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This article is taken from PN Review 121, Volume 24 Number 5, May - June 1998.

A Lyric Voice at Bay Eavan Boland

Critics work in a text. Biographers work in the foreground and the background. And the critic's work is made much harder when the background has been overwritten by events, interpretations and frank and forgetful prejudice. At that point the critic has to do some double-jobbing in order to rescue the text from the biographical background and the reader's resistance.

Albert Gelpi has set himself a hard task.1 Cecil Day Lewis, at least at first glance, is a decidedly awkward subject. Before reading this book I would have said Day Lewis was a refugee from the 1930s: and Anglo-Irish Georgian, who admired Tom Moore and consorted with Auden. A gentlemanly Communist. A hopelessly lyric inhabitant of a hard-driving decade. A poet who didn't so much lose his identity as have it handed to him in fragments: national, poetic, political. I suspect I shared my lack of real knowledge with other poetry readers: Day Lewis, I am reluctant to admit, had fallen so far below the horizon of my interest that I had ceased to enquire too much whether my views were based on instinct or just a blunt lack of reading.

And yet I should have enquired. Apart from anything else - and in a very slight way I was acquainted with him: he came to Dublin at the end of the 1960s and I interviewed him. Without having the exact words, I sensed both the grace and malaise behind the courteous, epigrammatic façade. The interview ...


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