Loves and Muses I

  • James Booth


Poetry, T. S. Eliot asserts, is ‘not the expression of personality but an escape from personality.’1 Wallace Stevens concurs: ‘Poetry is not personal.’2 In a different tone, but to similar effect, D. H. Lawrence urges ‘Never trust the artist. Trust the tale.’3 Virginia Woolf asserts that Shakespeare achieved greatness by getting his work ‘expressed completely’:

We are not held up by some ‘revelation’ which reminds us of the writer. All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make the world the witness of some hardship or grievance was fired out of him and consumed.4

Literature is a matter of texts, not authors. ‘The death of the poet’, Auden tells us in his celebrated elegy, ‘was kept from his poems’, and Yeats ‘became his admirers’.5 With elegant Gallic hyperbole Roland Barthes takes demystification to its furthest point. The author’s plight, he believes, is precisely to have no plight, no unique ‘manner of being’: ‘it is language which speaks, not the author; to write is… to reach that point where only language acts, “performs”, and not “me”.’6 The author is textually dead even as he or she writes.


Late Face Photograph Album Deep Feeling West Street Love Song 
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  1. 1.
    T. S. Eliot, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, Selected Essays: 1917–1932 (London: Faber, 1932), 21.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Wallace Stevens, ‘Adagia’, Opus Posthumous, ed. Samuel French Morse (London: Faber, 1959), 159.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (New York: Doubleday and Company Inc., 1951), 13.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Virginia Woolf, A Room of Ones Own (London: Hogarth Press, 1931), 86.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    W. H. Auden, ‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’, Another Time (London: Faber Library edn, 1996), 97.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Roland Barthes, ‘The Death of the Author’, Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana, 1977), 143.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    D. H. Lawrence, letter to Carlo Linati, 22.i.1925, The Collected Letters, ed. Harry T. Moore (London: Heinemann, 1962), II, 825.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Jean Hartley, Philip Larkin, the Marvell Press, and Me (Manchester: Carcanet, 1989), 62.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Julian Barnes, A. H istory of the World in 10_ Chapters (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1989), 227.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Roland Barthes, Mythologies, sel. and trans. Annette Lavers (London: Paladin, 1973).Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    Janice Rossen, Philip Larkin: His Lifes Work (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester, 1989), 89.Google Scholar
  12. 23.
    Joseph Bristow, ‘The Obscenity of Philip Larkin’, Critical Inquiry 21, Autumn 1994, 176–7.Google Scholar
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    Robert Herrick, Poems from Hesperides and Noble Numbers (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), 69; Andrew Marvell, The Poems (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963), 22.Google Scholar
  14. 33.
    George Gilpin, ‘Patricia Avis and Philip Larkin’, New Larkins for Old, ed. James Booth (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), 70.Google Scholar
  15. 36.
    Patsy Strang fictionalized Larkin as Rollo Jute in her novel Playing the Harlot: or Mostly Coffee, eventually published under her maiden name, Patricia Avis (London: Virago, 1996).Google Scholar

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© James Booth 2005

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  • James Booth

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