Sep 11 2011: Spirits of Air and Darkness by Michael Roberts (Faber, 1939)

If he’s remembered very much at all these days Michael Roberts is probably  best known as an anthologist between the wars, having edited both New Signatures and The Faber Book of Modern Verse. His own poetry, though, seems mostly neglected: as far as I know, nearly all of it is out of print, but having picked up this copy of his third book of poetry, Orion Marches (1939), I’d certainly be interested in seeing more, patchy though the book as a whole might often be. The two earlier collections, Poems (1936, also from Faber) and These Our Matins (1930, published by Elkin Mathews & Marrot according to his Wikipedia entry) are presumably gathered into his 1958 Collected Poems, which is a book I’ve already added to my ‘find and read’ list on the strength of the best pieces in this collection. The one scanned in below, ‘Spirits of Air and Darkness’, seems like a wonderfully potent piece of writing to me* though I suppose its logical swerves, symbolic tone and air of theatricality (all things I happen to mark largely in its favour) could prove divisive to readers with different tastes. Either way, it’s certainly one poem, among many here, that deserves reconsideration. It also mentions a woodlouse, something that an earlier post has already admitted might (and, yes, it does) endear the sensibility behind it to me even more than usual.

*And not only for its date, appearing as it did on the eve of the Second World War. Doesn’t that line about the forces of destruction having “taken the summer glitter from the slow water” sound like the very line you might have wanted to write yourself about the financial destruction being wrought in the aftermath of speculation today, in 2011?


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