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This review is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

SAYING EVERYTHING C. Day Lewis, The Complete Poems (Sinclair-Stevenson) £25.00, £14.95 pb

It is said that an author's work goes into eclipse for ten or even twenty years after his or her death, then finds its level. So, twenty years after Day Lewis's death his widow has compiled and introduced, with affectionate pride, the Complete Poems: a handsome paperback from Sinclair-Stevenson, launching that imprint's poetry list. The occasion is clear enough, and the publicity material also emphasizes Jill Balcon's long service to poetry, recognized by an honorary degree from the Open University this year. Nevertheless, the publication is something of a puzzle: does it constitute a real service to the poet?

In her introduction, Jill Balcon is happy to quote several observations by Samuel Hynes, that astute commentator on the 'Auden generation'. Most tellingly, Hynes describes Day Lewis as 'a decent minor poet in the same tradition [as Hardy]', who 'helped to keep [the English lyric tradition alive'. The assessment seems perfectly just, and Jill Balcon does not appear to claim more for his work. What a pity then that she should choose, however understandably, to present us with the whole oeuvre (barring the translations of Virgil) - 732 pages of it - rather than a selection to entice new readers. As it stands, the bulk is forbidding.

The aspects prominent in Day Lewis's work are his romantic Communism in the 1930s; his English, rural, Hardyesque strain; his public persona as Poet Laureate; and his private quarrel with himself - a kind of restless dissatisfaction. Integral to ...


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