Saturday, August 25, 2007

a subject for popular anxiety

"Interest in "atmospheres" is a critical attitude designed for, and particularly suited to, the poets of the nineteenth century; this may tell us something about them, and in part explain why they are so little ambiguous in the sense with which I am concerned. For a variety of reasons, they found themselves living in an intellectual framework with which it was difficult to write poetry, in which poetry was rather improper, or was irrelevant to business, especially the business of becoming Fit to Survive, or was an indulgence of one's lower nature in beliefs the scientists knew were untrue. On the other hand, they had a large public which was as anxious to escape from this intellectual framework, on holiday, as they were themselves. Almost all of them, therefore, exploited a sort of tap-root into the world of their childhood, where they were able to conceive things poetically, and whatever they might be writing about they would suck up from this limited and perverted world an unvarying sap which was their poetical inspiration."


"In that age, too, began the doubt as to whether this man or that was "grown up," which has ever since occupied so deeply the minds of those interested in their friends. Macauley complains somewhere that in his day a man was sure to be accused of a child-mind if no doubt could be cast "either on the ability of his intellect or the innocence of his character"; now nobody seems to have said this in the eighteenth century. Before the Romantic Revival the possibilities of not growing up had never been exploited so far as to become a subject for popular anxiety."

- William Empson Seven Types of Ambiguity

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