Elizabeth Daryush

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Daryush, Elizabeth (Vol. 6)

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Daryush, Elizabeth 1887–

Elizabeth Daryush was championed by Yvor Winters, who designated her, in the thirties, "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," and placed her with Campion and Herrick. The latter two, responded another critic, might "find her verses—subtle and passionate though they are—a little too thoroughly on the sad side for their taste." Mrs Daryush still somehow defies category and is perhaps not yet adequately assessed. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52.)

With the publication of Elizabeth Daryush's Selected Poems, together with a volume of newer verses, we at last have in print the evidence we need to assess the legacy of a long lifetime. I foresee that many readers new to her work will reach quick and unfavorable judgments, since they are sure to encounter serious obstacles to sympathy in her poems, obstacles that are about equally conceptual and technical. I will try to give an account of them before coming to her virtues.

First the conceptual: she writes often out of an emotional set that we identify with the high romantic tradition. The seasons occur and recur in her work, and are treated as confederates ("I have a pact with palmy Spring"); trees and flowers talk; Time and Beauty are not only capitalized but personified…. The diction is often that of ladies' magazines of the nineteenth century. The adjectives give it away. In one poem we have "life's morn-promise unfulfilled," "my sunny dreams," "glooms unfathomed," "passionate gleams," and "high starry heaven." In another we find "beauteous lamps" and "fair light."… Throughout the work there is enough of such formula-writing to put a thoughtful reader on his guard—or to make him give up altogether. But let him reserve judgment.

Next the technical: she distinguishes, by writing them without line-capitals, those poems in syllabic meters ("meters governed only by the number of syllables to the line, and in which the number and position of the stresses may be varied at will") from those in the standard accentual-syllabic English verse. The problem is that the distinction often appears only to the eye, not to the ear…. The effect of syllabic meter on the hearer, it is clear, will be indeterminate until its practitioners evolve a way of speaking their lines that conveys a sense of the governing structural principle. (pp. 687-89)

We have in Elizabeth Daryush, then, a singular combination of the highly poeticized diction of the last century and a method of versification that is still modish and even used with intermittent success by writers of ability. But I believe her best writing is independent of both of those attributes. It comes from a kind of moral vision attainable by the poet only in response to a fairly clear-cut situation. She is not at home with abstractions, though she appears to be fond of them…. But when the theme is undisguised and of straightforward human concern, the words come right and confound criticism…. And then the rhymed syllabics take on a simple and final dignity…. These are poems that justify the search for them. They are small, precise, and absolute. (pp. 689-91)

Jan Schreiber, "The Poetry of Elizabeth Daryush," in The Southern Review (copyright, 1973, by the Louisiana State University), Vol. IX, No. 3, Summer, 1973, pp. 687-91.

Elizabeth Daryush … must necessarily appear in this company [that is, in a discussion of contemporary poets] looking rather like someone who has suddenly stepped out of the wrong century to find herself at the wrong party wearing the wrong...

(This entire section contains 900 words.)

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clothes. There she stands in her brocades speaking hero'ers and 'twixts and 'tweens in her very proper accent. She must be somebody's ancient aunt or somebody's grannie. But the effect of her presence is curious. Suddenly everyone's language sounds indecorous, full of improprieties and vulgarities…. Yvor Winters [said]: "She is the best poet produced in England between T. Sturge Moore and Thom Gunn."

Even Winters, however, had his reservations about Mrs. Daryush's poetry. First of all there is the question of syllabics…. Mrs. Daryush has written consistently in syllabics for years (though also in iambics)…. (p. 52)

Syllabics aside, Mrs. Daryush treats most of the traditional themes of poetry in many of its traditional shorter forms. There are sonnets (quite a lot), quatrains, tercets, and couplets. There are poems about love, nature, the seasons, mutability, mortality, and so on. Abstractions like anger, enmity, patience, and frustration are personified; there is a lot of archaic diction and there are inversions, contractions, and clichés of all kinds. But there are also some good poems. Instead of thinking of Mrs. Daryush as a contemporary of Barbara Guest, perhaps it would be useful to think of her as a contemporary of Landor or of Herrick or, to keep on going back, of the lutanists and madrigalists out of Fellowes. (That one does so think suggests her range. Also, one thinks of Emily Dickinson and even Hardy now and then.) But the problem is, on the other hand, that she is not a contemporary of Landor or Herrick or Dowland and so may have to be content to be seen by most readers of modern poetry as a kind of quaint Pierre Menard. That would be a pity, really. (pp. 53-4)

John Matthias, in Poetry (© 1974 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), April, 1974.


Daryush, Elizabeth (Vol. 19)