Sunday, November 19, 2023


Just Read and Be Ready for Anything

David West, Reading Horace (Edinburgh: University Press, 1967), p. 141:
A poem is a stone thrown into the pool of the mind. We can establish that certain ripples are historically necessary, or historically impossible, but apart from these each pool (if it has any water in it at all) has a different depth, a different fringe of vegetation, a different colour, different lighting (if any) and a different bottom; so after the critics have done with the poem, there will remain innumerable patterns evanescent and elusive, neither necessary nor refutable, the valid personal impact of the poem on the man who reads it. Through the haze of two millennia we have to repress all our contemporary preconceptions, to deploy an exhaustive philological and historical learning and still be able to to feel like human beings.

Clearly the task is impossible. But to those who attempt it, the Epistles of Horace, as we have seen, offer any amount of good sense and good humour, an endearing persona genially and cunningly revealed, a wide range of interesting observation, thought, and emotion, and something very like the kind of delight which great poetry gives. The Odes it would be stupid to attempt to characterise in this fashion. We must just read and be ready for anything.

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