177. (William Shakespeare)

A second in a series of what seem a “redundant discoveries of obvious value,” this post can claim nothing novel about Shakespeare’s sonnets, but will instead serve as a memorandum of the summer’s gradual realization of just how they tower. They had always, in my encounters with critics and devotees, either excuses for ingenious but tiresome exercises in dextrous ambiguity hunting expeditions, or else as the province … Continue reading 177. (William Shakespeare)

176. (Robert Burns)

It’s difficult to know what to do with Robert Burns, besides read and enjoy him, and take fortification from him; he doesn’t seem to play games with words that invite others to play along, and the poetry is disarming for criticism of a certain fervent close-reading type, less by its honesty than by its plausible claims to honesty. Maybe it’s easier, initially, to appreciate the … Continue reading 176. (Robert Burns)

175. (Lord Byron)

An answer to the question, “Why does Don Juan incite laughter?” will not take the form of verbal criticism, because verbal criticism, the close analysis of language, will murder the life of the jokes by dissection even as it succeeds in revealing what cognitive elements the jokes arrange and order. The question needs to be approached differently, and I’ve made notes towards doing so: but the … Continue reading 175. (Lord Byron)

174. (Lord Byron)

Like many other great works of Romantic literature, Don Juan finds human caring to be a source of life and makes it an object of contemplation; like Blake’s lyrics and visions, like the poetry of Wordsworth’s decade, or Coleridge’s ballad, Byron’s mock-epic cares about caring. Looking for criticism on the topic, I came to Erik Gray’s study of nineteenth-century British poetry, The Poetry of Indifference, but found … Continue reading 174. (Lord Byron)

173. (Eugenio Montale)

The final poem in La Bufera e altro, “Il sogno del prigionero,” “The Prisoner’s Dream,” is also the second poem in the section titled “Conclusioni provvisiorie,” “Provisional Conclusions.”  Below is the Arrowsmith translation: . Here, except for a few signs, you can’t tell dawn from night. . The zigzag of starlings over the watchtowers on days of fighting, my only wings, a thread of arctic air, the … Continue reading 173. (Eugenio Montale)

172. (Eugenio Montale)

  The Poetry Foundation’s website has a brief essay on Montale, helpful mostly for its generous quotations from critics and from the poet. The consensus among critics, unsurprisingly, is that Montale’s poetry is “difficult.” Here is Ghan Singh: Of all the important twentieth-century Italian poets Montale is the one in whose case it is most difficult to proceed by explicating, through definite formulations and statements, … Continue reading 172. (Eugenio Montale)

171. (T.S. Eliot)

  Among Eliot’s staunchest and nimblest readers, Christopher Ricks was unrelenting in his 1978 attack on Eliot’s late essay, “What is Minor Poetry?”  I offer first a series of quotations from Ricks’ piece, published in Ploughshares: Eliot is probably the only important critic who has bent himself to—or on—the distinction between major and minor, and yet even this master of elusiveness found himself out-eluded. For his … Continue reading 171. (T.S. Eliot)