A(rthur) J(ames) M(arshall) Smith Roy Fuller - Essay

Roy Fuller

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Like] Wordsworth, Smith has obscured his progress as a poet by arranging [Collected Poems] subjectwise, not chronologically. The book is divided into five sections, the opening poem of each nicely chosen to announce the section's mood or theme. Though one's chief curiosity about a poet who has reached the stage of his collected poems thus remains unsatisfied, it seems to me that the shape of the book comes off completely. Smith is above all a clever, literary and fastidious poet, and what, looked at over the years, might have seemed too fragmentary or eclectic in his work, is given by this arrangement a cumulative and intellectually stimulating effect. This is seen very clearly in Part 2, a section of "imagist" poems. We take these more as evidence of the poet's interest in the scrupulous finding of accurate words for the accurate observation of nature than, as might easily have been, a manifestation of the somewhat stale zeitgeist emanating from the vers libre, no initial capitals, period of Flint, H. D. and the rest. (p. 8)

[Against the background of the times] Smith's Collected Poems are all the finer an achievement. Not to have remained bogged down by either strict traditional forms of "strict" vers libre, not to have been daunted by the new-found social concerns of the poetry of the thirties, nor to have collapsed with their collapse—these are manifestations of character and intellect that must, I think, be taken into account in assessing the volume.

Of course, I have been conceiving of Smith as an English poet and I think this is right, though he has spent almost all his life in the Western Hemisphere and has clearly learnt much from his contemporaries in the United States. But he plainly takes his place in the gap between Blunden and Day Lewis rather than in that between (say) Hart Crane and Richard Eberhart. And, again, this is being complimentary about his...

(The entire section is 797 words.)