Today’s New York Times Book Review publishes a long review by Clive James of Camille Paglia’s new book on poetry. The review appears under the headline “Well versed.” I see Drudge has flagged the Times review, suggesting that the publication of the book is a major event of some kind. I doubt it, but Drudge must think it noteworthy that Paglia is using her celebrity, such as it is, to tout poetry. How quaint.
I read the review yesterday hoping it might give some comprehensible idea of the claims of poetry. I was disappointed by the review and didn’t bother to comment on it as a result. It is of the variety that shows off the reviewer’s learning by suggesting the book he would have written. I’d never heard of Clive James prior to reading the review. The tag on the review states that James’s most recent book collects what James describes as his “essential essays” over a period of 34 years. I guess I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
In the past Paglia has written powerfully in favor of the value of literature for its own sake against the demands of literature as a vehicle of social studies and against the assault of the learned enemies of literature within the academy. I couldn’t figure out from the review why Paglia likes poetry or what James was talking about, but my guess is that the book as described by James continues Paglia’s efforts to establish literature as worthy of study on its own terms.
James does at least note a few of the poems that Paglia examines in her book. The first two are the unbelievably beautiful Shakespeare sonnets 73 and 29. Here’s Shakespeare’s sonnet 73:
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth steal away,
Death’s second self, which seals up all in rest.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
And sonnet 29:
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least:
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee,–and then my state
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings’.
The review also refers to one of George Herbert’s poems coming under Paglia’s examination, though I don’t know Herbert well enough to identify which poem. Herbert is the seventeenth century metaphysical poet whose connected devotional poems appear in the volume he titled The Temple. In the spirit of the day, I offer George Herbert’s magnificent “The Collar” (original layout depicted above):
I Struck the board, and cry