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Kermode on Pleasure, Change and the Canon (Tanner Lectures)
We may recall that other dazzling moment in Shakespeare’s play when Cleopatra, once again for a moment “this great fairy” and the “day o’ th’ world,” greets Antony: “Lord of lords! O infinite virtue, com’st thou smiling from / The world’s great snare uncaught?” (IV.viii.17– 19) — lines to which most of us surrender, as W. H. Auden grudgingly admits when he calls the lines “marvellous,” yet recognising that the marvel comes from the splendour of exultation in the shadow of certain defeat and loss. The moralising Auden says that Cleopatra’s “strong toil of grace” is the world itself, and in one way or another it “catches us all” even if the snare is grace. Auden introduces religion, Eliot history. They have surrendered and recovered and are trying to think of something to say. Coleridge found the expression “Happy valiancy” for such great moments, but explained no better than anybody else the network of responses that invited submission, recovery, and comment. Often what we find to say amounts to no more than an expression of astonishment, which is of little use unless it induces an equivalent submission in our hearers; dull though they may be, they can do this, become part of the conversation that prevents such lines from becoming rubbish in the end.
march 2015 by ayjay
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