FENG by John Wain


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Set Feng against Ted Hughes' economically satanic Crow and you will see just how far removed John Wain actually is from the contemporary British idiom. Even the subject of this anti-heroic epic is archaic: Wain has reworked the Amleth legend of Saxo Grammaticus' Historiae Danicae (c. 1200), the source--once removed--of Shakespeare's Hamlet. He makes the most of the historical possibilities--experimenting with the Old English alliterative line or resurrecting dramatic monologue in the Elizabethan (and frankly fustian) mode. Feng, whose psychological portrait this is, is the counterpart of the murderer, liar, usurper, wife-stealer whom Shakespeare styled as Claudius. So sick with jealousy is this lusty Feng that he ends by raping ""Amleth's dark girl"" while apparently under the illusion that he is a stag rutting his hind--a polite Elizabethan love-lyric convention which becomes sexually ugly and animalistic. Wain notes at the outset that this is an allegory for ""an age in which raving madmen have had control of great and powerful nations,"" which may be stretching the poem's significance; but with a universally fascinating premise like this in the hands of a dedicated, if unfashionable craftsman like Wain (novelist, biographer and critic as well as poet), why even try to resist the pleasures of an English trifle?

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1975
Publisher: Viking