Robert Pack Vernon Young - Essay

Vernon Young

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In [Nothing but Light], the prevailing condition, intensifying to the last outcry, is an affirmed love of and faith in the near-at-hand, pierced by doubt or an engulfing hopelessness, the poet holding off despair tenaciously and always resolving it within the poem by a triumphant modulation of his initial metaphor. ("The Mountain Ash Tree" is a splendid example.) Indeed, were he not so constructively adept in the arts of poetic nuance and recovery, he would be subjectively unbearable to read; he is too vulnerable by far. His identification with the creatures he loves, those of the home, the garden or the wild, is passionate and jealously guarded; the thought of their extermination is the haunted premise of his poems. ("We love only that which we know will die," wrote Spengler.) Pack's empathy with birds, beasts, and flowers is an increasingly familiar and welcome element in the poetry of Americans. As he says, himself, of another faculty: "It is a trick of gathering oneself / into what one believes / And stepping forth." But not a simple trick! Over against James Dickey's impressive conjuring of the predator world, Pack has an equally intuitive gift for sensing the less spectacular lives of the hummingbird, the field mouse, and the pack rat. The latter, serving as subject for a quizzical and informed poem, may well be an intended pun, for although the rodent is described as an emblem of the symbiotic life which man has forsaken or abused, he could at the same time be taken as a rueful self-reflection of the poet: "moderate / Music maker with moderate powers, thumping / the drum of frightened ground …" Poem by poem, Pack is deceptively a child of the peaceable kingdom, yet to read his closing lines in this book with his opening lines in the memory is to recognize how much of the tragic sense he has overtaken within the span of 68 pages…. Pack is a poet of startling perceptions and uncomfortable reminders. (pp. 164-66)

Vernon Young, in Parnassus: Poetry in Review (copyright © by Poetry in Review Foundation), Spring/Summer, 1974.