Monday, April 21, 2014


What Have These Details to do with Poetry?

Gilbert Norwood (1880-1954), Pindar (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1945; rpt. 1974), p. 3, with notes on p. 213:
Too often, after determining to appreciate a poem in itself, we drift off upon themes which, though they have nothing to do with poetry, yet give us a piteous illusion like Ixion's that we embrace the goddess, though in truth we lavish caresses upon a phantom of cloud. Our libraries swarm with the unnatural offspring:5 those disquisitions upon the poet's "attitude" to this or that; those lists of his prepositions and spondees; investigations of the books he may have read and the women he may have loved. The radiance, the potent vitality of great writings dazzle our weak sight and fatigue our puny strength; we stumble away from the shrine to gossip with the sacristan about dates and measurements. This childish, though not ignoble, desire to create some relation, however trivial, between a poet and ourselves has produced numberless "studies" and "aspects" which enlighten us no more, on the only subject about which enlightenment is worth having, than the purchase of Aeschylus' writing-tablet inspired the prince of Syracuse.6 "What have these details to do with poetry?"—that is the test, which, while it condemns much pretentious research, yet approves much humdrum study.

5 The most extreme instance of this mania is a bulky work on Walter Pater, which gives only thirteen pages to his style, but records that his cat died in 1904, at the age of fifteen, and that his Pomeranian had passed away long before, in 1896, only eighteen months after αὐτότατος.

6 Lucian, Adv. Indoct. 15. Τὸ Αἰσχύλου πυξίον, εἰς ὃ ἐκεῖνος ἔγραφε, σὺν πολλῇ σπουδῇ κτησάμενος καὶ αὐτὸς ᾤετο ἔνθεος ἔσεσθαι καὶ κάτοχος ἐκ τοῦ πυξίου, ἀλλ᾽ ὅμως ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκείνῳ μακρῷ γελοιότερα ἔγραφεν.

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