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This review is taken from PN Review 151, Volume 29 Number 5, May - June 2003.

IMAGINING NATION RAPHAËL INGELBIEN, Misreading England: Poetry and Nationhood Since the Second World War (Editions Rodopi) €50/US$50

Benedict Anderson famously defined nation as `an imagined political community - and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign'. Such imaginings permeate our lives but also mean that nation remains elusive with, like poetry, fluid and flexible meanings in different contexts and over time. The continuing debate about England and Englishness that is almost a national tradition itself is the starting point for Raphaël Ingelbien's thoughtful study. The debate is founded, Ingelbien argues, on negative and positive feedbacks between writers. His approach is therefore intertextual and his concern is to delineate what he terms the `misreadings', strategic and otherwise, that poets have made of each other's work.

Ingelbien covers Seamus Heaney, Geoffrey Hill, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin and Eliot's nationalism in Four Quartets. One's initial disappointment at yet another study of canonical authors is alleviated by Ingelbien's decision to read Eliot, Hill, Hughes and Larkin in terms of their `dividing legacies'. This phrase, borrowed from an essay by Hill, usefully describes the way in which the poets' ambivalence about their own concerns has not only underwritten wildly divergent critical estimates but also enabled the `misreading' that gives the book its title. Larkin, for example, is vehemently anti-modernist and yet his work is rich in Eliotic symbolism. Ingelbien is good at showing how his chosen poets rewrite each other. There is a particularly alert reading of how Hill's Funeral Music uses deliberate echoes of Keith Douglas, Auden and Eliot to critique Eliot's view of history in Four ...


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