The Magazine

Happy the Man

Dana Gioia has the courage of his contentment.

Nov 19, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 10 • By JAMES GARDNER
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The first two lines are cast fluently, unimpeachably in iambic pentameter, but the third line is, according to the conventions of that meter, two syllables too long. To my ear, this surplus is irksome and immelodious—even though I am well aware that most living poets who take up the form would not hesitate to do as Gioia has done. 

But why? I fear there is an element of insincerity here: a hesitancy to jump body and soul into the spirit of the meter, for fear of seeming out of step with one’s time. Those two extra syllables represent a leaven of rebellion, a sop to Cerberus, thrown in to deflect the criticism that the poem is too beholden to tradition. In this otherwise charming and meritorious collection, Dana Gioia needs to exhibit more consistently the courage of his prosody.


James Gardner recently translated Vida’s Christiad (I Tatti Renaissance Library).