The Romantic Survival: A Study in Poetic Evolution

By John Bayley | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER X
Dylan Thomas

IN DISCUSSING Auden and Yeats we have not had much trouble with their language: we have been able to talk about their poetry, its style, the attitudes and preoccupations it reveals, without needing to consider in any detail its linguistic basis. Both poets can be obscure. But their obscurity rests on a sound referential structure which, like conversation or prose, can be understood by analysis or factual enquiry. Byzantium is a difficult poem because the images in Yeats's mind have a sequence and development which we cannot grasp all at once: a line in one of his last poems--

For since the horizon's bought strange dogs are still

is obscure until we discover that it refers to the purchase by Dorothy Wellesley of some land near her house on which stray dogs had formerly disturbed her with their barking. We may object to Yeats's employment of this private reference, but we cannot consider it impenetrable. Both Yeats and Auden often use words in a startling and unfamiliar way, but if we follow up our surprise we always find some coherent and external reason for the usage. Take Yeats's use of the word bundle--a favourite of his. its homely violence always contrasts with something ceremonious and ordered; in That the Night Come he uses it to suggest the undignified but magnificent haste with which a king discharges

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