The Chequer'd Shade: Reflections on Obscurity in Poetry

The Chequer'd Shade: Reflections on Obscurity in Poetry

The Chequer'd Shade: Reflections on Obscurity in Poetry

The Chequer'd Shade: Reflections on Obscurity in Poetry

Excerpt

Persius who you use to say, you do not know whether he be a good poet or no, because you cannot understand him, and who therefore (I say) I know to be not a good poet.

ABRAHAM COWLEY, The Dangers of Procrastination

But the source of bad criticism, as universally of bad philosophy, is the abuse of terms.

RICHARD HURD, Letters on Chivalry and Romance

ON 11 March 1955 Lord Samuel spoke at a Foyle's literary luncheon during which John Betjeman received an award of £250 for his book of poems A Few Late Chrysanthemums. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph of 12 March, Lord Samuel denounced

this fashion of deliberate and perverse obscurity. On going through the anthologies of several years I was appalled to find the degree to which this vice of obscurity was afflicting British poetry. I could give several examples but I will read only one . . .

A grief ago She who was who I hold, the fate and flower Or, water-lammed, from the scythe-sided thorn Hell wind and sea A stem cementing, wrestled up the tower, Rose maid and male Or, masted venus, through the paddler's bowl Sailed up the sun.

Accepting the cheque for £250, John Betjeman said: `I don't know who wrote the thing Lord Samuel read out.' Another poet, Stephen Spender, who knew that the thing had been written by Dylan Thomas, and who left the room when Lord Samuel began to quote the stanza, later said that somebody should have thrown an egg at Lord Samuel. He also remarked, again according to the Daily Telegraph, that

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