In his witty, entertaining and linguistically brilliant fiction the poet Robert Nye has played at being many different selves, historical and mythological (Falstaff brought him to the attention of the reading public back in 1976). The material deployed and sometimes redeployed in the novels is (to use an image from one of Nye’s recent poems) like so much thread drawn out of a spider’s entrails. The danger for Nye has always been that the material of his inner life – fashioned by whatever psychic disturbance made him a poet in the first place – would engulf his work completely. Nye’s poetry is at its best (and the poetry is the best of Nye’s work) when the outside world threatens to impinge on this inner world, like rain beating against a window. Which is precisely the situation that gave rise to the earliest of Nye’s poems included in The Rain and the Glass (dreamt, as he says in the foreword, while he lay asleep beside a window one rainy afternoon in Essex). The final poem in this reverse-chronological collection, ‘Listeners’ is an extraordinary poem for a thirteen-year-old to have written, and an unusually impersonal one – unpeopled, in fact.
From a solitude so complete that not even a self could be said to exist, Nye’s poetry soon moved into a landscape peopled by loved ones. ‘Other Times’, the book’s fourth poem (working from the back), is one of the great love poems of the last century:
And you have gone,