Leckius, a Swede, began writing poetry in the early 1950s, producing surreal, somewhat hermetic works in the style of Henri Michaux. In 1960 he published “Light from Light”—the opening poem of this volume—a short lyric that has since served him as a statement of faith. The precise stance taken in this poem is difficult to determine: it describes the poet’s mystical encounter with a “face,” an encounter that allows the poet to see how “everything is transformed,” and to triumphantly claim, at the end of the lyric, “I exist.” Subsequent works attempt to flesh out the contours of this vision, a quest that led Leckius into a study of the mystical traditions in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. “Lectio Divina,” for example, paints for us a devoted scholar who at last “quits the highest nest” and “continues reading / with his eyes closed.” But moments such as this, in order to have the intended effect of sudden foreclosure, require exact metaphorical structures. Too often Leckius’s figurative language is sloppily employed, and where his words need to snap they only strain and twist. In “The Pregnancy” the poet addresses an expectant Mary: “You hold / your stomach like a great marrow / or like a planet.” But how does one “hold” a marrow? Similarly, in “Nunc et Semper” the poet tells us, “Our faces are nothing but dark mirrors, / it’s someone else we love in one another’s lives.” This is either a truism or nonsense; and the mirror metaphor obviously does nothing to help us solve the puzzle.
Such lapses of attention are unfortunately representative of the collection as a whole, which despite moments of felicity is more generally drab and humdrum.