Kirkus Star


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MacLeish has been successful not only as a poet (the list of his awards is impressive) but also in other fields, and this book, which grew out of lectures, is also exceptional. Its voice is unusual in criticism; never defensive, didactic or fiercely intellectual- but rather both conversational and intense, lit with humor: it is the voice of a man at ease with and still fascinated by poetry. It is a pleasure to read. The book is divided in two sections; a four part essay on the means of poetry, and an examination of four poets (Dickinson, Yeats, Rimbaud, Keats) as examples of four wholly different end-products of those means. The essay section is strung on a set of lovely and concise rules by a Chinese poet and examines, through various poems, how words work- or fail to work- in conveying the meaning of poetry. It is this sense of the meaning of the dazzling spaces implied between words, above forms, that makes this criticism unusual. Of the four poets, Yeats and Keats appear to be the writers of whom MacLeish most approves, for having made the most complete synthesis of the worlds available to poetry. And yet it is Emily- the cryptic, condensed, private personality, and Rimbaud, the passionate and self-destructive, who emerge most clearly.... A book that conveys, far more than most, the intense excitement and mystery of poetry.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1960
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin