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Friday, July 30, 2010

When Critics Knew How to Criticize (Part Three in a Series)

Posted by on Fri, Jul 30, 2010 at 10:00 AM

When Milton writes

'Him who disobeys me disobeys'

he is, quite simply, doing wrong to his mother tongue. He meant

'Who disobeys him, disobeys me.'

It is perfectly easy to understand WHY he did it, but his reasons prove that Shakespeare and several dozen other men were better poets. Milton did it because he was chock a block with Latin. He had studied his English not as a living language, but as something subject to theories.

Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, 1951


Comments (8) RSS

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I'm 85 Years Old 1
You mistakenly attributed this obvious Charles post to Mr. Kiley
Posted by I'm 85 Years Old on July 30, 2010 at 10:08 AM · Report this
That thing about Latin syntax is kind of a running problem with proscriptive English grammar.

Ezra Pound was a clever dude. Too bad he was a Nazi.
Posted by Judah on July 30, 2010 at 10:13 AM · Report this
Fnarf 3
Ezra Pound was an insufferable twat. He wrote a few decent lines of poetry, but untold, unread and unreadable thousands of bad ones. I'm not sure which ones were worse -- the interminable garbage about Jews and banking, or the cod "Chinese" that he had an actual Chinese translate for him, and then poetified up all pretty like and affixed his own name onto (he himself did not actually know Chinese, though he pretended to). He is remembered for his dictum "make it new", but ignored for reams upon reams of shit.

And yes, I've read "Cantos" all the way through.
Posted by Fnarf on July 30, 2010 at 10:28 AM · Report this
dirac 4
Pretty sure Milton dictated that line because he was blind! Don't know if Pound had any similar handicaps.
Posted by dirac on July 30, 2010 at 10:33 AM · Report this
Matthew Richter 5
sometimes i wish there was a LIKE button on slog.
Posted by Matthew Richter on July 30, 2010 at 10:34 AM · Report this
Pound was a critic who mistook himself for a poet—his bad poetry doesn't negate his quality criticism. Nor do his stupid, stupid, STUPID politics.
Posted by Brendan Kiley on July 30, 2010 at 10:48 AM · Report this
I take your point, I think, Brendan: it was real criticism for Pound to recognize the influence of Milton's Latin on his poetry. However, I don't think Pound gave full weight to the fact that the third person singular masculine accusative pronoun 'him' is one of the few cases (har!) in which it is possible for such a Latin sentence structure to make sense in English. To me, that makes Milton's choice a great one--look at the metrical advantages of Milton's line over Pound's version. Judging by this example of his criticism, IMHO, Pound sounds like an anti-Latin troglodyte.
Posted by Moose on July 30, 2010 at 3:46 PM · Report this
I'm not saying I agree with all the things I'm posting in this series. Far from it. I just appreciate the effort.
Posted by Brendan Kiley on July 30, 2010 at 4:28 PM · Report this

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