Ted (Edward Walker) Walker Essay - Critical Essays

Walker, Ted (Edward Walker)


Walker, Ted (Edward Walker) 1934–

Walker is a British poet, editor, and translator. A nature poet frequently compared to Ted Hughes for his use of the natural world to comment upon human emotions, Walker is the cofounder of the literary magazine Priapus. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)

Laurence Lieberman

In many of Ted Walker's poems, language facility works against the poet's eye; too many words with puzzling overtones, or connotations, pile up too fast, and the reader must strain to get past the impenetrable phrasing to anything behind it, beyond it…. Walker is more successful when a vividly pictured scene is kept sharply before the reader's eye until the finish, while meanings subtly add up to a forceful statement, inseparable from the persons or events which call them forth.

His best poems are the ones in which he dramatizes segments of being that have been crushed or suppressed by the conditions of civilized life, "wants kept caged on roofs / of the mind's tenements." Somehow, the dark neglected zones in the spirit hiddenly survive all the damages our indifference and half-aliveness can inflict…. In weaker poems, the shifts from description to message—statement of human analogy—are abrupt and unaccountable, and jar in the reader's ear. In the best poems, these two movements are carried on simultaneously, joined and jointed, seamlessly, in the poem's drama. The story movement—with animal protagonist in a setting that gradually shifts from a prescribed time and space to the stage of the human mind—is Walker's best mode….

In Walker's vision, our suppressed animal impulses nearly always manifest themselves in our daily lives as mildly persistent fears, incipient edginess, emerging at odd moments from no detectable source, "some close, restless agency, half-detected." But if this queer nervousness often appears dimly to be at the mere periphery of our mental life, "the lurking spy / that snipes us from the wilderness / of dreams," it is because we have fallen so far from the essential core of our being, we don't guess the deeper vacuity of our inner life and its terrors. In these poems, we learn, self-defeatingly, to cope with our wasted inner life as mules, whose "withers twitch to flies." That is as far as Walker's first collection [Fox on a Barn Door] carried this drama—the self exists in a stalemate with its terrors, half-crippled, conditioned to accept deadening compromises with loss.

But in The Solitaries, several poems deepen the vision, exploring psychic states in which the solitary human—or animal—soul, pushed or driven to harrowing extremity, finds a haunting beauty in the mere act of survival against powerful odds. (pp. 269-70)

Laurence Lieberman, in The Yale Review (© 1968 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Winter, 1968.

The main reason [Ted Walker] does so much translating is probably that his own poems are limited, as well as fuelled, by his extraordinary penetration of nature, and the seed-catalogue specificity of terminology that seems to go with that cast of mind. Take this couple of stanzas from his poem "Bonfire" [in The Night Bathers]:


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Julian Gitzen

[Ted Walker] conceives of living energy as the ultimate bulwark against mutability and death. Oppressed by man's cosmic isolation, Walker fittingly represents his human figures in spatial solitude. Those poems which concern his own experiences frequently portray him as a lonely figure silhouetted in dim light against a beach or moor. Sharing to an unusual degree the universal feeling that night is lonelier than day, Walker fittingly chooses dusk, darkness, or first light as backdrops for numerous poems, particularly those which find him brooding about death, to which he appears unable to reconcile himself. The vastness of the ocean, a regular presence in his verse, heightens the sense of loneliness, while his fascination with the tides reflects a preoccupation with mutability and death. For him change is more notable for what it destroys than for what it creates, and his sense of loss dictates his characteristic wistful or melancholy tone. He understands how time erodes our lives, as rain washes away the soil with terrifying steadiness, until at last all traces of our existence have been obliterated…. (pp. 329-30)

Julian Gitzen, in The Midwest Quarterly (copyright, 1974, by The Midwest Quarterly, Kansas State College of Pittsburg), Summer, 1974.

Vernon Young

No poet writing in England today has a closer, more recondite knowledge of the secret life in the non-human universe than Ted Walker. In each of his four volumes to date … Walker has been contriving quiet, hair-raising (and musically precise) metaphors from his great gift for relating our inattentive senses to the cryptic features of animals, fish, birds—flowers, even—in which, if we paused to look (with his patience and his occult powers) we would see ourselves, or the wreck of ourselves, writ plain. A cautionary word. Walker does not on compulsion go hunting for similitudes; they arise naturally, or appear to, in the course of the poem, like a sudden tremor in tall grass as a fox shudders through before going to earth…. Walker is knowledgeably certain that life feeds on life; that our civil existence, for which he has a fully human respect, is purchased at the price of being witlessly outside the skin of things. He is nervously aware of blood under the fingernails, tyrannically, sensitive to the creep and push of seasons, something only a country-dwelling man would be alive to and suffer from or exult in—marvelling at our loss. (p. 599)

Vernon Young, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1975 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVIII, No. 4, Winter, 1975–76.

Craig Raine

Reading Ted Walker's well-made collection, Burning the Ivy, I was reminded of the joke about the man who invented television—in 1975. It worked but it wasn't sufficiently original. In order to praise Walker's animal poems, you'd have to forget that Ted Hughes invented animals in 1956. Naturally, there are good lines … but even the best have a remaindered feel about them. Moreover, Hughes isn't the only poltergeist throwing his weight around in these poems…. [Frost] is the main ghost in this cadence:

            Powdery mortar has begun to fall
            As fall it did our first winter here.

Throughout Burning the Ivy, one is aware of a white-haired figure guiding Ted Walker's elbow as he sagely moralises over his various agricultural tasks. But there are also touches of Betjeman …, Eliot's 'Burnt Norton' …, the awkwardly reverent Larkin … and Auden's 'Their Lonely Betters'…. In the end, you feel that literature itself is the really fatal influence. (p. 883)

Craig Raine, in New Statesman (© 1978 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), December 22 & 29, 1978.

Alan Brownjohn

Burning the Ivy confirms [Ted Walker's] reputation rather than advancing it. What is by now a very familiar kind of animal poem (and Walker did a lot to make it familiar)—the one about the creature intensely observed when it suddenly intrudes on our over-civilised consciousness—gets shuffled towards the back of the book, where it is still very much alive in "Vipers" and "Wild bird in a living-room", and keeps company with a whole zodiac of others. Carefully crafted notations of domestic existence, of change, and mortality come forward, and most of them (including the poem providing the title) are honourably done, but solid instead of exciting. (p. 64)

Alan Brownjohn,...

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