248. (James Thomson)

Among the reasons Thomson’s “The City of Dreadful Night” can be enjoyed is that it is a second-rate poem that mimics one of the greatest of all poems that came before it, and that can be heard as lightly anticipating, through the by-ways of adolescent influence, one of the great poets that appears after. In its romance-quest structure, the poem owes as much to Shelley’s … Continue reading 248. (James Thomson)

117. (Lord Byron)

“If there is a critique of the Enlightenment to be made, it is not that the philosophes believed in human nature, or the universality of reason: it is rather that they were so dismally unimaginative about the range of what we have in common.” The Byron of Don Juan, I suspect, would not have been averse to Kwame Appiah’s words, from his spirited defense of “Rooted Cosmopolitanism” … Continue reading 117. (Lord Byron)

66. (Dante Alighieri)

No poem rivals Dante’s Commedia in providing so many opportunities, so many temptations, for a poet (both as the poet recollecting and the pilgrim on a journey) to sigh. The dead sigh throughout the poem, and they sigh for all of the reasons we would: pity, pain, admiration, awe. The sigh, as an involuntary response, as a gesture of breath prior to or outpacing words, and as … Continue reading 66. (Dante Alighieri)

61. (Eudora Welty)

Eudora Welty is as inaccessible a writer of short fiction as any. Like Hawthorne, she writes short stories that sit at a distance from realism. It is not the supernatural, per se, that sets her stories apart from realism; it is instead their being stubbornly captivated by a gravitational pull towards allegory. In the hands of Hawthorne and Welty, the short story forces before the … Continue reading 61. (Eudora Welty)

8. (Robert Browning)

Bagehot, a man in the know, confides to his readership: “One of his greatest admirers once owned to us that he seldom or never began a new poem without looking on in advance, and foreseeing with caution what length of intellectual advance he was about to commence.” Does any other major poet have a posse of admirers so willing, even eager, to exonerate admiration by … Continue reading 8. (Robert Browning)