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Vincent Buckley

Aspects of the imagination
June-July 2006, no. 282

Vincent Buckley

Aspects of the imagination
June-July 2006, no. 282

This is one way of doing it:

No New Thing

 No new thing under the sun:
The virtuous who prefer the dark;
Fools knighted; the brave undone;
The athletes at their killing work;
The tender-hearts who step in blood;
The sensitive paralysed in a mood;
The clerks who rubber-stamp our deaths,
Executors of death’s estate;
Poets who count their dying breaths;
Lovers who pledge undying hate;
The self-made and self-ruined men;
The envious with the strength of ten.

They crowd in nightmares to my side,
Enlisting even private pain
In some world-plan of suicide:
Man, gutted and obedient man,
Who turns his coat when he is told,
Faithless to our shining world.
And hard-faced men, who beat the drum
To call me to this Cause or that,
Those heirs of someone else’s tomb,
Can’t see the sweeter work I’m at,
The building of the honeycomb.

The ‘Preacher’ who tells us in Ecclesiastes that there is ‘no new thing under the sun’ is the one who sums up human life as ‘a vapour’s vapour’, and there are few moments in his lamentation when he does not sound like a beleaguered man. In prose or in poetry, Vincent Buckley (1925–88) could sound like his sibling, though it was also often his pleasure to ironise the ironist. He approved of people’s fighting their corner, but, like most of us, he preferred not to be cornered in the first place. I think of ‘No New Thing’ as one of his tutelary poems; stark-eyed about the troubles to hand, or conceived of, he mounted defences instinctively, of a characteristic and often of a complex kind.

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