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Jason Pontin

A View from Jason Pontin

Another Day, Another Knight

I read in John Haffenden’s just-published biography of the poet-critic Sir William Empson (Volume I: Among the Mandarins) that the old codger’s favorite tipple was a brimming pint glass of gin and Guiness - which really does sound perfectly…

  • June 15, 2005

I read in John Haffenden’s just-published biography of the poet-critic Sir William Empson (Volume I: Among the Mandarins) that the old codger’s favorite tipple was a brimming pint glass of gin and Guiness - which really does sound perfectly disgusting. Sir Bill would get blotto, scratch around in the weird apron of his beard (just visible, left), and then compose his complex verse or forbiddingly ratiocinative criticism (readers may remember from their undergraduate English his Seven Types of Ambiguity).

Some kind of chemically induced impairment might explain the dark obscurity of a few late productions like Let It Go (1949), the last poem Sir Bill ever published. It is about giving up on writing - giving up on living, really. Sir William Empson lived another thirty-five years after publishing this doomy little haiku on disappointment. Herewith, Technology Review’s poem of the day:

It is this deep blankness is the real thing strange.
The more things happen to you the more you can’t
Tell or remember even what they were.

The contradictions cover such a range.
The talk would talk and go so far aslant.
You don’t want madhouse and the whole thing there.

Cheering, innit?

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