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This review is taken from PN Review 2, Volume 4 Number 2, January - March 1978.

NOT HOW BUT WHAT Elizabeth Daryush, Collected Poems, with an introduction by Donald Davie, Carcanet, £3.25.

This extraordinary book poses extraordinary problems for the reviewer. On the one hand, Mrs Daryush has some impressive critical backers: notably Yvor Winters, in a 1936 essay, in his introduction to the 1948 selection of her poems, in In Defense of Reason (1949) and in Forms of Discovery (1967); Roy Fuller, in his first volume of Oxford lectures, Owls and Artificers; and Donald Davie, in the introduction to the present edition. That is a formidable triumvirate, and some of their claims seem to me just, though Winters's are characteristically provocative.

On the other hand, most of Mrs Daryush's poems are flimsy and many are astonishingly weak. The least convincing part of Davie's introduction is to do with his assertion that 'we are required to tolerate a "timeless" or archaic or improperly marmoreal expression for the sake of the beautiful and meaningful cadence which it makes possible': the general point is a sound one (we do accept ugly cadences too readily in other poets in return for 'a racy or pungent turn of speech') but the problem in Mrs Daryush's case goes well beyond diction. The difficulty is not how but what: often she seems to have nothing to say. Abstractions (morality, anger, sorrow, trouble, life, truth) are frequently addressed and have to bear too much weight. Disembodied pronouns and vague seasons float through too many poems. Experiences are generalized and unrealized. In what I take to be an early poem (though the order is not strictly chronological), ...


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