Richard Howard

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1251

Hine's poetry is always a struggle with narcissism, whose outcome or issue (but never whose solution) may be either love or death; intricate, mean and crystalline…. Yet it would be a lapse to read this poet without realizing—upon reflection, as Hine would say, in these fervent surfaces—that the convention is not working against the freedom, against the emotior, but has released the emotion—it would be a lapse of sympathy with the poet's actual enterprise, for if we are at a loss in all these bonds and baffles, we must be simply happy there until we see what being out of them would mean. When Coleridge said that in poetry you have more than the usual emotion and more than usual order he surely meant—and this is Hine's case, even his casuistry—that the order was necessary to accommodate the emotions. Given, then, these hard conditions for reality's survival, that it must fool or charm—others? oneself? the gift does not specify—Hine's earlier books fail to meet them. Or meet them too easily (invulnerability is the true failure). Particularly in that teratoid toybox of virtuosity The Devil's Picture-Book (1960), the deception and the enchantment are too readily imposed on the shapes of natural life to gain much credit for the survival, and the leap of likeness we are told poetry shares with and derives from magic here takes its spring … from a ground that is all fuller's earth. We are not aware, in Daryl Hine's first poems, of the nagging presence of anything so extraneous or so impure as "the real world"—the poet never appeals to it as a means of settling or solving the difficulties of art; for him, the poem is always the statement of itself, a piece of language with which no more can be done and which, if it fails in its own terms, cannot be ransomed or relieved…. (p. 175)

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Such a determination to write, always, poems rather than versified thoughts, philosophical rhapsodies, poetical equivalents for something else that came before and perhaps compelled the poem into being in the poet's mind, accounts, I think, both for the evident limitations of these poems (sometimes they do afford

         not the green tree but the urinal,
         instead of magic, glandular hocus-pocus—

but that is the defect of their quality, not their quality), and for a certain kind of acceptance they have gained, even a certain kind of success. Though I am concerned with what Coleridge, again, called the profession of literature rather than the trade of authorship, I cannot forbear emphasizing Hine's victorious precocity, his special status as a Wunderkind, for it is the sort that prepares, rather than pre-empts, a vocation…. [In The Carnal and the Crane] the brilliancy and fervor of the diction, and the real danger of being easily intelligible, generate those impressive lines [of his early poetry], but the "beauties" rarely unite with the poems in which they appear, and get little authority from them. Two fine exceptions, I think, in this book are the five-sonnet sequence "At Pompey's Statua" and the Virgilian imitation "Avernus"—Hine's Roman affinities are evidently with the Rome of the Emperors, not the Republic. The first is a refraction of imperial themes convincing for its very basis in an extant "literature"; invention. Dryden said, is a finding of the thought, and if Daryl Hine has found his in Shakespeare's Roman plays, it is miglior trovato for that acquiescence…. (pp. 177-79)

Moreover, the increased willingness this poet shows to speak for himself … is yet another avatar of the heroic stance: in the finest of these poems, "Plain Fare," whose ingenious title is a triple pun on both words with regard to a bus-trip across the continent, the poet who has been reading Villette on the way to a "lost love" himself, glances retrospectively at his journey…. Like his Tristan and his Don Juan, like his Patroclus putting on the armor of Achilles, Daryl Hine, speaking in his own person, that ultimate mask, acknowledges the inadequacy of the weapons by which men storm the City…. The relaxation and the reticence of tone, so different from the crisp assertions of the previous books, the dissolve of convictions into mild conventions—partly an influence sustained from James Merrill, to whom the book is dedicated as an earlier, glassier one had been set under the sign of that expert Canadian artificer Jay Macpherson, and partly the result of a mellowing diction which can afford to follow the rhythms of behavior rather than those of law—characterizes most of The Wooden Horse, which is to say that it is in closer contact with the disorder of life than the earlier, the younger decorum of wit allowed…. The world, in Hine's first poems, came to a stop but also lit up. Now it is no longer incandescent, but it moves—

    in your hand
  You held a new kind of machine, its moving parts …
  Turned, and you took pleasure in their turning;
  And these, you said, are the minutes that I am reading.

These poems, and those in the next book overwhelmingly titled Minutes for so many reasons, "transformed or in the act of change," give pleasure by what they have permitted their author to gain…. (pp. 182-84)

[There is] a moment which jeopardizes if it does not justify all the rest of Hine's verse-play The Death of Seneca, written in the same years as Moments, in which the ancient Roman sage, waiting for the order to commit suicide from his former pupil Nero, confronts Saint Paul, a thin dark fanatic who looks like Trotsky and sounds strangely like Hine's early poems. That is, Paul argues for an eternity of illumination, and Seneca—dying of endurance—for a temporal order moving in every sense, consonant with mortality and therefore content with the earth. The scene is the final and furthest accommodation of Hine's Roman impulse, his Stoic interest, and offers the right commentary on his fifth book, whose very title [Moments] articulates an absorption in time … crucial now to this poet's position, his life which admits all kinds of debility—boredom, disease, fatigue…. In these poems—emblem poems, travel poems, love poems, all clouded by the drift of dramatic intimacy, blurred from the old crystalline structures to something "glaucoptic," to use one of Hine's hard words—the narcissism is assumed by the form and therefore released from, precipitated out of the personality which addresses us, addresses itself:

            It is as if in all of our embraces
            The universe was made personal.

Poems like "The Copper Beech," in which "a syllable gives comfort / dependent on the time and place and person," or like "The Nap," at whose close "everything / vanishes backwards, love and suffering," have abandoned the stagey heroics of Hine's old order; indeed when the glamorous past is leafed-through now, it is with a shrug of condescension … though we must not ourselves condescend to the pleasures of these performances, pleasure being, always, in this poet, a pseudonym of love, "at least here and now." And the abandonment has occurred because Hine is concerned, here and now, to mythologize his own life, his own experience with a directness that must leave perfection out of the account, with a dependence on duration that can have nothing to do with the divine…. (pp. 184-85)

Richard Howard, "Daryl Hine," in his Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950 (reprinted by permission of Atheneum Publishers: copyright © 1969, 1980 by Richard Howard), Atheneum, 1969, pp. 174-86.

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