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This article is taken from PN Review 178, Volume 34 Number 2, November - December 2007.

Persephone in Hades Helena Nelson

In her seventieth year, Ruth Pitter gathered together all the poetry she wished to preserve for posterity. Poems 1926- 1966 (titled Collected Poems in the USA) drew on nine previous collections. The lengthy narrative poem Persephone in Hades does not feature in the volume. Much later, in 1990 and 1996, Enitharmon Press brought Pitter's works back into print with collected volumes, each able to draw on additional later writing. Again not a whisper of Persephone, except in the bibliography.

All the collected volumes actually list three publications from which no selection was subsequently drawn, namely the early First Poems and First and Second Poems (both published at Hilaire Belloc's expense) and the elusive, privately printed Persep hone in Hades. It seems reasonable to infer that the poet herself thought there was little worth saving here. But - nothing? Certainly Pitter's early poems are apprentice work, their influences palpable, but a handful are marked by that simple elegance of phrase which was to characterise the best of her later work. And of course they show what she was learning - how to work in formal structures. She could turn her hand, with impressive accuracy, to almost any verse form and, at a very young age, was developing pacing and sophistication, the ability to think (and to play) within metrical constraints. Surely a few of ...


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