The Crimson Bookshelf

THE NOISE OF HISTORY, by John Lehmann. London: Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1934.

In this book which contains verse and prose, Mr. Lehmann, despite his resonant title, makes small noise in thousands' of lines, though this reviewer ought to say, in fairness to Mr. Lehmann, that he has not counted them. A young man whom the Hogarth Press has published before, Mr. Lehmann is the English equivalent of Paul Engle. One must not be misunderstood; the metaphor is not mathematically accurate, for there are dissimilarities, but the total effect of both on the reader is the same. That is, they are young poets more lyrical than philosophical, though Mr. Lehmann is trying to feel his way toward a point of view.

What Mr. Lehmann's point of view will be finally it is hard to discover. his book is a commentary. in the latter and prose part, on the events in recent Austrian history which culminated in the bombardment of the Karl Marx Of in Vienna and in the assination of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. This prose though a trifle too literary, that is, too suggestive of the set piece, reveals Mr. Lehmann as a sensitive commentator, striving to keep his balance. It would be unfair to compare this part with Stephen Spender's "Vienna," a longish poem which has just appeared, for the difference of genres precludes any such comparison.

As a poet Mr. Lehmann resembles the 17th century metaphysical; any how, he is under their influence, so potent also in the case of Mr. T. S. Eliot or Mr. Archibald MacLeish. Mr. Lehmann does not 'surprise' the reader by quick transitions from the grave to the trivial; he builds a poem often, in the manner of (say) Carew, on a single metaphor, of which the following is the best example:

"To penetrate that room is my desire, The extreme attic of the mind, that lies

Just beyond the last bend in the corridor.

Writing I do it. Phrases, Poems are keys.

Loving's another way (but not so sure).

A fire's there, I think, there's truth at last.

Deep in a lumber chest. Sometimes I'm near,

But draughts puff out my matches, and I'm lost.

Sometimes I'm lucky, find a key to turn,

Open an inch or two--but always then.

A bell rings, someone calls, or cries of fire'

Arrest my hand when nothing's known or seen,

And running down the stairs again I mourn."

Hyperbole, too, is present, and in the prose where this purple patch appears: "Violence is almost visible, like a smonldering fuse under the city, as it creeps toward explosion."

Somehow 'das Here von Wien' is not discoverable in the prose, so the book must be judged on the lyrics, which justify the expenditure of an hour's reading.