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This article is taken from PN Review 11, Volume 6 Number 3, January - February 1980.

Exile and Ambassador (John Heath-Stubbs) Clive Wilmer

IN Penguin Modern Poets 20 there is a poem by John Heath-Stubbs called "His Excellency's Poetry". Though he has not seen fit to reprint it, it is an attractive poem and has much in common with some of the slighter pieces in The Watchman's Flute:


"His Excellency's poetry is mainly enigmatic"-
The reply of the interpreter, for the Chinese
      Ambassador,
To Robert Browning. The Chinese Ambassador,
Being, as the interpreter had explained,
A considerable poet in his own language,
Had expressed a desire to encounter
An English poet. Robert Browning,
A largely self-educated Nonconformist,
Was somewhat out of his depth. He had asked
Whether His Excellency's poetry
Was epic, lyric or dramatic?

In the year 1969 et seq.
I think of myself as an exile and an ambassador:
Confronted with a similar question, as I not
       infrequently am,
At cocktail parties and so on, I am tempted
To come back with a similar reply.


It is a light poem: elegant but informal: too genial to be thought satirical, yet with a vein of patrician bloody-mindedness. And that is what the poem is about-the contrasts embodied in its style: the poet is both exile and ambassador. The exile of the poet is a Romantic commonplace but, for all the importance to Heath-Stubbs of Romantic tradition and for all the burden of his own bookishness, ...


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