Fanciness and Fatality
by Helen Vendler for The New Republic Online
“How allusive should a poem be? Should readers be helped by notes? Eliot published The Waste Land first without notes, and then with them. Empson, confronting the issue of allusiveness, wrote:
There is no longer a reasonably small field which may be taken as general knowledge. It is impertinent to suggest that the reader ought to possess already any odd bit of information one may have picked up in a field where one is oneself ignorant; such a point may be explained in a note without trouble to anybody….
Paul Muldoon may not himself be ignorant of any of the many fields (historical, philosophical, linguistic) to which he constantly alludes, but most of us, opening Horse Latitudes, his tenth volume of poems, may long for notes, and even for explanations.”