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THE HISTORIC PRESENT IN THE DAWN IN BRITAIN BARKER FAIRLEY Looking back, it appears that every ten years or so I find myself writing a paper on Doughty's Dawn in Britain. This paper, if I complete it, will presumably be the last and, the Doughty poetry being out of print and virtually unread, a paragraph or two of reminiscence may be permitted. Exactly what year I first read this poem I can't remember, but I can date it approximately by Edward Thomas, whose reviews of it I read shortly after running across his poetry, and I ran across his poetry as SOOn as it appeared. Was it in 1916? I said to myself that if so good a poet thinks this way about Doughty's epic I had no choice but to read it. I had previously seen only a snatch of Doughty's poetry in a Times Literary Supplement review of his Titans from which I gathered that he might be a better poet than the reviewer thought. Oddly enough, I remember first sensing the quality of T.S. Eliot when a hostile critic read some of him aloud in a public lecture. What I do remember all too well about that first reading of The Dawn in Britain is that I got up from it almost completely defeated. Only the beauty of the idyllic portions, chiefly Christian, made some amends for my being shut out from all the rest. I felt just as Middleton Murry seems to have felt when he wrote in his obituary on Doughty in 1926 that the poet had simply lost his way. T.E. Lawrence said much the same in one of his letters to the effect that Doughty had no sense of desigo. I knew they were both wrong, because in the meantime I had read the poem again and found myself with it all the way and rejOicing in the later books as bringing home to me the unity and coherence of the whole. I suspect that those other two took the poem on the high run, which in this case is fatal, and never gave the thing a second chance. From that day On - that is to say, for a good half-century - the poem kept coming back at me and has proved to be more of a life-companion to me than any other. This could hardly have happened if I had completed my knowledge of it in my early readings. Actually I never failed to see it in new lights. And two of these new lights in particular I was very slow to notice. Only in recent years did I discover that the verse needs to be read aloud, though I recall Mrs Doughty telling me long ago that she used to Volume XLI, Number 3, Spring 1972 HISTORIC PRESENT IN The Dawn in Britain 257 hear her husband shouting his verse in his study. I should have taken the hint sooner. Anyway I finally came to see that in spite of first appearances the style is a spoken style, one that must be heard. Only when read aloud and heard does the radical word-order come to life and account for itself. True, you have to find the right tempo for it, and the tempo must be the slowest in English. The delaying punctuation, indefensible as it may be, has the merit of serving this purpose. It can only be understood as indicat· ing pauses of varying duration in speaking, not as aids to syntax. Syntac· tically, the punctuation may do more harm than good. In the next reprinting there will have to be some compromise made. But the chief point will be to keep the type large and the page roomy as in the first edition of 1906-7. So much for my self-indulgent preamble. The second discovery I was late in making - much later than the first - was that there was variation in the narrative tense. This brings me back to my title. I had read the poem for years without ever giving a thought to tense and suddenly by some accident I became aware of it and, on closer inspection, found...


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