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

VISIONARY POLITICS Douglas Oliver, The Infant and the Pearl (Ferry Press, London) £2.00 pb.

This booklet contains one poem of 1200 lines based on the metre, and something of the manner, of the fourteenth-century poem known as Pearl. In substance it is a dream-narrative of British politics in the 1980s, enfolding both elegy and satire in the structure of a meditational quest. The narrator, the 'I' of the poem, is the modern self faced with the task of understanding the condition of the nation, and this, it is insisted, is a personal process, so that although the poem is obviously a political one, it is not altogether a public one. It is in fact more like an imaginative realization of the democratic ideal: the individual comprehends the political scene by actually being it. Thus the political and economic failure of the 1980s, and the suffering it causes, is felt by the narrator as a personal liability, and the adventures he goes through constitute a quest for integrity in a waste-land of guilt and disregard, as he moves upwards through layers of status and power in search of an answer to the mess. The narrator dreams himself into an identity with a figure of possible power, until that figure can no longer bear the pressure of responsibility and changes into another - a series of metamorphoses.

The story is, in a crude summary, that the dreamer suffers a vision of social perfection, an ideal female figure of Socialism, the rose-tinted Pearl, the jewel of flesh as against the false pearl or metal ...


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