Early in the first essay of Sir William Empson’s last book his Chinese expertise comes in handy. He quotes an officiously vague sentence of Emile Legouis on Marvell’s use of mythology and deftly defuses its pretentiousness with his colloquial approval. ‘Excellent, but what can it mean, when translated out of High Mandarin, except that Marvell was able to believe in fairies?’ Fairies, battles with the unfortunately named Tupper over the question of whether Marvell married his housekeeper or not, the populism of the satires, politics, family and the obscure objects of Marvellian desire – all are used by Empson to flesh out his sense of the ‘firm and passionate mental operation’ going on in Marvell’s poems. The basis of all intelligent reading is the author’s intention: the discovery of biographical expression in a poem can renew it for us. Contempt for the author’s intention turns critics into vandals.
Follow Literary Review on Twitter
'It remains a poem comprised of clay fragments, short and long, and though the desert delivers up occasional additional text, we are a long way from a whole poem.'
Michael Schmidt on the oldest surviving poem in the world.
'Apparently if you’re a teenager and you send a declaration of love to someone heart emoji, heart emoji, heart emoji and they come back smiley face, that’s the worst.'
Thomas Blaikie tries to get his head round the language of the internet.
Don't forget to enter the competition to win a year's @royalacademy membership and a year's subscription to Literary Review.
Entries close on the 18th December.