Incident in a Rose Garden Critical Overview
by Donald Justice

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Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

The collection in which “Incident in a Rose Garden” appears, Night Light, was Justice’s second fulllength collection and contains some of his best-known works, including “Men at Forty,” “The Man Closing Up,” and “The Thin Man.” Reviewing the collection, Robert Pawlowski stresses that Justice is more than simply a technically brilliant poet but is “a good poet who is as interested in life, death, hate, love, fun, and sorrow as anyone.” Noting the sadness of the poems in the volume, William Pritchard was not as flattering, writing that “the best line in the book is an epigraph” from someone else. In Shenandoah, critic Joel Conarroe praises Justice for bringing “a controlled, urbane intensity to his Chekhovian descriptions of loss and the unlived life.” Conarroe notes that Justice’s poems “are all fairly accessible on one or two careful readings.” James McMichael agrees, writing, “Justice is tightly in charge of everything that goes on within his poems, so much so that very few of them are not almost totally accessible after careful reading.” William Hunt considers Justice’s poem a conservative response to the often hyper-emotionalism of romanticism, writing, “Mr. Justice’s poems are eloquent replies in a classical mode to the all or nothing element in romanticism. The best poems in the book are closest to this anachronistic struggle.” Such a struggle expectedly contains a barely restrained tension between “message” and form. Richard Howard notes that the collection emits “a kind of vexed buzz close to the fretful.”