TONY HARRISON. Collected Poems, London, Viking, 2007, pp. 452, £30,00.
Collected Film Poetry, London, Faber & Faber, 2007, pp. 414, £20,00.
In Byron’s comic poem Beppo there is a famous stanza in which the poet declares his love for the Italian language, “which melts like kisses from a female mouth” and “sounds as if it should be writ on satin”; the octave concludes with a rhyming couplet in which he contrasts Italian with “our harsh northern whistling grunting guttural / Which we’re obliged to hiss and spit and sputter all.” There are moments, when reading Tony Harrison’s Collected Poems, when one wonders whether the poet’s intention is quite simply to prove the truth of Byron’s description of the English language:
Those glottals glugged like poured pop, each
rebarbative syllable, remembrancer, raise
‘mob’ rhubarb-rhubarb to a tribune’s speech
crossing the crackle as the hayricks blaze.
‘We say [as] not [uz], T. W.!’ That shut my trap.
I doffed my flat a’s (as in ‘flat cap’)
my mouth all stuffed with glottals, great
lumps to hawk up and spit out… E-nun-ci-ate!
The second quotation is the concluding quatrain from one of his most famous poems, Them & [uz], from the sonnet-sequence The School of Eloquence. In this poem the poet recalls the “nicely spoken” English teacher who interrupted his reading of Keats to upbraid him for his Leeds accent: “Poetry’s the speech of kings. You’re one of those / Shakespeare gives the comic bits to: prose!” As Harrison himself has said, “[m]uch of my writing has been a long slow-burning revenge on the teacher who taught me English when I was eleven or twelve, and full of retrospective aggro.” Since then he has written almost nothing but poetry and has contrived to live by that art alone. And most importantly he has written poetry that not only includes but celebrates and revels in northern speech.
The first sonnet in the School of Eloquence sequence, On Not Being Milton, suggests a parallel between the northern poet raising his voice and the Luddite rebellion, in which the weavers smashed the new frames that were putting them out of work with sledge-hammers, known as “Enochs”: “Each swung cast-iron Enoch of Leeds stress / clangs a forged music on the frames of Art, / The looms of owned language smashed apart!” The underlying thesis of the poems in this sequence propounds that it is by “owning” the language that the ruling classes have managed to maintain their social supremacy; the poet has therefore taken up the task of speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves: “Articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting”, as the poem puts it, in a line which, with its repeated “t” sounds, most certainly requires an agile tongue to pronounce properly.
The tongue-tied include his own family; one of the epigraphs to the sequence declares, in contentious paradox, that the poet’s talent came from the fact that he “had two uncles, Joe and Harry - / one was a stammerer, the other dumb” (Heredity). His job is to articulate for them – and to bear witness to their own struggles for articulacy. In one particularly powerful sonnet he writes about a miner whose years spent underground have left him weak-sighted and taciturn; the final couplet plays on the word “gob”, which, as a footnote tells us, is “an old Northern coal-mining word for the space left after the coal has been attracted”—as well, of course, as “the mouth, and speech”:
Wherever hardship held its tongue the job
’s breaking the silence of the worked-out gob.
In the very next sonnet he describes the miner’s only form of self-expression: “he hawks his cold gobful at the brightest flame, / too practised, too contemptuous to miss” (Cremation). The sonnet itself can be considered as a “cold gobful” hawked up and spat out in the face of the ruling class. The important thing is not to remain dumb, for as another sonnet, National Trust, tells us: “The dumb go down in history and disappear / and not one gentleman ’s been brought to book.” In this case, he gives us a saying in the vanished language of Cornish to prove the point: “Mes den hep tavas a-gollas y dyr”—which means, he tells us, “the tongueless man gets his land took”.
So his poetry promises to give a tongue to the tongueless, to turn their stutterings and sputterings into artful speech; as a recurring metaphor has it, he will bestow upon them tongues of flame. The poetry he writes is most definitely not to be proclaimed in the “RP” (Received Pronunciation) of his old teacher—and in this, he reminds us, it will actually be closer to the spirit of “Cockney Keats”. (In the second sonnet under the same title, Harrison also points out that Wordsworth’s accent would not have been RP: “Wordsworth’s matter/water are full rhymes.”) The sonnet that precedes Them & [uz] is devoted to a little-known companion of Keats, in his days as a medical student: a certain C. T. Thackrah, from Leeds. The reaction of Thackrah to the dissected corpses was different from that of Keats: “Cadavers that made Keats poeticize / made Thackrah scorn the call of poetry.” Thackrah, who had a classical education,
could write hexameters by Virgil’s rules,
and parrot Latin epics but he chose
flax-hecklers’ fluxes with their ‘gruelly’ stools,
the shit of Yorkshire operatives, in prose.
Harrison, one might say, has decided to follow both Keats and Thackrah; he too will make his subject “the shit of Yorkshire operatives”, but he will address the subject in poetry. The iambics that occur by chance in Thackrah’s tracts (“we do not find old men in this employ”) will, in Harrison’s poetry, be the result of painstaking labour. The modern-day equivalent of the flax-hecklers (those who combed the flax to remove impurities) will be given a chance to speak, and in rhyming metrical lines. As Harrison says in answer to a protest against the artificial nature of the dialogues in his poems (“His words when they came would scarcely scan”): “Mi dad’s did scan, like yours do, many times!” (Confessional Poetry).
While respecting the metrical rules he has imposed on himself, Harrison seems determined to keep his lines as far as possible from the satin-soft effects praised by Byron (“with gentle liquids gliding all so pat-in…”). If there is a music in these lines, it is, as Damian Grant puts it in an essay, that of “a one-man brass band of Bakhtinian polyphony”. This is poetry as class-warfare, as declared openly in the second of the two sonnets under the title Them & [uz]: “So right, yer buggers, then! We’ll occupy / your lousy leasehold Poetry.” He brings the voices of the northern working-classes into the classical forms of English poetry, not only the affectionately remembered sayings of his father and mother and uncles, but the angry obscenities of those who have been totally dispossessed. In his most famous (or notorious) long poem, V, he deliberately adopts the quatrain-form used by Thomas Gray in the most celebrated meditative poem in the English language, Elegy in a Country Churchyard: this canonical form is made to contain, as Harrison himself has said, language that “ranges from Latin and Biblical to obscene graffiti and four-letter words”; here is the voice of the skinhead vandal who has desecrated his parents’ grave:
So what’s a cri-de-coeur, cunt? Can’t you speak
the language that yer mam spoke. Think of ‘er!
Can yer only get yer tongue round fucking Greek?
Go and fuck yerself with cri-de-coeur!
The skinhead’s voice is totally convincing; a fine Harrisonian effect is the alliterative colliding of “cri-de-coeur” with the expletive “cunt”, and the rhyming of the French phrase with the colloquial “’er!”. This poem, which caused a media uproar when it was first broadcast on television, is about the divisions in British society, which are to a great extent linguistic ones; the poet himself, in developing his linguistic skills, has found himself cut off from his own community, as this stanza attests with bitter comedy. The poet can try to bring the voices from the community to which he once belonged into his poetry, but the very act of writing poetry will be seen by that community as alienating.
One way Harrison apparently attempts to maintain links with that community is by making it clear that poetry is a job—as valid a one as the white-collar office-job his father hoped he would take up or the teaching post his mother dreamt of for him. As he put it in an interview in 1983: “I wanted my job to be the whole enterprise, the whole risk”. Fully aware of the prejudices against such a profession, Harrison has the word “poet” on his passport. In a short autobiographical piece written for an anthology that included some of his poems (Corgi Modern Poets in Focus: 4, 1971), he gave his reasons for “pit[ting] himself against the most difficult traditional verse forms”:
It had to be hard work, and it was, and it still is. I learned by what Yeats called ‘sedentary toil and the imitation of great masters’.
As Blake Morrison put it: “If the metre and syntax sometimes seem strained, this is precisely Harrison’s point: his poems let us know that they have come up the hard way; they are written with labour and out of the labouring classes, and on behalf of Labour Party aspirations.” One would rarely use the adjective “effortless”—or even “seemingly effortless”—to describe Harrison’s verse, and he clearly would not want such praise. He takes a kind of professional pride in his ability to write poetry to order; in the preface to the Collected Film Poetry he describes how he “began to wean [him]self off being only able to create after long hours of brooding”; this proved very useful when he “began to make film-poems, or write political squibs for the newspapers or write from a battle in Bosnia and send the poem via satellite to the Guardian in London”. Similarly, he prides himself on being able to take on any verse form, as required—an ability (and a pride) he shares with another great professional, Auden. And so his film poetry adopts, for example, the quatrains of Gray, the stanza-form of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam, the triple-meter of the Canadian narrative poet Robert W. Service or the rhyming tetrameters of Heinrich Heine, as called for by the subject-matter. It is a job to be done, and he will do it with the same professional skill that his forebears used in their own trades; as he says in one of the sonnets dedicated to his grandfathers: “I strive to keep my lines direct and straight, / and try to make connections where I can.” One is reminded of Seamus Heaney’s poem Diggings, in which his pen becomes the equivalent of his father’s and grandfather’s spade.
Nonetheless, there are inevitably moments when his art seems like a kind of betrayal of his roots. In the sonnet Turns he ruminates on the irony that when his father died, collapsing on the pavement outside the post-office, his cap lay upturned beside his head, as if “he wanted charity for dropping dead”.
He never begged. For nowt! Death’s reticence
crowns his life’s, and me, I’m opening my trap
to busk the class that broke him for the pence
that splash like brackish tears into our cap.
This is perhaps the bitterest of all the father-son poems, in which he accuses himself of writing these poems as a way of ingratiating himself with the very class that “broke” his father.
The poems frequently testify to a bitter awareness of “the dreadful schism in the British nation”, as Edmund Burke put it (the quoted phrase forms the last line of Classics Society), but at the same time Harrison is forever seeking ways to unite the opposites—even to the extent of consciously deluding himself that there may be some positive significance in the word “United” that has been sprayed onto his parents’ grave. His continual quest is for art-forms that can straddle the divisions. To a certain extent he believes that he has found it in drama; he says, touchingly, in an interview that his parents “were reconciled to [his] work in the theatre: they liked the plays”. Indeed, after being kissed by Laurence Olivier and told that she must be very proud of her son, his mother went so far as to say, “maybe this is better than teaching”. As he declared in another interview, “You learn to be accessible in the theatre.” The tragic irony was, he said, that through drama he found a language with which he could address his father and mother only when it was too late.
The poetry cannot properly be considered without taking into account his achievements in drama as well. Dramatic speech, he claims with much justification, has given a certain vigour and flexibility to his lyrical poetry. Sometimes, indeed, his poems enact miniature dramas. As Massimo Bacigalupo put it, in the introduction to his excellent selection of Harrison’s poems (V e alter poesie, Einaudi 1992), “i sonetti di The School of Eloquence non di rado mettono in scena degli scambi di battute, sono dialoghi nella forma oltre che dialettici nel tema.” Harrison himself points to the precedent of John Donne, who, according to many critics, “brought the energy of drama into the love lyric”. This is precisely the reverse, he claims, of the case of T. S. Eliot and Christopher Fry, who “brought the lyric into drama”. Indeed, one of his principal aims has been to combat the notion of verse-drama established by Eliot and Fry, whom he attacks in the preface to the Collected Film Poetry for having “dried up” the taste for poetic plays.
We can presume that the Collected Plays will be the next volume Faber will bring out; for the moment we have to make do with the Theatre Works 1973-1985 published by Penguin and the separate volumes published since then by Faber. Apart from Aikin Mata (a version of Lysistrata performed in Africa in the 1960s), his first major theatrical success was the rhyming version of Molière’s Misanthrope, wittily updated to the “court” of President De Gaulle and performed at the National Theatre (1973). This was followed by a version of Racine’s Phaedra, transposed to India during the Raj (1975), again maintaining the forceful rhyming couplets of the original. A fine personal triumph was his masterly version of the medieval Mystery plays, in which, as he put it, he “wanted to restore Yorkshire’s great classic to itself”. He had been angered by once seeing them performed at York and hearing God and Jesus being “played by very posh-speaking actors from the South” while “the local people again played the comic parts”. He was determined that the homogeneous language of the original should be preserved in his version, and “that God, Christ, and everybody else speak in the language of the time, which is also colloquial”.
There was an unarguable logic to this. However, his next theatrical venture was more controversial, for he decided to translate Aeschylus’s Oresteia also into vigorous northern speech. This was something totally new, although Harrison argued that it was again fully faithful to the spirit of the original. In a radio-programme devoted to the poet by the BBC (The Memory of Troy, BBC Radio 4, 24 August 1988), Harrison declared that Aeschylus’s verse had always been famous for its “craggy” qualities:
Dionysius of Halicarnassus likened the style of Aeschylus to the Cyclopean masonry at Mycenae […] and I was looking for something that would have that kind of craggy quality and it seemed to me it could be found in the heroic world [of ancient British literature] with its word formation and its alliterative energy; alliterative energy belongs to consonants rather than to vowels obviously. I’ve for a long time been trying to undermine a certain style of acting which is very melodious and very vowel-based and that’s one of the reasons I used northern accents because northern accents have much more consonantal energy than southern ones…
The result was extraordinary, as in these lines spoken by the Chorus in the first play:
Bedbond no not bedbond spearclash
swordshafts shattered hacked bones smashed
sparring skirmish dustclouds bloodstorm
Trojans Greeks not bedbond bloodbath
The coinages of such words as “bloodright” and “bondright” were intended, as Harrison explained in an interview, to “dramatise the whole conflict between the ties of blood and the ties of marriage, [which] are locked together in conflict”. The conflict seems to take place even with the poetic lines themselves, as the crowded consonants clash in alliterative tumult. There is no doubt that Harrison’s experimenting with the alliterative tradition had permanent effects on his poetry, which can be seen even in verses that make no other gesture to the heroic world of early English poetry. At times he uses it for pure comic effect, as in these polemical lines from Laureate’s Block (2000), where he declares his desire to be “free to blast and bollock Blairite Britain / (and alliterate outrageously like then!)”. On other occasions the use of alliterative effects adds an epigrammatic force to even the most serious of poems, as in these lines from The Birds of Japan describing nuclear holocaust:
men made magma, flesh made fumaroles,
first mottled by the flash to brief mofettes
and Hiroshima’s fast pressurizing souls
hissed through the fissure in mephitic jets.
The language of his Oresteia encapsulates one of the central paradoxes of Harrison’s poetry: his greatest inspiration is the classical literature of Ancient Greece and Rome (particularly Greece) and yet he seems determined to privilege the Anglo-Saxon roots of the English language. As always, the paradox is not merely a linguistic one; it has its social side as well. Traditionally a classical education in Great Britain has always been the prerogative of the ruling classes; familiarity with classical literature and mythology was one of the benefits that private education could confer. In the Romantic age a poet like Keats from the middle-classes could only hope to approach Greek through translation, as his sonnet On First Reading Chapman’s Homer testifies. And certainly aristocrats who could use their knowledge of classical literature for politically liberal purposes, like Shelley, were extremely rare.
Tony Harrison has gone further than Shelley, whom he undoubtedly admires (as the prefaces to his own Prometheus and to The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus make clear), in his determination to translate the classics into a defiantly non-academic, colloquial language. It is as if his aim is to take the class out of the classics, to make it clear that classical literature need not be considered an elitist art-form—and certainly need not always, as he put it an interview, be “used as a prop to the status quo”. Like Shelley, he clearly has a greater predilection for Greek than for Latin literature; apart from his witty updatings of Martial, his principal translations and reworkings from the classics have been from Greek literature. Again like Shelley, who wrote the satirical Swellfoot the Tyrant, he has worked in the fields of both tragedy and comedy—insisting, indeed, on the interpenetration of these forms, just as in Shakespearean drama. The Chorus in his Oresteia is frequently facetious; Harrison has said: “I don’t see any reason why we should take Greek tragedy as uniformly solemn. The idea that it is uniformly solemn, uniformly uplifting, and uses uniformly high language, is part of the package we have inherited about Greek tragedy, and it’s one I find totally unacceptable.”
His reconstruction of Sophocles’s satyr-play The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus often resorts to pure knock-about farce, and many critics have pointed to the clear influence of the great tradition of northern stand-up comedy. Harrison himself has frequently cited the popular northern comedian and singer George Formby, even in some unexpected contexts, such as a sonnet with the parenthetical caption “On translating Smetana’s Prodana Nevesta for the Metropolitan Opera, New York”, or in the preface to The Misanthrope, where, while discussing his rhyming techniques, he passes from talking about “the occasional Drydenian triplet” to “something I call a ‘switchback’ rhyme, a device I derive from the works of George Formby, e.g. in Mr Wu:
Once he sat down – those hot irons he didn’t spot ’em
He gave a yell – and cried ‘Oh my – I’ve gone and scorched my … singlet!”
It is as if, still in response to that hapless English teacher from boyhood, he were saying, “All right then, I’ll play the clown—but a clown who speaks rigorously in verse.” The comedy includes a love of puns, which is also a way of celebrating the polysemantic nature of the language; frequently the poem-titles are puns, of varying degrees of efficacy: Laureate’s Block (a title that both announces his rejection of the idea of the poet-laureateship and recalls the execution of King Charles I), The Ode Not Taken (a title later used by the comedian Stephen Fry for his book about poetry), Initial Illumination and A Cold Coming are just a few examples; his shortest title, V, is the one that is made to bear the most weight, ranging in meaning in the poem from “versus” to a “short-armed tick” to “victory” (and the word “versus” itself puns with the word “verses” in the poem).
The poems themselves contain some splendidly effective examples, like this satirical couplet with its double-pun, from his Gulf War poem, A Cold Coming:
or behind the flag-bedecked page 1
of the true to bold-type-setting SUN!
Sometimes the puns are purely groan-worthy, as in the tradition of pantomime (another influence that Harrison has acknowledged). His play The Big H, which is indeed structured along the lines of a cruel pantomime, contains a great number of puns of this sort; for example, when the children repeat in chorus the name of the last gift of the Three Wise Men (“Myrrh, myrrh, myrrh etc.”), the teacher bursts out: “STOP that myrrhmyrrhing!”
His poems, particularly the shorter ones, often reveal a sense of timing worthy of a stand-up comedian and the rhymes range in effect from epigrammatic concision, in the tradition of Pope, to sheer slapstick. He seems to derive a particular pleasure from multilingual rhyming, as in this example from The Pomegranates of Patmos:
And the God with gargantuan GRAYON
commanding that crackpot to write
is a Big Daddy bastard who craps on
the Garden of Earthly Delight.
A nice example of his skill at the epigrammatic is this four-line poem entitled Measures:
Time that’s seen my shirt-size swell
from S to M and now to L
won’t see it shrink back to petite
until my shirt’s my winding-sheet.
There are undeniably times when his rhyming effects are too close to the pantomime tradition to be fully effective. This happens, in my opinion, too often in some of the film-poetry. The relentless rhyming tetrameter of Prometheus, for example, is sometimes close to doggerel. The fact that the characters make deliberate reference to pantomime (“I suppose it suits the bloody time / when Britain’s one long pantomime”) seems like an attempt to forestall criticism, but it doesn’t suffice to justify such lines as:
And why, you might ask, should gods come
into this world of ‘Ee-by-gum’?
These dropped aitches help disguise
the fact I’ve flown down from the skies.
Just as steel-capped boots conceal
the wings that sprout out of each heel.
It is possible that this verse worked well enough for its immediate purposes in the television film, which I confess I have not seen. It is interesting to note that Harrison originally opposed publication of these texts, and even now he says in the introduction: “These texts only partially represent my own various attempts at the form. They will always require the films they are an organic part of to be fully understood”. The ones that seem to stand up best to reading are The Blasphemer’s Banquet, The Shadow of Hiroshima and the four texts collected under the title Loving Memory. The other poems almost certainly require the accompanying film to be effective, although all have passages of interest.
While Harrison sometimes uses his poetical forms for purely comic purpose, his underlying purpose is nearly always fully serious. In the radio programme, Memory of Troy, he declared that “language which is rhythmical and spellbinding can draw people’s imagination further into horror and take them on that journey, make them see everything but not make them feel that it’s impossible to survive what they’ve witnessed.” This, he says, is what the ancient Greek plays were about: “the primacy of language, how language was able to express everything, grapple with all the worst things that we can imagine.” He actually talks of metre as being an “existential need” for him: “I don’t have the heart to confront some experience unless I know I have this rhythm to carry me to the other side.”
And in his poetry he has confronted the worst experiences of our time. Hiroshima has cast a shadow over him since the age of eight. One of his strongest memories is the street-party in Leeds to celebrate VJ day:
And that, now clouded, sense of public joy
with war-worn adults wild in their loud fling
has never come again since as a boy
I saw Leeds people dance and heard them sing.
This poem is the first of a pair entitled Sonnets for August 1945 and bears the ominous individual title The Morning After; it opens with a superb description of the celebratory bonfire and its sheer power and concludes with a quatrain describing the “dark, scorched circle on the road” left by the fire and, in the very last line, the “cobbles boiling with black gas tar for VJ”. The second sonnet speaks more directly of the holocaust of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the final line of the first sonnet, with its hammering sequence of seven monosyllables that break the metrical regularity, has already effectively evoked the horrors that lie behind the victory celebration.
Fire is a recurring image in his poetry: apart from the bonfire of the August 1945 poems, we have the horrific images of the auto-da-fé victims that light the wedding procession of King Philip in Nuptial Torches (“Their souls / Splut through their pores like porridge holes. / They wear their skins like cast-offs…”), the crematorium of Marked with D, the “grill-bars spitting goat or gator fat” of Lords of Life, the “silvery fire” of the chorus of The Pomegranates of Patmos, the “fire-hailing cock” of Initial Illumination, the great fires that consume the farm-animals in Cremation Eclogue, in which “choking piles of stiff-legged Friesians blaze…” The film-poem Prometheus is, of course, totally devoted to the subject of fire, and has a fascinating introduction in which the poet meditates on the ambiguity of fire as poetic symbol and phenomenon. The film itself strikes me as over-ambitious; it attempts to bring together too many themes, such as the coal-miners’ strike of 1980s Britain, the wartime holocausts of Dresden and Hamburg, the ovens of Auschwitz and Birkenau, the polluting factories of Eastern Europe, using as a connecting theme the visual symbol of a gigantic statue of Prometheus made from the melted bodies of the out-of-work coal-miners… There are some fine passages and one can imagine that on screen some of the visual images must have been striking, but the whole thing seems too contrived; the characters never grow beyond the purely symbolic, with the possible exception of the Old Man, who ruminates on his fond memories of smoking in the cinema along with the great film-stars of the past:
When Bogey lit up so did I,
smoke curling past my one closed eye.
Bogey gets best smoker’s prize,
cig-smoke crinkling up his eyes.
As already mentioned, one of his images for the gift of articulacy is the tongue of flame; perhaps the poem in which this image is most touchingly adopted is Marked with D, in which he describes his father’s cremation: “I thought how his cold tongue burst into flame / but only literally, which makes me sorry”. The combination of graphic horror and touching affection in the three words “but only literally” is extraordinarily effective. It neatly encapsulates the distance between the metaphor-making son and the sad inarticulacy of the father. As the poet puts it in the sonnet Fire-Eater, he has determined on behalf of his father and others like him (his brother with his “shocking stammer”) that “though my vocal chords gets scorched and black / there’ll be a constant singing from the flames”.
This is as good an image as any of Harrison’s poetry. While it is undeniable that not all of his poetry is on the same level—perhaps inevitable for anyone as prolific as he is—his best works undoubtedly give the reader the sense that they are written out of heat: the heat of anger, of sturdy affections and firm convictions. While the singing is far from sweetly melodious it has its strong harmonies and the powerful rhythms themselves are a testimony to constancy: despite the pain and the grief of this world a capacity for joy remains. As his meditative poem A Kumquat for John Keats puts it:
Then it’s the kumquat fruit expresses best
how days have darkness round them like a rind,
life has a skin of death that keeps its zest.
 Harrison adds a footnote to the poem: “An ‘Enoch’ is an iron sledge-hammer used by the Luddites to smash the frames were also made by the same Enoch Taylor of Marsden. The cry was: ‘Enoch made them, Enoch shall break them!’
 Gray’s Elegy clearly has a special place in Harrison’s imagination. The opening sonnet, “On Not Being Milton”, has the significant line, “Three cheers for mute ingloriousness!” His first long work for television, “Loving Memory”, again adopts the Elegy’s quatrain. In a later poem, “Laureate’s Block” (again in quatrains), in rejecting the idea of becoming of becoming poet laureate, he includes a lengthy prose passage from the letters of Gray, and declares his intention to “heed both Thomas Gray’s and Milton’s ghost”.
 The poem “The Act”, in which he sits next to a rowdy soldier on a plane to Belfast, and on the official card “enters ‘poet’ / where he puts ‘Forces’”, is wittily ironic on such prejudices.
 From “Ego Dominus Tuus”; Harrison also quotes the phrase “sedentary toil” in the sonnet “Blocks”.
 The occasional awkwardness in metrical effects has led to accusations of slipshodness—for example, recently by Clive James in the American magazine, Poetry.
 Harrison pays clear homage to this professional side of Auden in the new version he makes of the film-poem “Night-Mail”.
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