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This review is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

A PRAYER ANSWERED MARSHALL WALKER, Dear Sibelius: Letter from a Junky (Kennedy & Boyd) £16.95

Dear Sibelius is an autobiography, a sampler of pertinent poetry from Robert Penn Warren to Hugh MacDiarmid, and a detailed exposition of all the major works of Jean Sibelius, the composer who has been Marshall Walker's deepest artistic companion for most of his life. It is a testament to how the work of artists and poets, and especially this particular composer, can help you to live.

We begin with Walker as a boy in Glasgow, in the 1940s. Hearing beyond the cliché of 'Finlandia' to the hymn-like sonority and sense of prayer within it, the young listener is dismayed to discover the offensively banal words which he's asked to sing to accompany it: 'Be still my soul: the Lord is on your side; / bear patiently the cross of grief and pain...' Already he knows these pieties won't do: life is more difficult. Yet there is a dream, a better land to reach for. The church offers doubletalk but the Finnish people surge towards freedom from the oppressions of Tsarist, and later, Bolshevik, Russia. Meanwhile Hitler has a moustache confusingly similar to Charlie Chaplin's, and closer to home, similar to the moustache worn by the Dad who takes the wee boy fishing on the Isle of Lismore. Where do you find co-ordinate points in all this? How could all the great music of the world be connected to the indignities and confusions of the immediate world, not to speak of the conflict of war beyond ...


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