155. (Christopher Smart)

Who are the major poets who have not excelled in something that might be called “light verse”? Even Wordsworth, the least funny of major poets, has his “We Are Seven” and “Expostulation and Reply,” which possess the strengths and effects of light verse; and Milton has his sonnet on the Cambridge mail-carrier, not to mention the playful syntax in Book 4 of Paradise Lost. If I … Continue reading 155. (Christopher Smart)

152. (Wallace Stevens)

When you start out with a feeling of alienation—from an unspoken, blank, or meaningless past—from a mass of others, or even single others, in the present–or from a future defined by a fraudulent and thin promise—the risks are either cynical withdrawal, refusing to believe that the estrangement can be overcome, or else sentimentality, the insistence that a momentary, blazing common feeling be allowed to outshine … Continue reading 152. (Wallace Stevens)

146. (John Milton)

Reading¬†Paradise Lost¬†with a student, the chance to see more than before, vicariously through fresh eyes, has been most thrillingly felt in the book where seeing with fresh eyes is the poet’s subject: the fourth, where Satan sees Adam and Eve for the first time, where Eve sees her own reflection, where Satan, dissembling the Angels, is exposed and learns that he is not seen in … Continue reading 146. (John Milton)

135. (Ben Jonson)

Whether he is the first or not, Ben Jonson is among the earliest of the major American writers. A perverse claim, in so far as he never stepped foot on the far (or near) side of the Atlantic, it becomes not only plausible but persuasive when we consider that Jonson’s great subject matter was the gross acquisitive spirit of the city of London, the earliest … Continue reading 135. (Ben Jonson)

133. (William Wordsworth)

Poetry consoles the feelings of betrayal and disappointment as it does no other feelings because poetry is inherently awakened by anxieties and realities of both: why else deviate into meter, novelties of metaphor, and disorienting patterns of language unless motivated somewhat by the sense that language, as it appears in various other, more normal combinations and arrangements, would betray and disappoint? In the past week, … Continue reading 133. (William Wordsworth)

130. (Thomas Traherne)

    I was introduced to Traherne by Keith Waldrop; Waldrop was teaching a seminar in Restoration Literature, in which, with lasting impression, he indulged us in readings from both the forgotten and the admired greats of late-seventeenth-century poetry. Before reading from various poets, he would introduce them to the class with anecdotes and wry critical observations; along the way, he would stop for explanation … Continue reading 130. (Thomas Traherne)

125. (Christina G. Rossetti)

Patience is the activity and end of Christina G. Rossetti’s poetry: patience for the time of God, for death, for the second coming, and patience with her fleeting passions. As a consequence, the volume of her output, the 800-odd pages in the Penguin Complete Poems, edited by R.W. Crump, is less surprising than it seems: patience must be repeatedly mastered and renewed; it cannot be … Continue reading 125. (Christina G. Rossetti)