Stanley Burnshaw, best known for his brilliant book, The Seamless Web, on the experience of art, calls Mirages a public poem, and thereby indirectly explains one reason why it is so enormously moving. The poetry-reading public has had its fill of the confessionals, who treat their psyches as though each were a complete universe. Mirages is about something vaster and deeper than one sensibility. It is a series of mediations and conversations about the fact and mystery of Israel - the modern nation, with all its hustle and bustle, interwoven with the external land of Canaan and the strong destiny of those who have inhabited it at various times. To read the book is like seeing one transport slide superimposed upon another, and then another and another.
Time is abolished or transcended. One again, Abraham prepares to sacrifice Issac:
The story haunts this tribe that cannot wipe from its eyes
The flashing hill, the trembling man tying his son in his arms, the bewildered ram
Bearing twigs and firewood. They think it again and again
Through forty centuries. . . ."
The poem is written in a free verse that could easily slip into outright prose, but almost never does: Stanley Burnshaw's control is very exact. At times the verse rises to a biblical cloquence, at other times it is quiet and unobtrusive. Perhaps the main poem is the land of Canaan itself, and the verse is a series of footnotes on that reality, ancient and contemporary. In any case, this book makes much contemporary poetry seem - h ow can one express it? - trivial or self-indulgent. (Doubleday. $5.95)