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This report is taken from PN Review 126, Volume 25 Number 4, March - April 1999.

Dog-Days and Definitions Lawrence Sail

In 1998 the dog-days arrived horribly punctually, with the deaths in July of Miroslav Holub and Zbigniew Herbert, and extended themselves by doleful alliteration to the end of October, when the news that Ted Hughes had died shocked a world largely in ignorance of his illness. The seeming suddenness of the event gave it an impact which was further heightened by the Laureate's last two books: Tales from Ovid, a runaway prizewinning success, and the book of poems about Sylvia Plath that trumped it, Birthday Letters. And, as became clear from the extent and warmth of tributes both public and personal, the loss was not only of a writer of tremendous range and depth, but of a man who worked tirelessly and in very many ways for the encouragement of literature and of writers. In doing so he demonstrated his own profound generosity and his commitment to the art. His absence defined sharply the scope of his achievements. It also highlighted the distinction with which he had occupied the Laureateship, not so much for the poems to which the office gave rise, but for the claims which it enabled him to make for poetry in a national context and internationally - he played on a broad stage. His Laureate poems proved once again that the best public poems are those which enable the writer to commandeer an occasion in order to write another of his own poems: the notable instance is 'A Rain Charm for the Duchy', written for ...

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