I've been rereading this. When I first read it a couple of years ago I thought it was good. On rereading it still seems quietly impressive.
You couldI've been rereading this. When I first read it a couple of years ago I thought it was good. On rereading it still seems quietly impressive.
You could give a copy to anyone interested in history, even if they didn't read poetry, and know they would enjoy it.
It's a narrative sequence of short poems dealing with Monmouth's rising. Povey's heroes are not the rich and ambitious, but the shop keepers, weavers, and shoemakers who, driven by mixed motives followed Monmouth to the disaster at Sedgemoor and then paid for it as the King exacted his retribution on his subjects. The brutality of that revenge is legendary.
The switching between the 17th Century and the Twenty first, signalled in the first poem of the sequence, makes the obvious link, that brutality and greed are not just characteristics of the past. As he writes:
The continuities of History: Economy and brutality.
The first time I read this book I wasn't sure about Povey's poems as poems. However, the combination of subject matter and his own indignation carry the sequence. The kind of stripped down syntax that characterises so much post card poetry achieves a powerful effect as it steps out of the way and allows the subject matter to speak for itself. For example, the burning of an old woman, condemned, probably unjustly, by the Judge and not just to be burnt at the stake, but denied the common clemency of being strangled before the flames got to her.
At the Stake Just think how much it hurts when steam from a boiling kettle catches your pouring hand.
And then think, quite soberly, Of Elizabeth Gaunt ablaze.
There's a lot to be indignant about. Without in any way romanticising the poor men who followed Monmouth, or the poor women executed for helping them, he manages to suggest that a lot more was at stake at Sedgemoor than who was on the throne.
Brave men in the dark, firing high. A carthorse cavalry. They did their best. It wasn't good enough. And England stuck with Monarch, church and class....more
There's a point where 'This is an odd book' stops being a complaint and becomes praise.
Sections of short prose pieces on everything from the mating hThere's a point where 'This is an odd book' stops being a complaint and becomes praise.
Sections of short prose pieces on everything from the mating habits of the domesticated Tortoise to the problems of translating Flaubert alternate with sections of poems. Eaves thinks about a wide variety of texts and subjects: from Shakespeare's Sonnets, via Old English poems to Flaubert, but in between are observations, comments, descriptions....
The Blurb gets it right: 'It's like a conversation with an extraordinarily wise friend; surprising, tender, funny and profound'. Though if that makes it sound in any way precious it shouldn't.
The title is taken from a comment by a tour guide in a vast greenhouse in Iceland called 'The Garden of Eden'. 'Inside the Garden of Eden you will find the inevitable gift shop'.
The phrase epitomises the way the book juxtaposes its various parts, subject matter and registers.
I've been rereading it, and then rereading it, since it arrived and for me that's the test of a book's quality.
This is an odd book and the most enjoyable new one I've read for a long time....more
If you noggle dialect words, and they leave you in a state of niff, just because you're all in a modge doesn't make you a mome: you just need this booIf you noggle dialect words, and they leave you in a state of niff, just because you're all in a modge doesn't make you a mome: you just need this book.
Crystal's tribute to Joseph Wright, a self taught philologist who created the English Dialect Dictionary. A selection from that book, with definitions and examples, this is a real pleasure to read....more
I tracked down a copy of this book because I needed evidence for an argument about the reception of Old English Poetry in the 19th Century. It supplieI tracked down a copy of this book because I needed evidence for an argument about the reception of Old English Poetry in the 19th Century. It supplied some of the evidence I needed: anyone brought up to worship classical texts and develop a reading practice which could verbalise that perceived excellence was never going to deal with Old English on its own terms. However, the book was surprisingly enjoyable to read.
Firstly it is very much a product of its time. The writer has an argument which he wants to share with his reader. He presents the argument in clear, unambiguous prose which moves logically through a series of stages, each supported by evidence. It's easy to read, easy to follow, and the argument is clearly stated so it can be considered.
I am becoming nostalgic for this style if not for some of the pervasive assumptions about class and race and gender that seem to go with it.
Of course, anyone reading this book would be expected to know Latin and Greek, so none of the illustrative quotations are translated. There is an interesting attitude to the British Empire, and apparently the argument about education is concerned solely with educating boys to be worthwhile men. The female of the species is obviously not in the author's field of vision, though occasionally one or two are mentioned in the history as having read translations. And of course, the arguments about education seem oblivious to the fact that for many, Latin and Greek and a University education were something other people had.
The time allows Ogilvie a freedom to speak his mind: comparing Athens and the British Empire in the 19th century he points out that the greatest difference is that 5th century Athenians didn't have to deal with the problems of race, religion and colour with the British Empire never solved. It also allows him to be unembarrassed about his own assumptions:
'I have chosen to ignore the thoughts and aspirations of the remaining nine-tenths....There is good reason for concentrating on the educated upper classes. They alone were important'.
Which I guess puts people like me in their place.
Leaving aside the educational arguments in the preface and epilogue, the book is a valuable study of the influence of Classical texts on English life. Ogilvie admits he is simplifying, but he can identify the dominant classical texts in a series of loosely defined historical periods: Ovid in the 17th Century, Horace in there 18th, Plato, Thucydides and the Victorians, and Homer and the Edwardians. He doesn't deal with the Middle Ages, which is odd given that learning Latin and being educated were synonymous for almost a thousand years in Europe.
He makes an argument on not only the way texts might have shaped mindsets, but of the importance of education in setting general standards of naturalised literary excellence.
He also provides an antidote to all those who think Universities have until recently been centres of education excellence and higher learning.
A fascinating, sometimes wince inducing book, which is useful to anyone searching for information and about, and evidence for, which classical texts were dominant in England at any given period from 1600 to 1918. ...more
Interesting discussion of Herodotus in the context of developed or developing understandings of how Oral cultures work, and how Herodotus, in a liminaInteresting discussion of Herodotus in the context of developed or developing understandings of how Oral cultures work, and how Herodotus, in a liminal space between oral and literary, can be read in terms of that understanding.
Chapters including 'Enquiry' and 'Social Memory', Mapping other worlds, The logic of narrative, and Why things Happen, discuss aspects of the work. The final chapter, on Reading Herodotus has a good discussion of different ways the book has been read and suggestions for how it might be read in the light of the preceding discussions. Itsounds dry but isn't. Gould obviously likes his subject and he ends on the essential point that, "For the most lasting of all impressions that one takes away from a reading of his narrative is exhilaration. It comes from the sense one has of Herodotus' inexhaustible curiosity and vitality'.
Green points out in his introduction to this 1996 reprint that he had been accused of blurring the line between his work as novelist and historian. BuGreen points out in his introduction to this 1996 reprint that he had been accused of blurring the line between his work as novelist and historian. But the result is that increasingly rare thing, narrative history which is enjoyable to read. The Historian knows his sources and is happy to discuss problems of evidence; the novelist appears occasionally to add what used to be called "telling detail' to a scene. Between them they keep the story moving. While a fine coverage of the Persian Invasion, it's also a fine commentary on Herodotus, so anyone reading one should read the other....more
It seems strange to rate a book like this. I'm in no position to query the translation. It was, however, very enjoyable: Herodotus is a fine guide, wiIt seems strange to rate a book like this. I'm in no position to query the translation. It was, however, very enjoyable: Herodotus is a fine guide, with his own characteristics and peculiarities and emerges from the text as someone it would be good to travel with. Though i suspect he would always be the last one on the Bus.
One of the characteristics of the book is H's habit of giving two or three versions of a story, and then either saying which one he prefers or distancing himself from all of them. Discussing the Egyptian story that Helen never went to Troy but stayed in Egypt, his dismissal of the Greek Version of the Trojan war is priceless:
'Had Helen really been in Troy, she would have been handed over to the Greeks with or without Paris' consent; for I cannot believe that either Priam or any other kinsman of his was mad enough to be willing to risk his won and his children's lives and the safety of the city , simply to let Paris continue to live with Helen.'
Miracles are considered, versions weighed. Curiosities recorded. And the great set piece, with digressions, comes at the end of the Book with the Invasion of Greece and the defeat of the Persians. It's also a salutary reminder of how brutal and treacherous those times were.
I read Kapuscinski's 'Travels with Herodotus' at the same time, finishing it first, which gave the main text a ghostly and enjoyable sense of deja lu.
This particular edition is enlivened by the end notes, which take on a life of their own. Sometimes they correct H's errors, sometimes they comment, and sometimes they fill out what is happening. And sometimes they just sound as if the editor is on the point of exasperation. ...more
The introductory chapters should be compulsory reading for any educator who has ever asked his or her students to discuss the context of the work undeThe introductory chapters should be compulsory reading for any educator who has ever asked his or her students to discuss the context of the work under consideration. It should be read by syllabus writers who impose the study of context. It is a thorough refutation of the idea and practice , both in terms of methodology and desirability.
As Barry points out, any class room discussion of 'context', given access to resources, areas of expertise and time, is simply going to reduce students to passive users of second or third hand opinions and statements which they do not have the knowledge to assess. A genuinely interdisciplinary approach to literature, which 'context' requires, would require a genuinely interdisciplinary training. Instead of this what happened was a watered down version where 'The 19th century' becomes the context for 'Jane Eyre' and a generation of students trotted out whatever information they were given about "the role of Women in 19th Century England" as though Charlotte Bronte was typical of anything and there was no change over a hundred years and no variation from class to class, or even region to region.
The rest of the book is Barry's attempts to show how what he calls 'deep context', a context which the work itself requires or 'triggers', can illuminate texts. He does this by giving particular readings which demonstrate his argument. I think different readers will be convinced on a case by case basis and the quality of the individual chapters varies.
Four stars because I'm not convinced by all of his case studies, and he avoids the conclusion he's driving towards. He writes...'The truism that 'literature must be studied context' should not allow the notion of context to expand relentlessly until literally studies becomes a sub branch of history and history becomes the new English'. But why is it a truism? There are numerous questions you can ask of a book or a poem or a play which do not require any knowledge of its context except perhaps the OED to check that the words meant when the thing was written.
Barry's short example, a Sonnet by Spenser, does indeed change if you know the writer was involved in the massacre at Smerwick. But this is not the only reading, and to imply you Must know this to understand the poem, is to suggest that there is only one way of understanding the poem.
Despite this, the book should be compulsory for anyone teaching literature at whatever level. ...more
‘The Hamlet Doctrine’ seems to be that knowledge prevents action. As a doctrine this seems to be of limited value; as a reading of the play ‘Hamlet’ i‘The Hamlet Doctrine’ seems to be that knowledge prevents action. As a doctrine this seems to be of limited value; as a reading of the play ‘Hamlet’ it is both brutally reductive (‘Hamlet’s problem’ is yet again neatly identified) and extremely dubious. When Freud hung the name Oedipus on an unproven (and unprovable) hypothesis about the psychosexual development of males in middle class Vienna in the 19th century, it was a stroke of advertising brilliance. Forget the fact that the Oedipus of Sophocles’ play does not want to kill his father or sleep with his mother, nor does he castrate himself at the end of the play, it was a superb piece of what is now called Branding. There are people who think it’s a universal, ahistorical fact of human development.
I do not think the ‘Hamlet’ Doctrine will have an equal shelf life.
This book is haunted by two significant ghosts. Like all books, it is ghosted by the book it could have been: in this case, if the authors had had the courage to turn the play on their theory. However, as in so many recent acts of ‘literary criticism’, the text ‘being considered’, ‘Hamlet’ is a launch pad for a performance that soon loses sight of the words on the page. A much more interesting book would have used the play to challenge the theory. The other ghost is that of Jacques Lacan, and ironically, given all the Oedipal waffle the authors go in for, they seem to have no desire to overthrow, supplant or even challenge their father figure.
On the other hand, and to be fair, the authors are well informed and eloquent in a Lacanian way. Their use of the modesty topos, which reaches a climax in the final pages of the book, is almost comic given their habit of swatting and evaluating other critics. Along the way they discuss some interesting readings of the play. The first section of the book offers works. But after that the pyrotechnics are very enjoyable, if you are prepared to switch your brain off and play the gawping child. If you’re expecting to learn something new about ‘Hamlet’ the play by William Shakespeare you may be disappointed. The idea that the bodies strewn over the stage at the end is farcical is unusual but not convincing for any performance I’ve ever seen.
The dangers of psychoanalyzing literary characters were evident and noted when Freud first started the practice. Hamlet is not a human being. Hamlet is an accumulation of words on the page, or put into the mouth of an actor. ‘He’ exists only in what he does and says within the storyworld that is his context. He does not have an unconscious. Even if you want to pretend he is a real person and does, you can’t access it through the usual channels of analysis. The authors are aware of this: they devote part of a chapter to the problem of ‘bad psychoanalytical readings’ . But having promised to Hamletize psychoanalysis, they forge ahead, doing exactly what they said they weren’t going to do.
Theory acts as a filter. But what is blinds the observer to is as interesting as what it allows him or her to see.
Hamlet has an opportunity to kill Claudius, while his Uncle is praying. Hamlet talks himself out of the murder because he thinks Claudius will go to heaven if he is murdered at his prayers. (The theology of the play is famously murky). He then imagines killing him during some sinful act that will ensure his swift departure for hell. Hamlet runs through a list of sinful activities, which the authors quote on page 170. It’s an open-ended list. Five are named and then ‘or about some act/that has no relish of salvation in’t’. But the authors, locked into the prism of psychoanalytical theory, and one might note this sounds dangerously close to ‘the prison of psychoanalytical theory’, seize on one, the third one Hamlet mentions: ‘Barging in on the primal scene, the incestuous pleasure of Claudius’ bed, and sticking it to him, gives Hamlet the impetus not to act‘(p.170). All the other sins that are mentioned are simply forgotten.
But it’s in places like this where the play might be used to question the theory as an adequate way of accounting for the play. It never happens. The play is selectively conscripted as ‘evidence’ for the theory. This is evident in small aspects of the book. It explains the authors habit of making strange statements. When Ophelia dies, she ‘returns to incestuous sheets, reunited with her father, both slain by her capricious lover’ (p152). The incest reference here is gratuitous. There is nothing in the play to suggest Ophelia and her father have an incestuous relationship.
A more extreme example of this lack of verbal precision is evident when the authors discuss Hamlet’s Interview with Gertrude. Hamlet has warned himself to ‘speak daggers to her but use none’ which the authors quote. In the story world of the play his ‘madness’ is known. Gertrude, frightened, says or cries out, ‘what wilt that [sic] do? Thou wilt not murder me? Help Ho.” in every version of the play in performance that I have seen Gerturde’s fear is justified. But according to Critchley and Webster: ’Taking matters too far, we think the lady doth protest too much. Gertrude’s own pornographic, sadomasochistic fantasy breaks into the scene”(p.170) Admittedly the grammar makes it unclear who is taking matters too far. Perhaps the authors are acknowledging what they are doing.
There’s a revealing moment in the book on page 136:’As a certain controversial French philosopher once put it, between the two of us, we know that one of us will die first, ’one of the us two will see himself no longer seeing the other’.
The ‘controversial French philosopher’ is identified in the footnotes as Derrida. It’s a strange moment of coyness, since Carl Schmitt 'to put it bluntly is controversial'. Lacan’s ghost dominates this strange version of ‘Hamlet’, but at no point do the authors seem to acknowledge that he too, is ‘to put it bluntly controversial’. Apparently the master does no wrong. There’s an oddly irrelevant one-sided defense of his falling out with various governing bodies of Psychoanalysis. His children not only don’t want to over throw him, they want to mirror him as much as possible. And that includes the worst features of his style.
This uncritical attitude is evident throughout the book, nowhere more so when they write: 'Lacan declares that you only act when you do not know-that you’ve killed your father and are sleeping with your mother. When you do know, the consequences of that knowledge is morbid inhibition' (p132).
Seriously? As a reading of 'Oedipus Rex' this might work. As a reading of ‘Hamlet’ it makes little sense. But ‘Lacan declares’ and as a general truth it’s characteristically silly and surely deserves to be challenged. People who commit incest often know they are committing incest. 'You only act when you do not know’ is wrong is so many cases. This movement from the specific to the unqualified aphorism masquerading as profound truth is one of Lacan’s less likeable aspects as a thinker. Whatever the value of unsubstantiated statements in the field of psychoanalysis; whatever the pleasure of throwing the words up and seeing where they fall, if you’re claiming to be reading a text, when the final phrase is delivered, surely it has to still have some relevance to the text?
As a book over shadowed by Lacan certain vices are inevitable. The word ‘desire’ both as verb and noun, will be used so arbitrarily it will become meaningless. Statements will be made, as declarations of universally applicable truth which if qualified would be banal, but which stated didactically, usually using the first person plural to conscript the reader, will not stand scrutiny.
The authors discuss the language of flowers, which given Ophelia’s famous scene is something which has been discussed at great length over the years. But apparently flowers remind George Bataille of genitals. (All flowers?) A summary of this leads our authors to a characteristic aphorism: ’We give flowers not because we love but because we want to f-ck’ (p149).[dash is mine] If the authors are describing their own practice, fair enough, but they should identify themselves as the subject of the sentence and then explain what that’s got to do with the play. Otherwise, that ‘we’ is invidious. ‘Don’t make sweeping generalizations’ generations of students have been warned, because if nothing else they invite disagreement and stop you from making fine distinctions. ’We give flowers not because we love but because we want to f-ck’ (p149) Seriously? At Funerals? At Christenings? When we visit friends? And what has this got to do with Ophelia? Are they trying to say that’s why she gives flowers to Gertrude?
This declarative aphorism, epigrammatic in its certainty, sounding like something handed down like law from the patriarchal heights of a mountain, is a characteristic of bad theory and bad writing. The book is littered with such phrases.
‘Death desires us, and to desire is to face up to death.’ (p152)
Death is a state and cannot experience desire. Nor does the defense that this is a metaphor excuse the silliness. If the statement were qualified, ‘sometimes it can seem as though death desires us’, no one would quibble. But even then “to desire is to face up to death.” All forms of desire lead us to confront death, every time, in a meaningful way? What could ‘to desire’ mean here that would validate that sentence? And how many ways could the verb be used which would trivialize it? But in the Lacanian/Derridean style one declares, regardless of how silly the declaration.
The danger of this kind of writing is that it is seductive. It sounds profound. But it works only as long as the reader doesn’t stop and consider the declarations. Or the series of unfounded assumptions the ’analysis’ is based upon. Oedipus the character did not want to kill his father and have sex with his mother. He didn’t castrate himself when he found out: he put his eyes out. Blinding as metaphor for castration? Freud makes this link in 'The Uncanny', in one of his dafter moments. A fear of having your eyes put out is not a fear of castration: it’s a human, non-gender specific fear of having your eyes put out. In 'King Lear' Gloucester is not castrated, he is blinded in one of the more unbearable scenes in Shakespeare.
Freud was haunted all his professional life by his inability to provide any kind of empirical evidence to support his theories. All he had to offer was hypothesis and case history. For anyone analyzing a literary work, the evidence is there. The analysis and the hypothesis have to be tested against the words. ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff; and it’s all small stuff’ is a nice slogan for a self-help book but in criticism the small stuff is essential. The ability to make clear distinctions and the precise use of words, are markers not of a lack of intelligence, but a desire to be accurate. If ‘the small stuff’ gets left out or dismissed as unimportant, then the end result is untethered from the text it purports to be discussing or analyzing and no matter how enjoyable or dazzling, it fails as analysis.
Is there any evidence in the play to suggest Hamlet wanted to kill his father, or replace him in his mother’s bed? Surely an analysis of ‘Hamlet’ the play that dealt with what is in the play, and what is consistent with the internal logic of the story world, could be turned on the theory, and the limitations of the theory explored. To reduce a play like 'Hamlet', with all its inconsistencies (did Ophelia kill herself?) and unanswered questions, to a single ‘doctrine’ is...reductive. ...more
SO my rating is for the edition. Another one of Shearsman's 'Shearsman Classics'. These are what were once called 'reading copies'. A brief introductiSO my rating is for the edition. Another one of Shearsman's 'Shearsman Classics'. These are what were once called 'reading copies'. A brief introduction to point the reader in the right direction, and then the poems on the page, decent sized font, nice paper, no footnotes or marginal glosses, a few endnotes at the end.
Carew is one one of the footnote poets. He turns up in large anthologies, or in passing in someone else's biography. He scrapes into Marvell's in a list of poems and their writers, he isn't even in the index of Donaldson's life of Jonson.
Perhaps this is one of the many times when the foot note poet deserves to be a foot note poet. As the blurb says, it was his misfortune to have been writing when Jonson, Donne and Marvell were writing.
So why read him? There are numerous well-handled short pieces. His elegy on Donne is fascinating. But otherwise what you see is a fine poet missing the mark.
'A Rapture' is, as his modern editor says, a startling erotic poem, condemned in parliament at the time and capable of surprising even now. But it's a failure, compare it to Donne at his best and it's all over the place: a strange mix of showing off with literary allusions, over done imagery and explicit imaginary sex. It lacks the 'wit' of Donne or the directness of Rochester. 'To A.L Persuasions to Love' is a long winded (though perhaps kinder) version of Marvell's 'To His Coy Mistress'. But everything that makes the latter memorable is missing from Carew's poem.
If you're nagging at the question, what is a good poem, then it's instructive to read someone who is technically as good as Carew, and compare him to his contemporaries, especially his famous contemporaries, and consider what makes their famous poems famous and his mostly forgotten. ...more
Hard to rate. The Essay/s by Rosemary Hill is/are worth the price of admission.(For some reason it's billed as An essay but three distinctly titled paHard to rate. The Essay/s by Rosemary Hill is/are worth the price of admission.(For some reason it's billed as An essay but three distinctly titled paris.) They're a fine discussion of Carter's context and her work, and they are elegantly written. The poems themselves take up about slightly less than half this little book and while some of them are good, they are nowhere near as interesting as her prose. If she's not well known as a poet, then if this is her poetic output, that's entirely understandable. It's probably essential reading for Carter's admirers, both for the poems themselves and Hill's essay/s....more
It's impossible not to compare this to Terry Eagleton's "How to read a poem". Both authors had previously written popular introductions to literary thIt's impossible not to compare this to Terry Eagleton's "How to read a poem". Both authors had previously written popular introductions to literary theory before turning to a book about how to read a poem/poetry.
I think Eagleton's is awful. Unless it's an unannounced parody, in which case it's brilliant. It's one of those books that makes you wonder about the ethics of publishing. All the poems are from teaching central, though often the discussion is of bits of poems, almost nothing from the second half of the twentieth century, nothing that might be considered experimental, avant-garde or post modern, and women don't seem to write poetry. Reading the Eagleton way requires a reference library and a commitment to the appropriate political attitudes. It's fine if you're Professor Terry's post grad student and you think all poems are essentially coded political messages that have be decoded and then diffused.
Barry avoids these problems, almost to the point where I wondered if he was using HTRAP as a negative example. Firstly, his approach would be useful to that mystical figure 'the general reader' who enjoys reading poetry but wants some help, as well as a student of literature.
The advice is sane, which probably lacks wow value and isn't going to win any prizes amongst the ideological brethren. One of the most important pieces of advice is that to read a poem you read to the punctuation. Sounds obvious, but how many people don't, and how many readers are baffled by poems because they don't. For Barry reading a poem is a conversation. He demonstrates how to pay attention and what to pay attention to.
The book discusses, in some detail, a wide range of complete poems, from Wyatt to concrete poetry. And part of the strength of the book lies in the logic of its title. 'How to read a poem' suggests all poems can be read the same way. Which is daft. It's like saying there's no real difference between Led Zeppelin and Thomas Tallis it's all music. 'Reading Poetry' is a more fluid, active and varied process which allows for the similarities and differences between individual poems and types of poems.
Barry achieves what Eagleton most suprisingly failed to do. Firstly he demonstrates that context is useful, but not essential. Then he demonstrates how you could use 'theory' to illuminate a poem as part of the conversation between reader and poem. There was a time when the lines were drawn in academic circles between close reading and theory. Barry demonstrates that both can work together. If you wanted to, and perhaps Barry's most radical suggestion is that it's optional, you could use 'literary theory' as a way of reading a poem. He demonstrates ways that don't simply conscript the poem as an example of the theory or damn the poet for not sharing your politics.
Above all Barry manages to do all this while keeping in mind that probably the only reason to read poetry unless you're a professional student, is that it is enjoyable. What this book does, is provide information that might help someone get more enjoyment from the process. ...more