chapter  1
26 Pages

Introduction

WithJane Stabler

William Empson followed Richards by identifying the study of ‘ambiguity’ or verbal difficulty as the critical key. He found Lord Byron’s early poetry lacking in this. Empson’s preoccupation with the multiple meanings of words might be seen as the foundation for subsequent deconstructionist theories of the instability of language. In all cases, the critical field of vision has been widened to include the significance of Byron’s social context as well as detailed analysis of the words on the page. Byron’s poetry had never fitted the contained paradoxes and balanced irony valued by the New Critics, although its violent changes of tone and genre made Byron seem curiously ‘modern’. Throughout the 1930s critics of European literature concerned with identifying a Romantic ‘spirit’ were hostile both to Byron and his ‘legacy’. The issue of personality seemed to influence Allen Tate, who in 1934 expressed his distaste for Byronic posturing.