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Essays in Criticism Current Issue

Published: Mon, 22 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Last Build Date: Mon, 22 Jan 2018 04:44:21 GMT


PLEASING THE WISER SORTDeath Be Not Proud: The Art of Holy Attention. By David Marno.

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Death Be Not Proud: The Art of Holy Attention. By MarnoDavid. University of Chicago Press, 2016; $40.

THE DISSIDENCE OF DISSENTHenry David Thoreau: A Life. By Laura Dassow Walls.

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Henry David Thoreau: A Life. By WallsLaura Dassow. University of Chicago Press, 2017; $35.

Wordsworth’s Satanic Autobiography

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

SEVERAL YEARS BEFORE WORDSWORTH made the loss of his own former glory the subject of the ‘Intimations’ ode, he lamented the loss of Satan’s former glory in Paradise Lost. In his annotations to Milton’s poem, Wordsworth recorded his reaction to Satan’s final transformation from the ruined archangel, who, though robbed of some of his ‘original brightness’, was still no less than ‘th’ excess of glory obscured’ (I. 592-4), to ‘monstrous serpent’ (X. 514):11Here we bid farewell to the first character perhaps ever exhibited in Poetry. And it is not a little to be lamented that, he leaves us in a situation so degraded in comparison with the grandeur of his introduction.

Thom Gunn’s Humane Prisons

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

THROUGHOUT HIS CAREER THOM GUNN wrote many fraught poems about enclosed and imprisoned others, and in doing so he reacquaints us with a problem long debated about the lyric. Many famous theorists of lyric have conceived of it as solitary, spoken by someone who is alone;11 and in the last several decades critics have attacked lyric for this exclusivity, arguing that it suppresses ‘otherness’. Lyric’s focus on the self or speaker has been read as an exercise in solipsistic or autocratic authorial control that ignores or appropriates ‘the not–I’22 – as it is by Mikhail Bakhtin, forefather of such criticism, who thought that lyric comprises one voice speaking to itself, or turning the other into the self.33

‘A Renouveau of English Prosody’ Rereading Swinburne’s Atalanta in Calydon

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

THE HYPOTHESIS THAT A REASSESSMENT of Swinburne’s ‘Greekness’ must begin with a consideration of his versification may seem questionable to many. As critics such as Prins, McGann, Louis, Maxwell, and, more recently, Ribeyrol, Evangelista, and Polten have shown, Swinburne’s Hellenism provokes questions to do with gender, class, theology, and cosmopolitanism – why should we care about versification? Whether one chooses to approach the issue of Swinburne’s Hellenism through the lens of phenomenological, hermeneutical, structuralist or poststructuralist theories, or more recent cognitive or formalist approaches, one must still read it: prosody is as inevitable as reading.

Ivor Gurney’s Imperfection

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

IN THE POLITICS OF IMPERFECTION, Anthony Quinton identifies the defining quality of conservatism as a ‘conviction of the radical intellectual imperfection of the human individual, as contrasted with the accumulated political wisdom of the community, as embodied in its customs and institutions’.11 The prevailing conservative attitude is one of pragmatism, against a background of epistemological scepticism, in which human imperfection is radically acknowledged, and government is necessary as ‘a remedy for sin’.22 By this account Ivor Gurney’s work lies at the outer fringes of the conservative tradition, like that of Hilaire Belloc, one of his greatest influences. Rather than acknowledging imperfection as a radical necessity, however, Gurney embraces it as an ideal; and though custom is desirable (as it is desirable as an anti-competitive economic principle for Belloc), the nation’s institutions in the period following the Great War are certainly not – a judgement which shows up in various ways in Gurney’s poetry. Certainly, the idea of government as a ‘remedy for sin’, in Quinton’s formulation, would not have held water with Gurney in, say, 1922, as it did not with many other soldiers returned from the war, poets or otherwise.

R. S. Thomas’s Poetics of Insomnia

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

IN AN ESSAY ON ‘WORDS AND THE POET’ (1963), R. S. THOMAS once affirmed his adherence to the ‘belief that there is probably something symptomatic in words that tend to recur in a poet’s work’, and offered Henry Vaughan, who ‘was continually moved by concepts such as light’, as his example.11 As opposed to ‘light’, concepts such as ‘darkness’ and ‘night’ are symptomatic in Thomas’s work. Throughout his career as a poet, Thomas had recourse to the motifs of the nocturne – a generic tradition, originally consolidated in the Renaissance, which is ‘intent on refiguring those cold, dead and sunless hours feared by most of mankind over millennia into an order of exquisite and numinous experience’.22 In the dead of night, the time ‘when time stops and time is never ending’, as T. S. Eliot put it, the sleepless poet negotiates the presence and the absence of God.33 It is at this time, contemplating the empty spaces of a sublime, cosmic landscape, that he stands vigil for the day to come. ‘All night’, Thomas writes in a late poem, ‘At the End’ (1995), ‘I am at / a window not too small / to be frame to the stars…’.44