141. (Robert Browning)

In most lyric poems of the nineteenth century, the pressure exerted on the language derive from the intense self-consciousness of the speaker: self-accusation, self-awareness, self-doubt, self-affirmation, but almost always occurring with the assumption that the speaker is alone with his or her words, and a solitary encounter with language. Even in the conversation poems of Wordsworth and Coleridge, though another is present, it is not … Continue reading 141. (Robert Browning)

140. (William Empson)

William Empson’s poetry has, until very recently, and despite years of trying to read it with some genuine appreciation, been inaccessible to me. I had thought that the trouble was with the density of conceit, the range of reference in the analogies, and the feeling that readers are being asked to sort out crosswords in verse; but the notes in the Haffenden edition cover that … Continue reading 140. (William Empson)

139. (Matthew Arnold)

Showing, earlier this week, some poems I’d written to a critic I admire and trust, I received back some critical suggestions that struck at a peculiar blind-spot: the first-person singular, where it is needed and where not, how it shifts the weight of a poem, dragging a great deal in with it, and excluding a great deal also. To write, for instance, “I would say” … Continue reading 139. (Matthew Arnold)

135. (Ben Jonson)

Whether he is the first or not, Ben Jonson is among the earliest of the major American writers. A perverse claim, in so far as he never stepped foot on the far (or near) side of the Atlantic, it becomes not only plausible but persuasive when we consider that Jonson’s great subject matter was the gross acquisitive spirit of the city of London, the earliest … Continue reading 135. (Ben Jonson)

134. (Wallace Stevens)

A friend of mine, the recent election in heart and mind, sent me Wallace Stevens’ poem, “United Dames of America.” The poem’s epigraph is from Jules Renard: “Je tâche, en restant exact, d’être poète,” which translates as “I strive, in keeping exact, to be a poet.” . There are not leaves enough to cover the face It wears. This is the way the orator spoke: … Continue reading 134. (Wallace Stevens)

133. (William Wordsworth)

Poetry consoles the feelings of betrayal and disappointment as it does no other feelings because poetry is inherently awakened by anxieties and realities of both: why else deviate into meter, novelties of metaphor, and disorienting patterns of language unless motivated somewhat by the sense that language, as it appears in various other, more normal combinations and arrangements, would betray and disappoint? In the past week, … Continue reading 133. (William Wordsworth)