The title poem of this new collection, “Jubilación,” parades the Spanish word for “retirement.” The pun equates retirement with jubilation, and this happy marriage provides the central theme for the entire collection—the fourth in only eight years since the publication of the expanded edition of Charles Tomlinson’s Collected Poems in 1987. Tomlinson continues to luxuriate in the subtleties of natural phenomena such as daybreak and twilight in a variety of landscapes and weather, but his most impressive achievement continues to be his metrical and imagistic originality. As he himself puts it in a meditation on an elaborate restaurant bar in Lisbon which was patterned after the rooms of Madame Pompadour at Versailles, “only by style will you engage the affections of the mind.”
For all of Tomlinson’s concern with craft, the precision of image and the nuance of tone and sound, his artistry never loses touch with the ordinary, the fleeting, even the routine. He is not a realist in any reductive sense, but he is too bemused and even enamored of the simplest of life’s experiences to reach for heroic or tragic themes in order to give his art an artificial or forced gravitas. “Jubilación” is an epistle in couplets to a Spanish friend, the poet Juan Malpartida. Tomlinson describes the “Eden” he shares with his wife in the Gloucestershire countryside in terms of a simple routine of activities that balance all the needs of body, soul, and mind:
We rise at dawn, breakfast, then walk a mile. . . .
Once back, we turn to music and we play
The two-piano version of some ballet . . .
On what we used to call the gramophone,
To keep the active blood still briskly moving
Until we go from dancing to improving
The muscles of the mind.
Reading Marcel Proust and James Joyce is followed by poetry—reading and writing it—and reflections on the affinity between nature and poetry:
Strange how this wooded valley, like a book
Open beneath the light, repays your look
With sentences, whole passages and pages
Where space, not words, ’s the medium that assuages
The thirsty eye.
What authorizes Tomlinson’s craft is the natural inspiration that calls it to do its work—natural in the fullest sense of the word. What gives his naturalism its power is its Romantic moorings, specifically the model provided by England’s great Romantic nature poets. Tomlinson never denies his debt to their poetic sensibilities, but his own craft is driven by what could be called a classical-modern imperative, the need to understate in order to confront, to be coolly observant in order to be emotionally persuasive, to cultivate soberness in order to capture the essence of possession.
The Romantic connections are explicit. Tomlinson engages English Romanticism as if it were a phenomenon of nature itself, an empirical encounter...
(The entire section is 1215 words.)