John Donne: The Critical Heritage

By Barry Maine | Go to book overview
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March 1932


Mary Ross, review, New York Herald Tribune Books

13 March 1932, 5

To hear each of the instruments play separately its part of the score of a symphony could give but a faint idea of the richness and variety of the composition itself when strings, flutes, oboes, clarinets, horns, trumpets and drums are carrying each their part in a whole that is more than their sum. One or another may rule or recede; may pause or seem to fly against the current along which the theme is riding. Out of distinct entities the orchestra achieves a whole which is also distinct, but complex, as the differing qualities and pitches of tone melt together, modifying each other, in their common pattern.

It is in a pattern like this, but infinitely more complex, that 1919 is laid, like Mr. Dos Passos’ preceding novel, The 42nd Parallel. Its elements are not tones of music, but the complex of emotions bound up in separate personalities, swayed by what surrounds them and in turn weaving their own fates, pouring out words and actions and feelings of whose meanings and motives they themselves are only partly aware.

1919 is a word-symphony of the war years. Working through words, the author cannot give simultaneously, as can the orchestra, the various qualities that are intermingled in a common rhythm, flowing continuously. Hence first one then another comes to the printed page. It may not be stretching the simile too far to say that his orchestration uses four instruments: The Camera Eye, subjection, lyric, bringing back at intervals the memories of a young man at Harvard, in Spain, France, Italy; Newsreel, the blare of newspaper headlines, snatches of popular songs, excerpts from the mouthings of statesmen, recalling the jerky rhythms, the errant undertones, of the war mob; a series of brief, edged biographies of


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John Donne: The Critical Heritage


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