George Garrett Poetry: American Poets Analysis
Because George Garret was best known for his fiction, especially his Elizabethan trilogy, critics and others often neglected his considerable poetic achievement. For more than forty years, however, Garrett continued to write poetry consistently, publishing five volumes of original poetry and three other volumes of collected and selected poems. Garrett never settled on one style or one subject in his poems, though he devoted the same technical skill and meticulous care to his poems as he did to his fiction. Influenced to some extent by the conversational and narrative poetry of Robert Penn Warren and Randall Jarrell, Garrett also influenced and drew on the styles and tones of those poets with whom he was a near contemporary: Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell, Wendell Berry, and R. H. W. Dillard. Like Garrett, these writers produced fiction and criticism, all of which had a measured impact on their poetry. Being a southern poet, Garrett was often concerned with place and history in his poems; his works range over a number of other topics, from isolation and loneliness, biblical figures, and classical heroism to memory, family, education, and sports. As some interpreters have observed, Garrett attempts in his poetry to understand a lost world of heroism and faith and to adapt that world to a modern world governed by despair and loss of faith. His poems record personal journeys (“For a Bitter Season”); they are witty satires (“Three Characters in Search of a New Dunciad”); they evoke the atmosphere and temper of real places (“Old Slavemarket: St. Augustine, Fla.”); they deal with literary figures (“Matthew Arnold”); and they re-create legendary and mythic figures (“Abraham’s Knife”). He seldom wrote long poems, perhaps because he wrote fiction, but his fragments (as he calls them in his collection of new and old poems, Days of Our Lives Lie in Fragments) powerfully express his major themes as he tries out new styles of articulating them.
The Reverend Ghost
In his first collection of poems, The Reverend Ghost, Garrett demonstrates his versatility and technical skill in poems that deal with loss, heroism, suffering, childhood, war, and mythic figures. Most of the poems are short but finely crafted lyrics that proceed in narrative fashion to tell the story of a particular subject. In four stanzas, each of which features a rhyming couplet in the center sandwiched between a first and fourth line with an end-rhyme, “Value Judgment” remarks on the nature of friendship and the transparency with which friends and enemies deal with each other. Four poems in this collection deal with historical and literary figures: “Congreve,” “Milton’s Adam,” “Orpheus,” and “Adonis.” In “Congreve,” the speaker reflects on the playwright William Congreve’s wit, praising its formal elegance but commenting on its inadequacy in...
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