Paul Muldoon (2662 words)


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In a typically mischievous sonnet, “October 1950” (from Why Brownlee Left), Paul Muldoon writes of the moment of his own conception:

Whatever it is, it comes down to this;
My father’s cock
Between my mother’s thighs.
Might he have forgotten to wind the clock?

The allusion here is to Laurence Sterne’s eighteenth century cock-and-bull story, Tristram Shandy, and the poem’s easy movement between bluntness and evasion – “Whatever it is, it leaves me in the dark” – might act as an index to the manner that has become known as ‘Muldoonian”: confessional but reticent, lucid but ambiguous, idiomatic but classically formed, artless but supremely erudite, …

Citation: Phillips, Ivan. "Paul Muldoon". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 21 March 2002 [, accessed 28 March 2020.]

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