John Lucas

John Lucas most recent book is Romantic to Modern Literature: Essays and Ideas of Culture 1750-1900. He is Professor of English and Drama at Loughborough University.

Accidents of Language

John Lucas, 3 November 1983

In the issue of Agenda for Spring 1983 there is an essay by Geoffrey Hill which will obviously become required reading for anyone who is seriously interested in his poetry. ‘Our word is our bond’ is in many ways an apologia for Hill’s view of poetry and, more particularly, for his sense of himself as poet. It is as dense and allusive as much of his poetry, and so closely argued that it’s almost impossible to tease out individual threads without running the risk of damaging the entire fabric. Still, the risk is worth taking, if only because to do so helps with the reading of his new, long poem, in the publication of which Agenda had a hand.

For ever England

John Lucas, 16 June 1983

With the appearance of Sherston’s Progress in 1936, Siegfried Sassoon completed what Howard Spring, writing in the Evening Standard, called ‘the most satisfying piece of autobiography to be published in our time’. Other reviewers and commentators, then and later, seem to have agreed with Spring’s assessment. Not Hugh MacDiarmid, however. In a poem which contrasts those who went to fight in 1914 with the International Brigaders, MacDiarmid writes:



1 July 2015

Ian Penman is probably right to say that in the mid-1940s ‘vocalists had little real power: they were smiley, yes-sir emblems over the arch of touring big bands’ (LRB, 2 July). Sinatra was no yes-sir emblem, though Penman hardly does justice to the way the singer said ‘No’ – if not in thunder, then in deed. In 1943, as Martin Smith notes in When Ol’ Blue Eyes Was...


26 July 1990

Tom Shippey (LRB, 26 July) wonders where I can have been in recent years if I think that the English press praise ‘England’ when matters go well at football, but blame the ‘British’ when they go badly. Well, actually I’ve been living in England and noting that this slippage does indeed occur. Admittedly it’s happened far less often in the last two years, since my...
Towards the end of his sharply-focused review of Chinua Achebe’s book of essays Hopes and Impediments, Craig Raine remarks that ‘all minorities will treat representations of themselves as typical, whereas art deals with actualities, and not necessarily with truth and justice.’ I don’t think he means to suggest that blacks are a minority, but it is odd to imply that what is actual...
SIR: Having just returned from a year abroad, I naturally hastened to catch up with my reading of LRB. Among much that interested me I found Tom Paulin’s review of a collection of essays on Geoffrey Hill particularly stimulating, and I was very intrigued by the responses it produced. He is surely correct in wanting to challenge that view of the past elaborated in the much-praised sonnet sequence...

Fallen Language

21 June 1984

SIR: Donald Davie may well be right to say (LRB, 21 June) that I have no firm footing for distinguishing ‘acceptable from unacceptable depravities (decadent refinements) that British English, at Geoffrey Hill’s hands, indulges in’. But the point I was trying to make – admittedly an obvious one – is that language belongs within and is an expression of history. Matthew Arnold...


6 October 1983

SIR: Craig Raine is right (LRB, 6 October). Subject-matter cannot be considered apart from style. What you write about is utterly dependent for its success on how you write about it. If this weren’t so then every halting piece of doggerel in the obituary columns of local newspapers could claim kinship with, say, Ben Jonson’s great poem on the death of his first son. Donald Davie says some-where...
SIR: If I understand Donald Davie (LRB, 5 May), he wishes to challenge my claim that Hardy’s poetry is remarkable for its generosity of vision. He does this by quoting Edward Clodd’s remark that Hardy ‘was a great author: he was not a great man; there was no largeness of soul.’ Clodd’s ‘judgment’ or ‘diagnosis’ is, according to Davie, ‘the...

In 1916, D.H. Lawrence wrote to Lady Cynthia Asquith of his abiding ‘sadness’: ‘for my country, for this great wave of civilisation, 2000 years, which is now collapsing’....

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Tom Shippey, 26 July 1990

‘Of all nations’, writes Ian Ousby, ‘we’, the English, have ‘perhaps the most strongly defined sense of national identity – so developed and so stylised, in...

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Robert Crawford, 7 December 1989

Till recently, I’ve dodged most of Peter Reading’s work. He seemed so much the darling of the TLS and of a metropolitan circle whose powerfully disseminated views it is often...

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