Brewster Ghiselin Radcliffe Squires - Essay

Radcliffe Squires

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Country of the Minotaur is] priceless. For here Ghiselin's art has ripened, and he has become one of our most important living poets.

Mr. Ghiselin's two previous collections, Against the Circle (1946) and The Nets (1955) seemed to me to offer too many poems whose parts were so polished that it was difficult to grasp the whole. The effect was that of Byzantine mosaics seen close, an effect of brilliant yet disparate atomies rather than of anatomy. Yet in Country of the Minotaur the opposite is true. The parts are still burnished, but the confluence of a tidal rhythm, an audacious language, and important themes distances poems, so that one sees their integrity and strength, as Yeats saw the integrity and strength of the lofty mosaics at Ravenna.

I said the poems were 'distanced.' But I do not mean they are remote. Indeed, they are close in the way that the lives of saints or heroes are close to us. But they are distant in the way that saints and heroes are distant. I have tried to figure out how this can be so, and I think it is because Brewster Ghiselin's new poems, unlike John Berryman's or Robert Lowell's, do not strangle in journalism. Another way of putting it is to say that Ghiselin is one of the few poets today whose faith rests in universals. Because his quandaries are eternal they remain pure, for they remain unresolved. Because his passions are conceived as parallels of the passions of vast energies, like sea and land, they remain at peace; most at peace when most violent.

Passion and peace define the boundaries of these poems, and the field within the boundaries is that Nature which modern science has made both more heartless and more mysteriously beautiful than the Nature Wordsworth knew. It is a Nature that can only be understood as a broad order which barely superintends random movement and flux. Except for St. Jean Perse, I can think of no one who is so magnificently at home in this nomadic drift-land. And in some ways Ghiselin is the better poet, for he varies his focus, and Perse does not. (pp. 77-8)

Radcliffe Squires, "Reviews: 'Country of the Minotaur'," in Concerning Poetry (copyright © 1970, Western Washington University), Vol. 111, No. 2, Fall, 1970, pp. 77-80.