246. (William Wordsworth)

“His Muse (it cannot be denied, and without this we cannot explain its character at all) is a levelling one. It proceeds on a principle of equality and strives to reduce all things to the same standard.” William Hazlitt’s insight into Wordsworth’s poetry has endured and been frequently repeated. But readers and critics of Wordsworth have been far from leveling in their appraisal of and … Continue reading 246. (William Wordsworth)

242. (W.H. Auden)

The conundrum of Auden’s poetry—the conundrum of how to compare its aims and achievements to those of his contemporaries and to earlier poets—consists of several parts and is best sustained by a comparison to Yeats and also to French verse. The parts in brief: 1) Auden’s sense of history is flat: the past is not absorbed into his poems as a foreign element, as alien … Continue reading 242. (W.H. Auden)

238. (Matthew Arnold)i

One of Matthew Arnold’s most famous, or infamous, phrases as a critic comes in “The Study of Poetry” where he mysteriously describes poetry as consisting in “the application of ideas to life.” Because of the frequency of “ideas” in our daily conversation, it is easy to overlook the peculiarity of that word, along with the word “application.” It is also easy to take “idea” to … Continue reading 238. (Matthew Arnold)i

234. (William Empson)

William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity is an acknowledged classic of literary criticism, but it is also among the most difficult to approach and appreciate as a whole, as a coherent statement of intellectual intent, and not just as a bundle of brilliant analyses. The seven types of ambiguity, Empson tells us, are as follows: first, when words can have several possible meanings contributing to … Continue reading 234. (William Empson)

233. (Samuel Menashe)

  The poetry of Samuel Menashe is illuminated by the thought that, even the smallest lyric poem, when successful, will be like the focal point on an hour glass, through which so much experience and time passes, an entire future and entire past opening out on either side of it. It will also be a reminder that history might not come to a reader direct, … Continue reading 233. (Samuel Menashe)

231. (Erich Auerbach)

Not only can be it said that art happens in history, but that history happens within each work of art. Art is kindled when the possibilities for body in history are realized within a medium and form, situated within its own history; and history itself is change, ordered, conceptualized, projected forwards and backwards. To say that humans are historical creatures is no different from saying … Continue reading 231. (Erich Auerbach)

228. (John Donne)

Among the tissues of judgments that compose a poem will be a judgment about what a poem plays at doing (“Plays at” because poets, like novelists and playwrights, being concerned with what is possible in this bodily experience, write utterances that correspond to the fictions of narrative). The excitement of a poem can depend on the ambitions of its play, including what it judges itself … Continue reading 228. (John Donne)