Skip to content

Index: Commentary on Art and Literature

The New Beauty.

Anthony Howell: ‘As an aesthetic ideal, wealth stimulates a veritable culture of prizes, breaking down the divide which has traditionally separated art from sport. It’s an ideal that stimulates competition and incites envy, isolating one creative from another and thus ensuring against revolution. Very neatly, the rebellious “tradition” of the salon des refusés has been annulled by the oligarchs. ‘

A Phoenix for Eliza.

Nigel Wheale: ‘Salusbury the dedicatee has rarely been considered or even recalled as a context for understanding ‘the most mysterious poem in English’. What he or his family, his literary and musical acquaintances, might have made of ‘Let the bird of loudest lay’ is beyond recovery. But from a brief review of his biography and family circumstances, we can surely be confident that these were committed readers and writers of poetry, amongst whom Shakespeare’s poem circulated, and we can imagine, stirred interest. ‘

On a poem by John Riley.

Peter Riley: ‘I therefore wanted to look in detail at what was actually happening in a John Riley poem, without any developmental or contextual narrative concerning his work or anything else, and to steer clear of generalities and automative associations (such as that to some people any mid-twentieth-century English poet worth reading has to be “not unlike Larkin” in the last analysis, however distant he or she may in fact be from the Emperor of Hull). To look, then, at what the language is doing in a John Riley poem.’

Sonnets of Music and Memory.

Hoyt Rogers: ‘Naturally, Bonnefoy was well aware of the signal role of music in Shakespeare. His plays contain or allude to well over a hundred songs, many of which were probably performed with instruments as well as voices, as part of the entertainment. ‘

Arthur Rimbaud.

Francis Gribble: ‘Fame of a sort had come to him. An increasing coterie had come to recognise the merit of his verse — helped thereto, perhaps, by the scandalous association of his name with Verlaine’s. His memory was destined to be kept alive by a bronze bust, which the German invaders were destined to steal for the sake of copper. But he neither foresaw this tribute nor would have been much elated if he had foreseen it, the call of the East having, long since, upset his scale of values.’

Pierre Reverdy’s ‘non-novel’.

Peter Riley: ‘The uncertainty between poetry and prose in the early works makes sense when you realise that the fully poetical writing he first reached, principally in The Thief… itself, is basically in prose. That is to say that however much disjuncture there may be among the little separate pieces of language which float around the page, each piece is itself written in perfectly normal syntax, in sentences or parts thereof, in which the parts of speech maintain their proper functions. ‘

Modernist poetics.

Alan Wall: ‘Myth functioned for the modernists as a formal simplification, an avoidance of Brancusi’s ‘confusion of familiarities’. Myth could bring you closer to the present and its horrors and barbarities than the accustomed techniques of naturalism; it was in the widest possible sense, more realistic. The ancient could bring you closer to the realities of the present than the accustomed modes of the immediate past. But such employments were valid only if the ritualistic, the mythic, the legendary, interacted dynamically with the present; only if the past could be made to acknowledge that it only existed at all within the present. The past exists as long as the present carries it forward in time. That is the meaning of the word ‘relevance’ in terms of art. ‘

The history of Imagism.

By F.S. FLINT. . . . itaque, quae priores, nondum comperta, eloquentia percoluere, rerum fide tradentur.—TACITUS.      ”Chi compra Manfredi?” SOMEWHERE IN THE gloom of the year 1908, Mr.T. E. Hulme, now in the trenches of Ypres, but excited then by the propinquity, at a half-a-crown dance, of the other sex (if, as Remy de Gourmont […]

The poems of ‘H.D.’

May Sinclair: ‘If ever we thought of “H.D.” as cultivating, exquisitely, a narrow plot, tied by her imagism, with these and her latest poems before us, we can have no misgivings as to her range. There is the pure imagism of “Evening” and the flower passage out of “Sea-Gods,” which I have already given. And the elegiac pathos of “Loss.”’

A Drohobych diptych.

H.A. Willis: ‘That Stepan Andriyovych Bandera, the most potent embodiment of western Ukrainian self-determination, was the son of a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priest, only anointed his sense of destiny—but he was assassinated by the KGB in 1959. Bruno Schulz, the great writer, critic and artist, was the son of a Jewish merchant. He was killed, almost casually, by a Nazi in 1942.’

Stepan Bandera: The alt.messiah.

 By H.A. WILLIS. Part two of the Drohobych Diptych. BORN ON NEW YEAR’S Day 1909, about eighty kilometres south-east of Drohobycz, Bandera grew up under Polish rule as a member of an aggrieved people who, in the wake of the First World War, fought for and came close to achieving self-determination. Even without the impetus […]

Bruno Schulz’s misplaced Messiah.

By H. A. WILLIS. Part one of the Drohobych Diptych. A GENERATION AGO, it was a book with which nobody could be bothered. The sales reps thought it was not worth adding an unknown, foreign writer to their already heavy sample cases. It became an orphan, placed on a special shelf in our warehouse in […]

Ernest Renan.

George Saintsbury: ‘[Renan’s]] gospel may certainly be said to be a vague gospel, and the enemy may contend that Morgane la Fée is architect and clerk of the works at the buildings which he so industriously edifies with graceful words and, at the same time, with a vast quantity of solid learning. But of his literary skill there can be no question, and scarcely less of the admirable character of his intentions.’

Shelley, the ‘Divine Poet’.

Gilbert Thomas: ‘The poet of “The Skylark” was also a prophet; it is because it is of him in that aspect that we most naturally think at this time. In the sight of his own contemporaries he was mad, and even thirty-four years ago Matthew Arnold proclaimed that he was not quite sane. ‘

Irony and ironists.

Alan Wall: ‘What the ironist says is a matter of logic: if this, then that. But since that is not inevitably that, then this is not inevitably this either.’