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This review is taken from PN Review 157, Volume 30 Number 5, May - June 2004.

VOCATIONS AND PROFESSIONS PHILIP MCDONAGH, Carraroe in Saxony (Dedalus) £7.95/ €10 pb; £12.95/€16 hb
JAN TWARDOWSKI, Serious Angel: A Selection of Poems, translated from the Polish by Sarah Lawson and Malgorzata Koraszewska (Dedalus), £7.95/€10

Diplomacy and poetry have a long history, beginning in English-language poetry with Chaucer, in the usual double lives of poets. The twentieth century was notable for its diplomat poets, for example, Milosz, Neruda, Paz and Seferis. It could be supposed that at the level of technique the requirement not to put a semantic foot wrong in the drafting of a minute or communiqué necessarily maintains a poet's alertness to the right word in the right place at the right time. Geoffrey Hill in his necessary essay `Caveats Enough in Their Own Walks' from his book The Enemy's Country explores the professional life of Sir Henry Wotton as ambassador, firstly, to the Republic of Venice and then to the imperial court at Vienna. As ever with Hill the argument is intricate and the example of Wotton is one of a number cited in the book to display poetic intelligence engaged in negotiation with the constraints imposed by `imployments', `businesse', `motions'. Hill directs us to Wotton's poem `On His Mistress, the Queen of Bohemia'. He reminds us that Elizabeth of Bohemia was daughter to James I and married to that Elector Palatine whose ill-considered assumption of the throne of Bohemia triggered the Thirty Years War. The poem is addressed to the `Most Resplendent Queen, even in the Darknesse of Fortune'. As such it is an effort to preserve the integrity and beauty of his patron from the troubles about her rather than an exercise in Parnassian poetry-making.

Philip McDonagh ...


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