Extraordinary Nov 13, 2008
Helen Vendler, in addition to indirectly giving the language the verb "to vendle", is one of the best literary critics working today. An extremely acute close reader, alert to nuance, structure, context, content to stay with the work and not to use it as a springboard for grand generalizations, she manages to make what can be an overwhelming welter of seemingly similar poems available instead as a collection of individual gems, each of them revealing with a beauty densely great the movements of one man's exemplary mind. She makes Shakespeare close without reducing him to the familiar. His strangeness is the useful strangeness of all great work, not that of another culture, another time, another language.
Reading this inspired me to memorize many of the sonnets (I now have a shifting collection of nineteen, some of which sometimes squirt away from capture, others of which stay docilely in place.)
Her own reading, on the CD which accompanies the hard-cover version, is modest, accurate, not over-defined; one realizes that there are no definitive readings, only readings more or less honest.