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

IN THE FIELDS OF LEARNING Josephine Miles, Collected Poems: 1930-83 (University of Illinois Press) $25.00

'Bad quartos were my first love', and continued, as she promptly admitted, a lasting attachment: 'Ever since/I have remained in the particular possession/Of their providence'.

At the time of her recent death, Josephine Miles enjoyed only a curiously muted reputation; in Britain - and except for a few enthusiasts - she is scarcely known at all. The standard objection to her work has been that it is cold and intellectual. Certainly, she was a scholarly poet (only a scholar, after all, could take provenance for providence); but to confuse surface with superficiality is to miss the very passionate conviction in all she wrote that verse affords some antidote to wrack and sorrow. 'Bibliographer', from the 1950s collection Prefabrications, is not so much unwontedly personal as untypically self-revealing. It continues and ends:


Though increasingly wild the world
And as death corrupt,
My first love brings me succor
As I learn its script.

So that, in my presence,
Rank and complete
Spoil and error
Are not really dissolute.

I will take them up
And gently gent-
Ly love them, tell them
What they have probably meant.


There is very little of the confessional in this, but equally very little of the persona. Miles was professor of English at Berkeley and her instincts are almost always, savingly, to the didactic. It was never a quality entirely to endear her ...


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