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This review is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.

THE ANGLE OF A LANDSCAPE Helen McNeil, Emily Dickinson (Virago Pioneers) £2.95

Emily Dickinson's poetry is amongst the purest in the language. Traditional critical approaches that consider the poet in relation to her historical period, or that focus upon her particular and peculiar biography or upon chronological development, yield in her case especially arid and unhelpful results. So, too, do recent critical and theoretical methods. Her often enigmatic, ambiguous and epigrammatic poems seem to have more to do with poetry itself, and its possibilities, than with external matters, personal or public. Read one by one, the poems burn with an intensity that springs from fully felt individual experience but that, at the same time, transcends the individual. The best of the poems reveal to us a symbolic realm of spiritual 'truth' which is predicated upon the material world but which escapes the mutable. This is made possible by her total and humble dedication to poetry; by her belief that symbolizing and metaphorizing are mankind's highest 'natural' activities. Whatever external subject she addresses becomes both fixed and vibrant, in accord with her own profound sensibility and awe in the presence of incomprehensible externality. It is fixed because of her mastery of the craft, and vibrant because of the multiplicity of meanings and levels of perception and sensation evoked in her dense and often daring figures.

Helen McNeil's new study of the poet and her work is, in many ways, direct and helpful. It springs from her belief that Dickinson is 'one of the indispensable poets in English; one of the ...

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