Friday, 19 December 2014

Amateur Hour


Arguing that Edward Thomas' poetry displays the "authentically crippled quality of amateur poetry," Craig Raine pushes against what he calls the "shared communal delusion" of Thomas' genius:
As a poetic theory, Frost’s ‘sound of sense’, the idea of breaking irregular speech cadence over a regular line of verse, is original, as Frost was well aware. Only the sentimental chauvinist would try to give Thomas priority. We aren’t dealing with Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. But Thomas’s champions routinely overstate their case. Remember that Frost had already written ‘The Death of the Hired Man’ in North of Boston, his second book. It was published very shortly after the two poets met for the first time. Frost had worked out his methods and principles and put them into practice. Thomas’s experiments are hesitant. He works, as Frost advised, from prose passages and produces what Larkin accurately called Thomas’s ‘fitful, wandering line’. We are also instructed to value the prose source less than the poetry it became. This is not as obviously axiomatic as we are frequently assured. For example, which is better, the prose of ‘the long, tearing crow of the cocks’? Or the versified elevation of ‘two cocks together crow, / Cleaving the darkness with a silver blow’ [of an axe]?
He continues:
Is it the sad, ironic lineaments of Thomas’s biography—the rapid realisation, poetic fulfilment, just before the untoward death—that incline readers to magnify his achievement? Like Violetta in La Traviata singing that life returns to her—at the very moment she dies. Is it the opera in the life that persuades us to go easy on the succession of ineptitudes that makes up the poetic oeuvre?

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