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The Complete Poems of C. Day Lewis.


Hardback [pound]25.00. Paperback [pound]14.95.

At long last the many admirers of C. Day Lewis have been given a complete edition of his poems. This splendid volume presents the wide range of this poet's technical skill.

The editor, Jill Balcon, provides a sensitive and scholarly introduction. Her footnotes are helpful but not intrusive as she is well aware that the poet needs only his poems to convey his meaning. For the verse-reader, and Jill Balcon is one of the best of her generation, his 'scores' are infallible. C. Day Lewis provides patterns for the ear and the eye. His long sequential poems are as musical and well structured as the short traditional forms. Even that most demanding of poetic forms, the sonnet sequence, came within his range. O Dreams! 0 Destinations, p.321.) His narrative verse is excellent and the Dramatic Monologues, Not Proven and The Disabused, are both subtle and blood-chilling.

Nowadays critics seem to think that the writer's private life is of greater interest than his writing, alas. It is time for the young to discover the significance of this too-long-neglected poet. C. Day Lewis is a poet for today and for the future, as a voice of the twentieth century. As an intelligent, caring young man in the |thirities he was inevitably anti-fascist. He was appalled by the vast difference in the lives of the rich and the poor. How could he fail to be a socialist, particularly at the time of the Spanish Civil War? He loathed the thought of war and all its concomitant suffering but he recognized and admired the courage and endurance of those who fought for what they believed in. He was a poet, not a politician. |Freedom is more than a word'. He remained aware of the world's problems. The short lyric, Where are the War Poets? (p.335), is as relevant now as when it was written in 1943, as is also Epitaph for a Drug Addict (p.390),

Mourn this young girl. Weep for society

Which gave her little to esteem but kicks.

When he became Poet Laureate he made it clear that he would involve himself in public issues and not only royal events.

He wrote from his youth to the end of his life. One of his most moving lyrics was written on his death-bed: a tribute to the friends who had helped him to accept death with courage after much suffering,

Round me is all amenity, a bloom of

Magnolia uttering its requiems . . .

W. B. Yeats wrote that a poem should have |passion and precision'. Day Lewis warned young poets against allowing the emotion to break through |the fabric' of a poem. His own prosody was impeccable. He was a formidable craftsman -- a gift totally ignored by critics who have no |ear'. How absurd to say that he had |no voice of his own' and that his poetry was |derivative'. Such opinions fail to recognize the wit of his pastiche tributes to the poets he admired and the deliberation with which he so cleverly adopted their style. No doubt they would consider Max Beerbohm's A Christmas Garland derivative also! When introducing children to poetry, Day Lewis said that making a poem was like fashioning an exquisite piece of jewellery. In this respect he was a Faberge among poets.

His critical writing was just as rewarding as his poetry. All lovers of poetry should read his book The Poetic Image. As Robert Frost reminds the reader, |A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom'. Possess this collection and give it to your friends.
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Author:Beerbohm, Nonie
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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