The Crimson Bookshelf
COLLECTED POEMS 1929-1933 AND A HOPE FOR POETRY, by C. Day Lewis. New York: Random House. $2.50.
MR. DAY LEWIS is a young English poet whose name is always mentioned nowadays with those of Spender and Auden, and to understand his poetry and in fact the aims of the group with which he is associated, the reader ought to turn to the manifesto, "A Hope for Poetry," published separately in England, but reprinted here together with the longish works, "Transitional Poem," "From Feathers to Iron," and "The Magnetic Mountain." The last is easily the best and it illustrates most nicely the sort of poetry which one may reasonably expect hereafter from Mr. Day Lewis. It is intellectual poetry, for its objectives are in the broadest sense "political." The poet has realized the gravity of the present situation, and he calls upon his contemporaries to arise to a full awareness of it. There must be no trafficking with the dead past. An advance must be made into new country, the collective society of the future:
"Now our research is done, measured the shadow,
The plains mapped out, the hills a natural bound'ry.
Such and such is our country. There remains to
Plough up the meadowland, reclaim the marshes."
Like Auden and Spender, Mr. Day Lewis has a special poetic vocabulary which makes his symbolism difficult for the uninitiated. One is grateful, therefore, for the explanations of it given in the manifesto. His own poetry is the least obscure of the lot. Not even "From Feathers to Iron" offers any real difficulty, and the satire of "The Magnetic Mountain" is very forthright; one may instance the passage beginning "Let us now praise famous men."
He owes much to G. M. Hopkins--consider the opening lines of "The Magnetic Mountain":
"Now to be with you, elate, unshared,
My kestrel joy, O hoverer in wind,
Over the quarry furiously at rest
Chaired on shoulders of shouting wind."
T. S. Eliot is another obvious master, especially in technique, indeed almost exclusively in technique, for there is much in the content of Day Lewis's poetry of which Eliot, standing for his King and Church, is bound to disapprove. For Day Lewis, like Auden and Spender, is a poet who uses "Communion both as a stimulus and as a kind of relief from irritation," and in doing so he may well have yielded, as he suggests while speaking of the Communist movement in contemporary letters, to a passing fashion, since the literary world has its whirligig of fashion, even as the world of dress. He is good in his criticism of his associates, and, by implications, of himself, too, so that the reader is not unduly sanguine who expects him to fulfill the promise of this present volume in later years when Time shall have made Mr. Day Lewis an even stronger poet than he is now.