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)

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)

99. (William Empson)

Whatever else its relationship to genre, wit is a particular way of coping with the world’s fragility, its tendency to waste and isolation. Wit happens when the intelligence detaches itself from a situation in which that fragility is keenly felt and is able, by virtue of that detachment, not only to extract from it those dispersed and discordant elements that threaten to waste and isolate life, … Continue reading 99. (William Empson)

89. (Andrew Marvell)

When T.S. Eliot, in his essay on Andrew Marvell, offered his incomparably confusing characterization of “wit,” what was he onto? That he was onto something is clear less from his strained reach of eloquence than from his sequence of instances; Eliot’s eye for exemplary passages and for juxtaposition of passages was among his gifts as a critic and they delineate more clearly than the words … Continue reading 89. (Andrew Marvell)