SINCE Wordsworth, every Romantic poet's dream has been to speak poetry at will; to write, then, would simply be to record. James Schuyler, by dint of long training (read, see, listen to everything, live -- and write thousands of poems), has managed that feat, making of himself an Aeolian harp played on by all the winds of circumstance and the spirit. Fortunate in his gifts, his-friends and (for the most part) his experience, he has in several books generously given back his version of the world to the world.
Was it inevitable that this good luck brought with it a heavy cost in suffering? The obverse side of sensitivity to pleasure is susceptibility to pain -- which is recorded only slightly less fully in this book than the poet's fortunate moments. Shock permeates these poems -- the shock of recognition, certainly, but also shock as such. A number of them, including the "Payne Whitney" sequence, touch on a bout with acute depression and a trip to Bedlam and back. They are wounding to read and to contemplate. A poem is sometimes an SOS, and these (without phantasmagoria or piteous cries) stingingly convey the distress felt by the author, so that fleeting objections to substance or phrasing come to seem beside the point.
The title poem, some 60 pages long, is the amplest in the book, moving freely over the great geodesic dome of consciousness. It invokes and brilliantly embodies memory, imagination, happenstance, love, comedy, longing and despair. What suppleness of style and limpidity of vision schuyler displays in this poem; and what vulnerability. Whitmanesque in an important sense, it must, however, be called an elegy, not a song, of the self. Autobiographical scales oscillate between ecstatic awareness and numb suffering; the outcome seems settled in advance. Still, this poet, who might have kept his griefs, and estrangements, his bright discoveries and shrewd satires to himself, has chosen instead to speak, and to be overhead. The result is an excellent book, disturbing, original and consistently surprising.