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This article is taken from PN Review 134, Volume 26 Number 6, July - August 2000.

The Old Immortality Bunfight James Keery

Among the writers invoked by Donald Davie in the conclusion to Thomas Hardy and British Poetry is Michael Ayrton, who, since he was one of the most luridly neo-romantic artists of the age, one might have expected Davie to disdain. In her biography of Ayrton, Justine Hopkins relates how mutual involvement in the founding of the Department of Art at Essex University brought the two together, 'at first in wary alliance, later in warm and genuine friendship'. As an artist, Ayrton may have begun to receive his due, notably from Malcolm Yorke in The Spirit of Place: Nine Neo-Romantic Artists; as a poet and novelist, except by his biographer, he has been altogether overlooked. Yet The Maze Maker, to which Davie alludes (and which he also reviewed at some length), is an intriguing, intermittently beautiful book. The minute description of Dedalus's 'lostwax' technique of bronze-working gains authenticity from Ayrton's own duplication of the legendary honeycomb complete with bronze bees:

I mantled each fragile carapace and burnt it out of the mantle and, making each laborious insect laboriously immortal, I poured gold into these tiny moulds. When, many hours later, I broke them open there were seven bees of solid gold. Each wing and every leg perfect, they lay on the palm of my hand ... And I fastened the bees upon the comb so that they seemed to be coming and going about their sacred business without which no man could cast the bronze doors of ...


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