I've just come across something I found of interest. I think others
might find it to be so. The first part is William Empson, as quoted by
Christopher Ricks, then Ricks' comment.
The following line from Auden’s Orators is quoted as ‘free
association’, therefore demonstrably bad or rather null. It
seems to me plain realism.
As a matter of fact the farm was in Pembrokeshire.
We are told that though the separate lines of the poem have
isolated prose meanings they are only connected by Auden’s
memory or subconsciousness, so cannot make poetry. But if you
get the general context, of a man making a shameful confession,
this creaking pretence of ease and nervous jerk into irrelevance
is no kind of breach with ‘meaning’, whether with poetry or not;
nor is it ‘obscure’. It is a piece of horrible photography, and
I remember shuddering as I first set eyes on it. But of course
if a critic goes on expecting Pembrokeshire to symbolize
something he is likely to get irritated. Often indeed when a
poem goes on living in your mind, demanding to be re-read, you
do not so much penetrate what at first seemed its obscurities as
forget them; they turn out to be irrelevant. The critic
therefore cannot come in and demonstrate that a poem is bad
because it has no meaning—obviously, in the first place, because
he may merely not know the meaning, but he can say it is too
hard to know; yet there may be an answer to this too—that he is
wrong to expect a meaning at the point he has chosen.
[Criterion, xv (1936), 519.]
What liberates Empson’s criticism here—and Auden’s line—is the
respect for story. So the hope is that to ask about the story in
Empson’s poems will help with their meaning, not only in making
clearer at some points what their meaning is, but also in making
clearer at others why it is not exactly meaning that we should be
expecting. [Christopher Ricks, The Force of Poetry, “William Empson:
The Images and the Story” 182-183]