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166 LETTERS lN CANADA 1991 Richard Hoffpauir. The Art of Restraint: English Poetry from Hardy to Larkin University of Delaware Press. 332. us $40.00 This is refreshing, clear, and, given the present state of literary studies, brave criticism. It challenges academic inertia in two ways. First, it questions some standard reputations-notably those of Yeats, Pound, and Eliot - and promotes, wholly or in part, the work of such poets as Bridges, Hardy, Edward Thomas, Gurney, Graves, Elizabeth Daryush, Lawrence, Edgell Rickword, and Larkin, 'who have been either misvalued or undervalued as a result of the prevalence of romantic and modernist assumptions,' poets whom, the blurb adds, 'define a "Hardy tradition."' The second part of Hoffpauir's challenge is to reassert 'the moral value of poetry while fully respecting the expressive dynamics of poetry as a distinct art form' and to apply moral standards in distinguishing poetic truth from poetic falsity. I respect his intention, but there are weaknesses in the general approach and at times in his argument. A good place to sample Hoffpauir's invocation of standards is in his discussion of love poetry. He rightly prefers to Lawrence's poems of sexual love the poems written in love and grief for his mother in her last illness - for the reason that they express 'a view of love as an effortful triumph over transience ... something one achieves by acts of selfless attention.' One of the dangers in this sort of criticism is, however, already perceptible in this statement - a prescriptive narrowing of what is allowable in poetry: he nearly says that poetry must be selfless. The search for positives in literature can produce a kind of tunnel vision. Hoffpauir is, for example, too anxious to prove the moral soundness and wholesomeness of Thomas's poetry and commensurately afraid that an awareness of poetic complexities of thought and feeling will divert a critic from his true task: 'Kirkham is too keenly in search of subtlety, pushing delicate, poised complexities of statement over the edge into mysteries and paradoxes, what he calls " the shimmer of uncertainty" and the "inconclusive openness" of Thomas's verse.' That one is disposed to find complexity is not, however, inconsistent with finding a moral intelligence at work within the 'lucid uncertainty' of Thomas's mind. 'The best poems,' he continues, 'were written by Thomas when he transcended his melancholia and despair,' as though I hadn't devoted a whole chapter in The Imagination of Edward Thomas to the demonstration of just that, trying with all the subtlety I could muster to be faithful to the complexity of the case. A related weakness in the book is inherent in the either-or premise of its polemic: either you go with the academic ruck and indiscriminately praise the modernists or you recognize the sterling worth of Hoffpauir's list of English poets. Does it have to be 'Yeats or Hardy' (the title of the first chapter)? I, too, have reservations about Yeats; but Hoffpauir does HUMANlTIFS 167 not explicitly admit the existence of one good or great poem; does he believe there are none? I admire Hardy's poetry and think Donald Davie badly misrepresents it, and I gave my reasons at length in the pages of this journal in 1974, but I do not think Hardy the poet is best served by citing so many of the 'idea' poems - a tactic dictated by the needs of a project set out in the opening pages, the reinstatement of 'ideas in verse' after their demotion by modernist theory. In the interests of the polemic against modernism, Hoffpauir concentrates on some of the theoretical statements of Pound and Eliot rather than on their poems, either giving them perfunctory attention or choosing an easy target like Pound's 'In the Station of the Metro.' The nondiscursive art of the Cathay poems would not be so susceptible to charges of vagueness and failure of communication . It suits Hoffpauir's case to explain Pound's and Eliot's suspicion of the discursive - the rationale of imagism - as an instance of a general anti-intellectualism in the modernist camp. He knows that this is, at best, a partial truth and says so - 'Not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 166-167
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-25
Open Access
No
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