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The Terrifying Vrooom

Colin Burrow: Empsonising, 15 July 2021

Some Versions of Pastoral 
by William Empson, edited by Seamus Perry.
Oxford, 496 pp., £80, November 2020, 978 0 19 965966 1
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The Structure of Complex Words 
by William Empson, edited by Helen Thaventhiran and Stefan Collini.
Oxford, 672 pp., £95, November 2020, 978 0 19 871343 2
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... In​ Jill Paton Walsh’s novel Goldengrove (1972), set shortly after the Second World War, the adolescent heroine, Madge, goes on holiday to Cornwall. She falls a little in love with a professor of English literature who has been blinded in action, and reads aloud to him. One of the passages he has her recite is an analysis of Donne’s ‘A Valediction: Of Weeping’:Weep me not dead means: ‘do not make me cry myself to death; do not kill me with the sight of your tears; do not cry for me as for a man already dead, when, in fact, I am in your arms,’ and, with a different sort of feeling, ‘do not exert your power over the sea so as to make it drown me by sympathetic magic’; there is a conscious neatness in the ingenuity of the phrasing, perhaps because the same idea is being repeated, which brings out the change of tone in this verse ...

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