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

Honest as the Night Alan Young

'In Insula Avalonia' is a puzzling and compelling poem. Some of the puzzles are caused by a dearth of punctuation, which is a characteristic of nearly all Sisson's poetry reprinted in In the Trojan Ditch (1974). 'The proof of the poem - any poem-', said Sisson in his foreword to that collection, 'is in its rhythm'. But 'rhythm' has complex meaning for Sisson; no single reading aloud of the first section of 'In Insula Avalonia' (even one by Sisson himself) can completely dispel the reader's sense of missing connections:

Huge bodies driven on the shore by sleep
The mountain-woman rocks might fall upon
And in the cavity the heaped-up man.

Sleep on the island like a witty zone
Seas break about it, frolicking like youth
But in the mists are eyes, not dancers, found.

Hurt is the shepherd on the inland hill
He has a cot, a staff and certain sheep
Stones are his bed, his tables and his bread.

This is not where the sirens were, I think
But somewhere, over there, the next approach
Behind that other island in the mist.

That was the song, beyond the linnet-call
At the cliff's edge, below the plunging gull
The fish it found, the enemy or Christ.

In the first 'sentence' or stanza does 'mountain-woman' tell us about the shape and size of the ...

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