HERE are two opening lines:
“Give me my scallop-shell of quiet,”
“Lord, the Roman hycinths are blooming in bowls and”
The first is from Walter Raleigh’s ‘The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage’, the second from T.S. Eliot’s ‘A Song for Simeon’. I quote them here solely because they both send a shiver down my spine. I could try to explain why – that haunting sc-sh-qw sound in the Raleigh, or the odd, unexpected stillness of the Eliot line caused, I think, by ‘in bowls’ and that hanging ‘and’ – but, in truth, my shiver comes from wells deeper than those plumbed by practical criticism. It comes from being and speaking English.
It is unfashionable to speak of national characteristics. Queasy types think it is akin to racism. But the truth is that nations are definably different. Most importantly, they differ in what they do best. No nation has produced better essayists than France, none has produced better composers that the Germans, better painters than the Italians, nor better novelists than the Russians. America invented jazz and still masters the form and, though some may dissent, her record in film is unsurpassed. And the English? The English do poetry.
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