Robert Finch John Sutherland - Essay

John Sutherland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Reading through [Poems], I felt that Mr. Finch was more concerned with the advantages of mental exercise in verse form than with the writing of poetry. There are, it is true, some fine effects of music and imagery in Poems; there are occasional poems which attain a higher level than the book as a whole. But in general the author is too much occupied with (a) versifying a moral truism and (b) playing a sort of verbal chess. (p. 38)

Mr. Finch is nearly always simple when he seems profound. He plays with rhyme and metre like a kitten with a ball of wool, and with an air of doing something mysterious and significant…. [The] principal theme of [his poetry is that] life is never what it seems and we must school ourselves to accept its realities. The writer's bare statement of this platitude cannot substitute for poetry, and his attempt at irony does nothing to make it palatable. His irony is a facetiousness that springs out of an excessive self-consciousness. It can transform what is meant as a reserved statement into a coy and distressing confession. It forces us to listen for words left unsaid, and these words are naked and embarrassed because of it.

The would-be pedestrian moralist who dominates the latter part of Poems appears to be at odds with the dandified versifier of its opening pages. But in the decorative nature pieces, the poet is still at the mercy of the mental gymnast…. [For example,...

(The entire section is 512 words.)