PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Jamie OsbornIn conversation with Sasha Dugdale
(PN Review 240)
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PN Review Blog
Monthly Carcanet Books
Next Issue Vahni Capildeo The Boisterous Weeping of Margery Kempe Paul Muldoon The Fly Sinead Morrissey Put Off That Mask Jane Yeh Three Poems Sarah Rothenberg Poetry and Music: Exile and Return

This review is taken from PN Review 97, Volume 20 Number 5, May - June 1994.

BRISTLES JOHN BAYLEY: Housman's Poems (Clarendon Press, Oxford) £25

This is abewildering book. Relaxed to thepoint of narcolepsy, Bayleysaunters through an obstacle course of pitfalls with apparent unconcern. He has a habit of adopting certain irritating mannerisms which one would hesitate to allow inastudent essay. Theuse of phrases like'must have' and 'might well have' in reference to Housman's feelings reminds me of sensationalist paperback accounts of 'real life' crimes, in which invention is substituted for fully researched insight into motivation. In literary criticism such speculation overlooks or ignores some very thorny issues concerning intentionality.

Bayley also adopts the lofty 'we' (or, in the singular,'the reader')when he means T-astrategy with which critics have traditionally glossed over the problem of addressing readers who may not share their own assumptions and values, or who may simply disagree. A case in point is the moment when he claims that 'we do not feel, any more than we do with Larkin, that Housman's is a limited and arrested kind of poetry'. But that is precisely what various critics have felt about both poets. Moreover, the argument against limitation is what one assumes to be the central point of Bayley's book. As such, it ought not to be taken for granted.

Perhaps the key problem here is that Bayley sticks too closely to an agenda set by Housman himself. Despite often conveying the feeling that he would rather be writing about more recent poets like Larkin and Paul Celan (on whom, indeed, there is a whole chapter, one of the ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image