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)

236. (Christopher Ricks)

What is the appeal of criticism, of reading or doing it? It must rest in beguilement at judgment itself, and at the purity of judgment, as a form of thought, which art and literature represents, and which the literature of modernity, in Flaubert, in Proust, in Kafka, has fetishized, over-determined, and ironized to a remarkable extent. The possibility of judgment itself has become the occasion … Continue reading 236. (Christopher Ricks)

214. (T.S. Eliot)

When someone says that something possesses the quality of the literary, or refers to the literary or even artistic imagination, they refer, I’ve suggested, to a special sort of imaginative tact: one that apprehends bodily experience. On the one hand, it might be said that not all literature is or should be about the body; on the other hand, it might be said that any … Continue reading 214. (T.S. Eliot)

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)

171. (T.S. Eliot)

  Among Eliot’s staunchest and nimblest readers, Christopher Ricks was unrelenting in his 1978 attack on Eliot’s late essay, “What is Minor Poetry?”  I offer first a series of quotations from Ricks’ piece, published in Ploughshares: Eliot is probably the only important critic who has bent himself to—or on—the distinction between major and minor, and yet even this master of elusiveness found himself out-eluded. For his … Continue reading 171. (T.S. Eliot)

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)