirror the irregularity of waves in the W. H. Auden poem “On This Island.”

“There is no bad way to read a poem,” he said. “Each poem presents its own challenges or opportunities.”

Abrams’s haunting rendition of “Mansion” by contemporary poet A. R. Ammon, his former student at Cornell, created a profound silence in the room. Abrams concluded his lecture to great applause and a standing ovation.

The students who crowded the aisles said they were awed by the presence of an English language icon.

It took Justin Sider GRD ’14 a long time to find the words to describe his reaction.

“It’s really exciting to see a critic whose work was so foundational to our own,” he said.

Max Ritvo ’13 shared Sider’s sentiment. He said Abrams’s method of criticism would give him “a whole host of things to think about” as an aspiring writer at Yale.

Under the guidance of Abrams, who served as the general editor of the first seven editions, The Norton Anthology of English Literature became the most iconic textbook of college-level English survey courses.


  • An English Student

    Ah, what I draw from this is the enfeebled demeanor of our ‘beloved’ Harold Bloom. Is he finally on his way out? Have his decades of pedantic ranting finally wore his soul down? It seems the mentor will outlast the subject, and I really don’t know what to make of such tragedy.

  • Hieronymus

    Ah, Bloom Bloom Bloom!

    Thank you, thank you, sir. When Bloom is hove, how will Yale heave? And how Yale will heave. Whatever replacement fashioned or fashionable (that is, leaden) will not replace the man. Nigh derelict already, the balance of Yale may tip from flotsam to jetsam: Old Yale, unreclaimable; New Yale, unremarkable.

  • charlesdarwin

    professor harold bloom: teach at YALE SINCE 1955.. You gotta be kidding… this man has been in in college from age 18-80… STOP THE WORLD.. STOP THE INTERNET

    this is why people think these people are ivory-tower eggheads…. all you for lit/english is paper/pencil at the local Wal-Mart.

    Folks. do the Numbers, this man has been in college for about 60-SIXTY YEARS OF LIFE ON EARTH…

    English/Humanities/literature is FREE FREE FREE at the Public Library.. I can read all day 24/7 with FREE FREE FREE LIBRARY PASS.

    YES. TRUE. I can read literature for FREE FREE FREE at the library for without paying $50,000 dollar in tuition…. yes. FREE FREE FREE INSTEAD OF 50K…

    Would someone tell professor harold bloom this at the Hospital.. This man has been in college for 60-years Now. Time to get a real-job at taco-bell wal-mart. costco.

    New Haven, Conn has the # 4 (fourth) highest crime rate in USA.. .All these ivory-tower need a good mugging on the streets. Time to get a real-job at Taco-Bell