Skip to main content

Posts

in their deathtime

Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts - Deaths of the Poets
What - for the poet, whose work is validated by the vital intricacies of meaning - should be the exemplary death, where one is, as it were, end-stopped by the terminal silence?  Must it be regarded as a summary gloss on all the words that came before?  The poet’s art is shadowed by the immanence of death, the whiteness of the page - all negation, all that is non-human - briefly accommodates human presence, which is utterance, which is breath and soul.  Placidly reconciled to our end, few of us will be.  And poets have been transacting uneasily between their limited mortal selves and personal extinction - in one way or another - from the moment they laid down their first chiasmus. The precision-engineered balance and Palladian four-square of the heroic couplet, in Pope’s hands, was superstitiously a warding spell against Chaos and Old Night: he mastered the nightmare of dissolution in The Dunciad by imposing on it the elabor…
Recent posts

clowdis of dyrk poecy

Seamus Heaney - Aeneid Book VI
And now to continue, as enjoined to often, ‘In my own words’.
Not so much ‘Englishing’ Virgil’s Aeneid as casting it in a quartzy Scots vernacular, the makar Gavin Douglas engrafted onto his verse its own self-justification:
Quhy suld I than, with dull forehede and vane, With ruide engine and barrand emptive brane, With bad harsk speche and lewit barbour tong, Presume to write quhar the sueit bell is rong, Or contirfait sa precious wourdis deir? Na, na, nocht sua, bot knele quhen I thame heir. For quhat compair betuix midday and nycht, Or quhat compare betuix myrknes and lycht, Or quhat compare is betuix blak and quhyte, Far gretar diference betuix my blunt endyte And thi scharp sugarat sang Virgiliane, Sa wyslie wrocht with nevir ane word in vane; My waverand wit, my cunnying feble at all, My mynd mysty, thir ma nocht myss ane fall.
Virgil is noontide sunlight, warmth, clarity of line; Douglas fends off scholarly carping by his admission that his own language must be a b…

song of lights

Clive James – The Divine Comedy

W.H. Auden, in New York Letter (1940), appointed Dante the first of his cultural judiciary:
So, when my name is called, I face,                                               Presiding coldly on my case,                                               That lean hard-bitten pioneer                                               Who spoiled a temporal career                                               And to the supernatural brought                                               His passion, senses, will and thought,                                               By Amor Rationalis led                                               Through the three kingdoms of the dead,                                               In concrete details saw the whole                                               Environment that keeps the soul,                                               And grasped in its complexity                                               The Catholic ecolo…

critic, interrupted

James Wood – The Fun Stuff
Ex cathedra pronouncements on the state of literature are gratingly at odds with the democratic spirit of modern Western culture. An Arnold or a Leavis would find themselves on the back foot, in a climate in which the Canon has been disparaged and dismantled by the academic soixante-huitards, and to contend for the intrinsic elitism of art is to confess to one's political bias. A fuzzy left-liberal consensus has made the expression of value-judgements somehow, at best, suspect; a matter of reactionary tendencies and ill-concealed disdain for the popular accessibility of the arts, creeping unbidden into neutral debate. As if to argue that some works will inevitably be better than others amounts to a self-betrayal, letting slip clues to a High Toryism of the spirit. (No coincidence that this wholesale enfranchisement of literary culture has portended the non-appearance of another Lionel Trilling, say.)
James Wood emerged as precisely the kind of heir-pre…