Abstraction of a different kind...
(Poem #351) The Teasers
Not but they die, the teasers and the dreams, Not but they die, and tell the careful flood To give them what they clamour for and why. You could not fancy where they rip to blood You could not fancy nor that mud I have heard speak that will not cake or dry. Our claims to act appear so small to these Our claims to act colder lunacies That cheat the love, the moment, the small fact. Make no escape because they flash and die, Make no escape build up your love, Leave what you die for and be safe to die.
'It was this poem, analysed by John Wain in Penguin New Writing in 1950, which gave rise to the Empson revival. The poem is a slight one compared to some of Empson's other pieces in this vein, but it has a musical quality and is able to make abstraction sound mysterious and sinister. The central point of the poem is hard to fix on, but it may be about the puncturing of illusions and the wastage of effort.' -- George Macbeth, Poetry 1900-1975. Elsewhere, Macbeth makes the comment that to the ideal reader of Empson should be well-versed in science, linguistics, anthropology and of course the history of critical thought... The obvious parallel, of course, is John Donne. Empson is every bit as universal a thinker as Donne, complex and intellectual, yet at the same time never aloof or uninvolved - his poems, like Donne's, reflect a passionate commitment to life in all its aspects. Empson also displays an almost frightening degree of moral integrity - some would call it moral bloodymindedness - in his poems; his work may be intentionally obscure at times, but blinkered it never is. As a result, his (relatively small) output has aged a good deal better than that of his contemporaries in the 1930s, who (it now seems to us) were blind to many of the problems that beset their generation. All told, Empson remains a fine poet - perhaps even a great one - but he'll never be popular. Perhaps he would not be dissatisfied with such an epitaph. thomas. [Minstrels Links] 'Missing Dates' is one of the two important villanelles to be written in the twentieth century; I find it almost as powerful (in a very different way, of course), as Dylan Thomas' magnificent 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night'. The former is archived at poem #202 ; the latter at poem #38 . 'Let It Go' is a sort of poetic apology for not writing more verse; you can read it at poem #233 [Poetry 101 - Followup] The contrast with Martin's equally abstract offering of yesterday notwithstanding, my choice of poem was motivated by my choice of poet: I wanted to run an Empson as a tribute. For Empson it was who first stated the principles of poetic constructon (especially with respect to the use of language to create a multiplicity of meaning) which are accepted as a given by most critics today (and which formed the basis for my essay of two days ago). After Empson's definitive study 'Seven Types of Ambiguity', twentieth-century criticism would never be the same. 'Ambiguity - the use of words that allow alternative interpretations. In factual, explanatory prose, ambiguity is considered an error in reasoning or diction; in literary prose or poetry, it often functions to increase the richness and subtlety of language and to imbue it with a complexity that expands the literal meaning of the original statement.' -- EB [Biography] Empson, Sir William b. Sept. 27, 1906, Hawdon, Yorkshire, Eng. d. April 15, 1984, London British poet and critic known for his immense influence on 20th-century literary criticism and for his rational, metaphysical poetry. Empson was educated at Winchester College and at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He earned degrees in mathematics and in English literature, which he studied under I.A. Richards. His first poems were published during this time. Several of the verses published in Empson's Poems (1935) also were written while he was an undergraduate and reflect his knowledge of the sciences and technology, which he used as metaphors in his largely pessimistic assessment of the human lot. Much influenced by John Donne, the poems are personal, politically unconcerned (despite the preoccupation with politics in the 1930s), elliptical, and difficult, even though he provided some explanatory notes. Later collections of his poetry included The Gathering Storm (1940) and Collected Poems (1949; rev. ed. 1955). Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930; rev. ed. 1953), one of the most influential critical works of the first half of the 20th century, was essentially a close examination of poetic texts. Empson's special contribution in this work was his suggestion that uncertainty or the overlap of meanings in the use of a word could be an enrichment of poetry rather than a fault, and his book abounds with examples. The book helped lay the foundation for the influential critical school known as the New Criticism. Empson applied his critical method to somewhat longer texts in Some Versions of Pastoral (1935) and further elaborated it in The Structure of Complex Words (1951). Empson's verbal analyses were based on the view that poetry's emotive effect derives primarily from the ambiguities and complexities of its cognitive and tonal meanings. From 1931 to 1934 Empson taught English literature at the University of Tokyo, and he subsequently joined the English faculty of Peking National University in China. He was Chinese editor at the British Broadcasting Corporation during World War II and returned to teach at Peking National University from 1947 to 1952. Empson was professor of English literature at Sheffield University from 1953, becoming emeritus in 1971. He was knighted in 1979. He was also a distinguished poet who influenced younger poets in the 1950s. His Poems appeared in 1935, The Gathering Storm in 1940, and his Collected Poems in 1955. Empson's poetry is characterized by ingenious conceits using a subject matter drawn from astrophysics, mathematics, and other sciences. -- EB