This book comes in two parts. The first, 'The Poet as Heir', investigates characteristic uses of allusion by major British poets of the 18th and 19th centuries: Dryden, Pope, Wordsworth, Burns, Byron, Keats and Tennyson. The second, 'In the Company of Allusion', is a collection of occasional essays on allusion in minor or contemporary poets, or on general topics related to allusion: there are pieces on A.E. Housman, Yvor Winters, David Ferry, plagiarism, metaphor and 'Loneliness and Poetry'. Ricks has a fine ear, as he knows, and is happiest when demonstrating the unique resources and powers of poetry. His method is essentially evaluative, and it depends on precise examination. Milton's Adam says, '[I] feel that I am happier than I know', Wordsworth alters the line to 'We feel that we are greater than we know', and Ricks captures the decisive difference: 'Wordsworth's "greater" . . . is the grander word but the narrower thought.' We can never have enough of such detail. It is when he moves to a higher level of argument that Ricks loses his judiciousness. He takes too protective a stance when he argues against those critics who seem to him to demean poetry.
LRB 8 May 2003 | PDF Download