Tuesday, May 27, 2003

A striking throwaway phrase (there are so many of them!) from Empson's Some Versions of Pastoral: "all [Shakespeare's] people change their minds on the stage and use heightened language where the rest of us use lapse of time" (38). No doubt this is a truism of Shakespeare study trotted out in every sophomore survey course, and of course he's talking about the importance of time to psychology and nothing broader than this. But I find the equation that substitutes "heightened language" for "lapse of time" fascinating if misprised to mean that intensifying one's language can change one's experience of time: a line of poetry that takes a few seconds to read becomes an hour or a year of someone's life. When you take into account how many times you might reread a given poem, the hours one has spent in the past with, say, Shakespeare's sonnets get folded in with the hours you are going to spend. How many more times will "That time of year thou mayest in me behold" or "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes" or "They that have power to harm and do none" fully occupy my consciousness and layer who I am at the moment of reading with who I was and will be at all the other occasions of reading? Time travel, indeed: Nick Piombino is on to something.

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