The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures

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9780374531003: The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures

In The End of the Poem, Paul Muldoon dazzlingly explores a diverse group of poems, from Yeats's "All Souls' Night" to Stevie Smith's "I Remember" to Fernando Pessoa's "Autopsychography." Muldoon reminds us that the word "poem" comes, via French, from the Latin and Greek: "a thing made or created." He asks: Can a poem ever be a free-standing structure, or must it always interface with the whole of its author's bibliography--and biography? Muldoon explores the boundlessness created by influence, what Robert Frost meant when he insisted that "the way to read a poem in prose or verse is in the light of all the other poems ever written."


Finally, Muldoon returns to the most fruitful, and fraught, aspect of the phrase "the end of the poem": the interpretation that centers on the "aim" or "function" of a poem, and the question of whether or not the end of the poem is the beginning of criticism. Irreverent and deeply learned, The End of the Poem is a vigorous approach to looking at poetry anew.

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About the Author:

Paul Muldoon is the author of nine books of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Moy Sand and Gravel (FSG, 2002). He teaches at Princeton University and, between 1999 and 2004, was professor of poetry at Oxford University.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The End of the Poem
CHAPTER 1 ALL SOULS' NIGHT W. B. YEATS Midnight has come, and the great Christ Church Bell And many a lesser bell sound through the room; And it is All Souls' Night, And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come; For it is a ghost's right, His element is so fine Being sharpened by his death, To drink from the wine-breath While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.  
I need some mind that, if the cannon sound From every quarter of the world, can stay Wound in mind's pondering As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound; Because I have a marvellous thing to say, A certain marvellous thing None but the living mock, Though not for sober ear; It may be all that hear Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.  
Horton's the first I call. He loved strange thought And knew that sweet extremity of prideThat's called platonic love, And that to such a pitch of passion wrought Nothing could bring him, when his lady died, Anodyne for his love. Words were but wasted breath; One dear hope had he: The inclemency Of that or the next winter would be death.  
Two thoughts were so mixed up I could not tell Whether of her or God he thought the most, But think that his mind's eye, When upward turned, on one sole image fell; And that a slight companionable ghost, Wild with divinity, Had so lit up the whole Immense miraculous house The Bible promised us, It seemed a gold-fish swimming in a bowl.  
On Florence Emery I call the next, Who finding the first wrinkles on a face Admired and beautiful, And knowing that the future would be vexed With 'minished beauty, multiplied commonplace, Preferred to teach a school Away from neighbour or friend, Among dark skins, and there Permit foul years to wear Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.  
Before that end much had she ravelled out From a discourse in figurative speech By some learned Indian On the soul's journey. How it is whirled about, Wherever the orbit of the moon can reach, Until it plunge into the sun;And there, free and yet fast, Being both Chance and Choice, Forget its broken toys And sink into its own delight at last.  
And I call up MacGregor from the grave, For in my first hard springtime we were friends, Although of late estranged. I thought him half a lunatic, half knave, And told him so, but friendship never ends; And what if mind seem changed, And it seem changed with the mind, When thoughts rise up unbid On generous things that he did And I grow half contented to be blind!  
He had much industry at setting out, Much boisterous courage, before loneliness Had driven him crazed; For meditations upon unknown thought Make human intercourse grow less and less; They are neither paid nor praised. But he'd object to the host, The glass because my glass; A ghost-lover he was And may have grown more arrogant being a ghost.  
But names are nothing. What matter who it be, So that his elements have grown so fine The fume of muscatel Can give his sharpened palate ecstasy No living man can drink from the whole wine. I have mummy truths to tell Whereat the living mock, Though not for sober ear, For maybe all that hear Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.Such thought--such thought have I that hold it tight Till meditation master all its parts, Nothing can stay my glance Until that glance run in the world's despite To where the damned have howled away their hearts, And where the blessed dance; Such thought, that in it bound I need no other thing, Wound in mind's wandering As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.  
Oxford, Autumn 1920 I WANT TO SAY A WORD OR TWO about my choice of this somewhat booming, perhaps even slightly bumptious phrase, "the end of the poem," for the general title of this series of lectures. To begin with, the idea of delivering fifteen lectures over five years is an extremely resistible one--matched only in its resistibility, I dare say, by the idea of receiving fifteen lectures over that same period. Who in his or her right mind would commit to a relationship that lasts longer than many marriages, and where one party in the contract, the aforesaid receiver of the lectures, is assigned much more favourable terms than the other? Whereas the receiver of lectures can always come up with some pressing, prior engagement to excuse his or her absence--for ten or twelve of the lectures, say--it's a little more tricky for the deliverer. Not only must the poor deliverer show up--which, despite what Woody Allen says, accounts for about eight rather than eighty per cent of the success of any venture--he must positively shine, maybe even scintillate. And he must scintillate, be there three hundred in the Examination Schools or three. I have to confess that I had this latter figure of three quite firmly in mind when I hit on the idea of the general title, The End of the Poem, for, while I was confident that the three most perspicacious readers in the audience--you know who you are--would continue to find it rich and resonant over the entire five years, I wasless confident of being able to persuade anyone else that the phrase might be rich and resonant for more than about five seconds. When I began to think of where I might find a little toe-hold on the slippery slope of this huge subject, particularly in the context of an inaugural lecture, it struck me that "All Souls' Night" by W. B. Yeats was tailor-made for the occasion. I use the words "context" and "tailor-made" advisedly because, as we'll see, the poem turns out to be in part a shuttling, as it were, between the words "textual" and "textile," words that this notoriously poor speller might well have mistaken one for the other, though neither appears in the poem. (I'm reminded, with regard to the spelling, of the occasion on which Yeats misspelt the word "professor" in his letter of inquiry about a professorship at Trinity College, Dublin.) It's clear that Yeats was very conscious of an appropriateness of the slippage between these two words, "textual" and "textile," conscious that they share the Latin root texere, "to weave," just as he's very conscious of the etymology of the word "line," and that there's an etymological "line" running through the poem that is quite at one with, and mimetic of, its material. I'll also be looking at other invisible threads through the poem, mostly having to do with proper names, including the name of at least one other poet who looms large in "All Souls' Night." The poem comes to mind most immediately, of course, as being tailor-made by virtue of the occasion and the setting, this being All Souls' Day in Oxford, the city where Yeats wrote the poem in the autumn of 1920--perhaps, as Richard Ellmann suggests in The Identity of Yeats, beginning it on this very date. That the poem was written in Oxford in the autumn of 1920 might not ordinarily be of any great significance to anyone other than a literary critic, except that Yeats does indeed assign this information a significance, placing it, literally, at the end of the poem. There it is, in small italics: Oxford, Autumn 1920. Now, one of the unlikely, generally overlooked, aspects of reading a poem is that one may begin, as I just have, at the end. One may scan the poem as a shape on the page, taking in aspects of its geometry, well before one embarks on what we think of as a conventional line-by-line reading. Since I've begun at the end, let me continue by taking that piece of information, the dating and placing of the poem, and folding it back into the title "All Souls' Night." At first sight, the information that the poem was written in Oxford in the autumn of 1920can hardly be seen to extend the meaning of the poem. It's self-evident that All Souls' Night falls in autumn. And, as the poem begins, the setting is also self-evident: Midnight has come, and the great Christ Church Bell And many a lesser bell sound through the room; And it is All Souls' Night. Now, I suppose that some of the first readers of "All Souls' Night" might have had a momentary sound-picture of the great bell of the twelfth-century Augustinian priory church in Christchurch, Hampshire, or the great bell of the Anglican cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, when they came upon something along the lines of the poem, either in The London Mercury of March 1921, or in its simultaneous appearance in the United States in The New Republic of March 9, 1921, when they did not have the benefit of the date and place. I speak of "something along the lines of the poem." I should say, "what passed for what we now take to be 'All Souls' Night.'" For, as we know from Allt and Alspach's The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. B. Yeats, the poem began thus in The New Republic: It is All Souls' night and the great Christ Church bell ... while in The London Mercury, where a little smidgin of good old-fashioned poetic diction didn't raise an eyebrow, it read 'Tis All Souls' Night and the great Christ Church bell ... with a version of what is now the opening line, "For it is now midnight," appearing as line 3. It's worth pondering what might have been going on in Yeats's mind when he made these revisions, and to judge what might have been gained, or lost, in the process. One gain would have been the mimesis of the tolling of the bell in the predominantly spondaic metre of what is now the first line: Midnight has come, and the great Christ Church Bell And many a lesser bell sound through the room; For what it's worth, one may divine (particularly if one's predisposed to hearing them) twelve stresses or bell-tolls in those first two lines before the release of And it ...

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Book Description Farrar, Straus Giroux Inc, United States, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 208 x 140 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. In The End of the Poem, Paul Muldoon dazzlingly explores a diverse group of poems, from Yeats s All Souls Night to Stevie Smith s I Remember to Fernando Pessoa s Autopsychography. Muldoon reminds us that the word poem comes, via French, from the Latin and Greek: a thing made or created. He asks: Can a poem ever be a free-standing structure, or must it always interface with the whole of its author s bibliography and biography? Muldoon explores the boundlessness created by influence, what Robert Frost meant when he insisted that the way to read a poem in prose or verse is in the light of all the other poems ever written. Finally, Muldoon returns to the most fruitful, and fraught, aspect of the phrase the end of the poem : the interpretation that centers on the aim or function of a poem, and the question of whether or not the end of the poem is the beginning of criticism. Irreverent and deeply learned, The End of the Poem is a vigorous approach to looking at poetry anew. Bookseller Inventory # APC9780374531003

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Book Description Farrar, Straus Giroux Inc, United States, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 208 x 140 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.In The End of the Poem, Paul Muldoon dazzlingly explores a diverse group of poems, from Yeats s All Souls Night to Stevie Smith s I Remember to Fernando Pessoa s Autopsychography. Muldoon reminds us that the word poem comes, via French, from the Latin and Greek: a thing made or created. He asks: Can a poem ever be a free-standing structure, or must it always interface with the whole of its author s bibliography and biography? Muldoon explores the boundlessness created by influence, what Robert Frost meant when he insisted that the way to read a poem in prose or verse is in the light of all the other poems ever written. Finally, Muldoon returns to the most fruitful, and fraught, aspect of the phrase the end of the poem : the interpretation that centers on the aim or function of a poem, and the question of whether or not the end of the poem is the beginning of criticism. Irreverent and deeply learned, The End of the Poem is a vigorous approach to looking at poetry anew. Bookseller Inventory # APC9780374531003

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