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This review is taken from PN Review 114, Volume 23 Number 4, March - April 1997.

A DELICATE EQUIPOISE MiCHAEL HAMBURGER, Collected Poems 1941-1994. (Anvil) £25.00

Assessing the work of a younger poet in Books in Scotland Robin Bell recently made this remark: 'He is not yet, thank God, at a stage where he has "found his voice", a phrase that tends to mean that the writer has fallen into a monotone that will last fifty years.' Whatever tonalitive consequences the clearing of such a hurdle may on occasion inflict upon a poet's range, the distinction inferred by the phrase is nonetheless traditionally met with critical celebration rather than complaint. Has not the aspirant successfully negotiated a mysterious rite de passage, struggling free of the anxieties of interfering influence, coming into his or her 'own'? The poetic individual, we understand, has emerged. Ecce signum: a peculiar 'sound' by which we shall henceforth know the maker of his or her own (albeit verbal) fate.

The distinction, of course, is shorthand; we need a term to convey that we have come to recognize a poet by some seemingly unmistakable quality - as much perhaps by gesture or stance as by idiosyncratic cadence. And yet circumstances, personal and political, combined with a deeply felt mistrust of 'personality'-hype of every kind, might make a poet wary of the implied accolade. One of modernity's most disturbing continuities has been the complex interdependence of its considerable discontents and a cult of the world-transmuting potency of the charismatic individual.

Between 'Palinode' (1952), the poem that introduced his collection The Dual Site (1958), and which marked his 'recantation' of ...


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