181. (William Empson)

Empson’s final words on the poem “Bacchus,” a poem about drink, in one of his statements on it: “I think it sufficiently intelligible to sympathize with.” The trouble, with the poem and with Empson’s apologetic, uneasy defense, is that the relationship between intelligibility and sympathy is not as direct as this. A middle term, “understanding,” is missing, and what “understanding” requires is what Empson in … Continue reading 181. (William Empson)

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)

166. (Christopher Ricks)

Ricks’ idiosyncratic, essentially inimitable (though it is irresistible, and can be valuable, to imitate its more superficial mannerisms and habits) critical intelligence is manifest nowhere more than in his writing so well on a poetical figure that he was first to discover: the anti-pun. The term features centrally in his essay on Robert Lowell, where he hears echoes of violence in words that Lowell intimates … Continue reading 166. (Christopher Ricks)

156. (Hannah Ginsborg)

My limited experience reading contemporary philosophers has convinced me that Wittgenstein, Kant, and Aristotle need to be read alongside one another, and that a tangle or confusion in one of the three is often worked out by the strength of a concept or line of argument in another; that view has itself been shaped and strengthened by the concurrent realization that the contemporary interlocutors and … Continue reading 156. (Hannah Ginsborg)

118. (Geoffrey Hill)

Geoffrey Hill died last week, on June 30, at age 84. Nobody doubts that he wrote some of the greatest English poetry of the twentieth century; but the critical consensus on Hill’s poetry falls out of harmony when confronted with the collections that coincided with its close. William Logan, one of Hill’s stauncher American admirers, is disparaging: “The caterwauling of “The Triumph of Love” (1998), … Continue reading 118. (Geoffrey Hill)