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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Michael Schmidt on 'Classics'

The word 'classic' has specific meanings and implications, none of them to do primarily with popularity or range of appeal. Penguin Classics come close to the present in the work they include but in general acknowledge that a classic has already endured; a text can only become classic when it is stable, that is, when the author is no longer there to alter it. It would have strained the classic category had Robert Lowell, reviser par excellence, or David Jones, or W.H. Auden been admitted in their lifetimes. A living classic is put to death as soon as classic status is conferred. The text is set in stone. Several generations of schoolchildren read selections of Ted Hughes and Thom Gunn and never had an inkling that Crow or Moly had occurred. Both poets stayed in the happy time-warp of their late twenties for decades, and they weren't even called Classics, though 'set text' is the next category down.

from New Poetries III © Michael Schmidt

1 comment:

  1. Classics 'set in stone'. Yes I take the point. But with texts such as Wordsworth's Prelude and Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, where different versions are available, presumably the classic status does not reside in a single fossilized text. Is this one way of eluding the process of petrification?