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This article is taken from PN Review 46, Volume 12 Number 2, November - December 1985.

Jeffrey Wainwright Jeremy Hooker

Acute suspicion of language is a feature of some of the best modern poetry. This may be explained, briefly, by reference to the lesson Coleridge read, when in 'Fears in Solitude' he spoke of 'all our dainty terms of fratricide'. Modern history has greatly reinforced the lesson, and consequently poets have increasingly come to share Coleridge's knowledge of the corruptibility of language which enables it to be used as a means of distorting or concealing reality. This knowledge is not confined to modern poets, of course, but its pressure has led to their refinement of two closely related faculties: the historical sense, which is a perception of history in words and words in history, and the moral imagination, which sees the gap between language and reality and attempts to bridge it.

For Jeffrey Wainwright, a poet who remembers the lives destroyed by industrial society or expended in its wars, poetry involves scrupulous testing of language against the history which it reflects, or is used to manipulate or evade. This testing goes beyond the care for meaning of all good poetry, and manifests a suspicion of poetic artifice which Wainwright shares with a number of important modern poets, including the Polish poet Tadeusz Rózewicz, and the American George Oppen. In England its most notable representative is Geoffrey Hill, who has developed the tradition of moral imagination descending from Coleridge through the poets of both world wars and applied it to the witness of historical atrocities. Their sense of ...


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