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This article is taken from PN Review 170, Volume 32 Number 6, July - August 2006.

From Glasgow to Nineveh Robyn Marsack

This is the slightly amended text of the John Masefield Lecture for the Poetry Association of Scotland, given at the Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh on 15 February 2006.

While this lecture focuses on Edwin Morgan, I have been reading works by and about Masefield, too, and have found some interesting - perhaps surprising - convergences in the two poets, indeed the two Laureates. Thinking about Masefield took me back to schooldays - as thinking about Morgan would take many Scottish readers of the past twenty years back to theirs. I believe that the first poetry anthology I encountered in my New Zealand school when I was ten or eleven had a green cloth cover. I'm quite sure of three poems that it contained, each with its mesmerising couplet: '"Is anybody there," said the Traveller, /Knocking on the moonlit door ... '; 'And at my feet the pale green Thames/ Lies like a rod of rippled jade'; 'Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir, /Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine ... '

The first is, of course, 'The Listeners' by Walter de la Mare, an outmoded poet now, although I defy anyone to read that poem and not feel that it is the Real Thing. Does anyone know the second? I'd have been surprised. It's Oscar Wilde's 'Symphony in Yellow'. I didn't know anything about that fin-de-siècle sensibility, or the echo of Whistler in the title, or who Wilde was, but I found the sound ...


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