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The Crimson Bookshelf

A TIME TO DANCE, by C. Day Lewis, London: Hogarth Press. 5s.

By W. E. H.

A 'symphonic poem,' such as the title poem of this volume, always reminds us of the close connection between poetry and music. "A Time to Dance" is composed like a symphony, with three movements; the themes of each movement are separate, and each movement is self-contained. The first describes an early trans-continental flight to Australia, and it illustrates abundantly the devotion of Day Lewis to a strictly contemporary poetic diction, which takes account of the machine and the effect of machinery upon modern life. There is mention, for example, of 'petrol pump,' 'hangar,' 'filter,' 'magneto,' and other technical expressions. Dr. Johnson's strictures on this kind of poetic diction appear in his discussion of Dryden's "Annus Mirabilis," and though they posses a universal validity, they do not apply, with any exactness, to Day Lewis, for that poet has worked them into his verses in such a way that they do not stand out as novel words which detract therefore, from the meaning of a passage as a whole!

The first movement contains the following passage which exhibits Day Lewis at his most characteristic:

"Orchestrate this theme, artificer-poet, Imagine

The roll, crackling percussion, quickening tempo of engine

For a start: the sound as they soar, an octave-upward slur

Scale of sky ascending:

Hours-held note of level flight, a beat unhurried.

Sustaining undertone of movement never-ending:

Wind shrill in the ailerons, flutes and fifes in a flurry

Devilish when they dive, plucking of tense stays.

These hardly heard it, who were the voice, the heavenly air

That sings above always."

The second movement is an elegy commemorating the death of the cricketer L. P. Hedges, the poet's friend; and the third, which consists of parodies and echoes of familiar styles, suggests the musical form of a theme and variations. Some of the parodies are especially good:

"Come, live with me and be my love

And we will all the pleasures prove

Of peace and plenty, bed and board,

That chance employment may afford."


"Oh hush thee, my baby,

Thy cradle's in pawn:

No blankets to cover thee

Cold and forlorn.

"The stars in the bright sky

Look down and are dumb

At the heir of the ages

Asleep in a slum."

Implicit in the entire book is the very Eton-Oxford communism held by Day Lewis and Auden and Spender, who have just discovered how the other half lives--that is, the people on the less fashionable side of the railroad tracks. The absence of personal apostrophes to "Wystan" and "Rex"--W. H. Auden and R. E. Warner--constitutes a gain in intelligibility, though even the shorter poems in the volume, such as "The Conflict" and "In me Two Worlds," which state the problems of the group almost as nicely as any prose manifesto, still want something in appeal to the moiling masses. It would be really a pity if Day Lewis and his colleagues turn out to be Walt Whitmans, rejected by the people whom they would serve. For one suspects that they have forgotten (or perhaps they have never known) the hard truth, "Nothing is further from the common people than the corrupt desire--to be common people," if one may amend Mr. Santayana's dictum.

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