257. (T.S. Eliot)

Since the age of 16 or 17, when I discovered the criticism of T.S. Eliot for myself, I’ve met with respected voices discouraging me from its allurements as well respected voices encouraging me to see it’s greatness. Among the critics and readers who have mattered most to me, Empson, Davie, Ricks, and Hill, there is a common belief in Eliot’s greatness as a critic, his … Continue reading 257. (T.S. Eliot)

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

203. (Aristotle)

Aristotle begins his Art of Rhetoric How do we reason in general about what is possible, probable, not necessary; he approaches rhetoric not as a determinate science, not as a particular domain of knowledge and judgment, but as a domain of knowledge and judgment that, determined by any number of situations, is nonetheless not determined by a set of knowledge claims (though it may often … Continue reading 203. (Aristotle)

149. (Robert Lowell)

“Self-accusation,” writes Geoffrey Hill, “is the life-blood of Romanticism.” For a long time, I thought Lowell a late-Romantic, working back, through the reaction of modernism, to the lessons of the early nineteenth-century.  That is not right. Lowell does accuse himself, but whereas, in Hill’s view, self-accusation guards Romanticism against its own excesses, Lowell accuses himself for another end.  Forgiveness is his great subject and it … Continue reading 149. (Robert Lowell)

103. (Anthony Hecht)

They are almost “conversation” poems, but they offer too many explanations, the sorts of explanations of who the speaker is, of what they speaker refers to and knows; a conversation poem assumes familiarity with an audience. What makes Hecht’s poems seem so nearly conversation pieces is the fact of their being lyric expositions and narrations, rather than lyric dramatizations. The showing and telling, hearing and … Continue reading 103. (Anthony Hecht)

88. (Derek Mahon)

Itching dissatisfaction; Mahon is harder to get a hold of than any one poem suggests. The same could be said, probably, of minor poets whose poems don’t add up to a sustained exploration, but instead a series of imitations, forays, and excursions. But Mahon really doesn’t seem one of these. A stable point of comparison is needed and, reading the long-poem “Harbour Lights,” one is … Continue reading 88. (Derek Mahon)

68. (Robert Lowell)

Here is another attempt at the Lowell muddle, since the last was either abstruse or wrong. Lowell’s poetry can profitably be read against his modernist masters, especially Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot (who also reaches Lowell by way of the Agrarians). Behind these modernists are the Victorians and Romantics–and picking and choosing from the influences of the nineteenth-century, Eliot and Pound and their followers propose … Continue reading 68. (Robert Lowell)