Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 10, No. 9. June 25, 1947

Book Review—Poets and Pundits

page break

Book Review—Poets and Pundits

For those of us who build what beliefs we have upon a basis of solid facts, this book of essays and reviews by Hugh I'Anson Fausset will hold little meaning. In his preface he clearly states the purpose behind this apparently miscellaneous collection. "They have a common underlying theme, that 'destruction of the negation and redemption of the contraries' which I believe to be the task which humanity is called now, as never before, to undertake, if it is not to destroy itself."

Those, however, who see in this purpose little of worth or practical value may be reminded of the words of Gerard Hopkins:

"O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there."

That the realisation of an inward integrity seems a theme particularly suited to Mr. Fausset is attributable not only to his personal convictions but also to his sensitiveness as a reviewer. "All critical analysis," he says, "If it is not to be intellectually arid, must be rooted in a primary sympathy, a desire not to destroy but . . . . to appreciate the impulse and the toil of the writer who has failed to achieve effectively what he has set out to do." And in this presentation of the doubts and fears and faiths intrinsic in other men's philosophies, the sympathy which he has undoubtedly achieved brings him, to quote his own words, "into a communion of spirit and even a combined labour of expression" seldom realised by a reviewer.

As the title suggests, the book, apart from three addresses, is divided into two sections. The first deals with poets and their poetry, because, to quote Jung, "they are the first in their time to define the darkly moving, mysterious currents . . . they make known, like true prophets, the deep motions of the collective unconscious." Among other essays in this section are "Donne's Holy Sonnets," "The Hidden Tennyison," "The Death Theme in Rilke's Life and Poetry" and "The Cult of Symbolism."

The second section, called "The Realm of Spirit," includes among others, essays on Rabindranath Tagore, Kierkegaard, Santayana, and the poetics of religion and other meditative essays. The division, however, is merely one of convenience, and as he writes of Hopkins, who could not grasp peace; of Donne, who "to reach the heart of reality, to rest in it, needed a passion of faith which he could not summon"; or of Kierkegaard who "could never himself wholly compass that leap out of the solitude of self-conscious thought into the arms of God," one is conscious of the similar problems which in varying degrees beset all those who have the courage to admit that they exist. It is only by reconciling the contraries of mind and senses, life and death, body and spirit, nature and the machine, of finiteness and infinity, that we can find unity within ourselves; only then can we begin to understand reality.

The theme of "Poets and Pundits" is not a new one. Most of us are conscious of a need for some sort of inner reconciliation in our lives. The charm and meaning of the book is rather in the author's selection of subjects with which he illustrates the theme; men and women who, though divided in time and space, are so very human and understandable, not only in their limitations, but when they rise beyond them in the search for a philosophy which will bring them unity and peace. We have to thank Mr. Fausset for a sensitive interpretation of our spiritual needs. Nor does he at any time deny a solution to us. One can remember the "exquisite humanity" of Dorothy Wordsworth and the words of Santayana, who seems to be no longer in doubt; "knowledge is but faith moving in the dark; our joy a gift of grace, our immortality a subtle translation of time into eternity; where all that we have missed is ours and where what we call ours is the least part of ourselves."

"Poets and Pundits," by Hugh l'Anson Fausset. Our copy from Modern Books. 19/.