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Books to dust off

After the turn of the last century J.W. Mackail served at Oxford in the same position once held by Matthew Arnold: Professor of Poetry. His light does not shine as brightly but he has left some fine specimens of criticism and prose style, exemplified perhaps in his delightful Lectures on Greek poetry. The the book begins and ends, oddly enough, with selected verses from Whitman. He begins, ‘O a new song, a free song.’ And at times that’s what his prose becomes.

His sympathy for the Alexandrians seems almost modern:

The whole history of early Alexandrianism, a steady laborious poetical movement which went on at full pressure for something like half a century, is the history of an attempt to bring poetry back into touch with life, to reinstate it as a living art. This statement of the case may at first sight appear paradoxical. The Alexandrians are dismissed in common surveys of Greek literature, as little more than pedants. They are called artificial poets, as though all poetry were not artificial, and the greatest poetry were not the poetry of most consummate artifice.

I think it’s worth reading. It’s easy reading, enlightening, unapologetic, and uncluttered by appeals to theory.

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