Michael Fried (review date 22 August 1970)
SOURCE: Fried, Michael. “Strictly Personal.” Spectator 225, no. 7417 (22 August 1970): 187-88.
[In the following review, Fried calls The Visit “a magnificent book” and praises the lyrical qualities of Hamilton's poems.]
The poems in Ian Hamilton's first collection, The Visit, are relatively short. Within a given poem the lines are usually of different lengths: some of the most striking moments are the result of juxtaposing long and short lines (‘O world leave this alone / At least / This shocked and slightly aromatic fall of leaves …’). Almost no use is made of end-rhyme, which Hamilton does not need and which besides would distort the delicate internal movement of his poems.
His extraordinary control of pace and rhythm enables him to secure the integrity of each line without apparent effort. His line-breaks are at once natural and musical, ineluctable and unsettling. And in general his poems possess a consistent though never monotonous tone, keyed to direct speech but informed by a unique aural sensibility that cares equally about accentual stresses and the precise quantity of even the most fleeting syllable. Within that consistency of tone the fine texture of the sound—for example, the weight and duration of individual syllables—may alter radically from one line to another (‘Out of bounds, you kneel in the long grass / Deciphering obliterated names: / Old lunatics who died here’). Largely by virtue of such modulations Hamilton more than once infuses set, almost pat, metrical formations with new feeling (‘To each lost soul, at this late hour / A medicated pang of happiness’).
Hamilton's eye is, by and large, less remarkable than his ear, though The Visit contains short passages and indeed whole poems of great descriptive force. But whereas the minuteness of his control of sound is unremitting, his images are on occasion curiously out of focus, inexact. (‘Our smoking heads / Drift back to us / From the grey...
(The entire section is 840 words.)