Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bacon’s quality as a poet

Bacon’s quality as a poet

One of the arguments against the idea of Bacon as Shake-Speare is that “he couldn’t write good poetry” or at least “not as good as Shake-Speare”. Often these critics will point at his Psalm translations as evidence. This post is just to address his quality as a poet. Bacon's translations of some of the Psalms, were published just before he died, and written, as the preface states, from his sick-bed, over 30 years since the major Shake-Speare poems, and an unknown time after the Sonnets were completed. Translating sacred literature into rhyming metrical English verse is no easy task. John Milton also turned his hand to attempting the same thing with the Psalms, and his results are certainly in no way superior to Bacon's. But as to whether or not these have any quality as poetry, let's move past bias. Please read the following passage from Jean Overturn Fuller's biography of Francis Bacon:

"Sir Sidney Lee, who was a Stratfordian, but neither a poet nor a poetry critic, asserted that Bacon's "effort to write verse" (that is in the translations) sufficiently proved him incapable of having written poetry assigned to Shakespeare. Whilst I, as, in a modest way, a poet, made quite a different estimation, I might, as a Baconian, be taxed with bias, in a sense opposite to Lee's. What was therefore needed was a critic who would judge Bacon's verse without knowing whose it was; a witness unawares. I sent two samples, including the above, to Mr. Martin Booth, poet, winner of a number of poetry prizes, poetry critic for the Times Literary Supplement, Times Educational Supplement, Poetry Review etc and publisher of modern poetry from his Sceptre Press. Except that I told him the enclosed verse translations were not by myself, I gave him no clue as to the authorship, but asked him whether he would take them for the work of a scholar who had written practically no verse except for the enclosed, or a part of the work of a major poet. Mr. Booth replied:

"The mastery of subtle techniques, usually lacking in the "initiate" (ie the amateur poet), are present here. Structure tight and controlled, neat, subtle and forceful, using the poetic imagination to express the original, also the use of imagery. If it was a modern, I'd say the person had written little because of the cliché imagery, but if the person is pre-Eliot, then - yes. They must either have written other verse and destroyed it. Has read very widely. Too good for a non-poet. A poetically knowledgeable person. The work of a poet who has written...has impulsive sense of the intention of the original writer. No awful jarring smashes at the literary face that occur in premature writing tightly controlled: metre firm, seldom fails if at all; Rhyme good if a little old-fashioned, and rhythm very good. So, who is it?"

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