The question considered here is not what are the most interesting or most discussed recent movements in literary criticism, but what are the methodological innovations that might actually contribute to a better understanding of a specific poem? I look in two directions, the one attempting to enrich a poem's setting in its cultural context, the other attempting to complicate a poem's relation to its literary background. For the former, I attempt to read Donne's “Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” with the combination of attention to nonliterary texts contemporaneous with the poem and analysis of cultural bias that has characterized New Historical readings. For the latter, I attempt to read Stevens's “Puella Parvula” as a crisis lyric and battleground for the anxieties of influence as elaborated by Harold Bloom. I conclude by comparing the two modes of “unknowing” that these methods invoke—Donne's culturally determined sense of female anatomy (his obliviousness to the fundamental difference between male and female genitalia, which we take for granted), and Stevens's repression of the human cry at the core of his interest in imagination. The article acknowledges that the great masters of older methodologies, here represented by John Freccero and Helen Vendler, may have more to tell us than any methodological innovation as such could hope to convey.

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