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The Complete Poems of William Empson Hardcover – June 18, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 504 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida; 1st edition (June 18, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813020808
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813020808
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,538,688 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Slowly the poison the whole bloodstream fills./ The waste remains, the waste remains and kills." This spectacular and assiduously compiled volume restores to print, and amplifies, the considerable achievements of a good poet and a major British intellectual. William Empson (1906-1984) remains best-known for his literary criticism, especially Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930). Despite his slender poetic output, he also belongs among the most original, strangest and most powerful poets of the British 1930s. His densely worked poems combined his devotion to John Donne with a deep knowledge of science and math: the lesser verse makes fascinating puzzles, while the standouts combine great intellect with hard self-knowledge and great range erotic love ("Camping Out"), literary parody ("Just a Smack at Auden"), a diving board, moons and planets, archaeology, real estate law, even "Dissatisfaction with Metaphysics." (Empson also, almost single-handedly, reinvented and popularized the villanelle.) The poet spent, all told, 10 years in Japan and China; his deep engagement with their history, politics, religion and language also inform later poems like "Autumn on Nan-Yueh." Haffenden's edition adds to Empson's Collected Poems (1955) an assortment of very early or lost pieces, most of which appeared in The Royal Beasts (1986); even so, the poems themselves come to just over 100 pages. What of the rest of the volume? Empson appended fascinating notes to his own poems, and Haffenden has included them all. To these he adds bibliographical and scholarly data; his own interpretive comments; and much unpublished prose by Empson and others. The result is a giant book sure to attract all Empson's admirers, and a promising attempt to place him firmly in the literary canon. (June) Forecast: The book's U.K. publication, from Penguin, sparked widespread publicity and long reviews in all the highbrow journals; American readers and editors (particularly scholarly) should follow that overseas lead.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

William Empson is well-known for his landmark in literary criticism SEVEN TYPES OF AMBIGUITY (written at the tender age of 24) but his poetry is regarded as his greatest literary achievement. His academic career was varied and distinguished and throughout the course of his life he published widely. John Haffenden is recognised as being the foremost authority writing on Empson today. He has written a number of books, and is currently working on a biography of Empson. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By a reader in front of the front range on August 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book shows how far from our time Empson is--a collection in which the annotations are 3 times the number of pages of the poems---how overscholarly!, we might judge, how nicer to be more spontaneous, direct.

But if you don't mind being challenged in your norms, try a poet whose lines take you on the adventurous ride of one of the most complex minds you can encounter in poetry.

Representative is "Dissatisfaction with Methaphysics," which begins with the floating corpse of Mahomet, tells how it lies on earth's elliptic orbit surrounded by "epicycles" (Ptolemaic, the notes tell us), then how we may descend from Adam & Eve's incest. The lengthy annotations certainly don't wrap up all the meanings, but give further associations to ideas of Empson and others which, in turn, may stimulate the reader to have another go at the poem's fascinations. I would not have picked up, without the notes, the subtle variations of the poem's apparently conventional form. And I'm still not sure what it all means.

If you've had the pleasure of hearing Empson recite, on a recording, one of his villanelles, you'll have an additional appreciation.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A. D. hodgson on October 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I got this because I read a William Empson poem in a collection of science writing. I thought the piece was intelligent and deep and mystical. Also I thought it sounded fantastic that a 500 page book would consist of 400 pages commenting and explaining the first 100. Well, it is less funny or fabulous or brash than you'd think. Many of the notes are simply apologies for the poems being failures and needing explanation- fair enough. If its so good why doesn't it speak for itself? But after the first few letters and apologies I just could not care and the detailed notes explaining that a line borrows from this or that obscure thing I also do not care about, did not draw my attentions. I tried to read the actual poems but they are just embaressingly bad. Other than being weird, and requiring "puzzle interest" to solve, one finds they are not enjoyable, musical, spiritual, interesting, or meaningful. Also 12 syllable words do not fit well into sonnets, so I cannot even say they are technically composed well, though others would. They are somewhere between tedious and painful. I'd skip it with exclamation marks, unless all this just makes you wonder: well how bad could a famous poet really be? And learning that he stopped writing for all of middle age because he felt the distractions of life would make any poems he tried stink was interesting, but I just told you that. I give it 2 stars because it stimulated me enough to write a review and get annoyed, rather than put me to sleep.
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