Monday, 24 February 2014

Can you have a 'nice' poem about a 'nasty' thing?

It seems that poetry, but not too much blather ‘about’ poetry, seems to hit the spot with at least some of you.

One of my favourite English language poets of the twentieth century is William Empson. Who? Well, he’s far better known as a literary critic; no university lecturer in English Literature would dare to be caught without a copy of his most famous book ‘Seven Types of Ambiguity’ on his shelves. Which is ironic, since Cambridge University threw him out when he was caught in possession of condoms. Nowadays one would be more likely to be thrown out for not being in possession of condoms.

But to his neglected poetry: although reassuringly traditional in form, it is often uncompromisingly ‘intellectual’ in content, and not always about ‘nice’ things. (My one blog commentator unashamedly admits to preferring poems (and ballets, and pieces of music) that are ‘nice’)

Here — and I think if you click on it you can increase the size to make it easier to read — is his poem ‘Aubade’. An Aubade is a ‘Morning Song’, and this one is about that not-very-nice thing an earthquake:

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