Sunday, May 11, 2008

Orr on Vendler on Yeats

David Orr has a good piece in today's NY Times book review on Helen Vendler's new book about Yeats, Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form. He mocks the "inadvertently whips-and-cuffs title," and grumbles about her tendency to ascribe sound effects to the meter when they're mostly due to diction. Orr says this indicates Vendler hasn't thought very hard about form in general, but I don't think that's quite right; Vendler has thought about form and written about it, just not very well. This is not really her fault because form is horribly difficult to write about, esp. if you're not a practising metrical poet. I think Vendler's usual approach -- close readings of formal effects -- is doomed to failure; form is a global rather than a local property, and the real questions about meter are more like "what can one possibly do with this sort of stanza? what new possibilities did Yeats discover?" than like "how can I shoehorn the sound into the sense in ll. 18-25 of 'The Tower'?"

But Vendler is an excellent critic and it goes without saying that I'll read her new book when I find it.

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