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This review is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.

A SAD HEART Randall Jarrell, The Complete Poems (Faber) £5.50 pb

What endears Jarrell as critic to the embattled intellectuals who read him is the passion with which he prophesies a glorious past, just around the corner. How poignant his regret is! How full his understanding! And, above all, how compendiously he ranges, ransacking a wonderful entirety of experience where a book can be seen to give as much as ten years of life. Those who store in their fibre an almost violent sense of cultural connection treasure Jarrell the critic for his keenness, his nostalgia, his love of truth and beauty, his fine discrimination, his ruthless rightness within the massive context of cultural one-ness.

Jarrell the poet fares worst where Jarrell the critic fares best. It is a curious thing that, whereas many poets are well stiffened by a reaching out to things and an empathy for others, other poets are weakened in the very moment of reaching out. Jarrell could often seem one of these latter. M.L.Rosenthal, in an authoritative essay on Jarrell's poetry (in Seven American Poets, edited by Denis Donoghue), has said this well: 'His mind was similar to Hardy's and to Owen's in its fusion of informed objectivity with a compassion as close to sentimentality as intelligence and taste would allow'. Sentimentality . . . It is the word we now use to damn writing in which empathy, or the compassionate reflex, rules the thought; the word recurs in Rosenthal's essay, so that in the end the implicit judgement is clear enough-that Jarrell ...


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