Spectral Emanations

The decorum of Hollander as he approaches fifty calls for a “Selected Poems”—a display of the treasures of his memory in the museum of his verse. In a style which recalls the intricate prosody and elegant exhaustion of the Alexandrian poets, many of the selections pick over the past, whether impersonally in poems such as “Spectral Emanations” (which is about the recovery and symbology of the golden seven-branched candlestick of the Second Temple of Jerusalem) or personally in poems such as “From the Ramble” and “Movie Going” (which are about the poet’s youth in New York).

Largely a sedentary or indoors or at least leisurely poet, Hollander thinks forward and backward, brooding not only over the past but also over the meaning of his life as a poet and civilized man. The book’s structure reflects this movement, the more current poems first and the earliest last. This serves Hollander’s nostalgia as he draws us toward the sources of his present. Conversely, he begins the book with a prose account of a sunset in August, 1946, saying he wants “to recompose the prior light,” and ends the book by saying, again in prose, that he is conducting a “study of the failing light and what arises within it.” The past in the present, opposing movements, fascinate Hollander, and the syntax of his poems is full of modifying phrases and clauses which support this focus as they impose less a linear than a spiral movement on the reader’s attention.

Light and dark are everywhere in the book. Hollander often observes their patterns in the room he may be in and often looks out the window at the sunset and the arrival of night. In “Sunday Evenings” he recalls “blinds lowering over the windows that overlook/Darknesses of the Park, this room being all the light/In the world now,” and in “Glass Landscape” he presents “His eye, widening at the window, filling/The known world. . . .” Hollander looks at the mountain in “Mount Blank” through a window, and eyes, commonly related to windows in the book, can “like suns,/Dazzle as they face the dark—” (“Damoetas”). Many poems contain instruments of light, such as the seven-branched candlestick, the lightbulb “token of passage,” fireworks “flaring up into significance,” and the “mind’s flashbulb white.”

Light is often linked with another major feature of Hollander’s work: the paraphernalia of literature and art. In “Tales Told of the Fathers,” sunset is associated with a painting by Tiepolo and gets “raving reviews . . . in the . . . west-watching/Windows.” In “Being Alone in the Field” the poet has no “light by which” to “read the field.”...

(The entire section is 1099 words.)


Booklist. LXXIV, July 1, 1978, p. 1658.

Choice. XV, October, 1978, p. 1049.

Hudson Review. XXXI, Autumn, 1978, p. 542.

Nation. CCXXVII, November 11, 1978, p. 517.

New Republic. CLXXIX, September 9, 1978, p. 42.