By J.V. Cunningham (1911-1985)
(posted Wednesday, Dec. 31)
To hear Robert Pinsky read “Epigram 16,” click.
The classical form of the epigram has found some brilliant practitioners in English, though the form is not much talked about by critics and examples are not much anthologized. John Donne, Robert Herrick, and Ben Jonson wrote some great ones, and later so did William Wordsworth. The master in the 20th Century was J. V. Cunningham. In No. 16 from the group he collected as “A Century of Epigrams,” the meaning is packed, yet clear, the sounds (I particularly admire the way “idea” echoes “I” in the third line) are rich but do not swamp the meaning; the movement of pauses between units of different length varies against the pentameter line in a way that adds grace to the sounds. The poem has the brevity and snap that define the epigram as a form.
The dry soul rages. The unfeeling feel
With the dry vehemence of the unreal.
So I, in the idea of your arms, unwon,
Am as the real in unreal undone.