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William Empson

Empson, William, 1906–84, English critic and poet. His Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), a study of the meanings of poetry, is a classic of modern literary criticism. It was followed by Some Versions of Pastoral (1935) and The Structure of Complex Words (1951). In Milton's God (1961) Empson engaged in a vehement attack on Puritanism. His works also includes two posthumously published essay collections, Using Biography and Essays on Renaissance Literature (1994). His poetry— Poems (1935) and The Gathering Storm (1940)—was noted for its wit and metaphysical conceits. A collected edition of his verse appeared in 1955, and his Complete Poems was published in 2001. Empson was knighted in 1979.

See biography by J. Haffenden (2 vol., 2005–6); J. Haffenden, ed., Selected Letters of William Empson (2006); studies by J. H. Wills (1969), R. Gill (1974), C. Norns (1978), and C. Norris and N. Mapp, ed. (1993).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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