Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

"Goodbye Earth and other poems" by I.A.Richards (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958

My copy has the signature of "E.E.Duncan-Jonas" (Elsie Duncan-Jones?) in it, dated "June 23, 1962". In "Proem", the introduction, it says "to a writer much of whose life has been passed in studying the difficulties poems present to even very well-qualified readers the itch to lend a helping word becomes acute ... Explanations can do little more than play with surfaces. But it is through surfaces (is it not?) that we have to attempt to go deeper"

The first poem, "Lighting Fires in Snow", has a note saying "This practical poem aims to teach a useful art". It explains how to arrange twigs "Teepee-wise or wigwam,/ So that air can follow/ The match-flame from the start: As we begin a poem/ And some may win a heart", the indentation of the lines matching the rhyme scheme. Then "twig to twig will beckon/ If lightly laid above/ Better than you can reckon." In the final stanza, we're told that "The wise poem knows its father/ And treats him not amiss;/ But Language is its mother/ To burn where it would rather/ Choose that and by-pass this".

In the 2nd poem, "The Solitary Daffodil", the persona, after a day of committee work, sees a lone daffodil. The final stanza has some allusions I recognise

So, as a lost word found can say
The never-so-well-known-before,
It welcomed me into the Day
And almost opened me a Door
Through which I may still step to be
In recollected Company.

I don't think the poetry's aged as well as William Empson's, especially when it's about poetry. Here are examples -

  • A poem's not on a page,
    Or in a reader's eye;
    Nor in a poet's mind
    Its freedom may engage.
  • And I (who am Creed) reveal
    Old wounds we cannot heal,
    I (who am Rite) enact
    Our inoperable pact.
    So we who could profess
    Now but co-confess
  • Rainbow
    Balanced up somehow on a ball
    That spins
    And spirals
    as it plummets,
    Newton walked to Stourbridge Fair
    And bought his prism
  • Alpine sketches
    Height's on display as well;
    And depth,
    Clouded or clear,
    But sheer:
    The full forefigurement of hope and fear
  • Sometimes a word is wiser much than men:
    "Faithful" e.g., "responsible" and "true."
    And words it is, not poets, make up poems.
    Our words, we say, but we are theirs too
    For words made man and may unmade again.
  • Cunninger still the Verse
    When with its ruddering Rime
    From perjured Breath it wrings
    Sincerity sublime.
    You'ld think a Poet had an End
    In View in what he sings.

    So then, in what I write,
    Look! Look not for me.

Is there a typo on p.viii? "But there is great if rare example"

Other reviews

  • Kirkus Review (many of them already have appeared in The New Statesman, Encounter, The Yale Review, and Audience. They are of a high calibre and skill, even if sometimes obscure. As to their obscurity, Richards has helped out his readers with an occasional explanatory note.)
  • "In his longest, best, and title poem ... In another short poem, "Harvard Yard ..." Mr Richards' considerable semantic skills are in evidence" (Herbert Feinstein, Prairie Schooner)

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