Elizabeth Daryush Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Daryush, Elizabeth 1887–1977

Daryush, an English poet, was championed by Yvor Winters, who in the thirties designated her as, "one of the few first-rate poets to appear in the British Isles since the generation which produced her father [Robert Bridges] and Thomas Hardy." Daryush disdained the technical innovations and solipsism of modern poets; instead, she used a disciplined syllabic meter to attain a subtle, socially conscious voice. (See also CLC, Vol. 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 3.)

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mrs. Daryush's [Verses] has poetry that gives her a place among those who have brought into verse the beauty that is of the English countryside and no other….

But the characteristics of Mrs. Daryush's new poems are nakedness and austerity, rather than the soft glow and comfort of the English landscape…. There is resignation, conscious that in life's battle defeat is the appointed end. There is also fierceness, of the spirit resolved to have its fill of fighting. Though there is sadness, it has a decorative quality, the gift of a mind courageous enough to look at time's passing and the dying generation to which it belongs. Mrs. Daryush's delight in the technical difficulties and possibilities of verse has an austere manner also. She eschews the bizarre and startling, and tends to give stress to all parts of a word alike, not always with a happy result…. Where she is not experimenting, but compelling her details all to serve subordinately to the whole, Mrs. Daryush can produce a picture perfect in its unemphatic fashion….

"A Book of Verses," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1931; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 1520, March 19, 1931, p. 223.

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Readers of Mrs. Daryush's previous books know that she often feels cramped by traditional metres. [Verses: Fourth Book] contains an experimental element, marked as such by having the lines printed without capitals. These pieces follow the accent of "ordinary deliberate speech," and are written in "metres governed only by the number of syllables to the line."…

Her practice accepts such rhymes as "good" and "thewed," "ache" and "back," and she is so intimately occupied with the rhythm which reinforces her visualization that the actual rhyming is almost an irrelevance…. The writer remains one of the most patient and subtle of living poets, unresting in her resolution to explore and extend the borders of expression in verse. But she now reveals a new power to live with others, and to see into the hardness and narrowness of their lot….

Mrs. Daryush proves again her descriptive gift, and perhaps more richly than before. Sometimes it is seen in concentration…. Sometimes it works in a leisured unfolding, that hardly flowers more into one line than into any other…. But, after all, Mrs. Daryush's readers knew already that she could evoke memory and make it become vision again. We accept new examples of her power gratefully. But we shall miss the book's significance unless we draw attention to its quality of self-revelation. The writer not only enters into others' lives, she expresses her own, with a reticence that does not hide her passion of devotion to her art…. The book everywhere testifies to an exceptional sense of urgency and determination, present in scarcely any other contemporary poet…. [Throughout] this book speaks a mind which is aware of the chains imposed by mortality, but is set to achieve something which the immortal poets, if they saw it, would accept as in the canon.

"Mrs. Daryush's Poems," in The Times Literary Supplement © Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1935; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 1726, February 28, 1935, p. 120.

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The Last Man. And Other Verses considerations of technique] perhaps insist on the reader's notice … a little more than they should. The experiments in "syllabic metre" which occur very frequently among the examples of normal versification, and are signalled by being printed without capital letters at the beginning of the lines, form a problem not to be avoided. Where they appear, the listening mind must change its rule and discover that "orchid" and "sighted," "engines" and "mines," include rhymes. The general effect is therefore that the attention is unduly distracted from the substance and essence of the poems to their outward aspect.

Nevertheless, in this as in her former volumes, Mrs. Daryush steadily impresses her reader as being one of the poets who "see yonder shining light." She writes in the spirit of a living morality, a progressive humanity. It is not an attitude, but a vitality; if it is not the kind of view which yields a splendid array of symbols of man and his world, yet it is apt to express itself on occasion in clear and striking terms….

"Poetry: 'The Last Man'," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1936; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 1802, August 15, 1936, p. 666.

Yvor Winters

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mrs. Daryush has engaged in certain technical practices which perhaps need to be explained…. The principles of syllabic meter are simple in theory: the line is measured by syllable-count and must not be measurable by any other pattern. The poet is thus required to vary the number and pattern of stresses from line to line, and to do it in such a manner as to create a successful rhythm; he is at the same time free to rhyme unaccented with accented syllables, as heiress with bless. The poet is thus given more freedom, or at least more variety, potentially, than is easily managed, and unless both line and poem are short, the rhythm is likely to degenerate into shapelessness. Within proper limits, however,...

(The entire section is 624 words.)

David Daiches

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Though it is true that in some of [the poems in "Selected Poems"] there are traces of [Robert] Bridges' concern with syllabic meter, this is not what strikes the reader, nor can it be said to constitute the chief interest of the poems, which are characterized by fresh and clear descriptions of nature, supple but not over-loose rhythms, and an everpresent didacticism. This frank didacticism—all things in nature and in domestic life being seen as occasions for moralizing—is a somewhat disturbing feature of the collection, and sorts ill with the precise, clear-eyed descriptions and effective metrics. There is a delicacy of observation matched with metrical skill in the best of these poems, but for the moral to be put...

(The entire section is 305 words.)

Richard Ellmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Living in an age when the poet's first duty has been to find an appropriate language, [Mrs. Daryush] has avoided the problem by using a language that is dead. Her accomplishments have been chiefly technical, and these in themselves are not enough. (p. 306)

[In her Selected Poems] Mrs. Daryush has tacitly acknowledged the necessity of shifting to a more current idiom. Even here, however, her touch is not sure. So a poem like March 21 begins well:

The wood's alive today—
Warm power all round
Breathes like a beast of prey
Ready to bound….


(The entire section is 225 words.)

Alan Brownjohn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

As far as Mrs Daryush's technical example goes, the pity is that the lesson of it wasn't learnt a great deal sooner…. To read Mrs Daryush now [in her Collected Poems] is to feel how valuable some attention to her procedures might have been at the time Winters was pleading her cause some years earlier, in the late Thirties—but now remote these particular technical concerns seem today. The highly-wrought syllabics … not only require some finesse to distinguish from ordinary lambics, but serve the necessities of a diction that doesn't really offer much in the present. One derives from these poems a renewed respect for tenacity of purpose in poetry and a feeling at the same time that we now ought to be...

(The entire section is 278 words.)

Donald Davie

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

When an unprejudiced literary history of our century comes to be written, our failure to recognize Elizabeth Daryush will be one of the most telling and lamentable charges that can be laid at our door. The cold silence that has prevailed about her work, through one decade after another, is so total that there can be no question of fixing the blame here or there, finding scapegoats. We are all at fault, in a way that points therefore to some really deep-seated frivolity, superficiality, cynicism through several generations of readers of English poetry.

Certainly, I cannot absolve myself. For it happens that I had the good fortune to stumble, while I was still young, on the writings of the one...

(The entire section is 1140 words.)

Peter Scupham

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Elizabeth Daryush's Collected Poems her experiments in syllabic measures,] though fascinating, can unbalance a response which should be given to the total tone and effect of this enigmatic and rewarding writer.

Elizabeth Daryush compels the reader to accept a world conditioned by several qualities rarely found in contemporary poetry. The world is self-sufficient, persuading the reader of its validity by the stern insistence of a diction as apparently outmoded as that of de la Mare, a taut sense of cadence as timeless as that of Jonson or Herrick, a firm moral sense…. In the world Elizabeth Daryush creates, though the eye at first refuses the run of epithets, seemingly so locked into an...

(The entire section is 942 words.)

Donald E. Stanford

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Although Elizabeth Daryush] wrote poetry that is in the mainstream of traditional English verse, she also engaged in occasional experimental writing in addition to her imitations of that forerunner of modernism Gerard Manley Hopkins. She is now credited with being one of the first poets of the twentieth century to write successful syllabic verse. She is, in fact, known today to readers of contemporary poetry chiefly for that reason…. [She] emphasizes the fact that her syllabic verse is disciplined and structurally patterned and not the "open form" used so often by today's poets, of whom she says, "Most modern poetic form, as I see it, is a kind of open prison, without the disciplines of either the cells or the...

(The entire section is 220 words.)

John Finlay

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[After reading Collected Poems] one is struck above all by a sense of personal anguish underlying these hard poems that give so little comfort, and yet still are so intellectually and emotionally strengthening for the reader. The overwhelming majority of them are concerned with what she describes in one poem as the "stubborn fact" of tragedy, and she writes so effectively about it that the reader becomes aware at last of what she herself must have experienced to have done so. I do not mean to suggest she was confessional or autobiographical. Mrs. Daryush was both private and isolated, and had a sort of aristocratic disdain for the modern practice of revealing one's personal life in a medium she considered...

(The entire section is 1018 words.)