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)

127. (George Eliot)

This post will open with George Eliot and then drift, possibly to return. For a starting point, consider one of the most beguiling and frustrating of passages in nineteenth-century British literature: Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great … Continue reading 127. (George Eliot)

111. (John Keats)

On either side of John Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” sit Wordsworth’s “Resolution and Independence” and Tennyson’s “Vision of Sin.” All three are poems about encounters with pictures of strikingly alien people: Wordsworth’s, characteristically, about the imagination’s projection interfering with what is before him; Tennyson’s, characteristically, framed by an account of the vision’s arrival and dissipation. Wordsworth’s poem, then, founded on the conflict between … Continue reading 111. (John Keats)

108. (William Wordsworth)

  Wordsworth is one of the revolutionaries of English literary history, and not just because, as critics since Coleridge have observed, his poetry bristles with the unresolved metaphysical tensions between the accidental and the necessary, the unity of being and the fragmentations of memory and feeling, or the fissures between the history of the imagination and the imagination of history; he is a revolutionary because … Continue reading 108. (William Wordsworth)

84. (William Wordsworth)

If the project of the humanities is the recovery of the past, then a part of that recovery must be the task of criticism that is appreciative, even evaluative; such criticism can restore to the present the sources of power in poetry that may have been occluded by time, convention, or ossified habits of thought and reading. So it is when we read Christopher Ricks’ … Continue reading 84. (William Wordsworth)

37. (Henry James)

His sentences are moved to excess with a wariness of waste. The inheritance of scrupulous, new-world economizing is carried over, by an instinct that lived on the nerves, to react against authors whose imaginations abnegate their responsibilities for accounting. Authors ought, the years of reviews, letters, and personal achievements suppose, to know where to draw the circle of attention, should discern where the relations between words, … Continue reading 37. (Henry James)

32. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

A short phrase binds an entire ream of Tennyson criticism: “the art of the penultimate.” That Tennyson’s art looks forward with foreboding, that it does so with a burden of what has come before, is the spine supporting almost all major Tennyson criticism from the past forty years (and more). But what if the phenomenon the phrase fits were to be fitted from another angle? … Continue reading 32. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)