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)

180. (Anna Akhmatova)

Even in translations, her poems can seem such perfect instances of lyric utterance–the anchoring “I,” the impress, profound, suffocating at times, of public on private life, the oblique swerves of desire, the mystery of occasion and the satisfaction of sufficiency, the feeling of encountering a splinter of experience in the whole of a poem, or else a fragment of a poem and a whole experience, … Continue reading 180. (Anna Akhmatova)

179. (Theodor Fontane)

Effi Briest: a nineteenth-century European bourgeois world that doesn’t have the melodramatic horrors of hell or the hopeless delusions of fatuous romance. The heroine, Effi, does not, cannot, realize how miserable she is; nobody in the novel’s world, not even the narrator, does; but it is obvious and terrible to see. For mof the novel, her misery is felt mostly in the diminished tones of her … Continue reading 179. (Theodor Fontane)

178. (John Dryden)

Since both are masters of the heroic couplet, both scathing satirists, how, it might be asked, does Dryden achieve effects quite foreign to Pope? In what respects does Dryden offer something that is other than what Pope offers–something distinctly his own? To answer, consider some lines from a poem, “The Hind and the Panther” that even Dryden’s fervent admirers might concede to stretch the sympathies … Continue reading 178. (John Dryden)

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)