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This article is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

George Gascoigne: An Advocacy Roger Pooley

REVIEWERS of new poetry used to ask of authors a distinctive 'voice'. It's probably a change in critical fashion, in the backwash of deconstruction, that has muted such demands. Now we are to look for plurality and range, with perhaps a residual suspicion of the young clever dick with his 'technical facility'. In trying to make a case for the poetry of George Gascoigne, not just in the context of Elizabethan literary history, but as a vital point of reference for readers and writers of contemporary poetry, I am torn between these two desiderata. In an odd way, Gascoigne satisfies them both.

The more distinguished case has been made for Gascoigne's univocal seriousness. Those who have followed Yvor Winters's classification of the sixteenth-century lyric into 'plain' and 'aureate', 'native' and 'Petrarchan', have found Gascoigne one of the best of the poetical plain dealers. Winters's preference for the poetry which establishes 'the truth of the truism' led him to advocate much that seems to me to be versified moralism; but some of Gascoigne's poetry, most notably 'Gascoigne's Memories', triumphantly attains that most difficult of poetic climaxes, the generalisation which is already known, even established, but which seems to have been thought through and arrived at through genuine conflict and rediscovery. 'Memories' were set up as an exercise in just that, on five semi-proverbial themes set by Gascoigne's friends in Gray's Inn. (Memory comes into it because Gascoigne composed them all in his head before setting them down.) The ...


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