Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joan Richardson

Committee Members

John Brenkman

Wayne Koestenbaum

Subject Categories

American Literature | Literature in English, North America | Modern Literature | Poetry




In the study of poetry, measure traditionally refers to the meter in which a poem is written. This understanding of measure is in keeping with its sense as a standard according to which the size, amount, or degree of something can be classified—itself the standard for what is usually meant by measure. The Myth of Measure in American Poetry explores the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Carlos Williams, and Nathaniel Mackey, three American poets and thinkers of poetry who have complicated the term measure, not so much arguing against its correlation with meter in poetry as wanting to show that the choice and discovery of particular poetic meters are implicated in questions exceeding prosodical classification alone. In the three chapters, I explore the particular ways in which each of these three figures have sought to think in a more expansive sense about the concept of measure in their essays and how their poems reflect, and contribute to, their discoveries in that quest. This dissertation seeks to understand how thinking in this more expansive sense about the concept of measure has not only motivated these poets to make changes to poetic form commensurate with the time and occasion in which they found (and find) themselves but, furthermore, to question poetry’s power to affect reality itself.

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