The Best Poems of 1940

Selected by Thomas MoultHARCOURT, BRACE
As usual, The Best Poems is an odd collection. About fifty per cent of it is the blending of high-minded sentiment and low-rating technical capacity which adds up to complete mediocrity in poetry. But the other half has some good things. The war poetry illustrates the profound difference in temper between this war and the last. In place of the glorification of land and cause, or the savage revelation of horror, there is a sensitive apprehension of inner realities, a strengthening of the heart to cast out the apathy and egotism of the past, a new humility. ‘Evening Meal in the Twentieth Century,’ by John Holmes, expresses this in very moving terms, or the conclusion of H. B. Mallalieu’s ‘1940’: —
Compelled to face the challenge of the years
Our grace is to embody in our doubt
The core of faith, against which shouting fears
Will quieten and the tires of hate go out.
In commemoration of heroism there is a rousing ballad of the Graf Spee, in which Mr. Churchill’s pronunciation is followed in the rhyme scheme; and a poem on the Air Force, concluding with a fine hyperbole.
The pastoral tradition in English poetry is recreated in Ruth Bitter’s beautiful ‘Swan Bathing,’ or Andrew Young’s ‘Hard frost’; the mood of contemplation in Willard Maas’s ‘The Secret on the Urn’ and Geoffrey Johnson’s ‘Matins’; there is a vigorous piece of descriptive writing in ‘The Old Eagle,’ by E. J. Pratt, and skillful musical lyrics by F. R. Higgins, Robert Hillyer, and Witter Bynner. E. D.