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This article is taken from PN Review 129, Volume 26 Number 1, September - October 1999.

Shelf Lives: 7: Norman Cameron Peter Scupham

Forgive Me, Sire

Forgive me, Sire, for cheating your intent,
That I, who should command a regiment,
Do amble amiably here, O God,
One of the neat ones in your awkward squad.

Norman Cameron's quatrain has been one of those strays that won't drown but have kept on sinking and surfacing in my head since the 1950s. Leaving aside the attractive irony, the modest vanity which would appeal to a literary exnational Service NCO, that cameo self-portrait has an awful lot of what Cameron was so disarmingly good at - an unfussed clarity and elegance of diction, a spare and very English - except that he was a Scot - quality of diffident excellence which has now become period. And, of course, that memorability which makes the poem almost impossible to forget after a couple of readings. No strain, just that delicious 'amble amiably' which draws a quick, delighted smile and there it is, bobbing about in the head for decades.

It's not a book people part easily with, that slim Hogarth Press 1957 volume, the Collected Poems of Norman Cameron, 1905-1953, with its portrait and fifteen-page introduction by Robert Graves, its modest and sufficient gathering of 59 poems. Trust Graves, that most lucid exemplar of English how-she-should-be-wrote to find these poems so much to his taste, just as, in 1924, he had with an earlier and equal enthusiasm introduced John Crowe Ransom to an English readership with the ...

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