Mr. Empson sees the pastoral convention as including not only poems of shepherd life but any work “about the people but not by or for” them. Finding examples. Some Versions of Pastoral addresses the modern propensity to express nostalgia for idyllic world views that belong to the past. According to Empson, pastoral. Author: Empson, William, Title: Some versions of pastoral / [by] William Empson. Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Library.

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The feeling that life is essentially inadequate to the human spirit, and yet that a good life must avoid saying so, is naturally at home with most versions of pastoral; in pastoral you take a limited life and pretend it is the full and normal one, and a suggestion that one must do this with all life, because the normal is itself limited, is easily put into the trick though not necessary to its power.

Conversely any expression of the idea that all life is limited may be regarded as only a trick of pastoral, perhaps chiefly intended to hold all our attention and sympathy for some limited life, though again this is not necessary to it either on grounds of truth or beauty; in fact the suggestion of pastoral may be only a protection for the idea which must at last be taken alone.


On Empson by Michael Wood review – a great critic on a great critic

Emson business of interpretation is obviously very complicated. Literary uses of the problem of free-will and necessity, for example, may be noticed to give curiously bad arguments and I should think get their strength from keeping you in doubt between the two methods.

Thus Hardy is fond of showing us an unusually stupid person subjected to very unusually bad luck, and then a moral is drawn, not merely by inference but by solemn assertion, that we empsoj all in the same boat as this person whose story is striking precisely because it is unusual.

The effect may be very grand, but to make an otherwise logical [End Page 24] reader accept the process must depend on giving him obscure reasons for wishing it so.

It is clear at any rate that this grand notion of the inadequacy of life, so various in its means of expression, needs to be counted as a possible territory of the pastoral. I laughed aloud when I read this the Hardy part. And I scratched my head: Everything is leavened, when emmpson read Empson, by the sense that the text is ineluctably given, and yet could have been—could still possibly be—otherwise.

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On Empson by Michael Wood review – a great critic on a great critic | Books | The Guardian

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William Empson

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