The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English

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ABERCROMBIE, Lascelles ( 1881-1938), was born just outside Manchester, at Ashton upon Mersey; he was educated at Malvern College and at Victoria (later Manchester) University. He worked as a journalist for several years but at the age of 38 became a lecturer at the University of Liverpool; subsequently, he was professor of English at Leeds (from 1922) and Goldsmith's Reader in English at Oxford (from 1935).

In an essay entitled 'The Function of Poetry in the Drama' ( 1912), Abercrombie sought to redefine the possibilities of verse drama, but his own attempts at the genre are unhappily innocent of stagecraft. A clue to his more fruitful development as a poet is provided by the publication, also in 1912, of his study of Thomas ⋆Hardy: at his best, he is less a stereotypical ⋆Georgian than a second-class Hardy, fond of combining muscular rural imagery with lyric or ballad forms. This mixture, in poems such as 'The Fear' and 'The Stream's Song', evidently appealed to ⋆Yeats, who included eight pages of Abercrombie work in the Oxford Book of Modem Verse ( 1936).

Though his poetry lacks the distinction of a major talent, it is enjoyable, capably written, and now unjustly neglected. It was collected as The Poems of Lascelles Abercrombie ( London, 1930), and a supplementary volume, Lyrics and Unfinished Poems, appeared in 1940, two years after the author's death.


ABSE, Dannie (Daniel) ( 1923- ) has a Jewish background, is Welsh, and a doctor: biographical facts which feature in his poems. Abse has an immediately likeable poetic voice, compassionate, humorous, observant. But the poems are not content with likeableness, nor are they satisfied with the merely personal. 'Return to Cardiff', one of his better-known pieces, describes Abse's feelings on revisiting his native city: loss, brief retrievals of the past, a sense of identity's oddness. The writing is conversational; it is also sharp and intelligent. Its rhythms win an unpredictable music from the musing hesitations of Abse's speaking voice.

'Return to Cardiff' was included in his 1962 book, Poems, Golders Green. Abse had by then sloughed off an initial weakness for rhetoric. Subsequent volumes blend a keen appetite for the everyday with an appalled, unmelodramatic awareness of suffering. 'A Night Out' revolves round watching a film about Auschwitz. Troubled, resilient, and anchored in the particular, the poem shows Abse's honesty to advantage. 'Hunt the Thimble'illustrates his interest in the riddle or parable; the repeated questions and answers mimic a child's game but generate a potently obscure menace. These two poems were included in A Small Desperation ( London, 1968); as the self-deprecating title suggests, Abse's imagination finds suburbia frustrating yet stimulating territory.

Some of Abse's tonally surest work occurs in his most recent volumes, Way Out in the Centre ( London, 1981; in the US as One-Legged on Ice, Athens, Ga., 1983) and Ask the Bloody Horse ( London, 1986; in the US, as Sky in Narrow Streets, Princeton, NJ, 1987). Both his alertness to the strangeness at the heart of familiarity and his wry grappling with the numinous (especially evident in Ask the Bloody Horse) find supple expression here. The most convenient single volume of Abse poetry is White Coat, PurpleCoat: Collected Poems 1948-1988


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