The Poetry of Barker Critical Essays

George Barker

Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

George Barker’s deliberately anti-poetic autobiographical poem, THE TRUE CONFESSION OF GEORGE BARKER is the most forceful single expression of his independent sensibility, but his COLLECTED POEMS, 1930-1965 is the best single text for an understanding of his moral and technical achievement. Selections from his earlier books are organized chronologically in the COLLECTED POEMS, where the sequence in itself demonstrates that Barker, like Thomas Hardy, is not the kind of poet who develops; rather, his methods, insights, and themes re-occur and he has mined a narrow but deep poetic vein throughout his career. He was the youngest poet chosen by W. B. Yeats for inclusion in the OXFORD BOOK OF MODERN VERSE and even then, in 1936, when he was only twenty-three, he had found his definitive style, so that the poems published in the mid-1930’s are very like those published by The New Yorker and Poetry in the mid-1950’s. There is little change in the technique of clustering images, for the same obsessions with swans, wombs, bowels, kisses, and the violence of sex and war return again and again with little advance in control. Throughout Barker’s career he re-encounters and explores again the personal themes of grief, violence, human extremity, and the saving power of unified sensibility.

Barker is similar to Dylan Thomas and Hart Crane in attempting to explore, as it were from inside, a host of images. If the single most important structural unit of Romantic poetry is the image, Barker—who has memorably described his mother in a London air raid bravely moving “from mourning into morning”—is a poet in the main line of the Romantic tradition. Yet in spite of this general kinship with “Dionysian” writers Barker has written no manifestoes and joined no schools. As a young man he kept aloof from the social poetry of Auden, Spender, Day Lewis, MacNeice; and by the same triumph of isolated sensibility he still keeps his distance from literary fashion.

Barker has commented on the words he offers in trade for bed and board; it would appear that the poet who regards himself as the explorer, and the prophet, of unconscious and profoundly personal images resigns himself to facing the charges of obscurity, provincialism, isolation. Certainly Barker prefers depth to clarity and is willing to pay the price.

Such a poet divides the world into opposing forces, condemning whatever makes for death and sacramentally celebrating what makes for life. Taking Blake as his master, Barker assumes that whatever is mechanical is evil; thus whatever inverts or besmirches the numinous loveliness of sexual love, genuine belief, or free...

(The entire section is 1098 words.)