Robert Finch

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William Walsh

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 627

If I try to delineate the character of Robert Finch's sensibility, I find myself wanting to say, perhaps in too large and general a way, that it is a sensibility which aspires to make explicit—but explicit in a way proper to poetry—the Europeanism latent in the Canadian spirit…. The first thing that is striking about Finch is the unity of his sensibility…. Robert Finch has a beautifully coherent and single sensibility, subject and detail, thought and feeling, tone and language, issuing without manipulation from a single organic response. A manner suggestive of coolness and sobriety is constantly capable of surprising us with a kind of subterranean explosiveness, and language, which seems stiff or angular, is in his hands buoyantly mobile and responsive…. (p. 82)

[In "The Statue"] there is not a hint of vacancy nor an unfunctioning line or word throughout. Moreover, the two parts of the poem work against each other in a marvelously productive way: in the first part a small boy, a man, a policeman, rustling in a row pursued by the cool menace of the trees, the flowers, the sky, in a chase which seems incapable of being broken or stopped; in the second part, the phase of stillness, the arrest of "only the statue unmoved in its moving stillness." The contrast is one in which each term of the comparison intensifies the reality of the other. Movement and stillness are different, married, and potent…. There is in this poem a muted use of repetition—a boy, a man, a policeman—in the first four lines, and of the hard, blunt word stone in the last four lines, a technique which recalls the subtlety of modulation that Coleridge employs in some of his great conversational poems. It is a usage which avoids the blurring result of the surrogate or the merely varied and which, when used as Finch uses it in his best poems, has a powerfully confirming and actualizing effect. (p. 83)

We find in "The Statue" … a manner which is limpid and urbane and a voice which is genuinely distinctive, feeling and sincere but also elegant and turned. And the writing, which may be a degree too formal for modern taste, is saved from too much ripeness by a certain dryness in the moral comment, by the disinterested alertness shown in the repetitions and by a real, not just a verbal, wit. And at the same time the poems, at once sensuous and mobile, project an attitude to reality, "hopeful without illusion and independent without rebellion," as Santayana described it, very much in keeping with a certain kind of conscious, ancient, sophisticated European tradition.

"Pleasure's a leaf that's sensitive to handle," says Finch in "Pleasure and Memory Compared with Hope"; and his art is consistently marked by delicacy of handling or, perhaps more precisely, by an exquisite fingering which embraces smoothness of touch, softly insistent but cogently varied rhythm, and timing in which propulsion is blended with measured hesitancy. Finch joins to this an enviable gift for the blending and modulation of metaphor or the fine handling of figures. Sometimes this results in a too persistent and too explicit pressure on a single image … but when this device is successful it infuses a poem with an organically flowing and strongly unifying influence. To this silkiness of touch, sensitivity of timing, and metaphorical vivacity Finch's best poems bring also a remarkable quality of immediacy, by which I mean the sense the reader has that there is no interval, no discontinuity, no gap, devoted to calculation or manipulation, between conception and expression. (pp. 84-5)

William Walsh, "The Shape of Canadian Poetry," in The Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor; © 1979 by The University of the South), Vol. LXXXVII, No. 1, Winter, 1979, pp. 73-95.∗

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