Mona Van Duyn | Critical Review by W. D. Snodgrass

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Mona Van Duyn.
This section contains 631 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by W. D. Snodgrass

SOURCE: "Four Gentlemen, Two Ladies," in The Hudson Review, Vol. 13, No. 1, Spring, 1960, pp. 120-31.

In the following excerpt, Snodgrass provides a favorable appraisal of Valentines to the Wide World.

At least in this present book, there are no large efforts comparable to Scott's "Memento" or "The U.S. Sailor with the Japanese Skull"; consequently there are no comparable major triumphs. At the same time, there are none of the failures or half-resolved poems; each of these poems seems achieved and delightful. Again, in developing her style, [Van Duyn] has not pushed (like Scott) toward a gnarled and crabbed lyricism; she moves instead toward a discursive style in which she tempers her natural awkward prosiness with a quiet and eccentric music. The result is something quite airy, peculiar and gracious. Here is the largest part of one of her poems on the christening of a godson:

    I've thought that the dream of the world is to bring, and again bring,
    out of a chaos of same, the irreplaceable thing,
    so, when it dies, we may clap for that brilliant wasting….
    This black bubble eye of a pike, ringed with gold,
    that neck-wattle, leaf veining, shell crimp, tailfeather, holds
    marvel enough. But it's we who're the perfect, pure manifold.
    Each sculp of feature is sole. Each skull encloses
    trinkets, museums of rarities, whole zoos of wishes.
    No one's repeated. We're spent; earth is dazzled with losses.
    Farewell and farewell and farewell; yet we honor each going
    with a feast of awareness whose richest flavor is knowing
    our breed as snowflake, ourselves as yesterday's snowing.
    And there's always something new under the sun
    that warms toward our thaw. Look, the gifted air swarms
    with it, falls from the weight of it, all those shapes, storms
    of fresh possibilities. Now spindling down, we see one
    who'll drift near us. With special pleasure we watch you come.

A long quotation; yet this language, so generous finally, makes so few claims for itself that shorter quotations would scarcely represent it.

Nearly all the poems in this book deal with love, marriage, children—with the common domestic problems. That is a sharp limitation upon the book. As Rilke tells us, for the poet whose aim is praise, the great test is how much of the world's misery and sorrow can be digested into that praise. It is not that Miss Van Duyn ignores the suffering in her material—it is only that her material excludes such wide realms of experience. Yet, sometimes it is good to know one's limits…. Miss Van Duyn, trying for so much less, always gives a sense of some significance, and (because of her range of diction, which can describe birth in paratrooper's terms, or marriage as a World's Fair landfill) of a fairly wide world of solidly realized objects. Much that is excluded from her subjects sneaks in through her style….

Perhaps I am misled by the lovely job of bookmaking that Cummington has done for these poems. Or perhaps misled by my approval of what Miss Van Duyn is saying. I must confess that if someone said, concerning the relation of the poem to the world:

… I've never seen anything like it for making you think that to spend your life on such old premises is a privilege….

I would probably like it even in Deaf-and-Dumb. Again, I may be misled by my belief that Miss Van Duyn's imagery and diction can teach me a good deal. Yet again, perhaps I really am right—that Miss Van Duyn, neglected as she has been, has written some poems which will seem genuine for a good long while.

At any rate, it does seem just about time that somebody sent this world a valentine. And if I were a poor, old, monstrous, pragmatical pig of a world (as who shall say I'm not), I can't think of who I'd rather set one from.

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This section contains 631 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by W. D. Snodgrass
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Critical Review by W. D. Snodgrass from Literature Criticism Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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