Leslie Norris Douglas Dunn - Essay

Douglas Dunn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is against a background such as the entrenchment of poetry in a previous tradition of thought about Nature that Leslie Norris's poem "Mountains Polecats Pheasants" has to be seen. It is elegiac, regretting the mortality of creatures and places before the encroachment of machines such as the motor car, which, in the poem, replace polecats as killers of pheasant. Norris's poem is reminiscent of William Stafford's American version of the subject in "Travelling Through the Dark." But the attitude is familiar in any case, from society as well as literature. Nature poets, and others concerned with countryside and animals, become the guardians of wildness. They seek to preserve what is accidental and given. It is unremarkable that ideas of age and origin and accident should be involved in a description of natural beauty; or that Norris should write that

                The wind
                Over my shoulder
                Blows from the cold of time,

attempting not only to dramatise the rudimentary presence of the elements as ongoing, but, in a poem about cromlechs or dolmens, mystifying the permanence of the past. For it is the fault of contemporary nature poetry that it springs backward in thought too easily, uttering a global nostalgia. And this is an intellectual and human fault. It represents a state of mind which finds it too difficult to work within existing society, and by doing so contribute to its change.

Douglas Dunn, "Books & Writers: 'Mountains, Polecats, Pheasants'," in Encounter (© 1974 by Encounter Ltd.), Vol. XLII, No. 4, April, 1974, p. 84.