On Reading Poetry

"Reading Shelley, you can see that in the last of his few allotted years he had saturated his rhythmic sense with the forms of Dante and Petrarch. He doesn't echo their meanings: he echoes their structures. Similarly, Racine absorbed the structures of Latin poetry; and it is a nice question whether he is closer to Catullus, some of whose lines he mirrors property for property, than to Virgil, whom he does not materially transpose so much as imitate in his pulse and balance. These sonic templates, as they might be called, are transferable through time even when an instigator is unknown to a beneficiary. Dante gets effects from Virgil that Virgil got from Homer, but if we didn't know that Virgil had come in between, we would have to swear that Dante knew the Homeric poems intimately, whereas he couldn't, in fact, read them. It is doubtful whether poets, in order to know each other at this level, need to set out to memorize poems. The memorizing comes automatically with the intensity of engagement. And so, ideally, it ought to do with all of us. We memorize something because we can't help it, and the thing we memorise was written with that result in mind. Poetry is written the way it is in order to be remembered."

- Clive James, "Gianfranco Contini", Cultural Amnesia

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on July 12, 2007 2:55 PM.

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