D. J. Enright

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Enright, D(ennis) J(oseph) (Vol. 4)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Enright, D(ennis) J(oseph) 1920–

An English novelist, poet, and essayist of great range and learning, Enright is highly regarded for his intelligent, witty, and compassionate fiction. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Enright's sympathies, humor and talent are best suited to writing little vignettes, such as his "University Examinations in Egypt" and "The Tourist and the Geisha." But too frequently his impulse to write poems appears to have been vitiated by his fear of pretentiousness, and his unwillingness to recognize that the poet who respects poetry as an art has sufficient reasons for creating it.

William Van O'Connor, in his The New University Wits and the End of Modernism (© 1963 by Southern Illinois University Press; reprinted by permission of Southern Illinois University Press), Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1963, p. 113.

A series of books by D. J. Enright shows one kind of partial solution to the characteristic problem of mere articulateness. Enright's form is usually very flat and conversational, approaching in a way the 'minimal' style of Robert Creeley, and though actually the poetry is intellectually oriented the statement is kept as simple as possible. He sometimes sounds a more rational Lawrence, or a plainer Empson. A tremendous identification with the betrayed innocents of the earth marks his writing and, together with his tart self-knowledge, accounts for the basically sympathetic speaking character he presents. Enright's subject matter gives him a great advantage, for he has lived and taught literature in various foreign parts, particularly in Asia, and the hard-bitten realism of what he reports is intrinsically of the greatest interest. In his most telling collection, Addictions (1962), the bitterness of his encounters with official repression in a 'new' nation explicitly enters a number of the poems. His disillusionment—that of the Western radical with the developing, altered world which he himself has helped create—is all the more convincing because Enright, despite his own unfortunate experience, does not allow himself to condemn humanitarianism or social progress. It is, rather, the impersonality, the inevitable philistine indifference of political process to the ordinary person, and at the same time certain doubts about his own motives, that disturb him. An unusual sequence of poems (for Enright) in this same volume concerns a love-affair that has gone wrong in very much the same sense as modern history has gone wrong. Somehow, things went awry; the dreamt-of came to pass and yet was not what it should have been. In his highly candid and precise speech and his amateurish free-verse, he involves us, wearies us, stamps his personality on our sympathies.

M. L. Rosenthal, in his The New Poets: American and British Poetry Since World War II (copyright © 1967 by M. L. Rosenthal; reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press, Inc.), Oxford University Press, 1967, pp. 222-23.

One can see that the humanist poet, with his particularly strong sense of the real, objective existence of human problems—and his feeling that, while as a poet he may be called upon only to describe them, as a man he is partially responsible for helping in their solution—would begin to have misgivings about his art qua art. Certainly Enright's Japan poems show that his occasional hankerings for poetic purity are outweighed by his doubts about poetry itself: for him, literature is subordinate to life….

Despite, however, Enright's scruples about the possible pitfalls of humanist poetry, one's final judgment is decidedly not that he falls into them. Rather one admires the unending effort to balance the respective claims of life and art, realizing that the emphasis placed on the former demands of the poet considerable artistic self-denial without bringing the man the compensating sense of having solved the problems of the world in which he lives.

Philip Gardner, "D. J. Enright Under the Cherry Tree," in

(The entire section is 2,016 words.)