Monday, January 09, 2006

Preface To Poetry

Walter de la Mare is the finest example we have in poetry of the subconscious uses to which a poet can put his conscious sexual repressions. As the biography by Theresa Whistler makes clear, the ghosts and visitations from the spirit world which inform his best and most mysterious poems, result from his unresolved sexual frisson and begin in his work only after he meets Naomi Royde-Smith, with whom he refuses to consummate an affair of the heart, choosing to remain sexually faithful to his wife.

The Listeners, examining the veil between this world and a possible next, leaves us yearning for what we know cannot be: the consummation on the urn. Keats informs English poetry even to this day. Second in pantheon only to Shakespeare, his Letters the Sonnets, the Odes the Tragedies. His passion denied him in Hampstead, and, at the end: "The thought of leaving Miss Brawne is beyond everything horrible - the sense of darkness coming over me - I eternally see her figure eternally vanishing." (Letter, 1820)

Keats was the opposite of the old man of suburban Twickenham, the poet whose friendship Pound so craved, the poet endowed as Legatee by Rupert Brooke (along with Abercrombie and Gibson), De la Mare remains in a state of denial in order to carry on through it all. Keats goes further, but is repressed by codes, conventions; yet fully using both conscious and subconscious in his poetry.

Perhaps Burns went further still. He melds the political with a poetic power which finds its strength in love's fulfillment. How else the boldness and authenticity of revolutionary passion of "Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled". His work is the polar opposite of Emily Dickinson's. "A love so big it scares her, rushing around her small heart" she writes as Daisy to the man addressed as her "Master".

"Master" she writes in one of three extant Letters: "If you saw a bullet hit a bird - and he told you he wasn't shot - you might weep at his courtesy, but you would certainly doubt his word. One more drop from the gash that stains your Daisy's bosom - then would you believe?"

(Initially published by Kim Taplin in a booklet to celebrate Jeremy Hilton's 60th birthday.)