Winter 1950 • Vol. XII No. 1 NonfictionJanuary 1, 1950 |

On Herbert’s ‘Sacrifice’

A few years since, William Empson1 gave some nine pages to a treatment of George Herbert's long poem "The Sacrifice," as an example of the seventh of his Seven Types of Ambiguity. These pages, through brilliant exposition of meanings overt and hidden, bring a reader closer to the heart and core of a beautiful poem than much criticism of Herbert between his day and our own has been able to do. They also demonstrate certain undeniable virtues of modern criticism, and the skilful use of its most typical instruments, especially of those provided for a critic's use by various developments of modern psychology. Nevertheless, a reader familiar with the traditions out of which this poem sprang will find Empson's reading inadequate. This essay is concerned to supply these felt deficiencies of interpretation; it is as much concerned—and here the consideration touches most of us, certainly not Mr. Empson alone—to examine the problems which are raised by the modern critic's use of certain f

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