As you can see, I have borrowed a copy of The Poet's Eye (1944), Geoffrey Grigson's anthology which I mentioned a few weeks ago. Of course it is John Craxton's lithographs that strike the reader immediately, ranging from small black and white images of shells, stones and trees to full page landscapes in colour, like the illustration below. But the writings themselves are also fascinating, bringing together 'visionary' poems and prose and covering 'generalised vision, descriptive vision cut from its application, vision conceived simply for its own sake, and vision of the intense kind...’ It is full of surprising choices, from its opening version of Rabelais’ ‘Inscription Above the Entrance to the Abbey of Theleme’ by Sir Thomas Urquhart, to the short extract from Moby Dick which closes the book. In between there are many landscape poems and descriptions. The writers who feature most often are William Barnes, John Clare, George Crabbe, R.W. Dixon, John Dryden, Coventry Patmore and Walt Whitman. It is an eclectic and very individual selection, although clearly in sympathy with the period’s Neo-Romantic sensibilities: poems and prose by both William Blake and Samuel Palmer are included.
Of course it’s quite impossible to convey the pleasures of such an anthology with just one example, but I’ll try anyway. At one point there is a little cluster of George Crabbe ‘visions’, starting with part of his poem, ‘The Ancient Mansion’. Then, after an extract from William Barnes, Grigson moves to some more of Crabbe’s verse, a description of ‘Sandy Flora’ taken from ‘The Village’ (1783) which I’ve reproduced below. And then he moves immediately to a third piece, prose this time, headed ‘Seaside Fen’ and apparently a footnote to ‘The Lover’s Journey’ (from Crabbe’s Tales). There are various other Crabbe selections dotted through the book (I like, for example, ‘Moonlight and Jelly-Fish or Sea Nettles’, which describes them: ‘Soft brilliant, tender, through the Wave they glow, / And make the Moon-beam brighter where they flow...’) Grigson says in the introduction that ‘all the truest and deepest poets, if they do not always remain there, go, at least, through a stage of vision in the very straightforwardness of the word: they have good eyes.’ George Crabbe, it is safe to say, never lost his ‘good eyes’.
Lo! where the heath, with withering brake grown o'er,
Lends the light turf that warms the neighbouring poor;
From thence a length of burning sand appears,
Where the thin harvest waves its wither'd ears;
Rank weeds, that every art and care defy,
Reign o'er the land, and rob the blighted rye.
There thistles stretch their prickly arms afar,
And to the ragged infant threaten war;
There poppies nodding, mock the hope of toil,
There the blue bugloss paints the sterile soil;
Hardy and high, above the slender sheaf,
The slimy mallow waves her silky leaf;
O'er the young shoot the charlock throws a shade,
And clasping tares cling round the sickly blade.
With mingled tints the rocky coasts abound,
And a sad splendour vainly shines around.