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This report is taken from PN Review 55, Volume 13 Number 5, May - June 1987.

Letter from Germany Michael Hulse
At mid-decade the most arresting feature of new German poetry is its return to the values of the Heimat, and (to an extent) to the nationalist spirit that implies. This is all the more striking since German poetry since 1945, for reasons that need no explaining, has preferred to avoid that insistent nationalism which is so signally present in English poetry. In England, a great deal of valuable twentieth-century poetry, and everything that we conveniently label 'the English tradition', would not exist if England had developed the same scruple about naming components of the national identity, defining totems and icons, as Germany developed. The comparison is illuminating.

If you are Edward Thomas, Betjeman, Larkin, or Andrew Motion, and you want to rally the Club response, you appeal to the spirit of Englishness by writing of 'The British Grenadiers', hawthorn-time in Wiltshire, Kennington, the North Downs, 'The White Horse', and all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire (Thomas); of Leamington Spa, prunes and suet, the Butterfield aisle rich with Gothic enlacement, the Thames, a Bath teashop (and its ingle-nook), Baker Street, and above all the Church of England (Betjeman); of cycle-clips, Coventry, Cups and Stakes and Handicaps, Whitehall, coach-party annexes, London and its postal districts, the Oval, an awful pie, and the point where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet (Larkin); of Bristol, Dartmoor, Essex, Princess Elizabeth, the Downs, the World Service News, Edward Lear and white cliffs (Motion).

Up to a point, none of this need be ...


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