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)

173. (Eugenio Montale)

The final poem in La Bufera e altro, “Il sogno del prigionero,” “The Prisoner’s Dream,” is also the second poem in the section titled “Conclusioni provvisiorie,” “Provisional Conclusions.”  Below is the Arrowsmith translation: . Here, except for a few signs, you can’t tell dawn from night. . The zigzag of starlings over the watchtowers on days of fighting, my only wings, a thread of arctic air, the … Continue reading 173. (Eugenio Montale)

172. (Eugenio Montale)

  The Poetry Foundation’s website has a brief essay on Montale, helpful mostly for its generous quotations from critics and from the poet. The consensus among critics, unsurprisingly, is that Montale’s poetry is “difficult.” Here is Ghan Singh: Of all the important twentieth-century Italian poets Montale is the one in whose case it is most difficult to proceed by explicating, through definite formulations and statements, … Continue reading 172. (Eugenio Montale)

170. (Eugenio Montale)

A second in a series of readings of poems by Eugenio Montale, from his collection La Bufera e altro.  Here, from the fifth selection of the collection, “Silvae,” is the poem ” ‘Ezekiel Saw the Wheel’.” The original title is an English quotation, alluding, believes William Arrowsmith, whose translation I consult, to a African-American slave spiritual. Arrowsmith’s translation: Was it you, strange hand, that snatched me from … Continue reading 170. (Eugenio Montale)

168. (Eugenio Montale)

I’m going to devote a few posts to readings of Montale’s poems from La Bufera e altro, Montale’s 1956 collection that I would be my 20th-century desert-island poetry selection. The collection was written during the backdrop and in the aftermath of World War Two; Montale was from Florence but spent time also in Milan. Many of the poems are addressed to a female presence–Clizia, sometimes called … Continue reading 168. (Eugenio Montale)

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)