Old Men and Comets
D. J. Enright is a well known poet, essayist, and anthologist in England. He received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1981. Among his more than twenty volumes of verse are COLLECTED POEMS 1987 (1987), SELECTED POEMS 1990 (1990), and UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES (1991).
OLD MEN AND COMETS is a collection of Enright’s latest poems. The poems are exuberant with sagacious wisdom that comes with age and replete with somber reflections that result from a person’s having to face the inevitability of human destiny. The book was written under the sign of Jonathan Swift. To appreciate both Swift and Enright is to understand the paradoxical relationship between youth and age, between memory and reality, and between the meaning of life and the inevitability of death. For, in the book, the narrator’s propensity to live in memories and reminiscences is what provides him with the ability to understand the present and to predict the future.
Enright’s poems are like spring water that runs smoothly down the mountains: its gurgling sound is murmuring, musical, and mesmerizing. The poet’s use of rhythm and rhyme is especially effective. It creates a deliberate tempo which helps to reveal and reinforce his thematic preoccupations. But Enright does not stop at simply following the established poetic styles; in OLD MEN AND COMETS, he also experiments with prose poetry and haiku.
Source for Further Study
Parnassus: Poetry in Review. XVIII, Fall, 1993, p.100.
Old Men and Comets
D. J. Enright is a well-known poet, essayist (The Alluring Problem: An Essay on Irony, 1986), and anthologist in England. His poems have appeared in periodicals such as The Applegarth Review, The Independent on Sunday, London Magazine, London Review of Books, PN. Review, and The Times Literary Supplement. Enright received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1981, but not until 1987 was the first collection of Enright’s poems, Collected Poems 1987, published by the Oxford University Press. Since then, Enright has published several more books of poetry, including Selected Poems 1990(1990) and Under the Circumstances (1991), which have helped establish his as one of the leading lyrical voices in England.
The poems in Old Men and Comets are exuberant with the sagacious wisdom that comes with age and replete with somber reflections that result from a person’s having to face the inevitability of death. The title of the book is taken from the English satirist and clergyman Jonathan Swift: “Old men and comets have been reverenced for the same reason: their long beards, and pretences to foretell events.” The title seems to dictate that in Old Men and Comets Enright wants to use an approach that can be as self-abnegating as it will be marked by what British critic A. S. Byatt calls “the English qualities of understatement and irony.”
To appreciate both Swift and Enright is to understand the paradoxical relationship between youth and age, between memory and reality, and between the meaning of life and the inevitability of death, as “What We Never and Always Think Of’ admits:
“Paradox from the start was a peculiar part of us.” Since both old men and comets’ professed power to foretell the future, be it a sanctimonious pretension or a veracious flair, is paradoxically associated with their ability to identify with history, one might save considerable time and energy to read a book “backwards, last chapter first” and “beginning at the end,” as is suggested in “A Book at Bedtime.”
The approach Enright uses in Old Men and Comets is, indeed, as paradoxical as his belief in the dialectical relationship between the past and the future is strong. In the book, one’s propensity to live in memories and reminiscences is what provides one with the ability, in the case of poems such as “In the Street,” “Wheels,” “Memory,” “An Old Man Reminisces,” “Yusoff the Bold,” “Thinking of the Young Ladies of Tsuda College,” “Seasons,” “Forgetfulness in Fuzhou,” “Self- Criticism,”...
(The entire section is 2,070 words.)