Robin Skelton Robin Matthews - Essay

Robin Matthews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Timelight, fittingly enough, is concerned with quest and travel—physical and psychological. A seven part series, it is the attempt of a battered and blunted and dulled ego to see itself in universal terms, principally by connecting (on a Canada Council travel grant) with foreign writers and scholars who have names. The unhappy speaker of the poems moves through time and travel deathwards, with metaphorical and real phlegm in his throat. Anguished, his "spirit enters waste/sargassoes of unreal/conformables and miles" ("The Fell of Dark"). He feels pain and frustration: "I beat upon the rock./There is no answering voice" ("Lakeside Incident"). Finally, he can say: "I mingle memory/and desire/dream and dream/to hint a whole/beyond the vagaries/of its parts/…/turning my face/into the light" ("Timelight").

In his Preface, Skelton suggests the book has a major theme, which it is the reader's "duty … to identify". That's not too hard: Life is vanity; time steals away; look for the little light. But Skelton makes almost unconscious play upon the quest structure which is built from the Preface through to the appendix. The book becomes a comment upon its own apparent intentions. For the Preface is mock-humble. The poems have their life in a kind of strutting, hurting, black-country pretentiousness. The conclusion is almost a spoof on the scholarly appendix in which Skelton reveals his borrowings from (mostly) Pound and Eliot—and...

(The entire section is 490 words.)