228. (John Donne)

Among the tissues of judgments that compose a poem will be a judgment about what a poem plays at doing (“Plays at” because poets, like novelists and playwrights, being concerned with what is possible in this bodily experience, write utterances that correspond to the fictions of narrative). The excitement of a poem can depend on the ambitions of its play, including what it judges itself … Continue reading 228. (John Donne)

222. (Emily Dickinson)

This post is the second of a series of evolving sketches about “decorum” in poetry. This is the messiest of the bunch, conceptually and historically. Dickinson was the provocation rather than the central subject. But it gets to her in the end, as does the next post, which is again, on Emily Dickinson, hopefully in much clearer terms. One of the pleasures of Tudor poetry … Continue reading 222. (Emily Dickinson)

218. (William Wordsworth)

Perverse as it is to redefine words against conventional meanings, it is nonetheless possible to loosen from conventional meanings an implication that enlarges the significance of a word. The word “tact” seems to me susceptible to such an operation, where beneath its concern for social proprieties, for the embarrassment of others, and for good manners is a suggestion of tactility, so that the word might … Continue reading 218. (William Wordsworth)

216. (Marcel Proust)

In the sixth volume of Recherche, Proust approaches Tennyson: the section of The Fugitive entitled “Grieving and Forgetting” is an extended elegy, an expression of grief and mourning that is also a reflection on grief and mourning. For Proust, however, the grief and mourning for Albertine prompts an elegy for desire (which is a dimension of love), whereas Tennyson’s grief and mourning for Hallam provokes … Continue reading 216. (Marcel Proust)

205. (William Empson)

That great literature balances great forces judiciously, that it calms a turbulence of mind, and that it communicates truths that otherwise could not be communicated is never left in doubt by Empson’s criticism, but he is distinguished by never panting after the proof, by not worrying over ranking or finding the right terms of praise. The puzzle for him is in working out what his … Continue reading 205. (William Empson)

203. (Aristotle)

Aristotle begins his Art of Rhetoric How do we reason in general about what is possible, probable, not necessary; he approaches rhetoric not as a determinate science, not as a particular domain of knowledge and judgment, but as a domain of knowledge and judgment that, determined by any number of situations, is nonetheless not determined by a set of knowledge claims (though it may often … Continue reading 203. (Aristotle)

202. (William Wordsworth)

Unlike Samson, whose strength returns with his hair and whose blindness, though indignity and infirmity, is not absolute impotence, Wordsworth’s lack of visionary powers seems to the poet in the Intimations Ode to be a total loss. It takes little effort to read Wordsworth’s “Ode” as his response to Milton’s Samson Agonistes, as much in its premises as in its verbal texture: Samson, whose capacity for … Continue reading 202. (William Wordsworth)