HOUSMAN, WILDE AND CAVAFY. I am not sure, despite the passages I quoted yesterday, that Daniel Mendelsohn believes that Cavafy led a mediocre life or that any great poet could. Just two weeks earlier, in a review (also in the New York Review of Books) of Mendelsohn’s new collection of essays, HOW BEAUTIFUL IT IS AND HOW EASILY IT CAN BE BROKEN: ESSAYS, G. L. Bowersock recounted the clash between Tom Stoppard and Mendelsohn over Stoppard’s play about Housman, THE INVENTION OF LOVE. Housman was both a great classical scholar and a great lyric poet. Mendelsohn criticized Stoppard for overemphasizing in his play the split between the “the two Housmans” —the scholar and the poet. He faulted Stoppard for making another character—Oscar Wilde–“the real hero of THE INVENTION OF LOVE.” Mendelsohn acknowledged that “Wilde’s life certainly looks [italicized by Mendelsohn] more dramatic.” In the end, however, Mendelsohn argued that scholarship could provide excitement: “you’d never guess from Stoppard’s presentation of Housman that the mind can be a passionate organ, too.” I think those words apply to a poet as well as to a scholar and that a great lyric poet must have lived a passionate life.

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