Frederick Morgan Guy Davenport - Essay

Guy Davenport

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Frederick Morgan's "A Book of Change" was not written to be writing poetry. A great many of these poems were obviously written to shape, explore and understand emotions and thus master rather than be mastered by them. Others are love poems, poems that welled up in memory, and poems that attempt to frame and fix transient meditations. These are the age-old offices of poetry, and Mr. Morgan always writes with the age-old belief that poetry is a social bond, like language itself, and that poetry is the more meaningful for being public, transparent and eloquent.

Mr. Morgan's voice keeps to the tradition which modern poets do not even read, much less imitate … but he does not imitate, nor does he deal in pastiche. His images are as sharp as his language: "The love of the jaybird for the rose," "the Centaur, who had kept watch of the years," "Boy and spirit traveled in a clock." Poems so clear and unassuming are rare nowadays and have the novelty of good wholesome bread appearing amongst the pickled bear's paws and jellied camel's hump of a Mandarin feast….

The strength of Mr. Morgan's poetry is in its brave anachronisms—grief sustained with religious conviction, love, loyalty, death, and all in the poet's own naked voice. For too long now poetry has seemed unavailable as a medium for the intelligent mind. Between the master and the ecstatic amateur there seemed to be no honorable place for the man of sense and feeling who can respond to reality with a poem, for whom, in short, poetry is one accomplishment among many.

Guy Davenport, "'A Book of Change'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 1, 1973, p. 26.