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This article is taken from PN Review 39, Volume 11 Number 1, July - August 1984.

'Cerne Abbas is a name I like' C.H. Sisson and Place Jonathan Barker

I remember walking across Green Park one dry autumn afternoon trying to remember where I had read the lines: 'Badger my friend on the periphery of the city/The snow covers the time of the Incarnation/And I cannot understand the hard mind of God.' Later, quite by chance, I rediscovered the poem 'The Shortest Day' in C. H. Sisson's Numbers (1965). I still see this as a key Sisson book. In it a calm voice plainly expresses powerful emotions common to us all:


Now you have left that face I am perplexed
To find no-one where I have loved best.
That is why, in the High Street, I stare
Wondering whether there is anyone anywhere.


The depth of the feeling creates the strong, elegant and purposeful movement of these lines. Readers who demand detail of image or small surprising local effects will not find them in Numbers. Sisson is a poet whose importance lies in the 'development of rhythm' within his work. This particular book is full of poems with memorable lines, especially final lines, in which language is always in the service of feeling and thought: 'If we have reasons, they lie deep.' ('The Nature of Man'); 'And the only certainty is that night will fall.' ('Things Seen'); 'What does not reply is the answer to prayer.' ('The Temple'). Sisson's earlier poems are often overshadowed by the more subtly-rhythmed meditative poems first published in In the Trojan Ditch ...


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