144. (Philip Larkin)

[COMPLETE VERSION.]  A chief complaint against Larkin is the insularity, his reaction to modernism that confuses an affirmation of Hardy’s special and lasting richness with a rejection of the internationalism that characterizes Pound and Eliot. It is the Larkin we see in a conversation with 1964 Ian Hamilton (collected in Further Requirements); asked “Do you read any foreign poetry,” the reply is stodgy and affected: “Foreign … Continue reading 144. (Philip Larkin)

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)

100. (T.S. Eliot)

All poetry orients itself, to knowledge, to others, to the world or something beyond it; Eliot’s poetry stoically queries and quietly agonizes over the possibility of orientation. To speak of orientation and Eliot in the same breath inevitably summons speculations about orientation of the sexes; and however hollow such speculations might be, they are a valid extension of the experience of reading Eliot, which leaves … Continue reading 100. (T.S. Eliot)

99. (William Empson)

Whatever else its relationship to genre, wit is a particular way of coping with the world’s fragility, its tendency to waste and isolation. Wit happens when the intelligence detaches itself from a situation in which that fragility is keenly felt and is able, by virtue of that detachment, not only to extract from it those dispersed and discordant elements that threaten to waste and isolate life, … Continue reading 99. (William Empson)

89. (Andrew Marvell)

When T.S. Eliot, in his essay on Andrew Marvell, offered his incomparably confusing characterization of “wit,” what was he onto? That he was onto something is clear less from his strained reach of eloquence than from his sequence of instances; Eliot’s eye for exemplary passages and for juxtaposition of passages was among his gifts as a critic and they delineate more clearly than the words … Continue reading 89. (Andrew Marvell)

84. (William Wordsworth)

If the project of the humanities is the recovery of the past, then a part of that recovery must be the task of criticism that is appreciative, even evaluative; such criticism can restore to the present the sources of power in poetry that may have been occluded by time, convention, or ossified habits of thought and reading. So it is when we read Christopher Ricks’ … Continue reading 84. (William Wordsworth)

82. (Philip Larkin)

After reading Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall,” a friend half-recalled Paul Fussell’s opinion that verse in a trochaic meter could never be plaintive; trochees lack pathos. He asked if I could think of an exception; I have. One of Larkin’s poems, “The Explosion,” is written in trochaic meter—with significant substitutions. American poet A.E. Stallings discusses the poem in a brief essay, much of which dwells on the … Continue reading 82. (Philip Larkin)