What can be said in a word? A lot, if you are a poet. Poets annex familiar words and empower them. Sometimes a single word, as used by them, can provide a key to their whole work. Here are some examples. (In this game, I permit two words if one is a definite or indefinite article or a preposition.) Blake: ‘lamb’; Milton: ‘high’; Keats: ‘blushful’; Gray ‘in vain’; Cowper: ‘stricken’; Tennyson: ‘the deep’; Pope: ‘Man’ (not ‘man’); Housman: ‘lad’; Burns: ‘lass’; Herbert: ‘sweet’; Hardy: ‘darkling’; Larkin: ‘almost’; Betjeman (this a good suggestion by my wife): ‘Aldershot’. In the case of T.S. Eliot, I am torn between the too general ‘time’, and the too recherché ‘axle-tree’. The poet I find it impossible to begin to ‘get’ in one of his words is Shakespeare.
This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Notes, which first appeared in this week’s Spectator magazine