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Steve Clark

Prynne and The Movement

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And so I must carry with me, through the course
Of pale imaginings that leave no trace,
This broken, idle mill-wheel, and the force
Of circumstance that still protects the place.
                        (Prynne, ‘Force of Circumstance’)

You were by force of circumstance, by force
Of your afflictions, I suppose, the most
Literary pedecolonisrson ever was.
                        (Davie, ‘To Helen Keller’)


Prynne’s ‘course / Of pale imaginings’ (FC 1) has been spliced up at various points — Brass (Trotter); News of Warring Clans (Reeve and Kerridge); Her Weasels Wild Returning (Johannsen). [Note 1] The omission, however, of his first volume, Force of Circumstance, from the recent Poems gives apparent authorial sanction to an early division in this ‘self-annotating narrative of literary development’ (JT 365). [Note 2] In this essay I wish to contest the aspiration of autochthony implied by this erasure: ‘As if a man were author of himself / And know no other kin’. [Note 3] In its way, this a simple repetition of the parricide of the immediate precursor, so emphatically performed by the Movement poets on 1940s neo-romanticism (Davie’s strictures on ‘Abandonment, morality’s soubrette / Of lyrical surrender and excess’ (D 70) are glanced at in Prynne’s ‘Men have been drunk in orchards’ (FC 19)). [Note 4] The gesture has been repeated on their writing sufficently often that the victory of the Movement now lies in the persistence of its detractors. Despite all the (often well-founded) gibes of metropolitan coterie, journalistic construct, and self-seeking opportunism, it remains the primary reference point for subsequent genealogies of post-war British poetry. [Note 5] The immediate contrast would be with Olson, arguably the most inflated poetic reputation of the twentieth century: credulous emulation of his bloated neo-Poundianism has arguably been the primary blight on post-Prynneite writing. As Davie puts it in ‘Hypochondriac Logic’:

So argue men who have thought
A truth more true as more remote,
Or in poetic worlds confide
The more the air is rarified.
This the Shelleyan failing is,
Who feared elephantiasis,
Whose poems infect his readers too,
Who, since they’re vague, suppose them true. (D 22-23)

If one opts for an inclusive definition, with Gunn, Hill and Hughes, and perhaps Amis and Tomlinson, placed alongside Larkin and Davie, the Movement at least stands comparison with any other collective body of poetry in English of the post-war period, whereas the Black Mountain school has shown no comparable durability: early Creeley, perhaps a little Dorn, Olson himself nowhere.

I will begin by making some general points on Reeve and Kerridge, who acquiesce with no apparent qualms in Prynne’s repression of immediate heritage; look at Johannsen’s more inclusive view of the early poems, and reading of ‘The Numbers’; detail some specific affinities and textual reminiscences with Larkin and Davie; and finally, ‘since to find / Such a point of view intelligible, is already // To have capitulated to it’ (FC 41), to suggest some broader reorientations with regard to ‘the most / Literary person ever was’ (D 166).


Reeve and Kerridge propose Prynne as originator of a ‘new school of writing whose work offers a radical and important alternative to the mainstream of British poetry’ (RK vii). ‘Writing’ is notably opposed to ‘poetry’; and the confident delineation of the ‘mainstream’ breaks down in the face of Faber Pound, Penguin Ashbery and now (finally) Bloodaxe Prynne; ‘radical’ hovers uneasily between political approbation and formal experimentation (the ‘angelic song’ that ‘shines with embittered passion’ (P 109) is quite possibly reactionary).

The initial gesture of exposition has its paradoxes: if Prynne ‘deserves a wider readership’, how can critical commentary ‘mediate the radicalism’ without itself performing a pernicious form of naturalisation in making it ‘more accessible’ (RK vii)? The issue is side-stepped by concentrating on the fastidious self-constitution of a monadic reader rather than on more collectivised patterns of reception: impossible demands for implausible rewards. Even an encounter with these texts, ‘delighting / At their risk’, still raises the question of the nature of ‘our respectful pleasure’ (FC 3)). ‘Rhetorical authority is present without an explicit or a paraphrasable didactic purpose since the responsibility for aligning oneself is transferred to the reader’ (RK 40): an ‘authority’ apparently divorced from interpersonal negotiation, and an imperative of ‘aligning oneself’ equally removed from all social commitment. Arguably one may discern a collapse of the Movement contract (‘the strong though cramped and cramping tone / Of mutual respect, that cries / Out of these small civilities’ (D 19; compare JT 381)), with nothing in its place other than ‘An odd impression of unattached vehemence’ (FC 36).

‘The radicalism of these works is in the extraordinary amount they contain, the sheer range of vocabulary and reference, the scope of the connections they make’ (RK vii): the form / content distinction in ‘contain’ is oddly simplistic, and goes against the later suggestive identification with the generic amplitude (and cultural conservatism) of georgic. Prynne’s writing is certainly not inclusive compared to, say, Ashbery’s ‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood’; and remains notably inhospitable to popular culture, the way we live now, for better or for worse. (Even ‘Campbell’s Cream of Tomato Soup’ has been validated by ‘a garishly French gold medal’ (P 107)).

Prynne offers a ‘combination of urgency and openness unlike anything offered by either modernist or realist traditions’ (RK 8): this downplays not only the much-vaunted Black Mountain connection but the perhaps more noteworthy assimilation of European modernism (CR 84 1963 332-37). [Note 6] The antithesis of ‘modernist’ to ‘realist’ is unnecessarily reductive: as the continuities between the lapsarian impulse in modernism and the ‘tradition of exiled commentary’ in Movement writing should confirm (RK 6). Romantic elements within the British tradition are sufficiently distant to be openly acknowledged: there is a kind of wilful repression, however, of the diverse influences of 1950s English poetry, particularly apparent in Force of Circumstance, but by no means absent from later Prynne. One may discern not only the the ‘mannered pose’ (FC 31) of Tomlinson’s impressionism (‘Painters know it’ (FC 2)), but also Hughes’s muscular animism (‘The tractor’s / Blue darkens with no sweat’ (FC 46)); anticipations of Dunn’s Terry Street ethos (notably ‘Passing the Primary School’ (FC 29)),  of Heaney’s bog pastoral (‘the well / Disused now’ (FC 40), and most pervasively of Hill’s apocalyptic pomposity, part of a common Yeatsian heritage.

And why should I now simply out of weakness
Keep open house to the spurious decision
Of swans and their indifferent currents? To ask
Is not to refute but a kind of knowledge. (FC 32)

Impending but subterranean violence is a recurrent motif: ‘The leaves lie spent upon the ground, / A dozen razors, keen, without a sound’ (FC 13), for example, echoes Lowell’s later-reviled confessional mode, ‘Waking in the Blue’’s ‘each of us holds a locked razor’. [Note 7]

The odd premonitions of Plath’s final poems (‘this nails it, the epicentre / focused in necessity / outward the mirrored spread’ (FC 49)) indicate not direct influence but a comparable honing of American formalism. The shortcomings of the well-made poem comes from an experienced practitioner of the style, which is diagnosed in the review-essay ‘Figments of Reflection’: ‘the prevailing sense of intellective control is so strong the result is a series of performances...the elaborate crust of discursiveness... the fastidious ease...this sense of glut, of stifled opulence, woven about with cerebral converse, cannot in the long run conceal the predatory nature of such concerns’ (CR 1963 84 282). The ‘tonality or manner of thought in which the thrust is submerged in ornament’ ultimately derives from early 1950s Harvard formalism (Wilbur, Rich), partially mediated through Movement vernacular (‘all the deceptive suavity of ambiguous confidence’); ‘Given, to Both’ (FC 17) is a particularly striking example of ‘a series of performances – exhibition lengths by a golden swimmer, across weightless and unruffled spaces’: ‘the accommodation of reserve, the bland hovering about a central disquiet, furnish an ironic shell for the kind of experience that is essentially self-cancelling’. [Note 8]

Prynne may make us ‘consider questions of what poetry, in contemporary culture, is for’ (RK 1): but this strain of (honourable) moral sobriety equally evident in Leavis or indeed any Black Paper on Education. One option is to posit ‘a reader who is expected to learn the same harsh lessons over and over again, refusing the consolations offered by literature as personal space, as leisure, as rueful detachment and as a refuge overlooked by history’ (RK 1). Reservations are expressed about this position, but Reeve and Kerridge’s later detailed exegesis still broadly conforms to the punishment principle of avant-garde aesthetics. Prynne’s insistence that ‘earnest harmonies expand / Refracted wisdom’ (FC 46) is more strongly didactic even than Davie, certainly than Larkin’s throwaway morals (‘Well, useful to get that learnt’ (L 143)). [Note 9] The indictment of English lyric as withdrawn and defeatist overlooks the mutual constitution of public and private spheres and its porousness to history: evident for example in the Cold War note of ‘I am enclosed by such stress // And the compact strategy / Of defence’ (FC 9), or the post-imperial ambience of ‘For Someone Else’ (FC 22):

We shrug too quickly
At sailing from islands,
Leaving across this stretch
Of blithe water, risings
We cannot hold or ignore.
For such a commotion
As this, washing the darkened
Shore, is sharpened by lighted
Windows that do not concern us;
We shrug too quickly.

‘Risings / We cannot hold or ignore’ suggests the process of decolonisation: ‘sailing from islands’ is both the original expansionist urge and the rapid decamping from native uprisings (‘commotion’, such as the 1947 massacres on the partition of India ‘that do not concern us’; ‘despite / everything and especially the recent events carried under that flag’ (P 13)). ‘We shrug too quickly’ inevitably recalls Larkin’s ‘Homage to a Government’ (L 171): ‘It’s hard to say who wanted it to happen, / But now it’s been decided nobody minds’, with its fierce rebuke to the betrayal of earlier ideals of empire: ‘Places they guarded or kept orderly’.

More concern is shown, however, with the potential impasse of ironic self-reflexivity: ‘if this is the only point then the poet in turn will merely occupy the position of heroic visionary’ (RK 2). Yet this stance has its own political corrollaries and antecedents in 1940s neo-romanticism; why ‘merely’, particularly with the precedent of Crane (for example ‘But will not Scatter’ (FC 27))? Reeve and Kerridge are far more comfortable with quasi-Wordsworthian loco-description (‘Firmly the path ferries the moving mind / Across the shifting perspective’ (FC 12)) than with the full-throttle impulse of self-destruction (‘we shape / Ourselves into wedges, to split / What cannot be ignored’ (FC 9)).

Only the reckless spirit
Will squander his gain, by
Saving this density for more
Temperate climates, new leisures. (FC 9)

The criticism of the ‘reckless spirit’ as ‘an extreme of self-isolating elitism’ is countered by positing a commitment ‘to a notion of the public sphere which is extraordinarily rigorous and potentially democratic’ (RK 2). It is difficult not to see ‘rigorous’ as implicitly antithetical to ‘democratic’; as for ‘potentially’, always a weasel word, if not now then when? It is noted that ‘sardonic and satirical tones often give rise to an urgent, if untethered, moral dimension’ (RK 3), an excellent description of Davie’s 1960s ‘Diatribe and / Denunication, where I spend my days’ (RK 138). It is pleasant to contemplate the East Anglian terrain (the same academic corridor at the University of Essex even) producing the euphoria of White Stones simultaneously with such jeremiads as ‘I could not live here, though I must and do / Ungratefully inhabit the Cambridgeshire fens’ (D 104).

It is claimed that ‘in Movement or Movement-inflected poetry the speaker can only appear as a rueful marginalised commentator upon the way the culture is moving’ (RK 4), but this does not preclude insight and ultimate accountability eminently comparable with a ‘demand for heroic diligence’ (RK 3). Furthermore Prynne’s element of bombastic religiosity (the Olsonian ‘longing for lost wholeness’ (RK 3)) compares unfavourably with Larkin’s precisely calibrated agnosticism or Davie’s scrupulous gestures of belated theological affiliation. The claim that Prynne’s writing sets out ‘to reject a notion of the poem as a consolatory space’ (RK 24) is contradicted by his long-standing adherence to Boethius and also the demand for appropriate empathy with suffering:

The onset of regret
May turn catlike upon itself, and stalk
Adroitly across the landscape that is set

Before each careful paw, but may not stop
To stare in light of day upon the face
Of human sorrow. (FC 15)

This prefigures both the magnificant rebuke to the narrator’s ‘incautious sympathy’ in ‘Concerning Quality, Again’:  ‘I can hardly / expect her back’ (P 82); and the titillating vignette of cruelty in The Oval Window, ‘her mouth was sealed up by the burns’ (P 317). To their credit, Reeve and Kerridge directly address the problematic affiliation to Carlyle’s ‘admiring the strong for their lack of debilitating self-consciousness’ (RK 32), but their caveat tends towards special pleading: ‘it is important in Prynne’s work in its concern to decentre consciousness avoids such power worship and reverse sentimentality (RK 32). The uncompromising vocabulary of the elect and prominent avowals that ‘It is simple as the purity of / sentiment’ (P 16) renders this dubious: ‘we are thus too liberal’ (FC 3). The ethic of decentring can be equally well be located in a right-wing modernism (Pound, Lewis), with sympathy a plenty, but not for other people: ‘The politics / of this will bear inspection’ (P 76), perhaps but perhaps not.

This is the standard against which ‘comfort, well-being, stimulus, relief, hopefulness, pain, embarassment, sociability’ are to be judged and disparaged: ‘such moments usually occur within familiar domestic environments or in the course of unremarkable daily activities’ and therefore ‘form part of the staple fare of such Movement poetry which often expressed a defensive or wistful sense of their sacramental significance (RK 37). ‘Sacramental significance’ is hardly absence in Prynne; neither, perhaps more surprisingly, are ‘daily activities’ such as ‘trying to mend the broken / mower’ (P 111), ‘bringing milk in’ (P 411). These are part of his uxorious streak and unexpected hospitality to ‘the Victorian ethos of heavily uphosltered (sic) meditative poetry’ (CR 84 331; cf Listener): ‘our motives flare in / the warm hearth’ (P 99). It is insisted that the poems celebrate ‘moments of mutuality rather than solitary illumination’ (RK 46); but the interlocutors are notoriously hard to define or identify, ‘a minimal destination for yearning’. [Note 10] The fifty-plus female pronouns of Her Weasels Wild Returning hardly carry much weight compared to  Larkin’s ‘our almost-instinct almost-true, / What will survive of us is love’ (L 110) or the unguarded poignancy of Davie’s ‘An image for the married state that wins / My uncommitted heart, in these wide-eyed / Unsleeping bodies gazing side by side’ (D 72) or proud if stoic conjugality of ‘What we do best is breed’ (D 114). Where a vestigial domestic context can be glimpsed, all too often it contracts to the guaranteed authenticity of premeditated solipism:

One man burning his rubbish
In the back garden, and each world
Shrinks into his shell. Those bitter
Frames are not houses but
Shelters for such determined solitudes. (FC 51)

The reverse movement is also attempted: acceleration from ‘determined solitudes’ to ‘holistic pre-socratic condition’ (RK 39),  ‘increasing the pressures on ‘love’ as it tries to heal those fractures and crumples under the strain’ (RK 59). Prynne’s over-frequent gestures of cosmic participation compares unfavorably with the sheer arduousness of Davie’s religious faith:

Ask when we are diseased, and these
Will answer: When the moral will
Intervenes to sap the heart,
When the difficult feelings are
Titillated and confused
For novel combinations, or
Ransacked for virtue. (D 33)

Reeve and Kerridge concede ‘the concern in the Olson poems not to specify, to keep all the potential alive and open, can sometimes produce a rather vapid inclusiveness whose large emotive terms are not able to carry the burdens placed upon them’ (RK 50): a pointedly  Leavisite stricture (and none the worse for that) that ‘The heart is not to be solicited’ (D 17). It is insisted that the ‘interjection of unrestrained enthusiasm into textures of poetic argument need not simply represent the brimming over of an uncosted egotistical desire’ (RK 51);  ‘need not’ does not preclude the possibility that in the case of, say, Daylight Songs, it does.

In Olson, the affinities with georgic indicate ‘the essentially conservative — if never static -natural and civic relations they wish to prompt’, and may all to easily be seen as ‘naively patronizing or covertly imperialistic in its idealisation’ (RK 53, 68). Prynne also displays ‘the tight interrelation of economic and spiritual matter and the characteristic mixture of rural outlook, factual information, exhortation, injunction and digressive shift’ (RK 53), but instead of a presumptuous global sweep, there is ‘a locked / And stammering combat between divided geologies’ (FC 32); historical necessity demands the British poet ‘shackle on a moral shape / You only thought you could escape’ (D 23).  I now wish to examine an instance of this ‘entropic disturbance within the Olsonian field of full circuits’ (RK 66) in the opening text of Prynne’s Poems.


In his 1963 recorded interview, Prynne insists on the ‘architectonic’ unity of his writing:  in ‘China Figures’ he admires ‘a linked series of imitations based on the earlier poem, variation upon its theme, quotations of a line or a phrase, allusions to its form that may be direct or ironic in differing degrees and ways’ (JT 372). [Note 11] The recurrence of motif presented with an uncertain, even programmatically aleatory, irony is perhaps most characteristic of The Oval Window, but the ‘repressions and bypassings and loopings ahead to be the object of critical attention’ (RK 32) are already evident in Force of Circumstance.  To ‘calibrate the sight’ (FC 8) recurs in ‘these calibrated prophecies of the bone’ (FC 40); the ‘fragile space’ that ‘had to be hoarded’ (FC 4) in ‘our hoarded melancholy’s aimless charm’ (FC 12); and to ‘glimpse between those hills the open sea’ (FC 35) in ‘What have these hills to offer to the mind / Caught up with a  nostalgia for the sea (FC 45). [Note 12]

Reeve and Kerridge’s formula, ‘relentless forward propulsion is combined with recurrent patterns’ (RK 47), reiterates a good New Critical axiom: ‘Pattern, not movement’ (FC 44). The holistic symbols (‘lights upon the stone’ (FC 3); ‘stream / Of fluid discourse’ (FC 44); ‘the sea / Invites a coast already known’ (FC 53)) are all in place; the mandarin and frequently irretrievable vocabulary (‘clarid’ (FC 3)); the self-preening meditative asides (‘No archness points its claim’ (FC 21); and the endemic willingness ‘To parade / Rather too obviously a discriminating mind / Exploiting its own diffidence’ (FC 41)). A negative case can, of course, be made against Prynne’s first volume: the eventual claustrophobia of the well-made poem: the exfoliation of abstract and particular into pedantically extended conceits; and a narcissistic foregrounding of the equivocating persona through a series of discursive tics. What cannot legitimately be done is treat its strengths and weaknesses as wholly separate from Prynne’s later writing despite the ‘decisive turn towards avant-garde open poetic forms’ (RK viii: Kehre would be a portentous but far from inappropriate term given the Heideggerian ambience of much commentary).

Johannsen treats these poems with due respect: ‘they anticipate what will constitute a poetic language of formalisation based on the moment’; Prynne adopts a succession of ‘depersonalised speakers and protagonists, and approaches the landscape as a potent but silent concept that the mind animates’; and through aposiopeisis, unfinisehd syntax, preoccupied with the ‘exhiliration or emotional intoxication experienced by the human mind in its interaction with other natural elements’ (J 78-80). A reasonable enough perspective, though mediated through a Heideggerian emphasis, and proportionately less concerned with the immediately formative context of 1950s British poetry. (‘Late Modernists such as Prynne react against the Movement’ (J 203); the single reference to an unindexed term). This is not a free-form writer throwing off the straitjacket of restrictive convention: there is a common emphasis on moral casuistry; private temporality within public rhetorics; enclaves of freedom within larger cultural determinisms; even the professional-academic background (‘the gentility of / the world’s being’ (P 84) is surely a sideswipe at Alvarez).

Post-imperial angst all often lends itself to over-general recuperation — everything  becomes either nostalgia for, or protest at, ‘our lost spaces’ (FC 39) — but ‘the social and historical self-consciousness of the imperial period subject’ (JT 381) is everywhere evident.

For the further distance
Is no longer ours, and the vanished horizon no longer
Marks off what exists over there from the willingly possible (FC 18)

The wreckage of our past lay as it fell. (FC 27)

This is a place to remember the past,
Or perhaps for a blind. suppliant hatred. (FC 40)

It remains puzzling that Poems, a volume so embarrassed by its Movement heritage as to disown it entirely, begins with ‘The Numbers’, a text that invites exegesis within its central terms: retreat into the personal sphere in the face of a contracting public history (‘dislocating / The scale so that we feel / Compressed, into half-stature’ (FC 26; ‘the modest hatred of our con- / dition’ (P 18)) which is necessarily also the hatred of our modest condition).

The whole thing is, the difficult
matter; to shrink the confines
down. To signals, so that I come
back to this, we are

This is almost parodically susceptible to post-imperial recuperation; Johannsen insists the poem represents an attack on ‘narcissistic insularity’ (but feels obliged to elides the opening lines in otherwise extensive quotation (J 141-42)). ‘Difficult’ is neo-Eliotic, signalling modernist co-ordinates; the ‘confines’ of imagism, minimalism, but also with a Blakean reminiscence of ‘shrinking’ into fall, irrevocable lapse.

The politics, therefore, is for one man,
a question of skin, that he ask
of his national point no more, in
this instance, than brevity.

The Powellite slant on national identity (‘ethnic loyalty’ (P 82)) feeds into the later geneticism: ‘skin over the points, of the bone’ into the later ‘white charge / in the bones’. [Note 13] The subsequent ‘without even a shred of desire / like maps at our feet’ serves as both a reminder of archeological sedimentation and a kind of memento mori (compare ‘We trust the track, a lifeless skeleton’ (FC 35); ‘whatever passes / As fine bone-structure’ (FC 41)).

that’s where we have it and should
diminish; I am no more than

‘Diminish’ suggests racial stock, ‘I must stand off from the warm / decay’:

but we must each have, more
than, the place defined by what
we owe (in the weak sense
what we too warmly

‘Place’, station in the world, but also territory: ‘desire’ as ‘decay’ but also for it:

we must shrink / we
are small with it
our pains are too earnest

This invites comparison with Ashbery’s great question, ‘will our pain matter too, and if so, when?’; Prynne, however, cannot shake off the burden, responsibility, to be ‘earnest’. [Note 14]

Johnannsen glosses that ‘the speaker focuses on the amazing contrast evoked by the uniqueness of each individual and humankind in general... connected especially with certain idiosyncracies of the English nation’ (J 141). Individuals are not ‘unique’ insofar as constitutive of the nation, and subject to common experiences of war or peace or indeed bringing the boys back home: both the scientific determinism and collectivity of voice militate against ‘certain idiosyncracies’.

The counter-movement is to ‘conserve by election’

It is
a firm question, of election;
the elect angels; to elect terms:

The orphic self-begetting of the strong poet  through ‘the heroic possibilities of incantation’ [Note 15] takes up directly the aspiration voiced in the closing lines of the suppressed first volume: ‘I cannot wait / to be the angel / of my own / persuasion’ (FC 54). If there is an attack on a post-war consensus, it implies less postmodern ecumenicism than reversion to an earlier role: ‘elect’ as imperial mission, ‘risk of exception’ as manifest destiny, ‘competitive expansion’ (P 13).

We are a land
hammered by restraint, into
a too cycladic past. It is
the battle of Malden binds
our feet: we tread
only with that weight & the empire
of love, in the mist. (P 76)

There is a peculiarly martial androgyny, with perhaps a glance at iconography of Britannia: cycladic (tunic worn over armour) as corset, hence ‘hammered by restraint’; an allusion to Blake’s ‘bright sandal form’d immortal of precious stones & gold’ combines with the chinese practice of foot-binding (and hence deforming) girl children); ‘tread’, as well as its erotic connotation, bodily ‘weight’, implies a more general oppression: on whom, and do they perceive the ‘empire’ as one exclusively ‘of love’ ? As Davie points out, ‘The scholiast can wish the blood away... // But see, a baby’s finger in the plate!’ (D 27). (It is unclear why Prynne’s own strictures against Duncan’s ‘fanciful mythographer’s nationalism’ cannot be turned against certain of his own texts, notably ‘Aristeas, in Seven Years’). [Note 16]

This is to do no more than insist on the parallel development with Tomlinson, whose ostentatious cosmopolitanism buttresses anti-democratic animus against the ‘suburban mental ratio’. [Note 17] This is noted and approved by Davie, reiterated in his own ‘For an Age of Plastics’: ‘Annoyed to take a gloomy sort of pride / In numbering our losses’ (D 88)).

For the common touch,
Though it warms, coarsens. Never care so much
For leaves or people, but you care for stone
A little more... (D 83)

Johannsen claims ‘‘The Numbers’ promotes the development of poetic expression that is genuine in this particular locale’ but also ‘simultaneously exhorts the English to acknowledge poetic qualities and virtues produced beyond the borders of that land’ and so ‘eventually lead to an alternative world order’ (J 142). The self-originating power of ‘election’ implies rather a susceptibility to neo-Nietzschean chatter (‘he will not break his stare’ (FC 1);  ‘no heroic gaze / From his high vantage point’ (FC 11);  ‘the bitter habits of that fire & / disdain’ (P 102)). The Movement idiom, with its implicit call to proper living (‘the calm is a / modesty about conduct in / the most ethical sense’ (P 53)) is all that lies between Prynne and the politics of Pound and Lewis, Marinetti and Peguy.

The question remains of whether a residually 1940s apocalyptic idiom can avoid recuperation in terms of highly questionable political stances. There is a faintly authoritarian tinge even to a phrase such as the ‘state of our own coherence’. One may argue that the problems with Prynne, both early and late — the aestheticist affectation, the ultimately tedious amorphousness of the free-floating phenomenological subject, and the rancorous contempt for the ‘governance of the local disposing’, democratic accountability — result from too little of the Movement’s ‘music of decent and proper order’ (P 100)) rather than too much.


Immediate parallels between Prynne and Larkin spring to mind: both poet-librarians; both assiduous cultivators of the myth of their own self-imposed isolation; both also, as Davie notes firmly in the tradition of Hardy (the chief object of Larkin’s later admiration and the topic of Prynne’s unfinished thesis: the title Force of Circumstance perhaps alludes to Hardy’s Satires of Circumstance). The influence may be detected in occasional lyric flourishes — in ‘Singing at last’ (FC 7), ‘splay-footed running’ recalls ‘a bird’s adept splay’ in Larkin’s ‘Age’ (L 95); in ‘Quasi al Tocco’, ‘The brickwork is drenched’ with ‘resonance’’ (FC 26), which may be linked to Larkin’s thrush in ‘Coming’: ‘Its fresh-peeled voice / Astonishing the brickwork’ (L 33). The Hardy influence is equally apparent in the technique of jump-cut to an indifferent cosmos:

To the last, the clouds curl
Lazily in the loose-knit distance. (FC 2)

Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside the wind’s incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds about the sky. (L 129)

Any poet who has to designate himself ‘ironic to the last’ clearly still has some apprenticeship to serve (evident in the gratuitous puncturing of the pathetic fallacy of ‘curl / Lazily’). As Davie notes, ‘irony itself is doctrinaire, // And curiously nothing now betrays / Their type to time’s derision like this coy / Insistence on the quizzical’ (D 35).

More centrally, the act of elegiac remembrance is central to both writers. The opening line of Force of Circumstance, ‘Locked rigid in the memory it lies’ (FC 1), alludes to an unspecified subject-matter that permeates the volume with implied guilt: ‘the insistent / Promptings of memory are in their turn / Shamed into silence’ (FC 45).

To contemplate a sound so rare, complete
Within its glowing moment: this would seem
Denied to us who have such need of time. (FC 43)

The presentness of the ‘glowing moment’ of open-form composition is usually stressed, but early Prynne usually adopts a more structured retrospective [Note 18] which is eminently compatible with, for example, Larkin’s ‘Reference Back’:

Truly,  though our element is time.
We are not suited to the long perspectives
Open at each instant of our lives.
They link us to our losses. (L 106)

‘Genius Loci’ is an example of how readily in early Prynne the ‘random path’ becomes ‘pure design’ and ‘urbane device’:

The stile’s heraldic note sound over-shrewd
Among the profuse delights the hedges bring. (FC 38)

This deracination permits a degree of belonging, emotional habitation:

the ordered space
That intermits the sentimental flux
Is rooted in and so defines the place. (FC 38)

The settings are more fluidly phenomenological, but there is still a common terrain between, say ‘a wall / Tokens a winding road’ in ‘Before Urbino’ (FC 3), and Larkin’s ‘No Road’ (L 47), where sunset inaugurates a new world. Larkin is perhaps more forcefully iconic, Prynne more inclined to foreground distrust

Of wave on wave of emblems, scooped and borne...
Too diffident to fight the mounting tides
Of rampant homily. (FC 5)

As Prynne comments of Trakl (CR 84 335), ‘the colours and objects of his landscape have the precision of emblems, seen not through a haze but as it were across a great distance. Heroic pastoral is a dominant mode but drained of resonant nostalgia’. [Note 19]

Despite later strictures on ‘lumps of clumsy literalism’ (JT 364), there are traces of a more orthodox naturalism: the ‘tight courtyard’ of ‘Resins from smoke’ (FC 40) recalls the ‘empty hotel yard / Once meant for coaches’ of ‘Waiting for Breakfast’ (L 20). ‘Passing the Primary School’ (FC 29), as previously noted, anticipates Dunn’s semi-voyeuristic narrators, a voice separated by both age and class ponders the ‘sudden neat / Clatter’ of ‘remorseless innocence’, whose ‘greedy lives / Drain my nostalgia, sever it with knives’. The final term, and the sense of ineffectual complicity — ‘I cannot meet / This cruelty with kindness’ — echo ‘Deceptions’: ‘I would not dare console you / If I could’ (L 32).

In general these touches lack either the resonance or recoil of Larkin’s scene-setting: ‘carrying paint / Or a screwdriver’ (FC 10) is a momentary detail: in ‘Self’s the Man’,

It’s Put a screw in this wall -
He has no time at all,

With the nippers to wheel round the houses
And the hall to paint in his old trousers (L 117)

is narrativised into a possible world which one may envy or be appalled by. Not only is Larkin superior in particularity, but also, unexpectedly, in abstraction: ‘Getting One’s Bearings’ seeks to evoke

A pivotal obsession; yet he felt
Mocked by the nodes his modern life had grown:
Transformer stations, lathes, a locked routine
Barren of shapes a man might call his own. (FC 23)

In contrast to this externalised vantage, ‘Continuing to Live’ inhabits its own diagnostic terminology, to the extent of attracting extended commentary from Rorty as exemplary of division between private and public ethics. [Note 20]

Only that, in time
We half-identify the blind impress
All our behavings bear, may trace it home. (L 94)

‘And afterwards’ has something of Larkinesque ruefulness: ‘he contemplates a catch / Full of a life that shows he’s met his match’ (FC 11: compare ‘in that face// which is an absent match// to the spirit’ (P 40)): evoking ‘the whole shooting-match’ of ‘Wild Oats’ (L 143) or ‘that unfocused she / No match lit up’ of ‘Essential Beauty’ (L 144).

a town
Burnished with small affections and set down
Too deep for dredging. Here the tangled lives
Are pinned in secrecy by anxious wives

And various railways. (FC 11)

The protective esteem in which ‘small affections’ are held is characteristic of Prynne, part of the ‘sentimental flux’; ‘pinned’ is Prufrockian, the ‘anxious wives’ perhaps out of ‘Dry Salvages’; ‘too deep for dredging’ is also too deep for tears, but not without a disparaging chime on drudgery. [Note 21]

The terse elliptical titles, even visual stanzaic shape, of Prynne’s first volume are saturated in Movement idiom, most obviously perhaps, ‘Without breaking the thread’:

Who cannot see will weave, and thus disperse
Across such jointed networks all delight;
Remoter tenses calibrate the scene,
Allusive orchestration of the sight.

Unravellment of this habitual weave
Must shuttle where the former mind has been.
Do not despise this fanciful reverse;
It leads us back to what we had not seen. (FC 8)

The ‘former mind’ (reminiscent of Arnold’s ‘buried self’) is recovered through meditation that ‘leads us back’; an act of retrospection articulated in a wholly impersonal voice (‘who cannot see’) until the pronouns of the final line (and even here arguably negated by ‘not seen’). For all the visual emphasis (‘scene’, ‘sight’), the exposition is notably unlocated; pedantic precision combines with  awkwardly extended conceit  (‘weave’, ‘networks’, ‘unravellment’).

The idiom conforms to the compacted quatrains of Larkin’s ‘Wires’ while attempting to resist its moral of inevitable constraint: the ‘fanciful reverse’ (an early version of the trope of ‘boudestrephon’) is celebrated, though in fairly timorous fashion (‘do not despise’). Elsewhere in the volume, however the motif is employed in more orthodox fashion: ‘Beyond the wires // Leads them to blunder up against the wires’ (L 48) is echoed in ‘A silver wire restores our certainty’ (FC 27) or ‘the gleams / Of ductile wires, still dangerously tight’ (FC 47).

There is an Ayer-esque linguistic reticence in ‘to what we had not seen’: ‘we assign / To what we shall not see’ (FC 8). Larkin’s ‘Aubade’ confronts directly ‘specious stuff that says No rational being / Can fear a thing it will not feel’ (L 208); but more characteristic is ‘And saying so to some / Means nothing; others it leaves / Nothing to be said’ (L 138).

Reeve and Kerridge’s comment that in the later verse, ‘the key is the absence of narrative’ (RK 30) must be taken in the context of the virtual tautology of progression and disappointment in early Prynne. The peripeteia awaiting ‘we who accept / The promise of arrival’ (FC 14) is most explicit in ‘To Petrarch, on Mount Ventoux’, where ‘mountains’

blunt the eye
With promise of distinctions never made.
Once their initial premise gains assent.
We sprawl like dizzied victims in the grip
Of endless promises of, further on,
The ultimate perfection. (FC 8)

One notes the cross-over between the idioms of social status and logical category, usually to justify ultimate exclusion: compare Larkin’s ‘Not quite your class, I’d say, dear, on the whole’ (L 71) or Davie’s ‘equalizing rule’ that ‘Theirs is all the youth we might have had’ (D 29). Here the merging of ‘promise’ into ‘premise’ is supported by a further play on ‘assent’ and ‘ascent’. [Note 22] ‘Grip’ recalls the title of Larkin’s rejected volume, In the Grip of Light; but the more obvious continuity is with ‘Next, Please’:

Watching from a bluff the tiny, clear
Sparkling armada of promises draw near.
How slow they are! And how much time they waste,
Refusing to make haste!

Yet still they leave us holding wretched stalks
Of disappointment... (L 52)

The opening lines, ‘Always too eager for the future, we / Pick up bad habits of expectancy’ are reworked directly by Prynne:

It draws the mind, this notion: planting
Seeds in our certainty that they
Will sprout avidly from our intentions,
Thrive in the grit of our expectancy. (FC 34)

‘We’ becomes a prior and unspecified ‘notion’ operating both on the level of  species-destiny (‘seeds’; ‘sprout’; ‘grit’) and moral consciousness (‘certainty’; ‘intentions’; ‘expectancy’). [Note 23]

‘Ad Parnassum’ takes up this opposition and raises the intriguing possibility of reverse influence: Prynne to Larkin. It is after all by no means impossible that Larkin might have followed the progress of a Davie protege and Routledge poet; no more surprising than, say, Hardy’s reworking of Eliot’s ‘Sweeney Erect’. [Note 24] The opening lines — ‘Coming to the edge of a large wheatfield / Gleaming with improbable silences’ (FC 30) — cannot but recall ‘MCMXIV’s, ‘Shadowing Domesday lines / Under wheat’s restless silence’ (L 127); but the most striking reminiscence comes slightly later when

the sowing can be inferred
And the further edge of the combine harvester
Soon due for a thorough overhaul. (FC 30)

Larkin’s ‘High Windows’ evokes a ‘paradise’ which

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives -
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly (L 165)

Aside from the poignant obsolescence of the ‘combine harvester’, which would more usually serve as an emblem of agri-business and itself the instrument of the destruction of an older England, Prynne’s poem takes up the motif of siring, ‘Grandsons and nephews... slow seedcases’. Here however the cycle of human fertility is not opposed to the ‘sun-comprehending glass’; the idea of genetic structure is an ideal of immortality; apocalypse by the back door. [Note 25]

‘Ad Parnassum’ may look a more committedly aestheticist title than ‘High Windows’, but Larkin is by far the harder-line idealist. Prynne’s anodyne ‘Yonder it lies, the matchless colour print / For which within our mind we bear the frame’ (FC 8) invites comparison with both the images of ‘Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album’, which remain ultimately unattainable ‘however hard we yowl across / The gap from eye to page’ (L 72) and the billboards of ‘Essential Beauty’ which ‘rise / Serenely to proclaim pure crust, pure foam’ (L 144). The ‘high constellations’ of ‘Given, to both’ (FC 17) similarly recall the ‘Chaldean constellations’ of ‘Livings III’ (L 188): both residually Yeatsian. Nothing in Prynne, however, is so audacious as Larkin’s transformation of the Brynmor Jones library into a ‘flattened cube of light’ (L 220); and was Dasein ever more economically encapsulated than as ‘the million-petalled flower / Of being here’ (L 196)? [Note 26]

I will return to the issue of reverse influence in the final section, where the ecological ethos ‘A New Tax on the Counter-Earth’ will be discussed in greater detail. At this point, however, it seems appropriate to establish possible links with Davie more fully.


Our sons and daughters shall
Prophesy? That gift of tongues
To the Beat and post-Beat poets,
The illiterate apostles
Is what, I should cherish
Much or mourn my lack of
Or ape their stammerings,
I must betray myself. (D 157)

Prynne, ‘the most / Literary person ever was’, would seem improbable candidate for membership of the ‘illiterate apostles’. Davie is fixated on Beat as license, rather than the alternative formalist strands of ‘post-Beat’ American poetry (no real comprehension is shown of Ashbery, for example), and seems equivocal as to precisely what must be ‘betrayed’: ‘myself’, the ‘gift of tongues’, or the ‘apostles’? His ‘clenched and muffled style’ (D 52) would seem apparent anathema to a neo-romantic proponent of ‘prophesy’; and as Prynne’s former Cambridge tutor, he would serve more obviously as critical mentor rather than as literary model. [Note 27] In somewhat schematic fashion, three phases of influence may be discerned: firstly, the stylistic prescriptions of  Purity of Diction in English Verse; secondly, the broader historical lineage of constraint posited in Thomas Hardy and British Poetry; thirdly, the self-appointed role of transatlantic mediator, adopted in Old Masters andTwo Ways out of Whitman. [Note 28]

Early Prynne inclines towards personification garnished with somewhat ponderous irony. ‘Since intervention buys / Its small relief only at frightful cost’ (FC 1): latinate prosopopoeia combines with a customary financial idiom, (‘easy loot’, ‘hopeless indigence’), tinged with retributive eroticism: ‘Derision follows’ (FC 5). The use of the trope invites unfavorable comparison with the assured gravitas of Larkin’s ‘Deceptions’: ‘drives / Shame out of hiding’; ‘where / Desire takes charge’; and ‘To burst into fulfilment’s desolate attic’ (L 32)). Davie’s injunction to remain ‘constant to the eighteenth century, or the / strictly English localism of moral candour’ (P 84) is heeded, along with the more specific stipulation that ratiocinative language activate its buried metaphors: ‘Flaking the limits of our old concern / To supple precision’ (FC 25); ‘These pools of grave concern which / Dispense periodically their knowingness’ (FC 26); ‘Its lithe deliberation holds a pause / That no expense of purpose can defray’ (FC 31). [Note 29] The most interesting moments are perhaps where the latent paranoia within the civic sense of the late Augustan idiom is foregrounded:  

Yet to stand
Is progress, mast-like, to the place
Where anchorage affords voyaging.

The waters are closing over my head.  (FC 16)

The stoical acceptance of ‘Next, Please’ here combines with the close of Cowper’s ‘The Castaway’: ‘anchorage’ provides no security but instead becomes mid-ocean downward plummet. [Note 30] Davie himself is drawn to anatomies of ‘Pink-handed horror’ (D 23), for example, in ‘Homage to William Cowper’:

The squalid rat broke through the finch’s fence,
Which was a cage, and still was no defence. (D 17);

‘Mrs Throckmorton’s Bullfinch’ will later crop up in ‘The Ideal Starfighter’:

The faded bird droops in his
cage called fear and yet flight into
his pectoral shed makes for comic
hysteria (P 165).

For Davie, historical displacement (‘a cage, and still was no defence’) is internalised, pathologised as religious impulse: his emblematic narratives seek to provide a correlative to the paranoia of the preterite. (The obvious comparison would be with Orwell’s Room 101). Prynne’s sense of election would appear confident enough to consign others to unworthiness, and yet angelic inspiration remains indistinguishable from ‘comic / hysteria’.

Davie reads White Stones very much as residually determined by Force of Circumstance; and applauds the volume for conforming to, perhaps shaping, his almost programmatic insistence on limits and constraint: ‘A man could warm himself / At these most modest fires’ (FC 26). [Note 31] In ‘Over Here’, there is glimpsed

this shaft
Of light, seen
Through open limits: (FC 39)

Unlike Larkin’s ‘Solar’ (L 159), this is ‘set / Over what still remains, / Limits’: ‘only the lowered gaze / Can give you life here’ (FC 8) though the counter-impulse remains to ‘set / Our horizons on intricate fire’ (FC 20). [Note 32] In general, however, Prynne remains closer to Davie, ‘curbed / Not much by the general will, / But by a will to be curbed / A preference for limits’; ‘The recognition of a limitation / On idiosyncracy, a choice / that being narrow, can be seen as free’ (D 49-50).

As will be evident, this essay owes much to Davie’s insistence on a common imaginary negotiated by post-war British poetry (‘By which historians may fix / The moral shape of politics’ (D 19)), accentuated rather than repudiated in its more avant-garde subcurrents. Yet the ephemeral nature of many of his local and polemic interventions makes explicable the widespread distrust of his stance as expatriate huckster palming off wares (‘But somewhere in mid-America / All of this grows tiresome’ (D 136)). [Note 33]

I cannot abide the new
Absurdities day by day,
The new adulterations.
I relish your condition,
Expatriate ! though it be among
A people whose constricted idiom
Cannot embrace the poets you thought to bring them. (D 165)

This is impertinent whether addressed to an American or British readership: both for its overly proprietorial expositon of transatlantic writing and for its condescending diagnosis of the ‘constricted idiom’. The latter is painfully evident in ‘Certain English Poets’:

My dears, don’t I know? I esteem you more than you think
you modest and quietly spoken, you stubborn and unpersuaded. (D 164)

The grating opening is already demode in view of the ‘new / Absurdities’ (why the Audenesque campness of ‘dears’?), and there is something self-commending even in the closing plea for truculence: ‘Or will you, contained, still burn with that surly pluck?’ (D 164).

Anglophobia rises
In Brooklyn to hysteria
At some British verses.
British, one sympathizes.
Diesel-fumes cling to wistaria.
One conceives of worse reverses.

The sough of the power brake
Makes every man an island;
But we are the island race.
We must be mad to take
Offence at our poisoned land
And the gardens that pock her face. (D 100)

The transition from English academic into American expatriate involves loss of reputation and more generally of empire: ‘One conceives of worse reverses’. In this ‘power brake’ (compare ‘A globe of pulp about a pip of pain’ (D 25)) ‘sough’ is a poeticism for rustle, murmur; but also implies intake of breath, perhaps a crash. ‘One’ becomes ‘we’ via ‘every man’: the sub-Churchillian ‘island race’ merges into an American ‘lonely crowd’, exemplified in car-ownership: ‘Diesel-fumes cling to wistaria’ ((‘a hardy deciduous shrub native to North America’). Britain may arguably now be a ‘poisoned land’, but why should ‘gardens... pock her face’ (rather than housing estates or supermarkets)? The most immediate ‘Anglophobia’ is Davie’s own: ‘sympathizes’ is drawn not only to the ‘verses’ but also to their ‘hysteria’.

One does not begrudge Davie his invective — ‘England: a Rosciad. / A poem about or for / a superannuated England sapped and distracted / by vying rhetorics’ (D 181) — so much as deplore the lack of ‘relish’ in the ‘condition’ of ‘expatriate’.

But how the shameful grapes and olives swell,
Excrescent from no cornucopia, tart,
Too near to oozing to be handled well:
Ripe, ripe, they cry, and perish in my heart. (D 69)

His transatlantic verse is churlishly unresponsive to the sheer abundance of the culture (‘cornucopia’), devoid of simple capacity for pleasure; and other evocations of abroad are equally disastrous in their attempt to reclaim ‘the privileged classes’ shorthand’ ((D 65): [Note 34]

Americans are innocents abroad;
But Sharp from Sheffield is the cagey kind
And out of the knifebox bleeding — can’t afford
To bring to Florence such an open mind.

Poor Mr Sharp! And happy transatlantic
Travellers, so ingenuous! But some
Are so alert they can finesse the trick,
So strong they know when to be overcome. (D 64)

The Jamesian truism will no longer hold (‘so ingenuous’?) as is implicitly acknowledged in the bizarre self-emasculation (‘the cagey kind’ — like Mrs Throckmorton’s bullfinch; ‘And out of the knifebox bleeding’, from the foundries of Sheffield but also as the apparent recipient of ‘Time’s gradual and lenient castration’ (D 49)). The tactic of ‘finesse the trick’ is best read as emulation of transatlantic sophistication and rhetorical accomplishment: ‘So strong they know when to be overcome’, here by the form of a Ransomian quatrain fable. [Note 35]

I was born back there, the plaintive chanting
under the Atlantic and the unison of forms (P 64)

Prynne lays claim to the ‘unison of forms’; but formally, there is not a huge gulf between  ‘the continuing patience / dilating into forms so / much more than compact (P 53), and Davie’s equally post-Poundian aesthetics: the poem as  ‘votive fragment’ in a situation where ‘Time-honoured forms present a choice / Of parody or else pastiche’ (D 21):

(As though a shutter shot across the mind
One sees the lately formless as most formal,
The stanza most a unit when
Open at both ends, all transition) (D 127)

A more empiricist variant of Prynne’s ‘I am moved / by the condition of knowledge, as the / dispersion of form’ (P 78). Again, one can argue for a reverse influence on Davie’s later verse (‘ape their stammerings’), and as with Larkin, arguably a regrettable one:

He branches out, but only to collapse
Imprisoned in his own unhappy knack,

Which, when unfailing, fails him most, perhaps.(D 71)

One’s may harbour reservations about Davie’s earlier style but its distinctive quality demands recognition: ‘And because life itself / Is this one soured life I am leading (D 110); ‘A man who ought to know me / wrote in a review / my emotional life was meagre’ (D 137);
‘The scale of that deprivation / Goes down in no statistics (D 145). Larkin’s downbeat self-characterisations retain an element of comic self-guying: ‘Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth’. [Note 36] Davie, in contrast, derives a apparent satisfaction in mortification of self — ‘Who hates himself, is humanised by shame’ (D 23) – which is then offered as prescriptive example to others.

Prynne’s religiosity — ‘O it runs sweetly by, and prints over / the heart’ (P 64) – depends on a rhetorical teleology that is arguably factitious, of pilgrimage without destination, with a premeditated and suspiciously evacuated quality to its exaltation. [Note 37] Davie draws on a more coherent, if less appealing, psychology of the ‘soul’s corruption’: ‘Guilt, sleeping in the cell, / Sparks out upon the throwing of a switch’ (D 30-31):

As I shall not aspire
To wear the coat of fire
Which (we have proved) incinerates the heart;
Because the human mind
Cannot be far refined,
But must admit its grossness from the start; (D 39)

Davie’s cross-overs between libidinal and theological ‘grossness’ may be sometimes unpalatable, but in Prynne, the apparent absence of repression — ‘guilt’ instead becomes ‘the agency of ethical fact’ (P 79) – becomes difficult to equate with anything other than the absence of desire. Indeed, some of Davie’s more lugubrious meditations read like a kind of pre-emptive parody of Prynne:

After two months, already
My auspiciously begun
Adventure of blessing the world
Was turning woe-begone...

But I, who had hoped no more
To have to point the finger,
Who had ventured on new feelings...
For me misgivings linger. (D 109-110)

For Davie ‘misgivings’ would presumably centre on ‘new feelings’ that rely not on religious conviction, but on a decentred materialism whose consequences would be no less baneful if not for a willed but perhaps delusive euphoria. A subjectivity increasingly confined and restricted, whittled to virtual nothingness, is left no alternative but self-constitution through a kind of continuous self-apostrophe: the ‘Adventure of blessing the world’, awaiting a post-religious pentecost (‘how long O lord how long’), but one whose deus absconditus has been replaced by genetic or economic determinants.

In Prynne’s ‘An Owl in the Garden’, Hughes collides with Hegel: an emblem of historical knowledge combining with latent animistic violence within the everyday.

Derisive his extravagance: he screams
His arching loops across the summer night
With unremembered shrillness, tunnels through
Suburban treetops, tangled with his themes.

‘Extravagance’ draws etymologically on ‘wanders circuitously’ (qua Othello); linking to the ‘arching loops’ of imperial circumnavigation and of gyre-like historical recurrence (hence the rhymes feeding into and back from the subsequent stanzas; ‘light’, ‘drew’, ‘gleams’, ‘tight’; ‘too’, ‘extremes’, ‘bright’, ‘view’; ‘dreams’, ‘might’, ‘do’, ‘streams’).  ‘Summer night’ evokes an Audenesque impending doom, also implicit in ‘screams’: ‘derisive’ implies satiric castigation, with an intimation of ‘decisive’, terminal. ‘Unremembered shrillness’ (prophetic?) could be ‘now forgotten’, but also ‘not experienced for so long a time’; the characteristic self-reflexivity of ‘themes’ takes on an odd ethos of underworld initation in ‘tunnels through’.

Next morning, standing in the anxious light
Of commonplace, we see up where he drew
His grappling cries to snapping-point, the gleams
Of ductile wires, still dangerously tight.

‘Standing in’ is a quasi-Heideggerian revelation of truth; ‘anxious light’ recalls the idiom of 40s neo-romanticism; ‘commonplace’ reverts to a movement idiom of dispelled illusion; ‘the gleams / Of ductile wires’, however, are themselves ‘cries’ drawn to ‘snapping-point’, potential strangulation (compare ‘to snap the pace / into some more sudden glitter of light’ (P 47)).

Uneasily, we say, I heard it too,
As if to find a centre from extremes,
And with its vagueness, to corrode the bright
Ensnarements of its old familiar view;

The ‘centre from extremes’ , what is heard in common, anticipates the Davie-Tomlinson ethos of ‘Against Extremity’, though ‘vagueness’ could be ineffable or banal. ‘Ensnarements’ recalls the ‘wires’, gleaming ‘bright’, liable to ‘corrode’: temptation, however paradoxically lies in reversion to the ‘old familiar view’ rather than the auto-asphyxiation of ‘dangerously tight’.

A wise and mournful bird. But these are dreams
We spun, not he, whose shriller wisdom might
If we allowed, hold more than these could do,
While some brown shadow beats over distant streams.(FC 47)

The earlier ‘shrillness’ becomes the ‘shriller wisdom’ of late Yeats: ‘some brown shadow’ has inevitable intimations of the ‘rough beast slouching’ towards Bethelem and beyond. Minerva is accorded respect as ‘wise and mournful’ in contrast to the ‘dreams / We spun’: both empirical rebuke and apocalyptic vista.

running to violence (to which ex-
tremity it should anyway perhaps
be swooping homewards (P 13)

the northern
winter is an age for us and the owl of
my right hand is ready for flight. I have
already seen its beating search in the sky,
hateful, I will not look (P 55)

As with Larkin, the possibility of reverse influence should not be disregarded.  ‘The course of pale imaginings that leave no trace, / The broken, idle mill-wheel’ (FC 1), for example, becomes ‘A water wheel inertly turning round / Beneath a stream that would not fill a jug’ (D 38); and Prynne’s ‘brown shadow’ becomes the focus of a more explicitly allegorical meditation in Davie’s ‘The Owl Minerva’:

The muse that makes pretensions to discourse,
Not sage nor sybil but a piece of both,
Astute in form, oracular in force,
Can make a proposition sound an oath.

‘Pretensions’ is retrospectively undermined; ‘discourse’ is constituted as ‘sage or sybil’, movement or neo-romantic (‘Astute in form, oracular in force’); the proposition might be logical or sexual; ‘sound’ imply appear like, or triumphantly blast; the ‘oath’ be either of allegiance or of curse.

Rapid, abrupt and violent like a blow,
An exclamation or ecstatic howl,
Still asserts and shows it is not so,
Articulates the hooting of an owl.

The stagey explicit violence of the opening line is also ‘like a blow’: the sense of playing a wind-instrument both gives vent to and simultaneously negates the ‘exclamation or ecstatic howl’. A tone of controlled exposition posits a historical nihilism that undermines the entire enterprise. ‘The hooting of’ is both the noise made by, but also mockery directed towards.

Can spells or riddles be articulate?
We take our stand, to make the music heard,
And only speech aspires to music’s state.
The Owl Minerva was no singing bird. (D 29-30)

The opposition between ‘speech’ and ‘music’ appears to exclude the very possibility of the third term of historical knowledge, reduced to ‘spells or riddles’. The Yeatsian ideal of Byzantium no longer contains any ‘singing bird’: ‘music’ must be composed by other means. ‘We take our stand’, but where? The bald finality of the closing ‘was’ still leaves the post-historical vantage, and its relation to ‘discourse’ and ‘proposition’, to be defined.

‘Historical time is not / the dimension of these reproaches’ (D 174); but the realm of personal memory is equally suspect. Larkin and Prynne are both beguiled by at least the possibility of the past moment redeemed by the act of remembrance: Davie’s ‘memories leave the ecologues out’ (D 28); the experience of love ensures ‘we in a sealed / Assurance unassailed / By memory’ (D 46). ‘Remembering the Thirties’ (D 34) might equally be entitled ‘Forgetting the Forties’. The ‘veterans’ are not ex-soldiers, and there is little in Auden’s exit on the last boat out to suggest even ‘a stance impressive and absurd’ (D 35). One wonders about the failure to articulate Davie’s own heroism as seaman on the Murmansk route: ‘But in the nub of war a sullen soldier’ (D 37). Clearly the move to Eastern European models (Pasternak, Blok) is a means of retrieving previously repressed experiences, suffused with sexual guilt in ‘Hearing Russian Spoken’ (D 70) and ‘Love and the Times’:

More than ever I need
Places where nothing happened,
Where history is silent... (D 159)

There are no poems to lost comrades, or at least only in collectivised and even throwaway terms: ‘England, we wheel and fly about you still, / The dead of that and of another war’ (D 38). [Note 38] ‘The savage poets sang / Enormities that happen every day’ (D 27): among whose number must be Keith Douglas and Alan Ross (whose convoy-duty sea-scapes are recalled by some of the imagist effects of the late verse). The final imperative ‘to run to seed’ (D 35) is both to reproduce (the widespread impulse after demobilisation) and to accept decline.

If too much daring brought (he thought) the war,
When that was over nothing else would serve
But no one must be daring any more,
A self-induced and stubborn loss of nerve. (D 23)

This is hardly a good account of Munich, but eminently applicable to the ‘daring’ of the imperial mission: ‘Colossal nerve denied the light of day’. The final line encapsulates an honorable decolonisation though ‘the most / Reasonable of settlements betrays / Unsmoothed resentment under the caress’ (D 86). ‘Betrays’, a key term in Davie, both personal and collective, can serve as a direct indictment — famously ‘And curiously nothing now betrays / Their type to time’s derision like this coy / Insistence on the quizzical’ (D 35) — but also contains at least the possibility of a positive force of articulation:  ‘And in the process some-one is betrayed. // Ourselves, perhaps’ (D 34); ‘See, there again, the sense betrayed!’ (D 21); ‘Some have enjoyed what here I deny to you, / A self-betrayal not betrayed in art’ (D 51); or from the earlier quotation, with full imperative force, ‘I must betray myself’ (D 157).

Hence the odd moments of self-reflexivity where phenomenology meets historical fatalism:

But what had happened? Who had made
This mirror tremble and subside?
The evening by what eye betrayed
Winced, like a curtain drawn aside?

The shutter of some active mind,
Panicked by a glide of swans,
Closing, made all nature blind,
Then photographed itself at once.

O bleak and lunar emptiness,
How many eyes were then belied?
A god’s, a man’s, a swan’s and — yes,
The very flags were iris-eyed!  (D 26)

‘Evening’ takes on the characteristic allusion to post-imperial malaise, but in a magnificent pathetic fallacy (‘made all nature blind’), it is not the ‘eye’ but the world itself that ‘winced’ when ‘betrayed’. The empiricist ‘mirror’ can only ‘tremble and subside’; the ‘active mind’ chooses rather to close its ‘shutter’ and cultivate its own solipsism: ‘O bleak and lunar emptiness’. The attempt at apocalyptic self-sufficiency (‘A god’s, a man’s, a swan’s’) remains haunted by a kind of animistic reproach from ‘the very flags’ of the now abandoned nations.

A knowledge of history fetches
Love out of its recesses,
Mapping its open stretches,
Its pits for trespassers. (D 113)

That remorse without regret
Is a possible state of the soul,
Like grief without resentment. (D 129)

British is what we are.
Once an imperial nation,
Our hands are clean now, empty.
Cause for congratulation. (D 147)

One may distrust the political implications of Davie’s stance (the ‘hands’ may be ‘empty’ but does that make them necessarily ‘clean’?), but at the very least it represents an attempt to rehabilitate an unillusioned patriotism and articulate an elegiac sense that refuses to be merely internalised. I wish to close by looking at the political voice of Prynne’s work, specifically in  ‘A New Tax on the Counter-Earth’ (P 172-73).


English condition is now so abstract that
it sounds like an old record; the hiss and
crackle suborns the music (P 22)

Much has been made of the uniqueness of Prynne’s verse, its intransigent experimentalism and solipsistic areferentiality. I would prefer to stress the ‘recoverable history... embedded within the potencies of language-use’: ‘The individual poet may articulate the unrecognised passions within a community, but he does not invent passions: his desire is, by virtue of his gift for specialised expression, less likely to be easily fulfilled, but otherwise it derives from and represents what is profoundly typical’: [Note 39]

A dream in sepia and eau-de-nil ascends
from the ground as a great wish for calm. And
the wish is green in season, hazy like meadow-sweet,
downy & soft-waving among the reeds, the
cabinet of Mr Heath. Precious vacancy pales in
this studious form, the stupid slow down & become
wise with inertia, and instantly the prospect of
money is solemnised to a great landscape.
It actually glows like a stream of evening sun,
value become coinage fixed in the grass crown.
The moral drive isn’t
quick enough, the greasy rope-trick
has made payment an edge of rhetoric;
the conviction of merely being
right, that has
marched into the patter of balance.

And here
the dream prevails, announced by Lord Cromer:
his warnings of crisis revert to hillside
and the market town: ‘the great pyrotechnist
who did it all, red from head to foot’ — inducing
disbelief stronger than remedies. We become
who he is, the abandoned fishing, the asserted
instrument renewed as a cloud over the moor. What
he says is nothing, the hills and the trees, the
distant panorama washing the buried forest. Who
he is tells us that what he says need not be
true, in the dream to come it will not happen.

‘Dream in sepia’ recalls Larkin’s 1950s black-and-white news-reel evocations (notably ‘At Grass’), but the more substantial overlaps are with his 1970s idiom: intolerant nostalgia, corporate avarice and ecological consciousness. In Prynne, the ‘dream’ of capital, as enunciated by Lord Cromer, Governor of the Bank of England has become synonymous with rather than opposed to the ‘great landscape’: ‘the hills and trees, the / distant panorama washing the buried forest’. The’prospect of money’ now dominates both spheres, ‘value become coinage’, ‘cash as a principle of nature’, which are spliced together with more esotetic idiolects of ‘absolute perception’: neurological diagnosis (‘limbic mid-brain system’) and high romantic ecstasy (‘universe of starry majesty’). [Note 40]

The move from individual physiology to global systems is no more than an adaptation of the medieval principle of analogy between micro- and macro-cosm. In terms of cultural critique, Prynne’s techniques can be read as a simulacrum rather than protest. Perhaps the key phrase is ‘climax community / of the dream’: the principle of ecological equilibrium through reprocessing waste within the system transposed onto the interactions of mulitiple discourses. [Note 41] Ian Patterson glosses the ‘effect’ of the poem as ‘to disqualify the bland political dream to which unexamined images of the political might invite us to succumb by forcing us to recognise this marketed image of nature as a counter-earth to an imagined margin of literary vantage from which we can only return to a sense of alienation from the discourse the poem provides’. [Note 42] The posited point of infinitely recessive irony lacks political purchase as even a brief comparison with Larkin’s ‘Going, Going’ makes apparent:

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.

Most things are never meant.
This won’t be, most likely: but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen soon. (L 189)

‘Greeds / and garbage’ are products of a self-sustaining system, evident in the ‘bleak high-risers’ of sink estates and arriviste speculators: the title both plays on the unstated term ofd the auctioneer’s ‘gone’ and refers back to the dissolution of the phenomenal world in the earlier symbolist lyric, ‘Going’ (‘where has the tree gone, that locked / Earth to the sky?’ (L 3)). The critique was considered sufficiently pointed for the fifth stanza (‘Five per cent profit (and ten / Per cent more in the estuaries))’ to be censored by the Department of the Environment who had originally commissioned the poem. [Note 43]

Patterson himself notes the dubiousness of the strategy of satiric mimicry, the tendency for one to become what one beholds: ‘One might almost long for the dreamy pastoral vision of Lord Cromer’s monetarism, a simple discourse of common dream far removed from the class-conscious weaponry of Thatcherism and the 1980s’ (note the anti-EC crack in abandoned fishing’ and the later ‘Welsh & smoke-laden & endlessly local’ suggesting a pre-Scargill Trade Unionism (with its shift to the Yorkshire coalfields)). [Note 44] David Trotter notes with regard to this poem that there is nothing exceptional about the assertion that economic criteria had supplanted moral criteria in public life’, citing Davie applying ‘the lash ever more fiercely’, and that Prynne’s putative ‘alienation’ should be seen as ‘part of a chorus rather than a lone voice in the wilderness’. [Note 45] ‘A New Tax on the Counter-Earth’ also invites comparison with Larkin’s  ‘Money’:

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad. (L 198)

The same ‘stream of evening sun’, though the ‘prospect of money’ is here in a civic rather than country setting. ‘Solemnised’ indicates the limitations of Prynne’s register: its ‘conviction’ lacks both the lyrical empathy and the ‘edge of rhetoric’ in Larkin’s chiamus of perspective, whereby we see the ‘provincial town’ from money’s own point of view.

the botanist & the collector of shells
& the consultors of dictionaries & those
who light fires with care now hereby
confirm the dream and the segmented wish made
solid in the time of day. It is cash so distraught
that the limbic mid-brain system has absorbed
its reflex massage. We move into sleep portioned
off in the restored liner, and the drowsy body
is closer to ‘nature’, the counter-earth. The nervous
system burns hissing down to its fluid base,
watched by the hermaphrodite from Coventry.

The ‘dream’ and ‘wish’ materialise in the form of ‘cash’, somewhat melodramatically ‘distraught’ (in comparison to Larkin’s ‘intensely sad’). ‘Portioned’ and ‘drowsy body’ anticipate the later quotation from Milton, a mythology of split and multiple selves simultaneously inhabiting separate spheres. The ‘hermaphrodite’ is also Blakean, but ‘from Coventry’ suggests Larkin himself, secluded, indifferent to the auto-destruction of the ‘nervous / system’, both physiological and of fluctuating global markets. [Note 46]

Now freedom from care deflects the care itself; that
grandiloquent spiral of common-sense was
exotic after all, what
was said to be true was so
because said ur-
gently — and when imitated by
lazy charade the truth became optional...

The ‘grandiloquent spiral of common-sense’ is a fine tribute to Larkin; a life which, as the posthumous furor has demonstrated, may at the very least be termed ‘exotic’. If one accepts the dubious postulate of the Movement ‘imitated by / lazy charade’ by its successors, Prynne himself must be included in their ranks. If the only ‘alternative’ is for ‘the truth’ to become ‘optional’, what prevents the ‘freedom from care’ from becoming ‘freedom from caring’, the ‘rightness of wayward sentiment’ becoming the ‘waywardness of right[-wing] sentiment’: ‘such affection curdles the effort to be just’. [Note 47]

ternative to the grand stability of
dream: ‘the transit from drive organization
to cognitive process’

The truth has lately been
Welsh & smoke-laden & endlessly local, and
‘getting it right’ held the lagging danger of
not getting it at all. And being right is not so
absolute as being so; the climax community
of the dream brings new eyes, the man in the street
is visible again. The distance of being so reopens
the millennial landscape, ‘that we need not even
think of it as possible.’

then the possible seems
a paltry art: ‘the perceptual events of the dream
produce a partial or temporary reduction in the
state of need current in the organism.’ Whether
partial or temporary they release gratitude, the
moment of joy self-induced as desire turned back
into a globe itself infolding like a sun, or like
a moon, or like a universe of starry majesty.
‘The spot was the one which
he loved best in all the world.’
And such affection curdles the effort to be just,
the absolute perception spreads calm into the air
and the air works like a sea. The horizon is lit
with the rightness of wayward sentiment, cash
as a principle of nature. And cheap at the price. (P 172-3)


Note 1]    Force of Circumstance and Other Poems (London: Routledge 1962), hearafter FC (1).
See David Trotter, The Making of the Reader: Language and Subjectivity in Modern American, English and Irish Poetry (London: Macmillan 1984) 221; N.H. Reeve and Richard Kerridge, Nearly Too Much: the Poetry of J.H. Prynne (Liverpool: Liverpool UP 1995) 148, herafter RK; and Birgitta Johansson, The Engineering of Being: an ontological approach to J.H. Prynne (Uppsala: Umea UP 1997) hereafter J.

Note 2]    ‘China Figures’ [Modern Asian Studies 17  (1983) 671–704] repr. in New Songs from a Jade Terrace: an anthology of early Chinese Love Poetry, trans., ann. and intro. Anne Birrell (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1986) 363–92,  hereafter JT.
J.H. Prynne, Poems (Fremantle / Bloodaxe, London / Fremantle, 1999), hereafter P.

Note 3]    Coriolanus (V iii 36–37), whose political corollaries are by no means irrelevant.

Note 4]    Davie, Collected Poems 1950–1970 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), hereafter D; FC 19.

Note 5]    Still villains of the piece in A Various Art eds Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville (Carcanet: Mancester, 1987) 12; Floating Capital: new poets from London, eds Adrian Clarke and Robert Sheppard (Potes & Poets Press: Elmwood Conneticut, 1991); conductors of chaos: a poetry anthology, ed Iain Sinclair (London: Picador 1996) xix; Other: British and Irish Poetry since 1970, ed Richard Caddel and Peter Quartermain (Hanover and London: Wesleyan UP, 1999) xxii. None of which can match up Davie’s own (1959!) self-lacerating indictment of ‘pusillanimity’ and ‘insularity and philistinism’ (72): ‘Remembering the Movement’,The Poet in the Imaginary Museum (Manchester: Carcanet, 1977) 72–75 (72).

Note 6]    See ‘Modernism’ in German Poetry, Cambridge Review 84 (1963) 331–37.

Note 7]    Robert Lowell, Life Studies (London: Faber, 1959) 54. Rathmell (review of FC in Cambridge Review 84 (1963) 193) notes a ‘violently abusive presence’ and ‘a world of mute turbulence, invisible assualt, and silent riot. The sense of suppressed violence is in fact a recurrent and somewhat incongruous note’.

Note 8]    The review is ‘Figments of Reflection’, of Charles Edward Eaton, Counter-Moves, Cambridge Review 84 (1963) 281–2. See also Eric Homberger and Andrew Duncan

Note 9]    Philip Larkin, Collected Poems ed. Anthony Thwaite (London: Faber and Marvell, 1988), hereafter L.

Note 10]    Cambridge Review (1963) 84 331; ‘His ‘love’ is such a shadowy alter ego that she simply serves as a minimal destination for yearning; the avowal is not a move to break open the elegaic coocoon, but, as we have come to accepts, one intended to enhance the snse o solitude from which we are t imagine it to have sprung’: ‘The Elegiac World in Victorian Poetry’, The Listener 1768 LXIX (1963) 291:

Note 11]    (JT 372). ‘The Poet Speaks’ 39 interview by Peter Orr, British Council (London 1963)

Note 12]    ‘Such discrete shapes, heavy with implication, are the embryos of future profusion whilst also artefacts of the present moment’ Cambridge Review 84 (1963) 282.

Note 13]    ‘too simple ! caress fronds as to liberate / race hatred’s package tour ‘ whose every touch, kiss the rising hand / will too bleach-whiten yours’: Pearls that were (Cambridge; Equipage, 1999) np [4].

Note 14]    Flow Chart (Manchester: Carcanet, 1991) 48. Compare RK 40.

Note 15]    Cambridge Review 84 (1963) 322.

Note 16]    Cyclas: ‘a tightly-fitting tunic anciently worn by women and occasionally by men’; especially the surcoat worn by fourteenth century knights over their armour’. Blake, Milton; in Collected Poems ed David Erdman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982) also present in ‘littoral imagination’ in Littoral (FC 5; breathing fields FC 18) ‘A Letter to Andrew Duncan’, Grosseteste Review 15 (1983–84), 100–18 (107).

Note 17]    Charles Tomlinson, ‘The Middlebrow Muse’, Essays in Criticism 7 (1957) 208–217.

Note 18]    Compare ‘loyalty is / regret spread in time, the hurt of how / steadily and where / it goes’ (P 56); see also RK 33–34..

Note 19]    ‘Modernism’ in German Poetry,  Cambridge Review 84 (1963) 331–37 (335).

Note 20]    Essays of Richard Rorty, Irony, Contingency and Solidarity

Note 21]    Collected Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot (London: Faber 1969): ‘When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall’ (14); ‘Repeat a prayer on behalf of / Women who have seen their sons or husbands / Setting forth, and not returning’ (189)

Note 22]    Compare also ‘a bearing into certain / distinctions’ and ‘a line, of rest / and distinction’ (P 41)).

Note 23]    Compare ‘And expectancy is equally silly when what think  / of is delay’ (P 113)).

Note 24]    See Chritopher Ricks, ‘A Note on Hardy’s ‘A Spellbound Palace’, Essays in Appreciation (Oxford: Clarendon 1996) 235–44.

Note 25]    See especially ‘Acquisition of Love’, with its poignant evocation of parental feeling with the emblem of the ‘broken / mower’ (P 111).

Note 26]    As Paulin notes, in the tradition of the Platonist’s tower (Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State (London: Faber, 1992) 246. Prynne’s ‘Quite certain’, ‘by the caged motion, dry point, in the mind’ (FC 49) alludes to the ‘padlocked cube of light’ in Larkin’s ‘Dry-Point’ (L 37). Even in Davie, ‘The metaphysicality / Of poetry how I need it’ (D 155).

Note 27]    Though there are occasional overlaps such asthe tableaux of blackberrying in ‘Or would like to think’ (FC 4) and ‘Housekeeping’ (D 104)), or the landscapes in ‘The Common Gain Revisited’ and ‘The Wind at Penistone’ (D 52). For biographical links, see Davie’s review of A Various Art in With the Grain: Reflections on Thomas Hardy and British Poetry (Manchester: Carcanet)

Note 28]      Purity of Diction in English Verse (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, [1952] 1967) Thomas Hardy and British Poetry (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973); Older Master: Reflections on English and American Literature (Manchester: Carcanet, 1992), and Two Ways out of Whitman: American Essays (Manchester: Carcanet 2000)

Note 29]    Compare RK 24 and see especially ‘Enlivened Metaphors’ and ‘Personfication’ (Purity, 38–40, 33–38).

Note 30]    One may infer that ‘The Castaway’ was peculiarly vivid to Davie after wartime naval service, with the routine instructions for ships not to stop to pick up survivors; compare the image of the ‘rigger’s mate’ in Poem as Abstract’ (D 24); and also Prynne’s ‘Lashed to the Mast’ (P 49)).

Note 31]    Thomas Hardy and British Poetry (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973) 113–15, 118–20.

Note 32]    Compare ‘the world is that fire, it burns / along all the horizons’ (P 59).

Note 33]    Larkin’s ‘Naturally the Foundation will Bear Yours Expenses’ (L 134) should be read in a ‘splendid Donald Davie voice’ (Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, 1940–1985 (London: Faber 1992) 522), which Davie himself found spoken by a ‘hatefully distinct persona’ (Under Briggflatts: a history of poetry in Great Britain, 1960–1988 (Manchester: Carcanet, 1988): 61. Prynne’s ‘Airport Poem: Ethics of Survival’ (P 38) invites recitation in similar tones; and behind both, of course, Auden’s ‘On the Circuit’ (Selected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson (London: Faber, 1979) 248–50.

Note 34]    ‘And not that sort of hero, not / Conquistador Aeneas but a tourist!’ (D 125). On the poetic genre of Fulbright scholars,  see Robert von Hallberg, American Poetry and Culture, 1945–1980 (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard UP, 1985) 194.

Note 35]    Among other discernible American influences are Crane in ‘Glass walls run up, run out on the canyon’s lip. / Barber my verses, pitiless vivid city’ (D 115) or Bly in ‘Although I thought a deep / And savage cry from the park / Came once’ (D 117)).

Note 36]    Required Writings: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955–1982 (London: Faber and Faber, 1983) 47.

Note 37]    ‘An extraordinarily powerful an for all the vacancy of the effort to give it lexical definition and, perhaps in some large measure, because of that vacancy’: ‘English Poetry and Emphatical Language’, The Warton Lecture on English Poetry,Proceedings of the British Academy LXXIV (1988) 135–69 (162).

Note 38]    ‘On an Arctic Shore’, the account given of the war years, in These the Companions: Recollections   (Cambridge: CUP, 1982) 34–48) is oddly lightweight, even derogatory. Note however, ‘I have cheated my will / Out of its need for command: / I have taught it not to kill / Free water into ice’ (D 37).

Note 39]    ‘Letter to Andrew Duncan’, 101. Compare ‘China Figures’ on the ‘nuanced politics of ascription’ required in pursuing the ‘social and historical self-consciousness of the implied personal subject’ (379, 381); and ‘A Discourse on Willem de Kooning’s Rosy-fingered Dawn at Louse Point, Act 2: Beautiful Translations (London: Pluto 1996) 34–73: ‘we are not plucked out of the mortal world, as we are by the illusionism of baroque sacred allegory, but are plunged deeply back into its continuing history: of actors construing and constructing a natural fact’ (41), and ‘a kind of busy proceduralism... overwhelmed by its own tacit historiography’ (69).

Note 40]    Milton, portioned, drowsy boyd and hermaphroditic can also be found in Blake’s epic.

Note 41]    Gary Snyder, ‘The communities of creatures in forest, ponds, oceans, or grasslands seem to tend toward a condition called climax... This condition has considerable stability and holds much energy in its web – energy that in simpler systems (a field of weeds just after a bulldozer) is lost back into the sky or down the drain’: The Real Work: Interviews and Talks 1964–1979, ed W. Scott McLean (New York: New Directions, 1980) 174–74.

Note 42]    Ian Patterson, ‘‘the medium itself, rabbit by proxy’: some thoughts about reading J.H. Prynne’, Poets on Writing: Britain, 1970–1991, ed. Denise Riley (London: Macmillan 1992) 234–46 (242).

Note 43]    See Selected Letters and also Christopher Hitchens, ‘‘Something about the Poetry: Larkin and ‘Sensitivity’’, New Left Review 200 (1993), 161–72.

Note 44]    Patterson 241. Compare ‘and with you a real ironist’ (P 62); as Davie notes, always hyper-attentive to second-guessing, ‘the vice in it is this / Each does us credit, and we know it too’ (D 36)).

Note 45]    Trotter 227. For a more specific links, compare Prynne’s ‘greasy rope-trick’ with Davie’s ‘Thanks to industrial Essex / I have spun on the greasy axle / of business and sociometrics’ (D 144) .

Note 46]    This oil crisis ethos recurs in the suggestion that ‘the arabs might / do well to soak up revenue on a straight purchase / of, say, Belgium’ (P 224); compare Martin Amis, ‘Every time the quid gets gang-banged on the international exchange, all the Arab chicks get a new fur coat’ (Money: a suicide note (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985 154)), and also the gibes against ‘1. The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development’ (Triodes (Cambridge: Barque, 1998) 24).

Note 47]    On a right-wing genealogy for the denunciation of usury, see ‘Ezra Pound, The Poetics of Money’, in Paul Morisson, The Poetics of Fascism: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Paul de Man (Oxford: OUP, 1996) 16–590; and on Hitler as a green, see Luc Ferry, The New Ecological Order, trans. Carol Volk (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1995). If the comparison seems excessive, compare the holocaust allusion to human beings as ‘old fat’ in the ‘can’ (‘Thinking of you’ (P171) following the homage to Celan (‘Es lebe der Konig’ (P169–70) immediately before ‘New Tax’), and also note the ‘lemon kurds’ (Triodes 41).

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