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YOUNG MEN are impatient with convention. The whole age is impatient with convention, or what it understands by the term. Yet Professor Lowes' course in Nineteenth Century poetry remains paradoxically popular. Mr. Parson's book (his first, by the way) is dedicated to Mr. Lowes . . . "who, in an age of revolt, eloquently defends the beauty of convention." The dedication is deserved, the book not unworthy of its dedicates.
Mr. Parson is not a young man as undergraduates count a man's years. Yet his verse has these qualities of a young man's verse: it is frankly derivative, it is fresh, it is largely emotional. Mr. Parson's prosodic and critical models happen to be Keats and John Lowes rather than Pound and Eliot. And a reading of this book, in comparison with much of the young men's verse of today, makes one wonder if Mr. Parson's preference is not something more than respectable.
The book has double meaning for anyone who has studied under Mr. Lowes. If there is one poet who has written in English in the past three hundred years, surely John Keats is that poet on whom nearly everyone agrees, extremist and sit-tighter alike. Why, then, in an age in which so much competent minor poetry is being written, is Keats as a model so consistently neglected? Or is he? Perhaps the answer is that he isn't, but that he translates badly, not to say unrecognizably: that our modern verse idioms, bizarre, swift, and impatient, are incapable of carrying so rich a cargo and bringing it safely to port.
There are Keatsean echoes in the title poem. And more than echoes. Here is a poet at work on one of the curious monuments of our times, giving it that inner meaning without which nothing is worth anything. Indeed, it is this reviewer's opinion that Mr. Parson poem ought to be exhibited along with the glass flowers themselves; that every viewer of these "mimic plants" ought to read this poem as he stares in curious fascination at them. For Mr. Parson has symbolized them, has defined them as the idle curiosity they really are, their verisimilitude to nature only proving their inadequacy as flowers:
Then, frigid patterns, sleep inviolate Within your glassy cells. Unkindly fate
Denied you death and so denied you life.
I want my plants to feel the tonic strife
Of all the testing elements; to know
The flagellation of the rain, the snow,
The scathing sun, and shrapnel of the hail;
To bear the hundred lashes of the gale
And all that soul of man or flower needs
For flowering -- the rivalry of weeds,
The season's enmity, the pain of growth,
The world's neglect, indifference, and sloth.
It is a thin book, and one wishes it were even thinner, for Mr. Parson's verse sometimes betrays another characteristic of young men's verse: an ineptitude with, and reliance upon, adjectives. Yet his average is high, and his best poems are those that are consistently good; his unevenness is confined mostly to the shorter lyrics. He is at his best in the sonnet -- there are a dozen that are really good.
It is a humble book, but in its humility it pays overdue homage to one of the greatest of the poets of England--John Keats -- and one of the greatest of the teachers of English--John Lowes.
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