"SPECTRAL Emanations," the extraordinarily brilliant and ambitious work in poetry and prose which leads off this collection of John Hollander's new and selected poems, is prompted in part by a passage, quoted in the volume's epigraph, in which Hilda of Hawthorne's The Marble Faun talks about the menorah, the golden lamp of seven branches brought to Rome in A.D. 70 from the Second Temple in Jerusalem and now presumably lying under the Tiger's mud. In The Marble Faun, Hilda proposes a parable in which the lamp will be recovered and its seven branches kindled, each with a different color, until the world is illumined by "the white light of truth."
"It wil," she says, "be a seven-branched allegory, full of poetry, art, philosophy, and religion," and she goes on, in a passage not quoted by Hollander, to say that she will propose such a project-a project by which the imagination will create a poem in lieu of a lamp-to seven poets."
In effect, Hollander is these seven poets in one, and in "Spectral Emanations" he has written a poem in seven parts, one for each color, each of which is, to a different degree, political because it provokes the doubt that any one mode of consciousness or state of being or "color band" can be exclusive of any other.
This is a matter central to all of Hollander's work, and is responsible for his now being, to my mind, the most intellectually daring, poignant, and thrilling poet writing in the Emersonian tradition of our poetry. He is passionately absorbed in the transitional, what Emerson called the "vehicular" nature of substantial things. In the American mythos, things are "double" at the very least-a New World that is textualized by the Old, a new American personage (Whitman's dream) who is also an ancient. As constituted within this situation, the self is at the same time visionary and haunted, tentative and brave, and committed, almost of necessity, to a style best described by that noble Emersonian William James: "We ought to say a feeling of and , a feeling of if , a feeling of but , and a feeling of by , quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue. . . Yet we do not; so inveterate has our habit become of recognizing the existence of the substantive parts alone, that language almost refuses to lend itself to any other uses. . . . It is, the reader will see, the reinstatement of the vague and inarticulate to its proper place in our mental life which I am so anxious to press on the attention."
With its sense of the transitional, of crossed boundaries, Hollander's poetry never indulges in the contemporary taste for fragmentation. As his critical writings alone would suggest, he is a master of classical and English forms; he can do a poem like "Fireworks" in strict Pindaric triads or a book length sequence like Reflections on Espionage , the unflaggingly brilliant and haunting book that preceded this one, in the hendecasyllabics favored by Catullus. He is forever playful about forms. He is forever playful about forms. There are included here six pieces from Types of Shape -one in the form of a car key, another of a light bulb-which are a delight to eye and ear. He is a formalist but a decidedly witty one. The changes that can be worked within form are made incumbent upon the discovery that any form is implicitly a substitute for or an interpretation of some other. Any form exists in the shadow of some other, and is on the verge sometimes of eliding into it; and the more you are aware-as Hollander asks you to be-of the forms even of particular words, the more they are on the brink of those puns into which he sometimes lets them drop.
It is also crucial to any appreciation of Hollander's demonstrably major achievement that his sense of losses, deprivations, and transformations is never satrici in a distancing or disdainful way. His satiric manner is meditative, affectionate, and, above all, self-questioning. His is, in fact, a more radical self-questioning than any found in the confessional poetry, so called, of these times. Hollander escapes the limits of confessional poetry because he will not imagine the self-his or any other-in isolation, as a "substantive," to recall James, deprived of the relational and blurring effects of "and" and "if," of "but" and "by."
He suffers as ture poets often do, not because he centralizes himself, as a confessional poet would, but because he does not and will not. Instead he finds himself, culpably, in everything, including responsibilities for loss. Thereby we are given the extraordinarily moving conclusion to the new "Collected Novels," in which the speaker has been going over, with the woman he loves, some imaginary novels that might have been written while they were together:
"The last one, in press, being Some Natural
Tears , which we were to have read together, hand
In hand. You may perhaps now guess its subject-
The old story we all know and can never
Comprehen, its fierce transfers of elation
Across the bound of loss, its presentiments
On endings, departures in the evening
Shade of sky and distant horizontal woods . ."
Form in Hollander is inextricable from visionary experience, from seeings things within a mode that can be shared because it is in part inherited and in part the result of some enterprises. The price is a necessary pain of complicity in the labors of composition, whether in the making of love or the making of poetry. Things are "safe for the heart because unenvisioned," he writes in "From the Rumble," and it is his human and poetic, accomplishment, one of the very highest order, not to be satisfied with that kind of safety. CAPTION: Illustration, SKELETON KEY Opening and starting key for a 1954 Dodge junked last year. From "Spectral Enamanations," Copyright (c) 1969, 1978 by John Hollander. Reprinted by permission of Atheneum Publishers