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This review is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

MATTER AND MANNERS Elizabeth Bishop, The Collected Prose, edited by Robert Giroux (Chatto & Windus) £12.95
John Masefield, Letters to Reyna, edited by William Buchan (Buchan & Enright) £14.95

Poets are only writers of a kind. Many writers who are not poets are poets manqués, and their prose is sometimes in the bad sense more 'poetical' than what a poet would write. Still, a glance at the admittedly powerful prose of Swinburne and Dylan Thomas is enough to show that not all poets are immune from the falsely poetic, either inside or outside poetry. On the other hand the gravity and texture of Matthew Arnold, T. S. Eliot, or in Greek George Seferis in prose, and the dazzling brilliance of Victor Hugo in his journals, are part of their priest-like task of pure ablution round the shores of earth.

But a poet in occasional prose writings may have more than one voice. I would like to exclude novels from consideration. Letters show many differences of tone. The lecture, the critical article, the warm anecdote and the dramatic story have their own expected styles. It is an amazing achievement, even more so in prose than poetry, because it is the first sign of a poet but the final attainment of a prose writer, to have an individual style or signature recognizable in all styles, and this without mannerism. You would never mistake Hemingway's prose, or Hopkins or Pound either in prose or verse, but these are mannered writers. Orwell is rather individual without mannerism. Maugham had great narrative gifts, and his prose was in its day an excellent vehicle, but it lacked individuality. The subtle interfusion of ...


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