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This article is taken from PN Review 42, Volume 11 Number 4, March - April 1985.

The Poetry of Matthew Mead Dick Davis

Matthew Mead, whose sixtieth birthday falls this year, has said that 'the important poem by a contemporary is, for me, Sabais's Generation.' This poem, which Mead and his wife have translated, records the life of a German whose adolescence was the years of the Third Reich, and whose introduction to manhood was the Wehrmacht's eastern front:

Our best cogitations dwell
in the rotted shin-bone that a peasant,
far away on the Dnieper,
far away on the Elbe,
tosses from his field . . .

and further in the same poem Sabais speaks of himself as one of the survivors who 'sometimes . . . forget those two who/rot for the third'. In the introduction to his translation Mead has commented,

The capital letter abstractions - Beauty, Love, Courage - are redefined by reference to incidents in war. The survivor cannot be certain that the past will remain the past. The present details of moneymaking and manufacture can be managed, as can the cocktails and canapés of the social round. But the present has much of an aftermath about it and there is always the feeling of being 'never quite thawed out' and the possibility of a surrealistic lapse into something which will, perhaps, never be done with. As a member of Sabais's generation I find his poem accurate. He presents the experience of that generation without self-pity, rhetoric, anger or blame. The difference ...

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