Day of Deliverance

MR. BENET gives his book the subtitle “A Book of Poems in Wartime,” which must limit the period of survival of many of the pieces, no matter how skillful — and Mr. Benét is nearly always skillful. The whole subject of war poetry is delicate at a time like this when historical perspective is for a while suspended. We do know that the impassioned witness of the immediate will have little to say to the future.
On the other hand, Mr. Benét’s justification is that he speaks with rare eloquence for so many of us. and that he includes in his collection a sufficiency of themes which rise above the distorted moment.
The poet handles the two-stress line with finesse, and at least three poems in this subtle measure are among the most memorable: “The Myriad Ghost,” “R.A.F.,’ and, perhaps best of these, “The Cuttle Fish.”The title poem, a combination of homely conversation and noble rhetoric, is unusually successful except for the retrains in sixand seven-stress lines. The five-stress lines of the body of the poem are so good that they set off the jingling of the longer lines to a disadvantage.
The longer lines are used very effectively, however, in “Shenandoah.” Mr. Benét’s poem in memory of his brother takes its place among the moving tributes of poets to their dead confreres — a tradition as old as Occleve’s “Lament for Chaucer. “ Ben Franklin Asks the Time" is a rewarding work, and among the dramatic pieces “Middle Watch,” with its clever interweaving of actual quotations from history, is a small masterpiece. The book ends with “The Question,” a sustained sonnet, and the grave “Prayer for the Nations.”
In short, here are ballads, stories, reminiscences, seascapes and landscapes, moods, and propaganda, with a corresponding profusion of metrical virtuosity. The book needs to be winnowed, but the careful reader will not begrudge the task, for Mr. Benét is a poet we can always depend on for honest craftsmanship and ofen for the authentic flash. Knopf, $ 2.50.