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This review is taken from PN Review 40, Volume 11 Number 2, November - December 1984.

THE GIFT OF WITNESS Salvatore Quasimodo, Complete Poems, translated and introduced by Jack Bevan (Anvil Press) £10.00, £5.95 pb.

'The war jolted a poetic language that was reaching out towards an involvement with aspects of the earth in order to attain the universal.' These words from the 'Discourse on Poetry', printed wisely at the end of the book, comment aptly on the course of Quasimodo's own poetry, revealed in Jack Bevan's scrupulous and affectionate translations as absorbing in its own right, but also as the fascinating interplay of the poet as possessor of a gift and the poet as historical witness.

To read the poems written before the war is to encounter a poet whose gifts are primarily elegiac and lyrical: the dominant notes are a sense of the sweetness of the earth, a fond celebration of its closeness and its secretiveness, together with intimations of the lost childhood of man, the heart waylaid by the snares of the world. At worst this can become the kind of innocence which seems to be looking for something to bruise itself on - but at best it produces poems of great tenderness and resonance which listen intently to the world and persuade the reader to do likewise. Recurrent themes and vocabulary - waters, trees, stars, white flowers, the play of light and shade - convincingly create a sort of darkly exotic heartland. The word 'heart' recurs again and again - not as any kind of rag-and-bone shop, but as the commanding symbol of a total complicity between landscape and poet, or rather a mutual absorption, what one poem ...


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