Page, P. K. (Poetry Criticism)
P. K. Page 1916–
(Full name Patricia Kathleen Page; also wrote under the pseudonym Judith Cape) English-born Canadian poet, essayist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, and novelist. See also P. K. Page Literary Criticism.
Page is a highly acclaimed poet who was a founding member of the Canadian verse magazine Preview. Influenced by symbolism, surrealism, and Sufism, and characterized by intense visual imagery, Page's poetry focuses on such issues as hidden realities, self-expression, and alienation.
Born in England, Page grew up in Calgary, Alberta, and later moved to St. John, New Brunswick, where she worked as a shop assistant and radio actress during the late 1930s. In the early 1940s she took up residence in Montreal, Quebec, the center for English-language Canadian poetry at the time. There, she became a member of the Preview poets, whose concerns with social responsibility and Modernist theories exercised a marked influence over her early poetry, some of which appeared in the anthology Unit of Five in 1944. That same year Page publishedx The Sun and the Moon, a romance novel, under the pseudonym Judith Cape. She published her first volume of verse, As Ten, as Twenty, in 1946 and for the next four years worked as a scriptwriter for the National Film Board in Ottawa, Ontario. Following her marriage in 1950 to William Arthur Irwin, Page devoted her time to writing the poetry collection The Metal and the Flower (1954), for which she received a Governor General's Award. From 1953 to the mid-1960s, Page and her husband, who had entered the Canadian diplomatic corps, lived in Australia, Brazil, and Mexico. During her years abroad, Page wrote little poetry and instead pursued her interests in drawing and painting. Several of Page's artworks have been exhibited under her married name, P. K. Irwin. Numerous critics have argued that Page's work in the visual arts and her exposure to foreign climates and cultures has intensified her attention to detail and enriched her verse. Page renewed her literary career on returning to Canada and published four poetry collections: Cry Ararat! Poems New and Selected (1967), Poems Selected and New (1974), Evening Dance of the Grey Flies (1981), and The Glass Air: Selected Poems (1985). In addition to her poetry, Page has collected her prose works in The Sun and the Moon, and Other Fictions (1973) and A Brazilian Journal (1987), which relates her experiences in South America.
Critics divide Page's poetry into two periods: that written in the 1940s through the early 1950s and that written since the mid-1960s. Page's early writings rely heavily on suggestive imagery and the detailed depiction of concrete situations to express social concerns and transcendental themes. Described as highly evocative social documents examining the lives of working women, such poems as "The Stenographers" and "The Landlady" focus on isolated individuals who futilely search for meaning and a sense of belonging. "Photos of a Salt Mine," considered one of Page's best early poems, examines how art both conceals and reveals reality.
In Page's later poetry, critics note a new austerity in form and a reduction in the number of images presented. However, as George Woodcock has observed, "the most recent poems are more sharply and intensely visual than ever in their sensuous evocation of shape and color and space; their imagery takes us magically beyond any ordinary seeing into a realm of imagining in which the normal world is shaken like a vast kaleidoscope and revealed in unexpected and luminous relationships." Whereas Page's earlier works were inward-looking, imaginary biographies, her later poems are often set abroad and suggest a path of liberation for the isolated, alienated individual who has become imprisoned in a world of imagination. Such poems as "Bark Drawing" and "Cook's Mountains" contain images outside the self as does "Cry Ararat!"—a poem concerning the reconciliation of internal and external worlds, in which Mount Ararat symbolizes a place of rest between the "flood" of details in the outside world and the stifling confines of one's own reality.
Page has been criticized for crowding her poems with an overwhelming number of images, but at the same time, she has received commendation for the quality of her imagery. Kevin Lewis, in the January, 1982, issue of Quill and Quire, stated: "It is no small feat to write convincing poetry in such a thick, imagistic style…. [Page] must stand as one of the premier poets in Canada simply because she has such a beautiful way with words."
As Ten, as Twenty 1946
The Metal and the Flower 1954
Cry Ararat! Poems New and Selected 1967
Poems Selected and New 1974
Evening Dance of the Grey Flies (poetry and prose) 1981
The Glass Air: Selected Poems (poetry, drawings, and essays) 1985
Other Major Works
The Sun and the Moon [as Judith Cape] (novel) 1944
The Sun and the Moon, and Other Fictions (novel and short stories) 1973
A Brazilian Journal (prose and sketches) 1987
A Flask of...
(The entire section is 74 words.)
SOURCE: "A Good Modern Poet and a Modern Tradition," in Poetry, Vol. LXX, No. 4, July, 1947, pp. 208–11.
[In the excerpt below, American educator and Pulitzer Prize—winning poet Meredith favorably reviews As Ten, as Twenty, finding the volume a strong example of modern poetry.]
Just where the new land is, or when we entered it and by whom led, the authorities do not yet say, but everybody knows that in the 20th century there is a new colony in English poetry. More than a decade ago C. Day Lewis named as explorers Hopkins, Owen and Eliot, and among the pioneer settlers, Auden and Spender. And as controversial as its dates and heroes are the bearing and...
(The entire section is 896 words.)
SOURCE: "Questions and Images," Canadian Literature, No. 41, Summer, 1969, pp. 17–22.
[Here, Page attributes her artistic growth to a number of elements, including where she has lived, her temporary inability to write poetry, and her subsequent interest in drawing. Critic Constance Rooke described this essay as "the best possible guide to an understanding of [Page's] poetry. "]
The last ten years span three distinct places—and phases—in my life: Brazil, Mexico, Canada, in that order. All countries of the new world.
Brazil pelted me with images. Marmosets in the flowering jungle; bands of multi-colored birds moving among the branches of the kapok...
(The entire section is 2236 words.)
SOURCE: "The Poetry of P. K. Page," in Poets and Critics: Essays from Canadian Literature 1966–1974, edited by George Woodcock, Oxford University Press Canada, 1974, pp. 80–91.
[Smith was a Canadian educator, anthologist, award-winning poet, and critic. In the following essay, originally published in Canadian Literature in 1971, he examines the imagery and themes in Page's major collections of poetry.]
Of the Canadian poets who led the second wave of modernism in the forties and fifties, P. K. Page holds a curious and somewhat anomalous position; she had certainly not received the critical attention that the remarkable fusion of psychological insight and...
(The entire section is 3995 words.)
SOURCE: "P. K. Page: The Chameleon and the Centre," in The Malahat Review, No. 45, January, 1978, pp. 169–95.
[American educator Rooke contributed to and later edited the literary periodical The Malahat Review. In the following excerpt, she provides a survey of Page's verse and considers the influence of Sufi philosophy on the poet's works.]
P. K. Page is Canada's finest poet. I begin here on dangerous ground, without any illusion that the mere surveyor's report which is to follow can prove it safe. But it has seemed to me this judgment ought to appear in print. The work itself is secure in any case; though not extensive by a literal measurement of books...
(The entire section is 9120 words.)
SOURCE: "The Beautiful Page," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. LXII, No. 718, May, 1982, pp. 32–3.
[Below, Mandel reviews Evening Dance of the Grey Flies. She comments that the "accomplishment of this fine book, much waited for, is that it makes such elegantly crafted artifacts beautiful to an eye more usually drawn to the mere complexities of spawning daily flux."]
The "fragile, slender-winged" grey flies in the title poem of P. K. Page's latest collection are dancing in the evening light of a sun which gilds and transforms nearly every other thing in the book. It transforms Victorian gardens into Brazils and jewelled legends, motel pools into Edens, it shines in...
(The entire section is 724 words.)
SOURCE: "Literary Theory in the Classroom: Three Views of P. K. Page's 'The Permanent Tourists'," in Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews, No. 19, Fall/Winter, 1986, pp. 57–75.
[The following excerpt contains essays by three writers of differing schools of criticism—Freudian Kay Stockholder, poststructuralist/feminist Shirley Neuman, and historical/practical scholar D. M. R. Bentley. Below, each author outlines his/her approach to teaching Page's "The Permanent Tourists" to undergraduate university students.]
This is a session on teaching poetry, specifically on teaching "The Permanent Tourists." But I find it...
(The entire section is 7769 words.)
SOURCE: "Diamond Panes," in Canadian Literature, Nos. 113–14, Summer-Fall, 1987, pp. 247–49.
[In this review of The Glass Air: Selected Poems, Hutchison praises the book as a "valuable asset to both neophyte and scholar" and calls Page "one of our finest and most accomplished poets, as well as an interesting and original artist."]
The Glass Air is one of the most important books of Canadian poetry published in 1985. Punctuated by the drawings inspired by her years abroad and rounded out by two essays on her aesthetics, P. K. Page's selections from her best-known poems and from recent work (some unpublished) trace the evolution of a rich and complex...
(The entire section is 1283 words.)
SOURCE: An interview in West Coast Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, Fall, 1987, pp. 42–64.
[Wachtel is a writer, editor, critic, and radio personality. In the following interview, Page discusses her early life, her poetry and prose, and various literary influences. She also describes her foray into drawing.]
Since the mid-1960s, P. K. Page has lived in Victoria, in a large cedar home set in a garden landscaped by her husband. The rooms are filled with the exotic objects one might expect to find in a retired diplomat's residence—especially a diplomat who is married to an artist. The geometric design on the tiles of a coffee table, rescued from a dismantled house in Brazil,...
(The entire section is 8822 words.)
Davey, Frank. "P. K. Page." In his From There to Here: Volume II of Our Nature/Our Voices, pp. 231–35. Erin, Ontario: Press Porcepic, 1974.
Surveys Page's writing career and describes various themes in her verse. Davey asserts that "P. K. Page is unmistakenly one of the most readable of the various 'anti-life' poets of twentieth-century Canadian poetry."
Francis, Anne. "P. K." Canadian Art 83 XX, No. 1 (January/February 1963): 42–5.
Comments on similarities between Page's poetry and her paintings. Francis reports that "whether she is writing or painting, P....
(The entire section is 322 words.)
Page, P(atricia) K(athleen) (Vol. 7)
Page, P(atricia) K(athleen) 1916–
An award-winning Canadian poet, P. K. Page is also esteemed in Canada as the painter P. K. Irwin. She has published a novel under the pseudonym Judith Cape. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56.)
[Of] the Canadian poets who led the second wave of modernism in the Forties and Fifties, P. K. Page holds a curious and somewhat anomalous position; she had certainly not received the critical attention that the remarkable fusion of psychological insight and poetic imagination which characterizes and individualizes her poems would lead one to expect. Perhaps the effort to discriminate between the subjective and objective elements of her work, or between image and symbol or memory and desire, has been thought by the critics too unprofitable or found too fatiguing. There is no doubt that she is a difficult poet—at least I have found her so—and the difficulty is not intellectual. Her moons are not reason's, so that what the reader who is to get the maximum enjoyment needs—or the critic who is to get the maximum comprehension—is a sensibility and an intuition that have to be nourished and educated by the poems themselves as he reads and re-reads them. Though I feel a certain presumption in approaching this subject, I can say that I have found the experience of trying to come to terms with it an absorbing one. Her gardens may be imaginary, but more than the toads in them are real; and are not her angels also?…
What is most strange and most revealing in this world is that the workings of its Mind are almost unconscious, often as in dreams, and that even the wit is controlled from Elsewhere. Hers is in its final effect a poetry of vision, and it demands a quality of sympathy in the reader that its poetic richness helps to create. Indeed, to speak for myself, it casts a spell that has made it possible to value it not as vision only but as revelation….
"Stories of Snow" is the outstanding success of P. K. Page's first volume [As Ten, As Twenty], comparable in magnificence and complexity to "Images of Angels" in her second. These are perhaps the finest of the many very individual poems that seem to grow like beautiful flowers out of childhood memories, recurring dreams, and a crystal clairvoyance. Innocence and experience, illusion and disillusionment, find expression in an overflowing of powerful emotion, remembered not in tranquillity but with a craftsmanly excitement and an exquisite shiver that sets the rhythmical pattern of all her most moving poems.
"Images of Angels", like "Stories of Snow", "Photos of a Salt Mine", and some of the newer poems, "After Rain" and the finest of all "Cry Ararat!", is a kind of sentimental education—sentimental not in any pejorative or ironic Flaubertian sense—that, recognizing worlds without love, seeks to explore ways of transforming them or coming to terms with them….
Images of sterile salt and metallic cold are found in a number of poems that analyze self-love with what can only be described as a kind of cold fury. Among these are "Isolationist", "Only Child", "Foreigner", "Man with One Small Hand", "Mineral" and "This Cold Man". The last three are particularly impressive for the concentrated angry wit that turns experience into a new universal and instant myth.
A.J.M. Smith, "The Poetry of P. K. Page," in Canadian Literature, Autumn, 1971, pp. 17-27.
P. K. Page has the eye of a draftsman and the ear of a poet. She also knows how to fit the right phrases to her observations—e.g., conveying the effect of snails upon a garden as making "broderie anglaise from the cabbages"…. Her wit carries her still further, into full-scale and barely viable conceits….
Miss Page particularly enjoys writing about people with small lives, about children, dreams, and dreamy moods. Some readers may wonder whether the poet does not condescend when she assumes that her own vision encompasses that of gardeners and stenographers. Some may be put off by the repeated suggestion that children discover or exhibit corruption only as they grow up. Some may not wish to participate in the trancelike states that fascinate the poet. Even those who admire her mingling of fantasy with sharp observation may long for Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, or Elizabeth Bishop when Miss Page succumbs to whimsy. A celebrated definition of poetry called out for real flowers in imaginary gardens but for real toads. Miss Page's gardens are too often filled with glass flowers. Nearly all readers will feel troubled by the poet's over-indulgence in certain images. These poems provide one with too much air, water, and snow, too many fish, swans, and drifting motions, too many epithets or adverbs like "terrible" and "somehow", which beg the whole question of poetry.
Yet often enough, Miss Page joins her observations in a shape that makes proper demands on one's sensibility while moving on to elicit the sudden, matching emotion….
"Poetic Vision," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), October 26, 1973, p. 1306.
Inferno and Paradise: these [images] reveal something of the dimensions of Patricia Page's imaginative universe. At one pole a vision of hell shading into social concern; at the other a mandala expressing harmony and wholeness, like Dante's multifoliate rose. In "Photos of a Salt Mine" a picture of innocence and beauty gives way to a vision of evil. In "Another Space" what appears to be a "primitive" (and, because of a reference to Chagall, brings to mind a Chassidic) ritual dance expresses the ultimate wholeness and harmony of a universe that is forever "surging and altering" and yet forever one.
"Most of my poems," Miss Page has written, "have been doors closing. A few were doors opening." In this smaller group she includes "Another Space" along with "Arras" and "Stories of Snow". All of these particular poems involve journeys into inner space—through and behind the eye. I once observed of another poet of Miss Page's generation that she was a survivor, not an explorer. P. K. Page is an explorer too. (p. 104)
The first [section of Poems Selected and New] contains mainly poems of social observation, many of which yoke together an obviously genuine compassion (especially for girls and women) with a somewhat too-decorative metaphoric busyness and much alliteration: it is to a large extent the period style of the forties, the kind of neo-Freudian neo-Marxist Auden-Thomas rococo that drives a reviewer in desperation to the sort of facile labels I've just applied. These don't, of course, do any justice to the best of the poems. And the style becomes sharper, cleaner, more refined and more definitively Page's own as the book proceeds. (p. 105)
[In the second section] Miss Page seems to be reaching beyond the depiction of social flaws and psychological problems to an examination of the deeper roots of these in the atrophied human imagination. In so doing she enters her "other space", a larger dimension of perception and being. This is a natural tendency, it seems, of twentieth-century thought and art. Behind and beyond the highly useful analyses of Marx and Freud is a larger realm of understanding whose nature was perhaps best articulated by Carl Jung (though he does not, of course, have a monopoly on wisdom and insight). Now that psychology and physiology (combined in biofeedback), art, meditation and a number of other disciplines are beginning to see themselves once again as parts of one science, the much-longed-for rediscovery of full consciousness of it may be at hand; in another sense it the psyche (i.e. of the whole mind-body in its whole relationship to the universe) may well be at hand (I mean the was and is always present); Miss Page's rather pathetic angels would then become like Rilke's angels, at home in all worlds.
Interior worlds make themselves felt in the third section; they had, of course, been implicit in the earlier sections too. Metaphors are now more consistently and simply symbolic rather than gaudy and self-serving…. The final poem is the difficult "Arras", in which the speaker apparently feels the stillness of death in the cold perfection of the world of art, and seeks to alter it with vivid life. A peacock insinuates itself into the scene through the poet's eye.
The book's final section contains poems … enlarging upon the themes of the power of metaphor to transform reality and the power of the human imagination to extend itself into the cosmos in a new direction, another space, in spite of physical decline and death. There is here, as throughout the book, considerable emphasis on "see-ing."… The poet is a seer…. I like to think that all poets operate at the interface between inner and outer worlds, but some seem to delve more deeply within than others. One can compare Page's "see-ing" to that of Margaret Avison, who seems to me to effect a more complete union of inner and outer worlds (so that neither threatens to be swallowed up by the other), or to that of Margaret Atwood or Gwendolyn MacEwen in the next generation; Atwood in particular seems to have picked up a great deal both from Avison and Page #x2026;: thus are traditions developed.
As I've suggested, Page's style has been refined and perfected as her insight into the nature of her experience has clarified. She has learned to deploy rhyme, image and sound-effect, and to move lightly in and out of a basic iambic pentameter line, with unobtrusive skill. As poet and calligrapher she delights in details and images, but has learned … to subordinate whimsy to the microcosmic design or large metaphor that captures a sense of the macrocosm…. She is one of our best poets. (pp. 105-06)
Tom Marshall, in Canadian Literature, Spring, 1975.
Page, P(atricia) K(athleen) (Vol. 18)
Page, P(atricia) K(athleen) 1916–
Page is a Canadian poet and painter. In poetry noted for its whimsey and luxuriant imagery is limned the poet's struggle to shape an identity through an alignment of private and external worlds. She paints under the name P. K. Irwin and has written under the pseudonym Judith Cape. (See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56.)
[Sun and Moon] bears a direct relation to Miss Page's writing in verse form, and is at once a counterpart and explanation of her poetry before she felt the influence of social ideas. The two themes of the early poetry—themes of unhappy love and of the escape from it into the world of nature—are, it would seem, mirrored in the novel. The "I" of the romantic poems is also identified with the moon…. I suspect that Miss Page was as dissatisfied with her youthful poems as a critic would be, and that in Sun and Moon she made a half-hearted attempt to portray the flaw in the poet of nature. The "I" of the poems is crucified in the person of Kristin. Did this escapist "I" long to be one with nature, to enter into it and breathe its very soul? Then she would gain her wish by having a mortal malady inflicted on her, and instead of just metaphorically being identified with stone, become literally and physically that dreadful thing. But being new at speculation in neurosis, Miss Page is not sure whether it tastes good or not: she is still undecided whether Kristin is an ugly or romantic being. Kristin becomes stone and nothing, but she also becomes the triumphant tree: there were more consolations in her illness than one had dreamed of. And if Miss Page was quickly dissatisfied with the novel—she did publish it under a pseudonym [Judith Cape]—perhaps it was just because she came to realize that her heroine was an incurable romantic, leading her out of the introspective "country of the mind" straight into a blind alley. The solution was a subjective one and would change nothing without the intervention of some new idea. (pp. 14-15)
Miss Page's "social consciousness" is a vaguely intellectualized composite of the attitudes which produced the early poems and Sun and Moon…. The poet's idea of what is wrong with society is decidedly confused, bound to the caprices of a personal conflict, and so her idea of a solution is vague and weakly felt. She is thinking in terms of class in a poem like Photograph, where the two lovers are ironically placed "beneath the sea," and the "swimmers" overhead are "shrinking the distance between continents". But her feeling for the "wonderful soil" of the future lacks the energy of her attack on all classes indiscriminately, and generally consists of a tag line or stanza at the end of the poem. In spite of the venom of her so-called social poems, she finds the Marxist thinking too harsh, and prefers a love which shall hold the "poor soil" and the "rich uplands"—proletariat and bourgeoisie—in a single embrace. (p. 17)
The first two lines [of Landscape of Love] echo the conclusion of Livesay's Outrider—"O new found land! Sudden release of lungs / Our own breath blows the world"—and the poet seems to have been unconsciously imitating Miss Livesay and wishing to share her point of view. But this isolated comparison serves to sharpen the contrast between the art of Miss Page and that of the ingrained Canadian tradition of which Miss Livesay is one representative. Our tradition of social optimism—I include Birney, Scott, Marriott and others—is also our tradition of mediocrity. We are not convinced by its faith in magic remedies and in the better world that is just around the corner; we regard that faith as the device of sentimentalists for discounting unpleasant facts. And it seems logical that its products should be a poetry...
(The entire section is 1409 words.)
The central tension in P. K. Page's poetry arises from the effort to mediate between the private world and the external one. It is possible to describe this tension in political terms, but it would be misleading, in my opinion, to trace its source to a sympathy for political minorities or for the underdog or for the "victims" of society who are isolated in some way, but cannot subscribe to their external reality. These elements exist, but are not, I think her major preoccupation. As I hope to show, her "involvement" is primarily that of an artist, rather than political. The two kinds of involvement are not mutually exclusive; but the second is subordinate to the first, and is, indeed, an extension of it. That the artist must make the effort to mediate between the internal and the external is central to her poetry. No matter how painful the process may be there can be no turning away, no ivory tower aestheticism. Even the observer's stance is rejected and though several of her poems deal with it, she is extremely critical of its validity. That the temptation exists is an almost inevitable result of the tension at the core of her poetry. The individual trapped in his ivory tower of memory and reminiscence, the victim in the grip of impossible social circumstances, are merely offshoots of the central persona: the woman caught within the confines of her inner reality, her personal Noah's Ark, seeking some way to reconcile the internal and external, to make a harmony out of the double landscapes. And for this woman the essential mode of mediation is the artist's activity, the painter's art…. (p. 21)
Initially an examination of her "political" poems—those that deal with victimization in some form or another—is instructive. Not only do they clarify her position, but even in these poems it is possible to see a secondary issue emerging that is more characteristic of the body of her poetry. The Preview group of which she was a member had leftist leanings, and several of her poems reveal what may be termed a "pro-proletarian" consciousness. In poems such as "The Stenographers", "Shipbuilding Office" and "Offices" … she seems to be drawing upon personal experience…. There is "class consciousness" in her poetry, but it is a rather white-collar, anglicized one…. [Her] most obviously political poem perhaps is "Election Day". In the poem she votes against the Tories and casts her ballot, "a bounder, in the box". (pp. 21-2)
What is most interesting about the poem, however, is the distinction that P. K. Page makes as a matter of course between the private and personal. When she goes out to vote, she leaves behind the "tight zone" of her "tight and personal thought". As she listens to the election results she is aware that for the moment her privacy is no longer intact, though on this occasion she does not seem to mind very much. (p. 22)
As a rule, the poems in which P. K. Page deals with tyranny in one form or another reveal a sympathy for the victims rather than an identification with them. There are, however, two poems, which to my mind, form an exception. These are "Only Child" and "Portrait of Marina". (p. 23)
Now, what is most noteworthy about the poems "Only Child" and "Portrait of Marina" is not the fact of victimization as such, but the precise way in which the tyranny is exercised. The only child is not permitted to work out the relationship between his feeling for the birds...
(The entire section is 1418 words.)
A poet's identity may be found in the habits of feeling and insight that are particularly, almost obsessively, her own and which distinguish her poetry from that of other writers. Occasionally an individual poem can be found which defines a poet's sensibility. The poem "After Rain" provides such a focus in P. K. Page's poetry. With a remarkable acuity, she explores the dimensions of her own poetic temperament, exposing both the strengths and the potential vulnerability of her art. Like so many of Page's poems, "After Rain" describes a simple domestic occurrence (in this case a woman and a gardener examining a garden) pushed to a level of hallucinatory intensity where insight becomes possible. Here, the poet describes her mind as a woman's wardrobe of female whimsy and there follows a brilliant complex of images, propelled by fantastic associative leaps. (p. 32)
Rarely has one so complete a sense of a poet luxuriating in language. Yet the whole momentum of the poem is reversed with the remarkable line: "I suffer shame in all these images." This line, with its powerful anguish, is the pivot of Page's poetics, for here she articulates one of the deepest impulses of her work. She has such a remarkable verbal gift that the image-making process can become almost too seductive. In her hands, images are self-generating, and multiply and reproduce in a kind of literary osmosis. Thus one has the sense in her early poetry of images taking over and sidetracking the poem into perspectives that the theme does not suggest. "After Rain" is an extraordinary poem in that Page senses not only the technical, but also the theoretical implications of her susceptibility to image. (pp. 32-3)
Throughout [Page's novel The Sun and the Moon], there is a curious sense of reciprocity, of fluid interchange between the human and the natural. The heroine's empathic gift permits her to perceive the static reality of inanimate things; chameleon-like, she can know "the still sweet ecstasy of a change in kind." The author is ambiguous in her attitude toward her heroine; on the one hand, her protean gift of self-effacement gives her access to ecstatic moments of identification with nature. There are convincing passages where the metamorphosis is outward—the heroine becomes a rock, a chair, a tree, experiencing these forms of existence in moments of identity. But there is an alternative rhythm where the self is invaded, and becomes the receptacle of external objects. In fact the heroine becomes succubus; not only her identity, but also the identity of the other is destroyed by her chameleon presence. To my mind comes the analogue of Keats' "Camelion Poet": "When I am in a room with People if I ever am free from speculating on creations of my own brain, then not myself goes home to myself: but the identity of every one in the room begins to press upon me that, I am in a very little time annihilated." To control this invasion an extraordinary exertion of will is necessary. For the poet, this means a control through technique, verbal dexterity. But P. K. Page's greatest dilemma is to ensure that this control is not sterile, that language is explored as experience, not evasion.
This, then, is the concern of the persona in "After Rain." With a baroque extravagance, the poet's mind builds from the visual assault of nature an exotic web of fragmentary images. They seem to metamorphose spontaneously and any attempt to hold the poet to an emotional or visual consistency is futile. Yet the incompleteness of the poet's private image world is focused suddenly by the presence of the other, the gardener. The poet is trapped by her remarkable responsiveness to nature. Images of rim and hub define the private space which circumscribes her, making her fantasy exclusive, self-involved. The poet asks to break from self-involvement to another kind of seeing, and this appeal is at the centre of Page's work…. Here is the paradox: a sensibility so richly susceptible to sensual detail, to "each bright glimpse of beauty," that even the sense of self, of separateness from the physical world, seems threatened. To the poet this means an almost unlimited store of image and metaphor, but without a controlling principle. Page recognizes the dilemma at the core of her imagistic suggestibility and she would be "unseduced" by the myriad images which seem to assault the eye in "After Rain." She has sensed the need to convert image into symbol, that painful ritual which the poet must impose...
(The entire section is 1836 words.)
"Arras" is masterful, an awesome visionary poem which has sometimes been misunderstood. Page contends here with giant forces, and she will triumph—but if we are to follow her toward that victory, we must not be deceived as to the nature of our common enemy. The mistake which has been made is to suppose that the peacock or the royal denizens of the arras are finally sinister. In fact, they represent the glory (the perfection of human life) which is sought by the poet in "Arras" and throughout her work. Her struggle is to join them, to attain their stature, not to escape or defeat them; and her enemy (like ours) is any impediment to that goal….
Perhaps the difficulty begins with the question of...
(The entire section is 1504 words.)