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This review is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.

THE CLERIC, THE HERETIC AND THEIR BEGGAR CHILDREN CHRISTOPHER RICKS, True Friendship. Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell Under the Sign of Eliot and Pound (Yale) £12.99 pb, £16.99 hb

The Chinese poet, suggested the eminent translator Arthur Waley, ‘recommends himself not as a lover, but as a friend. He poses as a person of infinite leisure (which is what we should most like our friends to possess) and free from worldly ambitions (which constitute the greatest bars to friendship).’ The poets called into play by Christopher Ricks in his most recent book – Eliot, Pound, Hill, Hecht and Lowell – honour one another and appear in it more or less under that guise, since all but one are dead, therefore enjoy endless spare time and are devoid of terrestrial designs. (Geoffrey Hill, though visibly still around and busy, has been devout enough not to fall into mundane temptations.)

Friendship between writers is a neighbour field of inquiry but it undergoes an added complication that risks its integrity: each other’s work, their respective merits and reputations; in short, the recognition, mutual and external. Amiability among scribes is usually besieged by a perennial doubt: What does the other really think about my work? Friendship itself does not seem to obtrude on an honest answer yet it does make it harder for the recipient to believe the assessment, no matter if positive or negative. (One can always blame it on either excessive kindness or sheer envy.) It is under this light that one may appreciate the extraordinary feat achieved by Eliot and Pound, remaining good friends and the best critics of one another during a lifetime. Their case is ...


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