Dannie Abse 1923–
Welsh poet, novelist, dramatist, essayist, short story writer, and editor.
Best known as a poet of modern, daily life, Abse is praised for his honesty, for his balanced view of life—at times affirming, at times despairing—and for his compassion. Contributing to his individual sensibility is Abse's Jewish heritage, his Roman Catholic education, and his practice as a physician. Abse takes as his setting the metropolitan scene—he lives in London—and focuses particularly on middle-class existence, conveying his thoughtful reflections in a forceful voice. The same intelligent, probing spirit is evident in Abse's three novels, his several plays, and his essays.
Critics note that Abse's poetic style and themes have developed consistently throughout his career. His early work is more markedly public poetry—generalizations on social themes—and more imitative in style than his later work. The poems in Abse's first collection, After Every Green Thing (1949), show, for example, the influence of his fellow Welshman Dylan Thomas and are written in a romantic vein. Critics observe that the poems are laden with symbolism and rely heavily on the use of the incantatory refrain. With Walking Under Water (1952) Abse achieved greater control over form and symbols and evidenced the beginning of the personal poetry that characterizes his later work. In Tenants of the House (1957) and Poems, Golders Green (1962), collections of Abse's maturing period, there is a decrease in the number of social and metaphysical poems and a shift to poems of personal experience, rendered in a conversational tone of diminished rhetoric and tight rhythm. A Small Desperation (1968) and Funland (1972), which Abse described as "The Waste Land gone mad," express Abse's mature personal outlook and artistic tone, the result of the integration of his poetic and medical vocations. As Howard Seargeant writes: "Although Dannie Abse has produced outstanding poems at various stages of his poetic career, there can be little doubt that since he has been writing 'as a whole man' and accepting his medical profession within the total complexity of his experience, his poetry has gained in scope, imaginative depth and psychological insight." In his most recent collection, Way Out in the Centre (1981), Abse draws more extensively on his Jewish background and his family life to explore the human dilemmas of love and loss, the scientific and the irrational, the personal and the professional.
Although Abse is best known for his poetry, it was his autobiographical novel Ash on a Young Man's Sleeve (1954) that originally won him recognition as a promising young writer. His two later novels, Some Corner of an English Field (1957) and O. Jones, O. Jones (1970), are concerned with issues of social conscience and evidence the poetic skill already established in his verse. Abse's most recent prose work, A Strong Dose of Myself (1983), is a collection of essays and lectures on poetry, and also includes notes on medical practice and some autobiographical pieces. This pastiche reveals the sociopsychological emphasis that has been a strong feature in all Abse's later work.
(See also CLC, Vol. 7; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56; and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 4.)