William Empson

44

William Empson : biography

27 September 1906 – 15 April 1984
  • Haffenden, John. William Empson, Vol. 1: Among the Mandarins. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-927659-5
  • Haffenden, John. William Empson, Vol. 2: Against the Christians. Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-19-953992-8
  • Norris, Christopher and Mapp, Nigel (eds.). William Empson: The Critical Achievement. Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-521-35386-6
  • Day, Frank. Sir William Empson: An Annotated Bibliography. London: Garland, 1984. ISBN 0-8240-9207-4
  • Gardner, Philip and Gardner, Averil. The God approached: a commentary on the poems of William Empson. London: Chatto & Windus, 1978. ISBN 0-7011-2213-7

Quotes

From "Proletarian Literature" in Some Versions of Pastoral:

As for propaganda, some very good work has been that; most authors want their point of view to be convincing. Pope said that even the Aeneid was a 'political puff'; its dreamy, impersonal, universal melancholy was a calculated support for Augustus. 
Of course to decide on an author's purpose, conscious or unconscious, is very difficult. Good writing is not done unless there are serious forces at work; and it is not permanent unless it works for readers with opinions different from the author's. On the other hand, the reason an English audience can enjoy Russian propagandist films is that the propaganda is too remote to be annoying; a Tory audience subjected to Tory propaganda of the same intensity would be extremely bored. 

From "They That Have Power" in Some Versions of Pastoral:

(regarding Sonnet 94): If this was Shakespeare's only surviving work, it would still be clear, supposing one knew about the other Elizabethans, that it involves somehow their feelings about the Machiavellian, the wicked plotter who is exciting and civilized and somehow right about life; which seems an important though rather secret element in the romance that Shakespeare extracted from his patron. 
...poets, who tend to make in their lives a situation they have already written about. 
...that curious trick of pastoral which for extreme courtly flattery - perhaps to give self-respect to both poet and patron, to show that the poet is not ignorantly easy to impress, nor the patron to flatter - writes about the poorest people; and those jazz songs which give an intense effect of luxury and silk underwear by pretending to be about slaves naked in the fields. 
The business of interpretation is obviously very complicated. Literary uses of the problem of free-will and necessity, for example, may be noticed to give curiously bad arguments and I should think get their strength from keeping you in doubt between the two methods. Thus Hardy is fond of showing us an unusually stupid person subjected to very unusually bad luck, and then a moral is drawn, not merely by inference but by solemn assertion, that we are all in the same boat as this person whose story is striking precisely because it is unusual. The effect may be very grand, but to make an otherwise logical reader accept the process must depend on giving him obscure reasons for wishing it so. It is clear at any rate that this grand notion of the inadequacy of life, so various in its means of expression, so reliable a bass note in the arts, needs to be counted as a possible territory of the pastoral. 

From "Milton and Bentley" in Some Versions of Pastoral:

Surely Bentley was right to be surprised at finding Faunus haunting the bower [Paradise Lost ll. 705 – 707], a ghost crying in the cold of Paradise, and the lusts of Pan sacred even in comparison to Eden. There is a Vergilian quality in the lines, haunting indeed, a pathos not mentioned because it is the whole of the story. I suppose that in Satan determining to destroy the innocent happiness of Eden, for the highest political motives, without hatred, not without tears, we may find some echo of the Elizabethan fulness of life that Milton as a poet abandoned, and as a Puritan helped to destroy.