Daryush, Elizabeth (Vol. 19)
Daryush, Elizabeth 1887–1977
Daryush, an English poet, was championed by Yvor Winters, who in the thirties designated her as, "one of the few first-rate poets to appear in the British Isles since the generation which produced her father [Robert Bridges] and Thomas Hardy." Daryush disdained the technical innovations and solipsism of modern poets; instead, she used a disciplined syllabic meter to attain a subtle, socially conscious voice. (See also CLC, Vol. 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 3.)
The Times Literary Supplement
Mrs. Daryush's [Verses] has poetry that gives her a place among those who have brought into verse the beauty that is of the English countryside and no other….
But the characteristics of Mrs. Daryush's new poems are nakedness and austerity, rather than the soft glow and comfort of the English landscape…. There is resignation, conscious that in life's battle defeat is the appointed end. There is also fierceness, of the spirit resolved to have its fill of fighting. Though there is sadness, it has a decorative quality, the gift of a mind courageous enough to look at time's passing and the dying generation to which it belongs. Mrs. Daryush's delight in the technical difficulties and possibilities of verse has an austere manner also. She eschews the bizarre and startling, and tends to give stress to all parts of a word alike, not always with a happy result…. Where she is not experimenting, but compelling her details all to serve subordinately to the whole, Mrs. Daryush can produce a picture perfect in its unemphatic fashion….
"A Book of Verses," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1931; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 1520, March 19, 1931, p. 223.
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The Times Literary Supplement
Readers of Mrs. Daryush's previous books know that she often feels cramped by traditional metres. [Verses: Fourth Book] contains an experimental element, marked as such by having the lines printed without capitals. These pieces follow the accent of "ordinary deliberate speech," and are written in "metres governed only by the number of syllables to the line."…
Her practice accepts such rhymes as "good" and "thewed," "ache" and "back," and she is so intimately occupied with the rhythm which reinforces her visualization that the actual rhyming is almost an irrelevance…. The writer remains one of the most patient and subtle of living poets, unresting in her resolution to explore and extend the borders of expression in verse. But she now reveals a new power to live with others, and to see into the hardness and narrowness of their lot….
Mrs. Daryush proves again her descriptive gift, and perhaps more richly than before. Sometimes it is seen in concentration…. Sometimes it works in a leisured unfolding, that hardly flowers more into one line than into any other…. But, after all, Mrs. Daryush's readers knew already that she could evoke memory and make it become vision again. We accept new examples of her power gratefully. But we shall miss the book's significance unless we draw attention to its quality of self-revelation. The writer not only enters into others' lives, she expresses her own, with a reticence...
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The Times Literary Supplement
[In The Last Man. And Other Verses considerations of technique] perhaps insist on the reader's notice … a little more than they should. The experiments in "syllabic metre" which occur very frequently among the examples of normal versification, and are signalled by being printed without capital letters at the beginning of the lines, form a problem not to be avoided. Where they appear, the listening mind must change its rule and discover that "orchid" and "sighted," "engines" and "mines," include rhymes. The general effect is therefore that the attention is unduly distracted from the substance and essence of the poems to their outward aspect.
Nevertheless, in this as in her former volumes, Mrs. Daryush steadily impresses her reader as being one of the poets who "see yonder shining light." She writes in the spirit of a living morality, a progressive humanity. It is not an attitude, but a vitality; if it is not the kind of view which yields a splendid array of symbols of man and his world, yet it is apt to express itself on occasion in clear and striking terms….
"Poetry: 'The Last Man'," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1936; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 1802, August 15, 1936, p. 666.
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Mrs. Daryush has engaged in certain technical practices which perhaps need to be explained…. The principles of syllabic meter are simple in theory: the line is measured by syllable-count and must not be measurable by any other pattern. The poet is thus required to vary the number and pattern of stresses from line to line, and to do it in such a manner as to create a successful rhythm; he is at the same time free to rhyme unaccented with accented syllables, as heiress with bless. The poet is thus given more freedom, or at least more variety, potentially, than is easily managed, and unless both line and poem are short, the rhythm is likely to degenerate into shapelessness. Within proper limits, however, this meter can be used with extraordinary success, as Mrs. Daryush has demonstrated. (pp. ix-x)
Mrs. Daryush allows herself no elision; every syllable which is spoken is counted. And although she has used the twelve-syllable line with about as much success as it admits …, she confines her syllabic poems mainly to the five-syllable line, either alone or in combination with the line of four syllables, with results which are often remarkably beautiful…. (pp. x-xi)
As to the subject matter of [Selected Poems], the reader may at first examination feel that there is more similarity and less richness than is actually present. A good many of the poems are in some measure descriptive, although the...
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Though it is true that in some of [the poems in "Selected Poems"] there are traces of [Robert] Bridges' concern with syllabic meter, this is not what strikes the reader, nor can it be said to constitute the chief interest of the poems, which are characterized by fresh and clear descriptions of nature, supple but not over-loose rhythms, and an everpresent didacticism. This frank didacticism—all things in nature and in domestic life being seen as occasions for moralizing—is a somewhat disturbing feature of the collection, and sorts ill with the precise, clear-eyed descriptions and effective metrics. There is a delicacy of observation matched with metrical skill in the best of these poems, but for the moral to be put across effectively we need more than its statement in clean verse—it must flower from the poem more subtly and more cogently than it does in anything Mrs. Daryush seems able to achieve. The reader is further disturbed by echoes of an outmoded poetic diction—"would that I might," "for aye," "what time" for "when"—which do not fit with the unassuming, almost conversational tone of many of the poems.
There is a fine simplicity about the best of Mrs. Daryush's poems—though hardly "the plain purity of medieval Renaissance poetry as its best," as Mr. Winters claims in his introduction [see excerpt above]—and in them one catches glimpses of a most attractive sensibility. There are occasional suggestions of Herrick, and...
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Living in an age when the poet's first duty has been to find an appropriate language, [Mrs. Daryush] has avoided the problem by using a language that is dead. Her accomplishments have been chiefly technical, and these in themselves are not enough. (p. 306)
[In her Selected Poems] Mrs. Daryush has tacitly acknowledged the necessity of shifting to a more current idiom. Even here, however, her touch is not sure. So a poem like March 21 begins well:
The wood's alive today—
Warm power all round
Breathes like a beast of prey
Ready to bound….
but ends with a warning
Of bliss that will not bide,
and the mixture of live and dead words is its own reproach.
What one remembers from Mrs. Daryush's work are its compression and occasional images like "Eyes that queenly sit" and "Anger lay by me all night long." Many of the poems included in this selection have undergone thorough revision since their first appearance in her books, and always for the better. But she has not felt her way towards a confident idiom which would match the intricacy and originality of her metrics. (p. 307)
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As far as Mrs Daryush's technical example goes, the pity is that the lesson of it wasn't learnt a great deal sooner…. To read Mrs Daryush now [in her Collected Poems] is to feel how valuable some attention to her procedures might have been at the time Winters was pleading her cause some years earlier, in the late Thirties—but now remote these particular technical concerns seem today. The highly-wrought syllabics … not only require some finesse to distinguish from ordinary lambics, but serve the necessities of a diction that doesn't really offer much in the present. One derives from these poems a renewed respect for tenacity of purpose in poetry and a feeling at the same time that we now ought to be tenacious in some different way. (pp. 653-54)
[What her poems are about] is their most interesting feature, and certainly what will draw readers to them. They are studiedly impersonal, anonymous even, yet they are full of a barely-concealed pain and anguish, a pervading sense of the precariousness of human living and the failure of human aspirations. The agonising choice is between 'the brief hour of ease', and the 'age of struggle' that follows the realisation that the will to perfection may be impossible to ignore. Both the theme of the poems and the technical preoccupation represent a quest for fluency, clarity and meaning in life and art…. At her very best, the sombre and chastening message of these poems haunts and...
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When an unprejudiced literary history of our century comes to be written, our failure to recognize Elizabeth Daryush will be one of the most telling and lamentable charges that can be laid at our door. The cold silence that has prevailed about her work, through one decade after another, is so total that there can be no question of fixing the blame here or there, finding scapegoats. We are all at fault, in a way that points therefore to some really deep-seated frivolity, superficiality, cynicism through several generations of readers of English poetry.
Certainly, I cannot absolve myself. For it happens that I had the good fortune to stumble, while I was still young, on the writings of the one critic who did recognize the achievement of this poet, who tried not once but many times to force his contemporaries to confront the challenge of her work. I mean, the late Yvor Winters. And why, I now angrily ask myself, did I, who knew that I had been instructed by Winters time and again about the poetry of our time and the past, flinch from the responsibility that his championing of Mrs. Daryush laid upon me…. (p. 13)
My excuse, a poor one, must be that Winters cited and discussed [her poetry] exclusively in relation to its metre, as a fine example of what could be achieved in English in a strictly syllabic metre, as distinct from the more orthodox accentual-syllabic. (p. 14)
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[In Elizabeth Daryush's Collected Poems her experiments in syllabic measures,] though fascinating, can unbalance a response which should be given to the total tone and effect of this enigmatic and rewarding writer.
Elizabeth Daryush compels the reader to accept a world conditioned by several qualities rarely found in contemporary poetry. The world is self-sufficient, persuading the reader of its validity by the stern insistence of a diction as apparently outmoded as that of de la Mare, a taut sense of cadence as timeless as that of Jonson or Herrick, a firm moral sense…. In the world Elizabeth Daryush creates, though the eye at first refuses the run of epithets, seemingly so locked into an obsolete tradition—beauteous, faery, dew-alchemy—the poems make the impossible probable. Not only is there a surface play and dazzle drawn from a full-blown romantic tradition, there is a further cluster of words from the world of Hardy: drear, lorn, doomful…. And the poetry does not merely survive this: it triumphs, and triumphs not in spite, but because, of this apparently synthetic usage.
The primal cause for this success is the complete integrity of tone, the absolute conviction that what Mrs Daryush says, she says from a bedrock of felt and pondered experience which her persistence in the craft has made into a true, unfashionable art…. Affectation, mannerism: these words are not to be used as pejoratives when...
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Donald E. Stanford
[Although Elizabeth Daryush] wrote poetry that is in the mainstream of traditional English verse, she also engaged in occasional experimental writing in addition to her imitations of that forerunner of modernism Gerard Manley Hopkins. She is now credited with being one of the first poets of the twentieth century to write successful syllabic verse. She is, in fact, known today to readers of contemporary poetry chiefly for that reason…. [She] emphasizes the fact that her syllabic verse is disciplined and structurally patterned and not the "open form" used so often by today's poets, of whom she says, "Most modern poetic form, as I see it, is a kind of open prison, without the disciplines of either the cells or the workshop, or perhaps I should rather describe it as the weedy garden of instant verse!" Her best known and perhaps her loveliest syllabic poem, "Still-Life,"… presents an unforgettable picture of the life style of the wealthy and wellborn…. (pp. 642-43)
However, the major part of Mrs. Daryush's work is in conventional accentual syllabic meters as distinct from syllabic verse, and I am confident that a number of these poems will find a permanent place in future anthologies. (p. 643)
Donald E. Stanford, "Elizabeth Daryush (1887–1977) and Ezra Pound (1885–1972)" (copyright, 1977, by Donald E. Stanford), in The Southern Review, Vol. 13, No. 4, October, 1977, pp....
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[After reading Collected Poems] one is struck above all by a sense of personal anguish underlying these hard poems that give so little comfort, and yet still are so intellectually and emotionally strengthening for the reader. The overwhelming majority of them are concerned with what she describes in one poem as the "stubborn fact" of tragedy, and she writes so effectively about it that the reader becomes aware at last of what she herself must have experienced to have done so. I do not mean to suggest she was confessional or autobiographical. Mrs. Daryush was both private and isolated, and had a sort of aristocratic disdain for the modern practice of revealing one's personal life in a medium she considered public and general. Her poetic method relied almost exclusively on traditional imagery and the dramatic use of personified abstractions, a method by and large in total disrepute among twentieth-century readers of poetry, the one fact, I think, which explains the neglect she suffered throughout all of her career. Yet the imagery and the abstractions never seem airtight or theoretical, nor does the emotional life they generate in the poems ever come off as pretentious or superficial. Before the writing of the poem she knew her subject thoroughly in terms of actual experience, experience that then was disciplined and made deeper by the limitations of form and meter. The poems themselves are evidence of this fact. (p. 404)
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