THE MESSENGER by Jean Valentine


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Over the years, Valentine's line has both sharded and tensed, until now she comes down upon her poem only in short, silence-pillowed pressings, like thumbprints. Add this mosaic effect to an honesty and yearning for harmony, and the results are very moving. A number of poems seem almost to rob the spirit of a summer evening, in their sad, mysterious acceptance: ""runs, rests, brief resolutions; falls, and lulls;/ hard, joyful runs, in certainty; dull, sweet/ durances, human silences."" ""Beka, 14"" and ""Prayer in Fever"" are beautiful, resonant lyrics; and two translations--one of the Dutch poet Huub Oosterhuis' striking ""Orpheus,"" and the other a rendering of one of Mandelstam's greatest late works--are fine too. The title poem--ghosts of identity in a dream--is not fully up to the quality of nearly everything else, but it's hard to imagine how the book could have been kept at so high and tenuous a level straight through. The poem ""What Happened""--""Mercy on our gropings, our silences. Our harm./ Mercy, or nothing is enough""--approaches Montale in its plainspokenness and deep feeling. A wonderous book, in sum--and if it doesn't take one prize or other this year something is seriously wrong.

Pub Date: June 25th, 1979
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux