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This article is taken from PN Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May - June 2017.

Empson’s Mud & Blood Mark Thompson
for Peter Isard

                       THE TEASERS

Not but they die, the teasers and the dreams,
Not but they die,
                       and tell the careful flood
To give them what they clamour for and why.


You could not fancy where they rip to blood,
You could not fancy
                           nor that mud
I have heard speak that will not cake or dry.


Our claims to act appear so small to these,
Our claims to act
                       colder lunacies
That cheat the love, the moment, the small fact.


Make no escape because they flash and die,
Make no escape
                       build up your love,
Leave what you die for and be safe to die.

I


IT BEGINS LIKE begins like nothing else in the anthologies. Not but: the rebuff is pointed, almost a physical check, yet unclear; does the second word clinch the negation or qualify it, like ‘yes, but’? And what on earth all die? The second line repeats the first half-line: an incantation that tolls. The third line – or still the second – quickens after the step to name the flood. We know it can be told things, though not what or why. Nothing is definite except the articles.

‘The Teasers’ takes no longer to read than the eye to ride the line of Brancusi’s bird, or the ear to plot a variation by Webern. Yet ...


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