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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 5, Volume 5 Number 1, October - December 1978.

Letters to the Editors (Dudley Young, Michael Cayley, Donald Davie, John Matthias)
Dear PNR:

May I add a few comments to Grevel Lindop's lively piece on Northrop Frye (PNR 3).

1. Frye is a 'structuralist', attempting to do for occidental literature what Levi-Strauss tries to do for American mythology. Both men believe that the imagination has a knowable structure, which informs its expressions, just as a musical key informs the tunes that can be played in it. (One might add that interest in the nature of d-minor will tend to increase when Mozart stops composing).

2. The 'usefulness' of such knowledge is that it helps one to rise above (yea, transcend) one's doubtless imperfect existence, hedged in by illness, history and megabombs; to participate `ideally' in the fully human. As soteriology, Frye's idealism is orthodox.

3. Surely Lindop underrates the heavy wit. Frye, like McLuhan, is a Joyce freak, and both are quite serious about the need `to subordinate logic and sequence to the insights of metaphor and simile'. This is central to their totalizing ambitions. So it is with Levi-Strauss, whose work is an attempt to see the world as an elaborate and interminable pun. If Lindop thinks this is easier than traditional logic, he should try it. On second thought, perhaps he shouldn't, as it tends to make men mad.

4. Given an initial disposition to share their idealisms, the first argument with either Frye or Levi-Strauss is largely empirical: 'Are these categories adequate to the material they seek to classify?' Few people have enough erudition and wit to get into this game.

5. The second argument is theological, and comes down, as most serious arguments do, to one's views on incarnation. Which is more real, the forms we fail to embody, or the attempt to embody them? White radiance or stained glass? No danger of this question ever being 'objectively' answered, and hence one has only to expound one's historical situation. With many others. I used to emerge amazed from the Master's classes in about 1961, determined one day to get there too. But then the sixties ignited and we all ran out of space-time. The leisure, the scholarship, the cloistered concentration all gave way to the memorable manias: 'Whose side you on Buster?'; 'Do it!'; 'But I might die tonight!'. In a word, life got existentialized. A less glamorous word would be 'ego-bound'. Either way, the white radiance retreated, and the stained glass advanced.

Or take a larger historical situation: Modernism should have made Frye impossible. Once Mr Pound decreed that henceforth the only authentic radiance was to be fleetingly refracted through broken pieces of stained glass palimpsesting the European battlefields, who could say him nay?

Only a Canadian parson: in tepid Toronto the action was clearly in the library.

Ah to be young again, to drive once more with Nory now, and pierce the deep wood's woven shade.

Yours sincerely,
Colchester, Essex
DUDLEY YOUNG

ANDRé FRéNAUD

Sir:

In the note at the end of my essay on Frénaud in PNR 3, I said that there was no volume of translations of his poetry available in English. Since I wrote the essay, a selection of eighteen poems has been published by Interim Press (4 Northcroft Villas, Northcroft Road, Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey) in translations by Keith Bosley. The title of the selection is A Round O. The price is 40p (limited edition).

The selection is more than welcome. Keith Bosley captures well Frénaud's often deliberately ugly diction as he portrays 'the grease of failed undertaking', but is equally at home with those passages where Frénaud exploits the musical potentiality of the French language, as when one of the magi declares that 'the world muses across our march/through the grass of the low places'. (Note the quiet significance of 'low'.) Above all, Keith Bosley reproduces the sense of a refusal to be content with illusion, of the urgent necessity to confront a real, godless (in every sense) world however unpleasant, that is one of the strengths of Frénaud.

The choice of poems includes two of the central works in Frénaud's oeuvre: 'The Magi' and 'Peasants', together with a number of shorter poems. It is a pity that space did not permit the inclusion of more of the longer poems, since Frénaud is generally at his best when he writes at some length. Hopefully this pamphlet will whet the appetite, and a fuller selection will be published in due course.

Yours, etc.
London
MICHAEL CAYLEY

BEFORE ITS TIME

Clive Wilmer says (PNR 4, Letters) that I have made 'certain errors of fact' which 'need correction'. What I said was that Robert Wells 'like others who were at King's College, Cambridge a few years ago' (and I specified Wilmer, Michael Vince and Dick Davis) 'seems to have been early introduced to, or inoculated with, the poetry and criticism of the Californian Yvor Winters.' And everything Wilmer says at unnecessary length about himself and these friends of his is to the effect that my guess was quite correct. So what and where are my 'errors of fact'?

Whatever friendships may or may not have been struck up in King's Parade some years ago has no bearing on my opinion of Ten English Poets, and is really of very little interest to me or anyone else. Posterity may not thank Wilmer at all fervently for the information that 'Vince and Davis . . . have only met on one occasion and do not even correspond'. There may come a time when we'll be glad to be enlightened on these matters, but that time is not yet.

At the end of his letter Wilmer admits that it 'baffles' him to find me so unsympathetic to the diction of his poetry, in view of my Purity of Diction in English Verse and my two books on Ezra Pound. Has it not occurred to him that in those books I was dealing with great poets at or near the height of their powers? In poetry as in anything else there are thresholds to be reached and crossed. A Wordsworth or a Pound may adopt with impunity and to glorious effect procedures which we have a duty to question when we come across them in the work of inexperienced poets still unsure and groping.
DONALD DAVIE

OUT OF THE AIR

Sir:

Trying to avoid a total identification of myself with what I feared (rightly, in the end, after the editing) was going to sound like a pitch for a new (PNR oriented) formalism on the Kaleidoscope programme devoted to poetry of 5 August 1977, I unfortunately implied a wholesale dislike of Peter Scupham's The Hinterland, a book which in fact I admire quite a lot, while meaning only to call attention to certain inherent dangers for a poet with his particular preoccupations (many of which, in fact, I share). Though it is nearly impossible to make subtle distinctions or qualifications while trying to talk about five books of poetry in ten minutes-something I don't think I'll sign on to do again-I feel I owe it to Scupham to clarify the matter. I'm sending this to PNR because two of its editors were on the programme with me, and because Scupham regularly publishes in its pages.

Yours, etc.
Clare Hall, Cambridge
JOHN MATTHIAS

[Michael Schmidt writes: John Matthias sensed a plot or 'pitch' when none existed. I selected five books by poets not widely known-books I'd enjoyed reading-then chaired a discussion between Matthias and Davie. An outsider to the 'poetry scene' implied in his Observer radio review that it was virtually hostile. The truth of the matter lay somewhere between these poles of response.]

This item is taken from PN Review 5, Volume 5 Number 1, October - December 1978.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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