Geoffrey Grigson

Start Your Free Trial

Download Geoffrey Grigson Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Grigson, Geoffrey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Grigson, Geoffrey 1905–

Grigson is a British poet, a naturalist, an authority on art, and an important critic and editor. His avant-garde magazine of the 1930s, New Verse, published Auden, MacNeice, and Dylan Thomas. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28.)

One of the earliest collections of Geoffrey Grigson's poems had the title Several Observations, and there is a way in which almost all his best published poetry fits under this heading. But the modesty of the title may be deceiving unless we have a very exact understanding of what he means by "observations". The lack of such an understanding has already led to the foolishness of dismissing Grigson as a "miniaturist"; and, perhaps worse, to fairly long articles reappraising Grigson's work, which, even after the publishing of Collected Poems in 1963, have paid very little real attention to his poetry. "Observation"—in Grigson's special sense of the word—takes on a new clarity and importance after one reads the essays collected together in Poems & Poets. So does the observer. (p. 46)

It would be impossible to forget the editor, the critic, the naturalist, and, I suppose, the controversialist. New Verse, which Geoffrey Grigson edited from January, 1933, to the Autumn of 1938, seems a more astonishing achievement with every passing year. Grigson as editor now appears far more generous and catholic in his taste than he pretended at the time. Few other editors, I suspect, have kept their pages open to poets whom they felt to be talented, but whom they accused so vigorously of abusing their talents in the editorial and review pages. The poet's work and the accusation often appear in the same issue. Few editors, I also suspect, have produced a magazine of such obvious importance that contributors were willing to suffer this treatment….

His voice was not altogether ignored, but, reading the last essay in Poems & Poets, A Man of the Thirties, I began to wonder, not for the first time, what would have happened to English poetry in the 1950's if Grigson, rather than Empson, had been taken as a model by the many poets in England then struggling back to sense. Grigson's obsession with precision—precise observation matched with the precise language to describe it—might have saved a number of them from either affected obscurity or plain tameness. (p. 47)

[In A Skull in Salop and Other Poems], some of his most successful poems … like some of his best prose…, show Grigson observing himself very much as a naturalist observes wildlife….

There are a number of poems in A Skull in Salop that are as fine as Yes and No. Does that mean there has been no progress, no extension of Grigson's talent in more than thirty years? I don't know. And I suspect the question may be irrelevant. Time passes, of course; the observed objects may change, many must change, but the trained observer, having once achieved the kind of observation Geoffrey Grigson is talking about, can only be distracted from it at a loss. (p. 50)

Michael Mott, in Poetry (© 1970 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), April, 1970.

[Though the] epigrams, together with snarls and brief fits of petulance against 'smart reviewers', 'Journalist-dons, hair-oiled ad-men', and the inanities of television culture, are characteristic of one side of Grigson's personality in his poetry, they are not dominant. Most of his recent poems have been sensuous notations of places, people and very closely observed scenes, celebrations of the oddity and variety of natural life. It is the passionate naturalist, archaeologist, topographer and traveller that watches from the centre of Grigson's poems, restlessly particularizing and recording. (p. 27)

Anthony Thwaite, in his Poetry Today 1960–1973 (© Anthony Thwaite; Longman Group Ltd., for the British Council), British Council, 1973.

The virtues which come across in [Geoffrey Grigson's] latest book Angles and Circles are classical front-of-the-mind ones and have more to do...

(The entire section is 1,638 words.)