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This review is taken from PN Review 106, Volume 22 Number 2, November - December 1995.


Since the appearance of Constantine's Selected Poems in 1991, a single short poem from the 'New Poems' section has germinated an epic in nine cantos. 'Under that bag of soot' consists of an extended metaphor, its tenor the pathos of stunted growth and its vehicle an amorphous plant denied light, air and space, whose 'damaged yellow' pallor prompts the thought of 'A man like that/Released into the community with a shaved head'. This figure in turn reminds the poet of 'Caspar on the asphalt with his wounded feet'.

Caspar Hausar puts flesh on the bones of this enigma, a young German confined to a cellar for most of his childhood then released in Nuremberg in 1828. The poem consists of eight period cantos, with a cast of characters and narrators including Caspar's three principal guardians, Georg Frederick Daumer, a scholar and poet; Clara Biberbach, who 'conceived a passion for him which he did not reciprocate'; and Philip Henry Stanhope, the Fourth Earl, one of many 'Famous'/More or less crazy Stanhopes' who 'litter the earth'; and a single contemporary canto, which dramatises the speaker's response to the sufferings of innocents - children and the mentally ill - in our own communities. The stanza-form is a rough approximation of terza rima, off-rhyming. either aab or abb, for the most part, though full rhyme, identical rhyme, half-rhyme and variant stanzas all frequently occur; an appropriately Dantesque form for an insistently allegorical poem.

The rendering of the conditions of ...

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