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This item is taken from PN Review 152, Volume 29 Number 6, July - August 2003.

Letters from Peter Brennan, Alison Brackenbury, John Lucas, Ronald Gaskell
Holy Hopkins


While teaching Gerard Manley Hopkins to my GCSE class recently, I was as usual at pains to stress that there is no such thing as a `correct' reading of a poem. One of my more pedantic pupils pointed out that one must nevertheless register the text precisely if a reading is to have validity. I made some ironic remark about stating the obvious.

Imagine therefore my consternation on reading Adam Czerniawski's essay. `Holy Heraclitus' in PNR 150. It is hardly surprising that he misinterprets Hopkins' `That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire... ` sonnet when he fails to pay careful attention to what Hopkins actually wrote. He asserts that `The... difficulty with this text is that the promise of the title, as far as Heraclitus is concerned, is not fulfilled. There is only the brief and value "Million-fuelèd, nature's bonfire burns out".' Hopkins of course wrote, `... nature's bonfire burns on.' (Emphasis added). This may be brief, but it is hardly vague - and it amply fulfils the `promise of the title'.

In any case, Mr Czerniawski seems not to know where the title proposes the `demolition' of the Heraclitean `doctrine' by Christianity (in his first paragraph on the poem), or whether he should take the conjunction `and' at face value (as he seems to do in his second, quoted above).

Unabashed, Mr Czerniawski proceeds to berate Hopkins for not interpreting the Heraclitean fire literally! (I am not sure, by the way, how he counts `eleven' lines devoted to the Greek philosopher.)

It is therefore horribly ironic when Mr Czerniawski, in his best self-aware, post-modernist mode, observes that `Our embarrassment when reading Kochanowski, Eliot, Hopkins, Milosz or Mahon may be rather a measure of our erudition.' Mr Czerniawski's erudition might prove more convincing if he showed himself capable of reading accurately. The exercise of such a capacity would certainly show a concern for poetry rather than a desire merely to appear clever at the expense of poetry. It might also save him from a different kind of embarrassment.


Of Mice and Muses


May I add a postscript to my recent article on poetry and the Internet, `The Muse and The Mouse' (PNR 151)?

A reader has helpfully pointed out to me that the Poetry Library has an outstanding Links section. It does indeed look most useful, and I recommend it to other browsing readers. It can be found at (under `Other Sites').

by email


In her interesting piece `The Muse and the Mouse', Alison Brackenbury says that `Despite the merits of publication in a collection or a literary journal, as Marlowe's Mortimer says in Edward II, "There is a world elsewhere."' Well, no. At the end of the play, as he's about to be led off to execution, Mortimer instructs Queen Isabella `weep not for Mortimer,/That scorns the world, and, as a traveller,/Goes to discover countries yet unknown.' Shakespeare may have had this somewhere in his mind when he has Coriolanus spurn `the common cry of curs' who banish him from Rome. `Despising/For you the city,' he tells them, `thus I turn my back;/There is a world elsewhere.'


Of Knights and Men


Your reviewer T.J.G. Harris suggests (PNR 151) that L.C. Knights had no time for Granville-Barker's Prefaces. This is less than fair to Knights. Their approaches to Shakespeare were very different, but Knights was too good a critic to suppose that his own was the only useful way of talking about the plays. In Some Shakespearean Themes (1959) he speaks of Elizabethan stage performances and observes that `The ways in which Shakespeare took such abundant advantage of the opportunities for speed, continuity, contrast and general flexibility of handling have been brilliantly demonstrated by Granville-Barker in his Prefaces to Shakespeare.' In a later chapter of the same book he twice refers to Granville-Barker's Prefaces with repect.



The Ronald Mason/Charles Olson letters, published in PNR 149 are held in the Special Collections library of the University of Connecticut and were printed with permission. Copyright © University of Connecticut Library 2003. (This information was inadvertently omitted.)

On his death in 1970, Charles Olson's books and papers were acquired by the University of Connecticut. Much of the unpublished material, including the completed Maximus Poems, was seen through the press by the first curator of the Olson Archive, George Butterick. The present curator is Rutherford Witthus, whose help with the Olson-Mason correspondence is greatly appreciated.

This item is taken from PN Review 152, Volume 29 Number 6, July - August 2003.

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