Study for the World's Body Essay - Critical Essays

David St. John

Study for the World’s Body

St. John’s characteristic tone mixes solemnity with romantic longing, and his quality of perception is one in which small but significant gradations are constantly being measured. A connoisseur of distinctions, he reminds one of those respected but unloved American Europhiles, Henry James and T. S. Eliot. St. John’s poetic manner includes a syntactical slipperiness that results not in vagueness but in evocations of hard-won proximity to the elusive, especially to what is elusive in other people and in relationships.

Though he can be effective in short forms, St. John is quite a master of the long poem. Once the reader falls into his sweeping cadences, it is a pleasure to continue the journey. Of special interest here is “The Swan at Sheffield Park,” with its careful modulation of image and symbol, its unexpected yoking of stateliness and tawdriness. Journeys of empathy and perception are among the beauties in St. John’s work. They include “Hotel Sierra,” “Until the Sea Is Dead,” “Woman and Leopard,” the dazzling “A Fan Sketched with Silver Egrets,” and “The Man in the Yellow Gloves.” The latter is a virtuoso piece worthy of Robert Browning.

St. John concludes with his title poem, which has a Lawrentian flavor, underscoring the earthiness of the human body and assuming the sexuality of the created world. This, his longest effort, is bound to become a kind of signature piece, a culmination of his themes and manners.

Subtle, allusive, flexuous, and expansive, St. John’s art flows from and continues age-old European traditions of thought and feeling ignored by most of his American contemporaries.

Sources for Further Study

Library Journal. CXIX, August, 1994, p. 92.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 27, 1994, p. 2.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, June 27, 1994, p. 66.

The Virginia Quarterly Review. LXXI, Winter, 1995, p. SS31.