Collected Poems by Robert Nye - review by Alice Oswald

Alice Oswald

Progress of a Master

Collected Poems

By

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Robert Nye has been much praised, even adulated, for his novels. I can also recommend his poems: ‘a heron stands/like a sickle dipped in feathers’. This luckily occurs twice in the collection – it’s the best description I know of that strange bird.

But I also recommend his poems because of their extreme sensitivity to sound (‘Eurynome, the moon, my madam’; ‘the leaf’s lack such it will quite obey the lie of its luck, this way or that...’) and because they are rhythmical. His pentameters don’t do that fashionable Canute-ish thing of pushing against the metre; they run naturally: ‘then everything in that translated place/sang with the change – our room-key turned to gold’. Many of his poems are ‘singable’: ‘Once, once I stood/by a green wood/and watched hares in the snow’. Some are even ‘drummable’. It’s very nearly true that if a poem sounds right, it is beyond criticism.

This is a comprehensive collection, which includes poems Nye has written from the age of thirteen to fifty six. The good thing is that the poems get better and better, but it can’t be denied that a few of the early ones are somewhat faery and occasionally quite mad. I almost wish

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