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This article is taken from PN Review 16, Volume 7 Number 2, November - December 1980.

George Steiner
There are screes and moraines in Dante, episodes of dizzying descent down cliff-faces in Inferno and vivid strains of ascent in Purgatorio. Wordsworth is formidable on the ache and tension of hill-walking, Coleridge and Shelley hymn the mauve and pink of Alpine sunsets. But, so far as I know, Ivor Richards is the only poet of technical mountaineering, the only rock and ice 'tiger' to have translated into verse the business of serious climbing. There poems stand out: 'Alpine Sketches', with its veering winds, 'cold walls' and 'insufferable light'; 'Resign! Resign!', with its 'limber footfall plunging down/The axe-head friendly in the palm'; and the glorious 'Hope', dedicated to his fellow-mountaineer, Dorothea:


Recall the Epicoun:
Night welling up so soon,
Near sank us in soft snow.
At the stiff-frozen dawn,
When Time had ceased to flow,
-The glacier ledge our unmade bed-
I hear you through your yawn:
'Leaping crevasses in the dark,
That's how to live!' you said.
No room in that to hedge:
A razor's edge of a remark.


But, of course, much more is at stake in these poems than even the high ecstasy of mountaineering. They are taut metaphors for what is so central to Richards's poetry and philosophy: the delight in risk, the poised delicacy of technique, the impish fun in a certain esotericism (climbers do not, says Richards, always reveal their routes), the special experience of agnostic reverence ...


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