The Complete Poems of William Empson

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9780813020808: The Complete Poems of William Empson

"[An] almost wantonly magnificent edition."-- Frank Kermode, London Review of Books

"Immaculate and exemplary."-- The Times (London)

"Haffenden has done Empson proud."-- The Guardian

William Empson’s poetry occupies a central place in 20th-century literature. Acclaimed as the brilliant author of Seven Types of Ambiguity, published when he was only 24, Empson has been applauded for the dazzling intelligence and emotional passion of his poems. T. S. Eliot praised the "brain power" and "intense feeling" of his poetry; F. R. Leavis hailed him as the first true successor to John Donne. Robert Lowell told Empson: "I think you are the most intelligent poet writing in our language and perhaps the best. I put you with Hardy and Graves and Auden and Philip Larkin."

Empson’s poems have a range of themes from metaphysics to melancholy, social climbing to political satire, love to loss. Above all, he was stimulated by the implications of modern science, which he called "the only fertile part of the contemporary mind."

This volume brings together for the first time all the poems that Empson published in his lifetime and several more discovered since his death. Drawing on unpublished papers, interviews, readings, and broadcasts, John Haffenden’s introduction and annotations identify manuscript sources, allusions, and intertexts. The volume also includes Empson’s own notes, which he regarded as a vital complement to the poetry.

Sir William Empson was educated at Winchester and Cambridge and taught at Tokyo University, Peking National University, and the University of Sheffield, where he was chair of English literature from 1952 until his retirement in 1971. He was knighted in 1979 and died in London in 1984.

John Haffenden is professor of English literature at the University of Sheffield and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His books include The Life of John Berryman; W. H. Auden: The Critical Heritage; Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation; Interviews with Novelists; and several editions of William Empson’s work.

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About the Author:

Currently Head of Department at the University of Sheffield, John Haffenden was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Oxford University, and began his teaching career at H. M. Prison, Oxford. He has received awards from the Authors' Foundation of the Society of Authors and the British Academy, and
has been a British Academy Research Reader and a Leverhulme Research Fellow. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an elected founding Fellow of the English Association.
Empson educated at Winchester and Magdalene College, Cambridge.

From Publishers Weekly:

"Slowly the poison the whole bloodstream fills./ The waste remains, the waste remains and kills." This spectacular and assiduously compiled volume restores to print, and amplifies, the considerable achievements of a good poet and a major British intellectual. William Empson (1906-1984) remains best-known for his literary criticism, especially Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930). Despite his slender poetic output, he also belongs among the most original, strangest and most powerful poets of the British 1930s. His densely worked poems combined his devotion to John Donne with a deep knowledge of science and math: the lesser verse makes fascinating puzzles, while the standouts combine great intellect with hard self-knowledge and great range erotic love ("Camping Out"), literary parody ("Just a Smack at Auden"), a diving board, moons and planets, archaeology, real estate law, even "Dissatisfaction with Metaphysics." (Empson also, almost single-handedly, reinvented and popularized the villanelle.) The poet spent, all told, 10 years in Japan and China; his deep engagement with their history, politics, religion and language also inform later poems like "Autumn on Nan-Yueh." Haffenden's edition adds to Empson's Collected Poems (1955) an assortment of very early or lost pieces, most of which appeared in The Royal Beasts (1986); even so, the poems themselves come to just over 100 pages. What of the rest of the volume? Empson appended fascinating notes to his own poems, and Haffenden has included them all. To these he adds bibliographical and scholarly data; his own interpretive comments; and much unpublished prose by Empson and others. The result is a giant book sure to attract all Empson's admirers, and a promising attempt to place him firmly in the literary canon. (June) Forecast: The book's U.K. publication, from Penguin, sparked widespread publicity and long reviews in all the highbrow journals; American readers and editors (particularly scholarly) should follow that overseas lead.

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