From such quietness it set out to become the loud cicada. The dry light of the olive tree cannot even suggest the shy first light. The eucalyptus, the long pod of the carob, whatever the price they're alive and know the open secret. Intricate, terrible, nowhere becomes somewhere. EXCERPT FROM "MIDSUMMER" FROM "THE PUNISHED LAND" BY DENNIS SILK; Copyright (c) 1964, 1980 By Dennis Silk Used by permission of Viking Penguin Inc.
THIS GATHERING of poems, old and new, introduces to an American audience a poet who is better known in England, where he spent his childhood, and Israel, his present home. The book comes with advance comment (and high praise) from Yehuda Amichai, Saul Bellow, W.S. Merwin, and Mark Van Doren. But it is a long book, and not all the poems are equally good. I find those selected from the poet's first volume, A Face of Stone (1964) the most readily likeable and most thoughtfully composed. Meant to be read as a sequence, the poems blend autobiography, history and myth into one narrative, which proves finally to be a pilgrimage. It moves from idyllic pastoral scenes to the modern, ghettoized metropolis, and then to the holy city of Jerusalem. One model for the sequence may have been Auden's Sonnets from China; but the insights Silk discovers here are new, as the subject is new.
Later poems in the volume show a wonderful recklessness as to the proprieties of form and expression -- but not always with good results. A frequent problem is what must be called surrealist flippancy. Could a more chastened selection have been made? If so, it would be sure to include strong and original poems such as "Waiting," "Returning," "Sleeping Gun Crew," "Beau Monde," "Hospital," "Portrait Coin" and "For the Ancestor." This is a singular book, eluding summary or classification; because of its ambiguities, each reader is certain to understand it differently. Multifaceted, prismatic as a cut-glass paperweight, meaning in these poems shifts and fractures according to the angle of view, but always present is a sense of an intelligence wrestling with problems of wide import and with the task of find humane speech to express them.