Category Archives: notes on poems

Walter de la Mare, Fare Well

Derek Walcott says that he always “cherished” the poem “Fare Well” by Walter de la Mare “because of its melody and its plaintiveness.” I think Walcott proceeds to recite it from memory rather than read it, because his spoken rendition differs in very … Continue reading

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aphorisms, proverbs, maxims, and the purpose of this blog

If you search the Internet for “aphorisms,” you’ll find a mix of authors, from Lao Tze to Jean Baudrillard. Some are literary figures who are eminently quotable–good at writing short, memorable passages that stand on their own even if they were originally composed … Continue reading

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game theory, naval warfare, and Derek Walcott

I am in Washington, DC but remembering our winter vacation in Les Saintes, near Guadeloupe, because I am reading Derek Walcott’s astoundingly good epic, Omeros. In the channel with three islets christened “Les Saintes” in a mild sunrise the ninth … Continue reading

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empathy: good or bad?

I am speaking next week on a panel about empathy: “Generative Empathies” (Rabb Room, Lincoln Filene Hall, Tufts University, March 30, 12 pm) with … Amahl Bishara, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Tufts Doris Sommer, Ira Jewell Williams, Jr. Professor of … Continue reading

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when Dante came out

In “Dante on Trial” (New York Review of Books, Feb. 19), Robert Pogue Harrison writes, “Dante seems to reveal that he himself had homosexual leanings, and that it was only fear of damnation that prevented him from acting on them.” This surprised … Continue reading

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Pied Beauty, illustrated

Glory be to God for dappled things For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; And áll trádes, … Continue reading

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three endings for Christabel

I think Coleridge was bad at plot. He claimed he forgot the whole story of “Kubla Khan” when a visitor interrupted him, so he could share only the exotic setting.  But Stevie Smith doubts it: He was weeping and wailing: … Continue reading

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W.H. Auden’s long journey

Articles entitled “The Secret X,” are usually exposés of X’s secret crimes and shames. But Edward Mendelson’s article “The Secret Auden” (New York Review, March 20) catalogs the many discreet acts of kindness, sensitivity, and self-sacrifice of W.H Auden. Auden sounds … Continue reading

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Robert Pinsky, Impossible to Tell

Imagine a group of people taking turns making clever remarks, echoing and developing each others’ cues. To play the game well is to extend the discussion for another round in a pleasurable way. For instance, they might be middle-aged Jewish … Continue reading

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notes on Seamus Heaney’s Singing School

(en route to Tarrytown, NY) The son of a Catholic farmer in Ulster, with an education and an extraordinary gift for language, Seamus Heaney knew oppression and he knew art. Oppression came in many forms and layers–the Unionists and British … Continue reading

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