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This review is taken from PN Review 236, Volume 43 Number 6, July - August 2017.

Cover of Exile and the Kingdom
Grevel LindopListen! Hilary Davies, Exile and the Kingdom (Enitharmon, 2016) £9.99

Hilary Davies’s new book, her fourth, is a meditative journey through time and place. The first three of its four sections place themselves in the valleys of, respectively, the Lea, the Lot (in southern France), and the Rhine. Times of day, especially dawn and twilight, are significant at all points. The book’s fourth and final section, ‘Exile and the Kingdom’, follows a liturgical time sequence: beginning with ‘Nocturns’ and running through ‘Matins’, ‘Lauds’ and so on, through to ‘Compline’.

One might expect such a highly-structured collection to be formal in other ways: full of sonnets and sestinas, perhaps, woven with Biblical and liturgical imagery. Instead, Davies offers a series of free-floating and formally open meditations on life, meaning, and on human love as inherently carrying intimations of the spiritual. Influences from Eliot’s Four Quartets float close to the surface at some points (though, despite the book’s distinctive title, there seems no intended kinship with Camus’s volume of essays). In many ways this is a poetic autobiography. In the opening poem, ‘Across Country’, parents are hauntingly, even eerily present in the landscape of London, which is also the perspective of time:


              I tasted the cold scent of before dawn
And awoke. The streets were hollow and strange.
My father and mother threaded upriver
Past milestones shadowy in the neon lamplight,
Catford, Dulwich, Tulse Hill and Wandsworth
To the great wall of the way west at Kew.


This visionary sense of the city, ...


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