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This review is taken from PN Review 116, Volume 23 Number 6, July - August 1997.

TO KNOW THE PAST IN MERCY STEPHEN TAPSCOTT, From the Book of Changes (Carcanet) £7.95

The praise which. T.S. Eliot offered Sir ]ohn Davies also recommends Stephen Tapscott: 'He speaks like a man reasoning with himseif in solitude, and he never raises his voice.' Relatively unrecognized at home in America, Tapscott claims that his third collection, From the Book of Changes, follows the I Ching ('book of changes') and Czeslaw Milosz. He is overshadowed by the texts that inform him, and his philosophical divagations are more interesting as insights to the via contemplativa than as poetry, yet his sincerity is endearing: 'I try/to tell the unst~ategic truth now, in a quieter voice.'

The most productive tension between Tapscott's volume and the work of divination is suggested by Jung's preface to the I Ching. The Chinese do not think in terms of causal relationships, which leave little room for interpretative intuition; urgent in Tapscott's poetry, however, is his anxiety regarding 'the awful causes' and their effects. In 'At the Last Judgement', he says he will ask the angel to stop winding his life back 'because/I do not understand, and surely I will need to explain.' While practitioners of the I Ching learn the laws of transformation in order to cooperate with the probable course of future events, Tapscott's search is grounded in the past, since understanding causality is required for forgiveness. 'Many things I have thought anq felt I am not proud of and are best not talked about,' he writes in the opening poem, claiming that God 'does not after all demand ...


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