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This review is taken from PN Review 44, Volume 11 Number 6, July - August 1985.

THE LIFE SO SHORT John Pikoulis, Alun Lewis: A Life (Poetry Wales Press) £12.95

One stands in a special relation to the younger British poets who died in the 1939 war. Firstly, it is obvious that they might have continued to develop, and there is a charm about their innocence and failure. We honour their death. Then it is also a question of age. If one grew up in the war, they were only a few years older, yet the fact of war made them immeasurably more mature. If one grew backward, as most of us did in those days, one thought of Georgian and even some Victorian poetry as modern, and the natural language for poets. One never encountered Auden or Eliot or late Yeats until seventeen or eighteen; one was still reading Rupert Brooke and Sassoon and early Graves. Later, one became ashamed of one's boyish taste, and that attempt to be sophisticated made one contemptuous of everything 'Georgian', and possibly too soft and undiscriminating towards modernism. No doubt this was a crude but necessary discipline.

All the same it meant that the younger 1939 poets were expressing in language that was familiar to us emotions and experience rather beyond our juvenile comprehension, while had we but known it, other poets were expressing thoughts and feelings we did understand, or soon would, in a style that was beyond our scope. In Cairo for example, during the war, there were two groups of poets, and one would automatically have drifted into the more naive, which included G. S. Fraser and ...


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