George Woodcock

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431

Robert Finch is an urbane poet in a nation that is too often content merely with becoming urban. He writes with poise and self-consciousness. The Dionysic fury never leads him where his reason would not have him go, and his craftsmanship is controlled and accurate. Thus, one imagines, Flaubert might write if another incarnation made him a Canadian poet instead of a French novelist.

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These qualities, which at once grace and limit his verse, were already evident in Dr. Finch's first volume, Poems, published in 1946. The present volume [Acis in Oxford and Other Poems], distilling the work of the decade and a half between then and now, can be taken as confirming the bounds of his possibilities as a poet. His gifts are neither epic nor dramatic; he is not a myth-creator of the kind one encounters frequently of late in Canada, unless one sees a mythological touch in his title sequence, "Acis in Oxford", in which he dwells with ironic tenderness on the echoes a performance of Handel's version of the ancient legend arouses in the minds of hearers and performers; finally, he is not a poet of the Canadian scene, among whose amplitudes his verse sounds with the silvery remoteness of rococo music.

Yet, such limitations defined and granted, Acis in Oxford is often true and sometimes very good poetry, its deliberation elaborating on accurate insight and translating, with a conciseness impossible to prose, sensitive observations on human existence and the world of nature. Occasionally, it is true, Dr. Finch falls into shallow triteness…. Sometimes also he submits to the temptation of mere virtuosity, of trying to elevate a trivial observation by verbal juggling. This happens in "From a University Window", where he describes a man lime-whiting a playing field on a snowy morning…. (pp. 71-2)

Yet Dr. Finch, who is concerned almost to obsession with the different rhythms of the outer and inner worlds, can write also with sensitive conviction on the regrets and consolations of the human mind. In "A Certain Age", for instance, he talks of the transient things that we enjoy "unwary of our luck"…. And in "The Metaphor" he expresses a neo-Metaphysical conceit with power and an admirable verbal percussion….

Dr. Finch is an unfashionable poet, who takes hints from the past wherever he finds them fitting, but those who disregard him for this reason will miss that combination of craftsmanship and fine sensibility which—at its best—makes a good verse-writer into a poet's—if not a popular—poet. (p. 72)

George Woodcock, "The Virtues of Urbanity," in Canadian Literature, No. 13, Summer, 1962, pp. 71-2.

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