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

EMBLEMS OF MUTABILITY The Silence Afterwards: selected poems of Rolf Jacobsen, translated by Roger Greenwald (Princeton University Press) £19.00, £7.20 pb.

Selections from the poetry of Rolf Jacobsen have appeared in Swedish, Danish, Russian, Hungarian and Bulgarian translation. Versions of twenty of his poems by Robert Bly were published by the enterprising Seventies Press a decade ago; recently the White Pine Press of Buffalo brought out Breathing Exercise, a collection based on the volume of 1975 which bears this title. Jacobsen, who will shortly be eighty, seems to have been content to live and work beyond the focus of publicity, as a journalist on a local newspaper in the provinces. It must have come as something of a shock to him to learn that Princeton intended to include almost a hundred poems in their Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation, alongside such figures as Cavafy, Mandelstam, Ekelof, Zanzotto and René Char.

Jacobsen's arrival amid such distinguished company is presumably the reflection of a publishing policy determined to be even-handledly global. The Danish poet and critic Poul Borum has contributed a foreword which stresses that Jacobsen belongs in an international context by virtue of having published his first books in the 1930s, like Milosz, Pavese, Celaya, Guillevic and Günter Eich. The case is incontrovertible at the level of fact, but leaves out of account how in all these other instances - except possibly Milosz's - there is a background of cultures playing very dominant roles in European literary traditions, and a very broad base from which to work. Neither of these requirements could be found in a Norway which, ...


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