Hope, A(lec) D(erwent)
Hope, A(lec) D(erwent) 1907–
Hope is an Australian poet and critic. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-22.)
Hope's best poems [in Collected Poems] are about confusions of sexual power and the way in which it both awakens and destroys the feelings…. His skill is partly one of reinterpretation. The literary scene is one we know, but the characters have been assigned new positions on stage, Persephone hesitant, caught between the "cool, bright glance" of Hermes and the riveting powers of her familiar majesty. In another of the mythological poems, Circe, her sensual enchantments gained, finds herself alone, rich in words and feelings for the first time, but mocked by the melancholy speechless world she has created around herself. It is interesting that Hope can deal with sexuality most subtly when narrating fables, as in these poems, and in "Totentanz: The Coquette," "The Coasts of Cerigo," "Fafnir" and a haunting though not entirely successful "Epistle from Holofernes." In more modern settings ("The Brides," "Conquistador," "Morning Coffee," "The Young Girl at the Ball") the emotions appear blunted, single, a bit crude. The retold myths allow the play of sexuality as felix culpa, a fortunate fall; in the modern instances he sees only decline—his marriageable modern ladies are machine-tooled threats to life.
To put it another way, modern settings draw forward Hope the satirist, jaunty but rather uniformly critical of mechanized, overcivilized lives. But he rises to the challenge of a fable. His real gift is for narrative—not so much telling a story, as retelling it with an air of wisdom and experience. The story is a tableau vivant, action halted at a moment of high feeling, nuances revealed by the measured order in which we are directed to gestures and landscapes. It is an index of the success of recent American poetry, introspective, often jagged, that declarative sentences, direct syntax, firmly rhymed stanzas should sound now a little strange. These last are precisely Hope's resources, his assured way of drawing us from detail to detail, finishing a picture which stands powerful and separate….
Many of Hope's poems are triumphantly responsive to literature. They revive the sense of excitement in being a cultivated reader…. At moments the literary reference may be merely parasitic and bumptious. Echoes of quotations … are scattered like landmines, mostly for the fun of it. If they have no dramatic force, they remind us, on the other hand, of the delight the poet is taking in joining a literate company. It is rare to find—as one does with Hope—poems that depend so successfully on a shared sense of community. His audience is fixed in position, ready to follow the action within the proscenium his poems assume.
David Kalstone, in Partisan Review (copyright © 1967 by Partisan Review, Inc.), Fall, 1967, pp. 619-25.
Modest, full of tact, and very careful, the poetry of A. D. Hope has never had to suffer the insecurity of extravagant praise. He is a major modern poet, yet he has always seemed to want his poetry to be remembered not for himself but for its immemorial sources….
Because his own work aims to assure us of the reality of such realms, it constantly invokes the greatness of the past, the upper reaches of the same resistless stream of which his own work is so clearly a portion. There he can hear the music….
Hope has said that, as far as he is any judge in such matters, the main subject of his poetry is love. If the remark has certain witty overtones—he was replying to the charge that he is a sex-obsessed writer—it defines as well one of Hope's most serious artistic intentions…. In New Poems, for example, The Planctus and Six Songs for Clöe are manifest presentations of the struggle for dominance which these various love-impulses wage in man. The Clöe sequence in particular is a witty re-exploration of such an idea as that the poet is a man speaking to men. His fate in language neither prohibits other loves nor protects him from their troubles. All three loves are, in fact, fundamentally connected.
Hope's constant preoccupation with varieties of human love is never far removed from certain basic intellectual aims. He is famous for the tough wit and intelligence of his work, but we must be careful to appreciate the nature of that intelligence, which is full of convictions but very non-doctrinaire. Hope's poetry aims not for "resolutions" but for "the intellectual joy of apprehending the mystery of things as they are."…
Lines like [his] would not startle us were they not so simple and familiar. Indeed, in their familiarity they come to haunt us, suggesting how far we have not seen even into what we think we know best. What we love is always near and yet far away, familiar and strange. The commonplace character of Hope's ideas, then, is simply another way of reinforcing the love contract in which he aims to engage us….
Hope's poetry … is powerfully aesthetic even when it seems to be most personal. All his love stories echo the story of Adam and Eve, sometimes explicitly, sometimes not. His poems tend to build and explore deep levels of similarities and repetitions. The Planctus leads us into haunting caverns where the life of Peter Abelard seems no more than the echo of a passionate and immemorial past and future—Simon Peter, Cain, Adam, the poet himself: "No detail matches, yet the patterns repeat." A Visit to the Ruins deals explicitly with this reality of the presence of the past. It is no accident, we say again, that Hope favors traditional forms: the verse is itself an echoing vehicle, the language deeply allusive.
Yet his poetry does not rehearse the old truths, it summons ancient realities. Hope remains convinced that poets are not philosophers but creators. Thus, because his art aims to resurrect a reality sui generis, the world of his desire yearns toward its maker with a correspondent love….
A large measure of Hope's success comes from his ability to remind us that all worlds are fashioned only in our experience of them. The more we become engaged in his language creations, the more we become aware of our desire to live. Consequently, when the poem declares that all dumb being solicits the poet for new life, the metaphor becomes itself an image of the poet's relation to his audience. This, I think, is one of the chief sources of pleasure in his poetry, a ground for what Heidegger called "consolation," the home of peace discovered only by the most gifted poets, like Hölderlin. Vivaldi, Bird and Angel is said to be "For Diana," but who, reading its "Coda," can resist feeling that the "we" spoken of there is really the poet and ourselves?
Jerome J. McGann, "Australia Felix," in Poetry (© 1971 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), July, 1971, pp. 223-27.