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‘Metafiddlesticks!’: Eliot’s Donne and the Possibilities of the Neo-Metaphysical Speaker, 1917-1935

The following is an essay on T.S. Eliot, Herbert Read & William Empson that I wrote for my degree. It wasn’t doing anything on my hard disk, so it may as well be published to the world. It is rather long. Thanks are due to Dr Michael Whitworth.

In a review for the Times Literary Supplement of Herbert Grierson’s 1921 anthology Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century, T.S. Eliot famously turned to his present day:

We can only say that it appears likely that poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult. Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning.

With the repetition of “must”, it is a forceful and exclusive statement of poetics, and as such appears regularly in discussions of Modernism; however, it is generally quoted in isolation, ignoring the review in which it occurs, the wider context of its conception, and the influence it was to have. Whilst there have been some studies on Donne’s reception in the twentieth century, the most notable being Duncan’s The Revival of Metaphysical Poetry, none has looked in specific detail at the period of this essay to examine the reasons behind the review’s impact. Most recent criticism with any significant interest in Eliot’s review has focussed instead upon the ideological motivations behind his changes to the canon. However, such arguments miss how other poets, who were ideologically opposed to Eliot, accepted his version of Donne (henceforth the ‘Modern-Donne’), suggesting that they saw something more than an ideological opportunity. That the Modern-Donne prompted a ‘manifesto’ for some principal aspects of Modernist poetry should imply that it is important for our understanding of the period, even if not for our understanding of Donne. This essay aims to show that Metaphysical poetry, as presented by Eliot, offered a way for modernist poets to confront the fragmentation of worldviews and the isolation of the individual felt after the Great War, as a revision to the relationship between the individual and the world found in the Romantic lyric. Eliot’s Modern-Donne was to be modified first by Herbert Read, who related it to the new science, and then further by William Empson, who stressed the importance of rhetoric, so that in Empson’s poetry it achieved its full utility as a unifying force.

Eliot’s review of Grierson’s anthology first appeared as the leading article to the TLS on the 20th of October, 1921, before being republished under Eliot’s name in Homage to John Dryden (1924) and elsewhere. Grierson’s anthology followed his earlier authoritative two volume edition of Donne’s poetry, published in 1912. As Duncan has shown, reviews of Grierson’s first edition already spoke of Donne’s status as being high, and so the slim, attractively bound 1921 Oxford edition was a sign of the prominent place Metaphysical poetry had taken in the literary culture of the early twenties. Therefore, when we look at Eliot’s use of the review as a platform to align his work with Donne and “[create] the taste by which he is to be enjoyed”, we can see it as offering both a chance to write for a publication with the standing and wide circulation of the TLS, and to write about poets who were ascendant in cultural status.

In the review he puts forward his well-known theory that a Metaphysical poet “possessed a mechanism of sensibility which could devour any kind of experience” and consequently could unify “disparate experience”, which was lost as thought and feeling became ‘dissociated’ after Milton. Eliot defines Metaphysical poetry, somewhat obscurely, as the “direct sensuous apprehension of thought”, or “the recreation of thought into feeling” . Few of the observations Eliot makes are entirely original. His debt can be seen, for instance, to Rupert Brooke, who reviewed Grierson’s 1912 edition of Donne, describing Donne as from “an age where men were not afraid to mate their intellects with their emotions”. These ideas were also suggested by Grierson in the introductions to both of his books. Whilst therefore it is clear that Eliot certainly did not invent or rediscover Donne for the twentieth century, as has long been protested, he made this version of Donne his own. His statement that “the possible interests of a poet are unlimited” is typical of how Eliot creates the Modern-Donne: he makes a definition which has no temporal reference (since Eliot is “a poet” and Donne is “a poet”), then uses its ambivalence to draw together two periods three centuries apart as a “direct current”. This simultaneity resembles his thinking in ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’(1919). Similarly, he states that the Metaphysical poets were “engaged in the task of trying to find the verbal equivalent for states of mind and feeling” , a statement which closely resembles his earlier “objective correlative”, and the Imagist writings of Pound. In this way, Eliot creates a version of Donne which fits his theories on modern poetry.

Eliot’s relationship to Donne in his poetry is markedly different from later Neo-Metaphysicals, who I shall discuss below. His early poetry certainly displays a poet who can “devour any kind of experience”, as his subject matter incorporates a wide social range. However, as Duncan notes, the speakers Eliot presents are not Donnean, but rather those suffering from ‘dissociated sensibilities’, who have not the “strength to force the moment to its crisis”, and who “can connect/Nothing with nothing”. The internal severance of thought from feeling (or of desire from action) in these speakers matches the external fragmentation of the experience of early twentieth century life, and characterises a generation which took its motto from Howards End: “Only connect!” Thus Eliot does practice Metaphysical all-inclusiveness in the complete compass of his individual poems, but the speakers within these poems exhibit instead the modern dissociated sensibility. His engagement with Donne is pressured equally by his theory of the impersonality of the poet and his interest in the dramatic presentation of multiple voices, and certainly, for Eliot, as complex and original as his poetry is, it would be wrong to put the Modern-Donne alone at the centre of his poetics.

The Modern-Donne soon grew out of Eliot’s hands. In his contribution to A Garland for John Donne(1931), Eliot is already speaking of Donne with a strong hint of the retrospective, writing that “Donne’s poetry is a concern of the present and the recent past, rather than of the future”. Nevertheless, much before 1931 the Modern-Donne had been taken on by other critics and poets, most notably Herbert Read.

Read’s essay ‘The Nature of Metaphysical Poetry’ appeared in Eliot’s The Criterion in April 1923. Read’s definition of Metaphysical poetry as the “emotional apprehension of thought” strongly resembles Eliot’s. In fact, some of Read’s essay may have been suggested by notes Eliot wrote on an early proof. Similarly, Read shared Eliot’s source in Grierson, deriving his idea of “felt thought” at least in part from Grierson’s introduction to Metaphysical Lyrics, as demonstrated by his annotations in his copy (currently held in the Brotherton Collection in Leeds University Library). Grierson writes that “[t]he thought in his poetry is not [Donne’s] primary concern but the feeling”, which Read has underlined and besides which has scribbled: “the thought is felt”.

Moving from his Eliotian definition of Metaphysical poetry, Read departs from Eliot in his discussion of the contemporary relevance of the Modern-Donne, inspired by his interest in new science. This was also suggested by Grierson, who wrote that Donne was a poet who was “conscious[…]of the effect on the imagination of [the] disintegration” caused by early seventeenth century discoveries. Donne’s “new philosophy calls all in doubt” was frequently quoted as characteristic of his attitude towards science, and suggestive of the disorientating developments in the early twentieth century, following the Einsteinian physics popularised in England by Eddington. For Read, the Modern-Donne first of all gave a model for a poet using contemporary science for imagery. Moreover, Read went on to argue, suggested by Grierson, that “science and metaphysical poetry have but one ideal, which is the satisfaction of the reason”. He describes this mental work of scientist and Metaphysical poet as a ‘method of perception’, whereby harmony or unity is created by selecting accordant combinations of images in the mind, and quotes Eddington’s description of the mind as a “filter”. Through this, Read sheds light on his remarks on Metaphysical poetry: that it is “the precise statement of such abstractions as the poet derives from his experience”, and that it has the aim of producing “harmonic unity”. Whilst this may seem to clash with Pound’s “Go in fear of abstractions”, and therefore show a conflict in Read’s influences, the unity formed by an ‘associated sensibility’ is not greatly different from Pound’s definition of an image as “an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”. Read ended his essay on the suggestion that Metaphysical poetry should “aim at” unifying the “phenomena” established by science but which “remain discrete”. The implication is that the Metaphysical poet must supply the order to the world after that provided by religion has ‘disintegrated’. Whilst for Eliot the poet merely reflected the disorder in society, for Read the Metaphysical poet attempts to repair it. The Modern-Donne thereby updated the Romantic lyric, which followed Renaissance ideas of a fixed order in the external world, to allow it to confront a fragmenting universe, and one which may not be accessible to perception, by working like a scientist to create a metaphysical system. (Eddington’s writings stressed how the systems found in nature by science were in fact created by man, rather than being objective.)

Read’s ‘The Nature of Metaphysical Poetry’ should be looked at in relation to his own early volume of poetry: The Mutations of the Phoenix (1923). For Read Metaphysical poetry as he wished to write it was concerned with perception and expression. The influence of Donne was noted by early reviewers, but, with lengthy epigraphs quoting Whitehead and Eddington, besides those of Shakespeare and Donne, it is clear that Read wanted (at least in the original edition) to stress also the scientific aspect of The Mutations of the Phoenix. The eponymous poem of the collection, the nightmarish ‘Mutations of the Phoenix’, is specifically concerned with the problem of the limitations of man’s knowledge of external reality when threatened with the idealism (in the philosophical sense of the word) brought out by the new science. Structurally, each section of the poem can be seen as parallel, accumulative attempts at different voices or viewpoints, or seeing the same thing from different angles (like Eddington’s penny). The phoenix loosely represents the objective abstraction which the Metaphysical poet (or scientist) aims to extract or create from their impression of the world. As a mythological creature, appearing in different cultures, the phoenix could be seen as a perfect symbol for an abstraction, residing in a Jungian collective unconscious and thus bridging the gap between consciousnesses. The poem, then, rotates around the central symbol of the phoenix, using it to dramatize the perceptive mind’s search for an abstraction, and thus unity.

The first section shows the volume’s debt to Eddington’s Space, Time and Gravitation, incorporating an echo of “the strange foot-print on the shores of the unknown”, of “the empty shell[…]of structural form”, and of, in the attention on the movement of the waves, Eddington’s example of the “tossing waters of the ocean” as an instance where the mind perceives structural permanence over actual motion. Both the shell and the wave are symbols of the external form of things. The calm exposition of these examples in Eddington’s text becomes a nervous and sinister mood in the poem. As it meditates upon the ‘scene’, the speaker’s mind engages in symbolic free-associatory pass-the-parcel, moving: from blood to flame; from flame to whirl; from whirl to whorl (associating merely on sound); from whorl to shell; from shell to literal shell (associating by a sudden drop in significance); from literal shell to sea; from sea to white surf; from white surf to white flame; from white flame to phoenix within womb; from phoenix to Aphrodite. The speaker’s doubt about the possibility of knowing abstractions from subjective sense impressions is shown in how the poem is always passing the responsibility for signification sideways; symbols pass between each other as signifiers in a system rather than down to a signified, moving paradigmatically through different attempts to grasp the abstraction. It is an unfinished process. This same poetic process of “the emotional apprehension of thought” occupies much of ‘The Analysis of Love’, as the speaker attempts but never completely manages to find the appropriate symbols to express love. The speaker tries out metaphysical conceits for describing his emotions; for example: the circulatory system as the branches and trunk of a tree, foliaged with blood cells, and the loved one as a woodpecker, reinvigorating the cliché of a loved one kept within the heart, as the woodpecker shelters beneath the heart’s shade. Like ‘The Mutations of the Phoenix’, ‘The Analysis of Love’ ends in the mind surrendering. The unity Read’s Metaphysical poetry aims to achieve is that between the mind and the external world, but, with its interest in process rather than result, never completely finds this unity.

The Modern-Donne gave Read a model for a contemporary lyric voice. The focus upon the workings of the mind and the use of scientific imagery in this form of poetry was influential also on Cecil Day-Lewis, whose Transitional Poem (1929) portrays “the single mind”, and Michael Roberts’ These Our Matins (1930). Although he moved away from Metaphysical poetry as time went on, Read’s development of the Modern-Donne also influenced William Empson, who reviewed Read’s Reason and Romanticism (including ‘The Nature of Metaphysical Poetry’) in his first literary article for The Granta. Empson was to take the Modern-Donne as developed by Read and take it farther.

Empson’s kinship with Donne has been noted since his poems first appeared, starting with Leavis’ description of his early poems published in Cambridge Poetry 1929:

he has clearly learnt a great deal from Donne. And his debt to Donne is at the same time a debt to Mr Eliot.

The best and most obviously Metaphysical and ‘puzzling’ of his early work appearing in Poems (1935) (such as ‘Legal Fiction’, ‘Arachne’, ‘This Last Pain’, etc.), and praised by Leavis, were all written at Cambridge. It would seem his pursuit of difficulty was mostly an undergraduate desire, changing later as his audience expanded. This is shown by how his slightly esoteric pool of reference consists, for the most part, of men who worked at Cambridge at the time (e.g. Eddington and Cornford), and whose work other undergraduates would have known. Furthermore, another reason for the undergraduate tendency of Empson’s Neo-Metaphysical poetry with its restricted readership, follows the model of Renaissance private manuscript circulation, wherein, since all readers personally know the ‘real’ poet, he is freed from concern with “the declaration of self”, and he can instead focus on “the exhibition of an artful mastery of language and idea”. Lindley suggests that this tendency in Donne can partly explain his popularity in the period of this essay. The parallel between the ‘friends’ amongst whom manuscripts would circulate and the university audience of The Granta or Empson’s Experiment is clear. Finally, one could make the point that Empson’s undergraduate difficulty amongst a socially-restricted possible audience stems from a desire to ‘show off’ to his peers. Johnson wrote that the seventeenth century Metaphysicals “were men of learning, and, to show their learning was their whole endeavour”. However, I hope to show that Empson’s Metaphysical difficulty is central to his engagement with and development of the Modern-Donne, and crucial to understanding his poetics.

It is clear that persuasion is central to Empson’s poetry. When first confronted with the surface difficulty in one of his poems, the reader is most aware of the speaker’s rhetoric from the relative simplicity of its markers; one notices the rhetorical questions, the “but”, “or” and “then”s, implying a logical relation between phrases, and the apparent context of the lyrics with the first, second and third person pronouns. Empson’s poems tend to enact a movement towards imperative verbs, as the speaker (as in all persuasion) talks towards an action. ‘High Dive’, which previously had no obvious addressee and was mostly in first person actions, moves to imperative verbs in the last stanza, with “Leave[…]Plunge”. Empson has written of his belief in the need for poems to argue and persuade as key to his engagement as a poet with Donne, and opposes it to Imagism. If the opposition between his poetry and Imagist poetry can be seen in grammatical terms, for Empson it is the attendance to verbs as much as to adjectives and nouns. He integrates action with rhetoric in suggesting that the rhetorical speech parts in his poems are in themselves something like verbs; he writes “[a]rgufying[…]feels muscular”. Writing his poetry soon after WWI, Empson was in a time when rhetoric was distrusted for political reasons by many poets, including Read (who renounced rhetoric in his Preface to Naked Warriors (1919)). For Empson, however, rhetoric is vital: he describes Imagist poetry as “the poetry of the hamstrung”, and uses the analogy of how a man could not escape the desert without verbs. Drawing on his own reading of Donne, the central use of rhetoric by the lyric speaker was to be Empson’s development to the Modern-Donne. It is in this final form that the Modern-Donne reaches its most complete degree of utility for the neo-Metaphysical poet.

The central role of rhetoric in Empson’s poetry is the mediation of metaphysical systems. Often the rhetorical turns in the poems involve a movement from one metaphysical system to another. This is best demonstrated by ‘Invitation to Juno’ and ‘The World’s End’, which, in performing the same feat in opposite directions, can be seen as a pair. (Their publication in Poems next to each other suggests this.) In ‘Invitation to Juno’, the speaker meditates upon the possibility of a sexual relationship with someone who is superior to and even completely physically different from the speaker. In the first two stanzas the speaker is continually turning on various examples, from literature or mythology, in which the relationship is impossible. These two stanzas wittily knit all of these examples together around horses and bicycles, to the extent that create a body of contrary evidence which is dizzily insurmountable. It is then in the third stanza that the speaker attempts to summon “Courage”(l. 9), using the full power of rhetoric (with two rhetorical questions). Crucially, the speaker’s source for comparisons shifts abruptly from mythology and literature to modern science. The pressure to make this movement was initiated in the quaintness of Johnson’s dismissal of the new-fangled technology of the bicycle, and it produces counter-examples for the speaker’s desired course of action. ‘The World’s End’ offers an opposite example, where a change in metaphysical system is oppressive, rather than freeing. In both of these poems, it is the individual’s freedom within these systems which is being explored.

Much has been made of how Empson’s poetry is about contradictions, and in exploring contradictory metaphysical systems it is the rhetorical voice of his speakers which enables them to enact some mastery over their material. Not only does the use of rhetoric imply a form of order, and thus create for itself its own sort of metaphysical system, but the act of putting disparate systems into tight formal poems is in itself an act of metaphysical synthesis, creating a single order. Empson found this idea of the individual poet creating his own metaphysical system in the act of persuasion in Donne. In Some Versions of Pastoral he noted approvingly James Smith’s essay on Metaphysical poets, wherein Smith proposed that the Metaphysical conceit is based around “the balance between two rival claimants to reality”, and that all of these metaphysical tensions ultimately can be reduced to “the problem of the Many and the One”. Empson goes on to relate this with Cornford’s theory of physis, which Empson summarises thus:

[…]the primitive Greeks invented Nature by throwing out onto the universe the idea of a common life-blood; the living force that made natural events follow reasonable laws […] was identified with the blood which made the members of the tribe into a unity

The idea is important because it gives a social dimension to metaphysical systems. The conflict of “the Many and the One”, such as that represented in ‘The World’s End’, can be placed as a conflict of metaphysical systems between social groups. Furthermore, it suggests that metaphysical systems may be a cultural construction, therefore manipulatable for the poet.

In Donne, following what he took from Cornford, Empson’s most important idea of the engagement with metaphysics in poetry is the way in which it applies to love poems. Empson wrote that “Donne and his imitators[…]believe[…]that a love-affair is the fundamental means of understanding the world, or that the real purpose of building any system of knowledge is to understand love”. In other words, a love poem is Metaphysical as it creates its own metaphysical system, but crucially a metaphysical system which incorporates two (and often incorporates two at the expense of society, to allow freedom for the lovers to love). Empson’s use of metaphysical systems in a love poem is best shown in ‘Camping Out’. As a poet, as we have seen above, who requires attendance to tenor as much as vehicle and to verbs, it is important in Empson’s poems to be clear about what is ‘happening’. (Christopher Ricks has written about Empson’s interest in the ‘story’ of a poem.) Awareness of the ‘story’ of ‘Camping Out’ is crucial to understanding it. The Gardners suggest that the speaker in ‘Camping Out’ “attains union with the girl” “if only in[…]his imagination”; this implies they have misunderstood the ‘story’ somewhat, presumably led by a misunderstanding of the relationship between the poem-as-utterance and the events related, and so their analysis, as elsewhere, falls slightly short. It is a crucial distinction to make, as rhetoric through metaphysical systems is implicitly and essentially linked with action, since the justification for Empson’s difficulty is its ability to enable action.

It is useful at this point to quote the poem in full:

And now she cleans her teeth into the lake:
Gives it (God’s grace) for her own bounty’s sake
What morning’s pale and the crisp mist debars:
Its glass of the divine (that will could break)
Restores, beyond nature: or lets Heaven take
(Itself being dimmed) her pattern, who half awake
Milks between rocks a straddled sky of stars.

Soap tension the star pattern magnifies.
Smoothly Madonna through-assumes the skies
Whose vaults are opened to achieve the Lord.
No, it is we soaring explore galaxies,
Our bullet boat light’s speed by thousands flies.
Who moves so among stars their frame unties;
See where they blur, and die, and are outsoared.

The story of the first stanza is clear, given in the powerful first line which relies on its plainness for much if its impact: “And now she cleans her teeth into the lake” (l. 1, p. 29). The present tense verb is accentuated with “now”, making clear the immediacy of the action, or its contemporaneity with the poem. The metaphysical system implied by imagery and reference is evidently Catholic, enabling the adoration of the girl in the poem to align with that of Mary. The girl is also like God, sprinkling the sky with stars. However, this metaphysical system already has the hint of being self-created, as it is a system disconnected from nature: the girl makes the lake into a toothpaste mirror of the sky herself, because nature is blocking this with the mist. In this there is the suggestion that the speaker and the “she” have control over reality, as “will could break”(l. 4) the mirror of the lake, and the girl “lets Heaven take[…]her pattern”(ll. 5-6). It is clear that this metaphysical system, whilst deliberately adopted by the speaker to enable his expression of love for the girl, is ultimately restrictive and unaccommodating to the couple: the “mist debars”(l. 3), just as a “tyrant[…]debars”(l. 4, p. 13) the lovers in ‘The World’s End’. This conflict emerges clearly in the second stanza. As in the first stanza, the first line of the second stanza states the action, with a present tense verb emphasising that it is happening, like the first line, “now”. The lake as a mirror of stars was static; now, however, motion is introduced to the stars as “[s]oap tension the star pattern magnifies”(l. 8). Soap tension here causes the drops of foamed toothpaste on the water to disperse and spread outwards, away from where the soap was introduced. The change in surface tension from soap coming onto water is a brief and unrepeatable occurrence, in that once the surface tension has changed one cannot perform the trick again. The very nature of the event thus implies its immediacy. The next line then explains what has caused the sudden introduction of soap to the lake: the girl has entered the water. The “skies” is the water, and it “through-assumes”[my italics](l. 9) the girl since she has gone into it, through the plane of the mirror. As hinted in line ten, with reference to “the Lord”, the Christian metaphysical system used to explore this event is struggling to accommodate events beyond what it has already, since the relationship between a ‘Mary’ and a ‘Lord’ does not offer any metaphorical equivalent for the relationship between the speaker and the ‘she’. Similarly, an expanding universe, which the soap tension has caused, has no easy place in Christian cosmology. Instead, the poet, as elsewhere, enacts a change of metaphysical system to modern science (as the speed of light changes the perception of the stars). As in the “Courage” of ‘Invitation to Juno’, the effort of doing so requires powerful rhetoric to move from one system to another, and so here we have a forceful “No”(l. 11). Again, as elsewhere, rhetoric is matched with action (as rhetoric is ‘muscular’, as Empson has said), and so simultaneously to the rhetorical shift the speaker has joined the action of the poem (with the first plural pronoun). This is the crucial point that the Gardners appear to miss. The poem has then moved from the static system of adoration of the Madonna-like girl, wherein the speaker could only observe, to the flexible system which, through relativity, puts primacy on the observer and thus allows the girl and speaker to ‘outsoar’ the universe, and to be united in doing so (in the erotic context of bathing in a lake). The rhetoric is neo-metaphysical, as it is not persuading any action to an addressee (since the girl is already on and then in the lake), but rather is enacting some form of persuasion upon reality. The misunderstanding of the poem in the Gardners’ analysis is led, in part, by their assumption that, since the poem is in some way dramatic, the lyric utterance must take some part in the dramatic sphere of events. Since, as argued above, the timeline of the poem as text, from the first word to the last, seems to run in parallel with the timeline of events related (as shown by the repeated use of “now”), the Gardners assume that we, as readers, are ‘overhearing’ the speaker’s words/thoughts as he observes the scene, all as part of the world of the poem. This is shown by the way in which they assign a specific location for the speaker: he is watching his lover from afar, else he would be speaking to her. Instead, the poem ‘happens’ simultaneously to the action, but in a separate plane. This is crucial for the metaphysical aim of the poem, as the only way a poem could enact metaphysical control over its world would be by being simultaneous but detached. In the first stanza the speaker is a traditional lyric one, passively observing the action. In this system the speaker is unable to act and achieve any form of union with the ‘she’. However, with rhetoric comes not only the ability to express metaphysical conceits but to use them to enable action.

In the same way that a poem can be said to form its own grammar, Empson’s early poems create their own metaphysical systems. The broadness of reference in some of Empson’s poetry is the direct result of his attempt to create a metaphysical system of sufficient thickness to express complex ideas, and to allow the speaker to act within otherwise contradictory systems. There is a danger with Empson that his poems may be so difficult as to be impenetrable, as with ‘Rebuke for a Dropped Brick’, but, when understood in light of Empson’s theorising on Donne, his difficulty for the most part can be justified. Like Read’s mind “[a]ccelerating in the void”, Empson was faced with a universe without any fixed reference point, and found a way, through poetry, to face one of the major troubles of the age. Empson can be shown to offer the most potent manifestation of the Modern-Donne, since it is one which has developed from Eliot and through Read to a model for a type of speaker who can not only unify experience, but who can escape Prufrock’s indecision to create a motivation for action. It is for this reason that Donne was important for the Neo-Metaphysicals, and why the Modern-Donne is crucial for our understanding of Modernist poetry.

Charles Whalley, 2011

Title quotation (“Metafiddlesticks!”): S. Sassoon, ‘Aunt Eudora and the Poets’, The Spectator, no. 5614 (1936), 169

  1. ‘The Metaphysical Poets’, Times Literary Supplement, (20 October 1921), 669-670
  2. Eliot, T.S., ‘The Metaphysical Poets’, Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot, ed. Kermode, (London, 1975), pp. 281-291 (289)
  3. For instance, see: P. Lewis, The Cambridge Introduction to Modernism, (Cambridge, 2007), p. 27; N. Roberts, A Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry, (Oxford, 2001), p. 23; M. Whitworth, Reading Modernist Poetry, (Oxford, 2010), p. 11
  4. J. Duncan, The Revival of Metaphysical Poetry: The History of a Style, 1800 to the Present, (Minneapolis, 1959); see also: J. Herz, ‘Under the Sign of Donne’, Criticism, 43 (2001), 29-58
  5. For example, see: J. Guillory, ‘The Ideology of Canon-Formation: T.S. Eliot and Cleanth Brooks’, Critical Inquiry, 10 (1983), 173-198
  6. T.S. Eliot, Homage to John Dryden, (Richmond, 1924)
  7. W. Wordsworth, The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. W. J. B. Owen & J. W. Smyser, (Oxford, 1974), vol 3., p. 80
  8. Eliot described being asked to write for the TLS as “the highest honor possible in the critical world of literature” in a letter dated 2 October 1919 (V. Eliot, & H. Haughton, H., ed., The Letters of T.S. Eliot, (London, 2009), vol. I, p. 337)
  9. Ibid., p. 63
  10. R. Brooke, p. 88.
  11. See: H. Grierson, ed., ‘Introduction’, The Poems of John Donne, (Oxford, 1912), vol. II, p. xli; H. Grierson, ed., ‘Introduction’, Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century, (Oxford, 1921), p. xvi
  12. For example: in The London Mercury in 1935 G.M. Young wrote “it is one of the illusions of our age that Donne was invented by Mr. Eliot.”(‘Forty Years of Verse’, The London Mercury, 35 (1936), 112-122(114)).
  13. Eliot, ‘The Metaphysical Poets’, pp.65- 66
  14. Ibid., p. 65
  15. T.S. Eliot, ‘Hamlet’, Selected Prose, pp. 45-49 (48)
  16. Eliot, ‘The Metaphysical Poets’, p. 64
  17. Duncan, The Revival of Metaphysical Poetry, pp. 154 & 156
  18. T.S. Eliot, ‘The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock’, The Complete Poems and Plays, (London, 2004), p. 15, l. 80
  19. Eliot, ‘The Waste Land’, p. 70, ll. 301-302
  20. E.M. Forster, Howards End, (London, 1947), p. 197
  21. T.S. Eliot, ‘Donne in Our Time’, in Spencer, ed., A Garland for John Donne, (Gloucester, Mass., 1958), pp. 3-19 (5)
  22. H. Read, ‘The Nature of Metaphysical Poetry’, Collected Essays in Literary Criticism, (London, 1938), pp. 69-88 (71)
  23. V. Eliot & H. Houghton, ed., The Letters of T.S. Eliot, vol. I, p. 731n1
  24. Read, ‘The Nature of Metaphysical Poetry’, p. 76
  25. Grierson, ed., ‘Introduction’, Metaphysical Lyrics, p. xxvii; copy consulted in the Special Collections reading room in Leeds University Library.
  26. H. Grierson, ed., ‘Introduction’, The Poetry of John Donne, (Oxford, 1912), vol. 2, p. 2; underlined in Read’s copy
  27. John Donne, ‘An Anatomy of the World’, The Complete English Poems, (London, 1977), p. 276, l. 205
  28. See: M. Nicolson, ‘The “New Astronomy” and English Literary Imagination’, Studies in Philology, 32 (1935), 428-462 (428 & 454)
  29. Ibid., p. xliv; underlined in Read’s copy
  30. Read, ‘The Nature of Metaphysical Poetry’, p. 87; see also: Read, ‘Readers and Writers’, The New Age, 30 (1921), 67
  31. Ibid., 68
  32. A.S. Eddington, Space, Time and Gravitation, (Cambridge, 1921), p. 198
  33. Read, ‘The Nature of Metaphysical Poetry’, pp. 56 & 58
  34. E. Pound, ‘A Retrospect’, Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed. T.S. Eliot, (London, 1974), p. 5
  35. Ibid, p. 4
  36. Read, ‘The Nature of Metaphysical Poetry’, p. 58
  37. See: M.H. Abrams, ‘Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric’, in From Sensibility to Romanticism, ed. F. Hilles & H. Bloom, (Oxford, 1965), pp. 527-560
  38. R. Hughes, ‘Mutations of the Phoenix’, The Nation & The Athenaeum, 33 (23 June 1923), 399-400 (400)
  39. Eddington, Space, Time and Gravitation, p. 181
  40. Ibid., p. 201
  41. Ibid., p. 200
  42. Ibid., p. 196
  43. Read, ‘The Mutations of the Phoenix’, Collected Poems, (London, 1966), pp. 55-56, ll. 13-44
  44. Read, ‘The Analysis of Love’, Collected Poems, pp. 69-70, ll. 17-24
  45. Cecil Day-Lewis, ‘Notes’ to ‘Transitional Poem’, Complete Poems, (Stanford, 1992), p. 99
  46. Empson, ‘The Romantic Rationalist’, The Granta, 35 (12 June 1926), 477; see: J. Haffenden, William Empson, vol. 1: Among the Mandarins, (Oxford, 2005), p. 107
  47. F.R. Leavis, New Bearing in English Poetry, (London, 1961), p. 198
  48. D. Lindley, Lyric, (London, 1985), p. 59
  49. Ibid., p. 60
  50. S. Johnson, The Lives of the English Poets, (London, 1825), p. 6
  51. See: J. Miles, ‘Twentieth-Century Donne’, in Twentieth-Century Literature in Retrospect, ed. Brower, (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), 205-224
  52. William Empson, The Complete Poems, ed. Haffenden, (London, 2000), ll. 33 & 35, p. 23; all subsequent references are to this edition, incorporated within the text. Imperative verbs also end ‘The Ants’, ‘Rolling the Lawn’, ‘To an Old Lady’ (which moves to imperative verbs quite early in the poem), ‘Arachne’, ‘This Last Pain’, and ‘Homage to the British Museum’.
  53. Empson, ‘Argufying in Poetry’, Argufying: Essays on Literature and Culture, ed. Haffenden, (London, 1987), p. 168
  54. Ibid., p. 170
  55. See A. Moore, ‘The Case for Poetic Obscurity’, Neophilologus, 48 (1964), 322-340 (326)
  56. H. Read, ‘Preface’, Naked Warriors, (London, 1919)
  57. Empson, ‘Argufying in Poetry’, p. 170
  58. See: C. Ricks, ‘Empson’s Poetry’, in Gill, ed., William Empson, pp. 145-207
  59. See W. Empson, Essays on Renaissance Literature, vol. 1: Donne and the new philosophy, ed. Haffenden, (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 2-4
  60. W. Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral, (London, 1950), pp. 80-81
  61. J. Smith, ‘On Metaphysical Poets’, Scrutiny, 2 (1933), 222-238 (230)
  62. Ibid., 226
  63. See: F.M. Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy, (1980)
  64. Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral, p. 78
  65. Empson, Essays on Renaissance Literature, vol. 1: Donne and the new philosophy, p. 4
  66. See: K. Price, ‘Flame far too hot: William Empson’s non-Euclidean predicament’, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 30 (2005), 312-322
  67. C. Ricks, ‘Empson’s Poetry’, in William Empson: the Man and his Work, ed. Gill, (London, 1974), pp. 145-207
  68. P. Gardner & A. Gardner, The God Approached: a Commentary on the Poetry of William Empson, (London, 1978), p. 81
  69. Ibid.
  70. Read, ‘Equation’, l. 16
  71. See: K. Raine, ‘And Learn a Style from a Despair’, The New Statesman & Nation, 50 (5 November 1955), 580-582


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