Friday, 14 August 2015

Matador of Art

Daryl Hine's poetry is often praised for its brio. James Pollock—whose "essential" selection of the late poet's work just been released—reminds us that there's much more to Hine's style:
The struggle of art against death is Hine’s great subject. As Edward Hirsch puts it in his book The Demon and the Angel, "highly formal and traditional work deepens immeasurably when one feels the primal murkiness threatening to swell up underneath the geometric clarity, the verbal concision and the ironic wit," and this is precisely true of Hine’s best poems. It is not so much that they "have duende" as the Spanish say; they are not inspired by death, exactly. Rather, they are engaged in what Hirsch calls "a hard-fought battle with the duende through formal means, in a formal arena ." In this sense Hine is like Horace and Paul Valery and Anthony Hecht: a matador of art, fighting the toro of death with consummate style.
Pollock also corrects other misconceptions about those "formal means."
Hine’s poems are almost always written in some exact meter, and very frequently in rhyme, and they tend to favour a fairly complex syntax and erudite choice of diction, though the variety of his meters, stanzas, rhyme schemes, forms, sub-genres and verbal registers is spectacular. Precisely because of their prosodic formality and grammatical complexity, they should be read naturally, conversationally, and aloud. The mistake readers not used to this kind of verse often make is to overemphasize the regularity of the meter; in fact, Hine’s lines are full of metrical substitutions, enjambments and syntactical cadences that play against the meter in a counterpoint that Robert Frost called ‘the sound of sense’. It is not at all that Hine "composed in the sequence of the metronome", to borrow Pound’s phrase, but rather that readers raised on a steady monodiet of free verse sometimes mistakenly read him that way, if only at first. The pleasures of reading Hine well are so great that it is more than worth the effort to learn how. And the more one reads his best poems, the greater the pleasure.

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