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May 11, 1940 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1940-05-11

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Page Twelve

PERSPECTIVES

x

!5 aatealmtic Pet,
THE WORLD I BREATHE by Dylan
Thomas. New Directions, Nor-
folk, Conn.
THE MAN COMING TOWARD YOU
by Oscar Williams. Oxford
University Press, New York.
N PERIODS of conflict when one
country's economy demands that it
expand and conquer another coun-
try, when continual internal changes are
necessary to preserve a system, the artist
also is continually seeking new patterns,
new modes of expression. The economic
individualist may be said to be reflected
by the artistic individualist. They are
two sides of the same coin, and the real-
ity of living is in constant interaction
with the illusion of art. Before the first
World War the method of poetry was
fairly stable though the thought content
was changing rapidly. Between that
time and the present war, poetry has
seen a series of astounding revolutions,
some abortive, some successful. The
last and most striking, though one of
the most dangerous, influences upon
all forms of art was the surrealist move-
ment. In poetry the trend was toward
the supposed "revelation of the sub-
concious" which, paradoxically, re-
sulted in greater complexity of thought
and language or even complete incom-
municability. What might have been
a great contribution to psychological
knowledge resulted mainly in a de-
velopment of new techniques.
Both Oscar Williams and Dylan
Thomas have been affected by the
modern revolutions in form, both owe
a great deal to the innovations of sur-
realism. Thomas, who appears in the
New Directions' edition for the first
time in America in book form, is the
more consistent of the two. Hailed as
the most invigorating and passionate
poet since'Hart Crane, his method im-
plies less the concise and involuted
metaphor of Crane than the free asso-
ciational image of the surrealists. Crane
was working towards an intellectual
end; his images consisted of thought
patterns. Thomas is working toward
anti-intellectual ends; his images are
emotional patterns. Emotion without
thought soon becomes subjective and
obscure, and this is the chief fault in
the poems of The World I Breathe.
Thomas has a lyric ability which obvi-
ously mocks at times in its fine rhythm-
ical quality the plodding statement-of-
fact poetry of Auden. But Thomas has
rarely succeeded in putting this ability
to the use of an important idea or a
sequence of related ideas. His love of
words and the sound of words leads him
to the extravagance of entire poems
which revolve about a negligible incident
or a minor emotion. In attempting to
suggest an immense variety of feeling,
he cancels out the simple and most
powerful emotion which comes only
through the proper combination of idea
and sensual image. There are times
when reality gets the better of him and
he achieves such effects as the follow-
ing:
Awake, my sleeper, to the sun,
A worker in the morning town,
And leave the poppied pickthank
where he lies;
The fences of the light are down,
All but the briskest riders thrown,
And worlds hang on the trees.
'We cannot be completely sure of all the
associations here and yet the picture of
dawn, actual and metaphorical, is haunt-
ing and expressive. But Thomas fails
for us when we glance back over the
other stanzas in the same poem and try
to grasp the idea running through them.

We stand on the edge of great discov-
eries, and yet there is the suspicion all
the time that these are merely mental
conjurations and that when "all the
fences of the light" are really down there
will be no important idea to greet us.
Thomas is a romantic, as the majority
of surrealists have admitted themselves
to be, and he tries to conceal from an

essentially realistic and hard-fisted
world, through the use of a modern style,
his illogical, untrained, and often adol-
escent feelings. Freud and the sincere
explorers of psychological truth are
viciously exploited.
Thomas deserves praise in those
poems like the one beginning "Especially
when the October wind" where he man-
ages to achieve a more stimulating bal-
ance between -radical imagery and pre-
cise idea. In "The hand that signed the
paper felled a city" he drops almost com-
pletely the affected manner of his other
poems and writes a compelling state-
ment of fact. Auden has cited this poem
as Thomas' best, quite possibly because
it approximates to a larger extent than
elsewhere Auden's work.
The cover blurb makes a great deal of
Thomas's Welsh ancestry and states that
"Death and the Devil walk his pages."
All of which follows sn line with what
I have said about his romantic tenden-
cies. The Welsh and the Irish are alike
in many respects but Thomas fails to
do with his material what Yeats might
have done. The sensibility and spiritu-
ality, the wealth of national myth and
legend, might have become a powerful
instrument of communication in surer
hands. But Thomas lets all of these
forces drain away, particularly in the
short stories which are placed at the
close of his book. Here the madmen,
the unborn babes, the half-alive half-
dead people of the surrealist appear in
familiar confusion. The prose form is
an elaboration of the poetic form and
nothing more. Occasionally as in the
poems there are lines or scenes of in-
stant beauty, and in such a story as "A
Prospect of the Sea" the simple, adoles-
cent story of child love, painted and tor-
tured as it is with every conceivable
image of sensuality, breaks through into
the light of day. Dylan Thomasites will
no doubt have an answer to my criti-
cism. They will say I have not appre-
ciated the new vigor in the language,
the vast areas of consciousness opened
up for exploration, the lasting emo-
tional value beyond any sordid realistic
one. All of these I do appreciate in
part. And yet the picture that is left
in my mind after reading Thomas is one
of an individual scaling a tremendous
height, to his own mind a giant strid-
ing mountains and encompassing con-
tinents, but to the watchers below a
rather weak and lonely person on the
wrong path and sure to be swept away
by the avalanche of his own making.
The climber had much better have sealed
his mind to the romantic emotion and
directed his impulse and his genius to
ideas of the earth.
Oscar Williams is a poet who has felt
the necessity of avoiding the heights.
If not an actual student of Thomas, he
has absorbed a great many of the Eng-
lish poet's tricks through other imita-
tors.

I sing an old song, bead in the hair
of the park,
Bird-knot in the weave of leaves,
nugget in sieve
Straining gravel of Utopia to shin-
ing beginnings
This series of compact, interwoven im-
ages is typical. And yet we cannot say
that the effect is entirgly emotional.
We are not satisfied with the music of
the lines and must look for a meaning,
And meaning there is. Williams has
made this advance over Thomas. His
poems are intellectualized conceits and
not purely emotional ones. Williams is
sensitive to the fears of the age. He
knows the panic of war, he sees starva-
tion, he understands the poverty of the
mind as well as the body. "Man al-
ready has reached an airpocket in the
legend of the mind," he says, and in
another place he remarks,
And the exquisite spirit of man, a
festival dress.
Is put away with the arts in the
glaciers of museums,
And the vast answer droops in the
archives and vaults
Among the implements of murder
and the kingdoms come.
He feels that there must be an answer
to the horrors of our modern world,
though as yet he has not formulated
anything definite. I am forced to dis-
agree with Auden who says in the cover
blurb, "He feels that the mechanized
life is the Devil." Williams' unrest
goes much deeper than that. Often he
takes his stand by Auden in represent-
ing the Death-wish, "the grave's incred-
ible silhouette" he calls it, as the curse of
our generation. Civilization darkens be-
neath the silhouette of the grave and
we are forced to accept our fate.
In 1921 Oscar Williams published his
first book. Since that time he has
published only occasional poems. The
Man Coming Towards You represents
a sudden desire on the poet's part to
speak again, to say something about the
world we live in, something not destruc-
tive. In his haste and enthusiasm he
has unblushingly stolen from the tech-
niques and even from the ideas of his
contemporaries. If he can mould these
borrowings into something solid and
convincing, he will have done a great
service. Death, the grave, and war are
surely not his answers. He recognizes a
"spirit of man" which is greater than
all of these. Dylan Thomas, in his
romantic self-immolation, has not been
guilty of any such revelation. But Wil-
liams may reach his goal and if he does,
we may predict that he will lose most of
his Thomasian manner along the way.
-E. G. BURROWS
The editors and staff of Perspectives
wish to take this opportunity to thank
the Bookroom and Wahr's for the loan
of books reviewed in this issue.

C%"co9 f liaacre
CITIZENs by Meyer Levin. The
Viking Press, New York.
ON JULY 4, 1937 some thousands of
strikers from nearby steel mills
assembled with their wives and
families on the vacant lots surrounding
Consolidated Steel with the idea of
picketing this particular plant. As they
were spreading out their lines in the
attempt to surround the plant and thus
keep out scab workers they found be-
fore them a line of Chicago police
blocking their way to the building itself.
As the strikers stepped forward they
were met with a volley of shots from
the police. The firing and the ensuing
tumult claimed the lives of ten strikers,
This was the Chicago Massacre. This
is Meyer Levin's story.
Ten men were killed. Why were they
killed? Who were their killers? Could
they be brought to justice? Why do
Chicago massacres and Haymarket riots
come about? Can something be done
to prevent them? Mitch Wilner, a doc-
tor, who is accidentally present at the
time of the firing is aroused to ask
these questions, and, further, to seek
their answers. Technically, Doctor Wil-
ner is the central character of the story.
He is the American citizen, trying to
understand how this democratic nation
functions. While the doctor searches
for his answer Levin inserts ten biog-
raphies of slain strikers. Each of these
is complete in itself and is brought up
to the date of the massacre. Each
one of these biographies is better than
its predecessor, in fact, they are so good
that it might be said that the central
character is inserted between these
stories to fill out the novel. In other
words, the story belongs to the workers
and only if Levin could have created
a central character as brilliant as any
one of his ten workers should he have
taken the story away from them.
The doctor is a man, scientific and
unbiased. He is in the midst of the
strikers at the important hour. He
learns of their lives, their aspirations,
their troubles and their methods. Simi-
larly, at a Washington investigation,
he learns the methods of the police, the
steel managers. With all the informa-
tion a man can possibly have, probably
much more than a research doctor has
while investigating his specific medical
problem, with all this information,
checked, validated and known as true,
Doc Wilner is unable to decide just ex-
actly where the final guilt is to be
laid. It is true that in actual fact the
blame was put on no one person. No
one was sentenced on the charge of
murder. But it would seem that the
least Levin could have done after so
carefully analyzing the Memorial Day
Massacre was to bring some element of
consciousness of right and wrong to his
doctor. Simply to arouse in his cen-
tral character a consciousness of the
existence of social problems negates the
dramatic power of thousands of men in
shirt sleeves, almost as it were coming
from a fourth of July morning picnic,
marching irregularly toward the plant
gate to be met by a volley of bullets
which spotted their glistening shirts with
touches of red. Had this situation lacked
dramatic intensity Levin could never
have written such excellent biographi-
cal portraits of ten of these marchers.
Specifically the fault of the book is that
the separate biographies establish a
definite point of view which is almost
completely disregarded when the doctor
is presented. It would seem as though
the doctor were not aware of what Levin
has made known to the reader. Yet in
the very nature of the doctor's inquiries
Levin makes the reader feel that this
man must know many more facts about

these men's lives than even the reader.
As a novel seen in its entirety Citizens
is a failure. Viewed, however, from
ten different little islands, ten biogra-
phies, Citizens becomes a brilliant suc-
cess, Seen from these islands and the
meanderings of Doctor Wilner it is
a very interesting novel.
-OSCAR MILLER

ile ilac ree

HERE is a curious thing.
The thought was bleak and grey.
The memory turned away
was echoing
despondency
from the gates of day.
The memory would be
a pessimist to speak
pity and sorrow.
In omens it would seek
word of the morrow.
Climb the grey chance of sky
past relinquished years.
The grey of the rocks pass by.
Elide forgotten fears.
Resume old trails to taunt
the change-worn heart.
All I care to vaunt
remembered chart
remembered pine
and the sudden change
where the swinging vine
parts before a strange
and poignant sight.

Memory in grey of night
surprises color
where the slight
impassive dolor
of a lilac bloom
leans out
across the broken wall
into a lonely room
where the haunting doubt
forever still
as the broken will
waits the petals' fall,
Memory's uncertain date
releases time.
Literal as fate
transposed to rhyme
it finds you by -
the lilac tree
waiting my
arrival there.
Inscrutably,
we claim our share
remarking hill
and sky and stone,
pledge the lilac's will
to be our own.
- Frank M. Conway

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