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This review is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

Michael Schmidt CHARLES TOMLINSON

'The English have rather sloppy ideas about the relation between mind and feelings,' Charles Tomlinson said. 'One can only sigh and go on believing there is such a thing as passionate intellect.' It is a rueful comment and probably true. The prevailing taste is for a poetry that is all heart and gut, without much between the ears; or that moves with what Donald Davie despairingly calls 'the dying fall', nostalgic and resigned; or that trades in playful paradoxes and ironies.

Charles Tomlinson sighs - and goes on writing intellectual and passionate poetry. He envies French its 'power of sensuous abstraction' and tries to find such qualities in English. There is, for instance, his six-part sequence 'Movements', which includes these lines about how perception works:


How soon, in the going down, will he
  Outdistance himself, lose touch to gain
The confidence of what would use him? Where
  Does he stand - beyond the customary ritual,
The habitual prayer? We live
  In an invisible church, a derisible hurt,
A look-out tower, point of powerlessness:
  The kingdom he has entered is a place
Of sources not of silences; memory does not rule it,
  But memory knows her own there
In finding names for them, reading
  By the flames the found words kindle
Their unburnable identities: the going down
  Is to a city of shapes, not a pit of shades
(For all ...


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