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This review is taken from PN Review 28, Volume 9 Number 2, November - December 1982.

A SMELL OF TREE AND BEAST Peter Levi, Private Ground (Anvil) £3.25

This book, continuing the numbering of Five Ages and Collected Poems, goes from poem 242 to poem 275. But 251 ('Village Snow') is thirty short poems; 255 ('Comfort at Fifty') is 'Five Antiplatonic Sonnets'; 275 is four versions from Euripides and Aischylos.

In 212 ('The generations of my history . . .') in Five Ages Peter Levi declared: 'I will not write one word about that life/ that does not have a smell of tree and beast,/the migrations of butterflies and of berries'-meaning, I think, that any reflection on human life, and especially on human suffering, must root firmly in the natural facts of existence on earth, since 'there is nowhere else to be at home'. A wholehearted sensuousness, loyalty to an English zone of Elytis' 'this small world the great', is the philosophy also of Private Ground; for (266) 'there is no other place like this place'. Such a love of the world is invariably the predominant and often the only impulse in Peter Levi's poems. Again from Five Ages: 'I am like a dog really,/the scratching of stubble, the mere dust,/a certain sharpness in the dewy smells/do me as much good as the grace of heaven' (232). In such a person simple excitement at phenomena is the essence of the poetic state.

But, as I once heard Peter Levi quite rightly assert, merely noticing the dew on the apple (that is: being excited by phenomena) does not make one a poet. On that ...


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