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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1941

Verse Judgments 1941

Verse Judgments 1941

There was little of really outstanding quality among it.

This was a very difficult collection of verse to judge. But it was interesting for more than one reason. It was nearly all devoted to recording individual emotional reactions to war and death and social disaster, with an occasional attempt to formulate some of the stock communist observations on such matters. There were hardly any lyric outbursts directed at Beauty, or moonlit waters, or any of those vague poetic things. There was hardly any regular verse-form employed, and very little straight rhyme. The writers, it seems, were prepared to play around with large conceptions, eternity and the intelligentsia and so on; and technically to try the most difficult feats of assonance and verse-structure; they were prepared, one or two of them, to rhyme the first and third lines in a four line verse, but God forbid anything so coarse as to rhyme the second and fourth! (One must except here Mr Meek, who has gone all T. S. Eliot.) This to me argues, paradoxically enough, a certain lack of adventurousness, of courage to knuckle down to the very difficult discipline that is a part of training in verse. I am not, of course, arguing that poets should bolt back to the funk-holes of tradition. But discipline: take H.W.'s Sauve Qui Peut, a piece I re-read and considered a good deal. It is of course derivative, but it has some real distinction of phrase. Twice it works up to emotional climax—and then thud, one is let down by the rhythmical carelessness of the eighth and the fifteenth lines. Or is the irregularity deliberate?—but then the writer's ear, his rhythmical sense, must be all out. There's a failure somewhere. It comes in with other writers in the acceptance, without suspicious enough examination, of a currency of thought hardly native, e.g.,

page 24

These are real, factual as the unpaid rent or scraping
Of the weed-clothed ships of unknown magnates
In the dry dock.

Or do I misjudge this writer? Anyhow he talks later of casting the golden grain— which is a plunge in the opposite direction. Also he comes into my finalists.

Now for judgment. I exclude people who can be hardly classed as students, but request attention in passing to Vogt's Essay in Criticism for its mastery of ironical statement and technical cleverness. After much hesitation and looking back I put first H.W.'s Intelligentsia—not very lyrical and with some confusion of imagery, but short, succinct and skilful in its mixture of rhyme and assonance. It should probably have a footnote to elucidate its whole significance for those unacquainted with left-wing social theory and the part which professors and lecturers play therein. I give honourable mention to untitled verses by K.J.H. beginning 'Hearing of the mocking surge of war,' already referred to. And there is something impressive about War Song (no signature), except for one very poor line and two where the straining for effect is dreadful. Entrails are hard to manage, even in this macabre context.