Wallace Stevens’s “The Death of a Soldier”: History in a Poem

Professor David Ferry probed each poet’s words, noting details, asking questions about them, keeping his students focused and vigilant, pointing to a surprise, a turn in syntax, an implication in an image overlooked first time through. I never heard him speak about Stevens’s “The Death of a Soldier,” but I imagine he would have discussed the brevity of the poem in relation to the large solemnity of the title, the short lines, the choice of a four-stanza structure, the relation of each stanza to the next, even the punctuation.

Shakespeare, Sonnet 73, and Empson

It’s a pleasure to reread and analyze this first quatrain of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, looking at it and listening to it, the puzzles it generates and the questions it raises, and I am tempted to proceed to the rest of the sonnet. But in this post, I have another purpose, and that’s to quote and pay tribute to William Empson’s interpretation of the line about “choirs” in chapter 1 of his 1930 masterpiece of literary criticism, Seven Types of Ambiguity.

Day One: Close Reading Dickinson

Students know lots of poems—songs from Disney films, lyrics written by Taylor Swift and other popular composers and performers, songs from Broadway musicals, hymns sung at church, Beatles tunes, rap and hip-hop…. But that’s not the same thing as the poetry that students are assigned to read and write about in college courses.

My Mistake: An Example from Emerson

There’s a mistake I sometimes make in my close reading of literature. In the classroom work I’m doing, or in the essay I’m writing, I tend to interpret the words, lines, and sentences at the beginning and the middle from the vantage point of the end. I know where the poem or piece of prose has concluded, and I project what I have come to know into what I had earlier read.