More from Yvor Winters . . .
This association-of-ideas idea — promoted by 18th-century philosophers Hobbes and Locke and fingered by Winters — seems to absolve the thinker of a need for coherence and unity, leaving him with nothing but emphasis — lots or less of it depending on the weather. In other words, your ideas are great, kid, even if they don’t hold water. They’re yours, aren’t they? And who am I to say you’re wrong? Etc.
Romantic poets — one of whom coined or made memorable the phrase “blithe spirit” — followed Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sidney and looked in their hearts and wrote. (And there’s something to be said for that.) Winters, however, favored “a logical, plain-spoken poetic,” as reviewer-commentator David Yezzi put it in the June 1997 New Criterion. This meant he vastly preferred the far less known and honored Barnabe Googe to Sidney, both 16th-century fellows, which is like preferring Truman to Roosevelt in political-style terms, or whole wheat to raisin walnut in Prairie Bread Kitchen terms.
In his poem “Of Money,” Googe says he’d rather have money than friends because with the first he’d always have the second but not vice versa, which is an arresting consideration: “Fair face show friends, when riches do abound;/ Come time of proof, fare well they must away.” The appeal of this to Winters lay in its restraint of feeling and rhetoric “to the minimum required by the subject,” as opposed to “rhetoric for its own sake” as practiced by other Elizabethans.
Another of Winters’ favorites, Fulke Greville, a good friend of Sidney, said his own “creeping genius” was “more fixed upon the images of life, than the images of wit” and thus wrote for “those that are weather-beaten in the sea of this world.” An earthier sort, in other words, and not sentimentalistic by any stretch.
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