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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pleasure of Partial Ignorance

I sing of May-poles, Hock-carts, Wassails, Wakes
(italics in original)

My claim is that you do not have to know deep background information to derive pleasure from this line.  In some cases, a reader will know what some of these things are, and less about others. The evocative pleasure for the modern reader actually derives from the penumbra of partial knowledge. Together, the items form a kind of Gestalt, where the readers' imaginations simply fills in the unknown details. Obviously, knowing nothing (not understanding a single word of the line at a literal level) is not what I mean. I understand them all, vaguely, to be examples of merry olde English costumbrismo, but I really don't care beyond that. For Herrick's contemporaries, the meanings were transparent, but did they appreciate the poem more for all of that?

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