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This review is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

NO LAUREL Ore, no. 28: W. E. Henley special issue, £1.50
Poetry Wales, vol. 18, no. 2, W. H. Davies special issue, £1.25

To be known to posterity by lines such as 'I am the master of my fate:/I am the captain of my soul' or 'What is this life if, full of care,/We have no time to stand and stare' is, for claimants to even a few shreds of laurel, a dubious distinction. It has been the fate, respectively, of W. E. Henley (1849-1903) W. H. Davies (1871-1940). Both, of course, have other claims to fame: Henley as a Victorian man of letters, Davies as a 'super-tramp'; now, however, two special issues, of Ore magazine on Henley, and Poetry Wales on Davies, aim to convince us that as poets they deserve at least modest laurel crowns. These issues are rather loosely edited, but in both, two well-known critical strategies can be discerned. The first of these is: assimilate to modernism. In certain poems Henley and Davies use colloquial language and focus on low life, thus we can grant them modernist respectability. The second strategy, more traditional but also more journalistic, is: go for the human interest. Easy with these two, since both endured periods of penury and, curiously, both lost limbs - Henley a leg through illness, Davies a foot in an accident. Thus we may see, behind their poetry, behind their public personae - bluff in Henley's case, benign in Davies's - the poète maudit and the suffering man. Can thy hard heart hold out against that?

André Guillaume, in his Ore guest editorial, sets aside the 'aesthetic' ...


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