If you ever find yourself in the small Derbyshire town of Wirksworth, be sure to visit the book shop (helpfully called The Book Shop) that overlooks the market place. The first time I looked in there, I was amazed by the quality - and the low prices - of the stock. Browsing the shelves, I found at least half a dozen books I could have snapped up with relish, and it's a pretty small shop. The man who runs it - approachable and human, unlike many in his trade - clearly knows and loves his books, and chooses them well. He also creates clever, ever-changing window displays. On my last visit, I once again saw half a dozen and more books that were hard to resist, but I restricted myself to two titles - George Thomas's biography of Edward Thomas for myself, and William Maxwell's Time Will Darken It for my Derbyshire cousin. She, bless her, returned the compliment by buying me two others that had caught my eye - Richard Mabey's Gilbert White, and R.S. Thomas's No Truce with the Furies. This collection - the last published in his lifetime - contains his heartfelt, insightful, long-matured Homage to Wallace Stevens, which I pass on...
I turn now
not to the Bible
but to Wallace Stevens.
everything but the muse,
what has the word-wizard
to say? His adjectives
are the wand he waves
so language gets up
and dances under
a fastidious moon.
We walk a void world,
he implies, for which,
in the absence of the imagination,
there is no hope. Verbal bank-clerk,
acrobat walking a rhythmic tight-rope,
trapeze artist of the language,
his was a kind of double-entry
poetics. He kept two columns
of thought going, balancing meaning
against his finances. His poetry
was his church and in it
curious marriages were conducted.
He burned his metaphors like incense,
so his syntax was as high
as his religion.
I stand with my back to grammar
at an altar you never aspired
to, celebrating the sacrament
of the imagination whose high-priest
notwithstanding you are.