I have come from India to pay my homage to Frank Prince. We all know him as a remarkable poet. It is my good luck that I know him as a remarkable poet as well as a wonderful person.
I consider this to be my privilege to remember F T Prince on his birth centenary before an august gathering of his admirers. I am embarrassed to admit that I never was his admirer – worse still I did not even know him as a poet when my Ph D supervisor suggested his name as a topic to work on. Mark Ford claims that Prince is an ironic poet. This is irony regarding his work that by the time I concluded my study from an ignorant student who had never heard the name of Prince I ended up being a total admirer of Prince as a person and as a poet.
The first impression he made on me was that of a very kind and supportive human being. My thesis is to a great extent a fruit of my labour but done with his help. I express my sincere gratitude to Professor Prince for sending some of the primary material not available in India. You have to imagine the thesis evolving in a time when there was no Internet. His help and comments and willingness to write the PREFACE have all contributed a lot to whatever value my work has. I remember Prince as a handsome, suave British gentleman with pleasing manners. He had come to my Dept at Banaras Hindu University to deliver a series of lectures. His wife accompanied him to my house for dinner. His wife very proudly and endearingly talked about her family and Prince as a young army officer. Both of them made a very happy couple.
I consider his dignified and thoughtful verse to be the outcome of this happy mind. His poetic sensibility found imaginative stimulus in ordinary, everyday experiences. “ Perhaps in reaction against early travels from South Africa, to Europe and the United States, and the Middle East during the War, I have lived in the same English town for the last twenty- five years. A poet does not need to live a special kind of life. In my experience an ordinary life, with marriage, children, friends and work, is special enough.”
This attitude makes for the fullness of life and is perhaps one of the reasons for the depth, maturity, and sense of reality, which radiated in his personality and his work. There is one more event, which left a deep impression on me. After the publication of my thesis from Austria I summarized the work in a booklet form with a view to getting it published by the WRITERS AND THEIR WORK SERIES . The point of
interest here is that on my request Prince had gone through the whole manuscript, corrected it, adding his own notes on all the pages. A very modest humanist he encircled the sentence where I had compared him with Eliot, Pound and Yeats writing “ exaggeration – omit”.[copy of thesis] Modesty accompanied with accomplishment is rare. This merit accounts for a strong individuality, which prevented him to join any literary group, which in its turn made him a class apart.
Prince is known as a master craftsman with chiseled expressions, pointed images and perfect meter. His stature as a scholar is also duly established. But I would like to remember the poet as a deft master in character studies. The Dramatic monologues on Edmond Burke, Michelangelo, King Richard the Lion-‐Hearted, Strafford-‐-‐ have an eloquence keeping with the grandeur of their historical speakers. Rupert Brook and his own self are full drawn characters. These characters -‐pop up from the pages of his verse and stand before the reader as if alive. These portraits are drawn so vividly that they are etched in the memory.
COEUR DE LION, a poem of only 30 lines paints the character of Richard 1 as a brave King of England from 1189 till his death. . In STRAFFORD Prince employs authorial narration to render the tragic situation of Thomas Wentworth, the earl of Strafford. A distinguished statesman he was impeached, found guilty and executed. In prince’s poem Strafford is a hero, a “fettered angel”, and “an eagle torn by jackals.”. A great life was finished at the hands of corrupt judges, courtiers, mob and envy and the tragic picture of a man with piercing mind and dark eyes shinning with ambition haunts us.
In many of Prince’s poems, the central character’s power of action is limited. Yet these characters in all their helplessness and tragic beauty stand tall. In SOLDIERS BATHING, –a classic now— the soldiers as individuals are unable to extricate themselves from the machinery of killing. Yet these unknown soldiers have made a place in the hearts of readers around the world because the grief the poem expresses, is “deep and immediate “and “it succeeds at the same time in taking a longer view of suffering; it offers a profundity and even a message of love.” In THE OLD AGE OF MICHELANGELO the dream of the sculptor and painter sleeps in stones waiting to be unveiled. In the celebrated statue of David
Luminous as a grapeskin, the cold marble mass Of melted skeins…
as Romain Rolland says all of Michelangelo is there. The creator is definitely and should be larger than the creation and so is Michelangelo. Similarly we love Cumean Sibyl for her ruined quest that closes in wasteland from which no salvation is possible.
AFTERWORD ON RUPERT BROOKE gives us an imaginative insight into the life, love, jealousies and the times of Rupert Brooke who was considered “A symbol of youth for all time.” On his premature death Winston Churchill wrote in LONDON TIMES: “… he was all that one would wish England’s noblest sons to be….” However, the publication of Brooke’s biography by Christopher Hassall and his letters by Geoffrey Keynes lay bare the facts of his life. AFTERWORD though treats Brooke with sympathy, is rather a correction of the distortion in the legendry fame he won during his lifetime. Yet it is delightful to watch through the poem a handsome youth walking on the long grass “in wet cow -pasture,” his tender intimacy with Noel, his complex love relationship and “passionate misadventure” with Katherine Cox, his horrible visions of middle and old age, his madness at the thought of “Birth, growth, decay, and death and dirt in all of them”.
The most charming personality that emerges from his verse is that of the man Prince in MEMOIRS. MEMOIRS is in six parts –“an unexpected result of the months I spent in Oxford in 1968 and 1969.” He unravels the meaning of his inner biography which had lain buried long in his consciousness with the help of five motifs –his mother, father, Santa Angela, Plato and Shelly –persons who had made significant impressions on his psyche. The strange looking past is viewed from the threshold of middle age. His intensely personal visions and experiences are expressed in the manner of confessional poets like Robert Lowell. At the same time there is nothing morbid about the private self of Prince; we feel an identity with it. The poem confirms the praise Lee Harwood has bestowed in the publisher’s blurb: “I adore Prince’s writing this poem just as I adore Wordsworth for writing THE PRELUDE…. And it is an autobiography, a very moving and often very witty and dry analysis of what has gone into his past to shape him into the man he is now, and has been.”
What I remember about Prince for these characters is that these studies are “enriched and refined by an informed sense of history and a long acquaintance with the European tradition of culture.”(David Cecil and Allen Tate, Eds. Modern Verse in English,1958.)The two great Victorians — Tennyson and Browning– have given us either character or
the background: Browning- remarkable insights into the minds of characters and in Tennyson bewitching background crowns the work. In the poems of Modernist Prince the process is complex. The background shapes the character and becomes responsible for his actions. The background thus becomes a character itself. A sense of l’histoire morale contemporaine, not only adds interest to characters but adds tremendous value to his poetry. In the longer narratives the figures emerge against the background of vast panorama of history and the hum and buzz of contemporary social life, thus almost taking the form of miniature epics. Miniature epic becomes a suitable form in the hands of serious poets. According to Northrop Frye, “the later poems of Eliot, of Edith Sitwell, and many cantos of Pound” are little epics of modern times. We can say exactly the same thing about the longer poems of F T Prince, which are the miniature epics in Frye’s sense not only about our own times but about the past too. Prince reclaims that portion of the past, which has relevance to our own times. His longer poems take on encyclopedic structure whether in subjective mode as in MEMOIRS IN OXFORD or objective as in AFTERWORD ON RUPERT BROOKE. Both these miniature epics like those of Pound, Eliot and Sitwell, are predominantly ironic. Heroism is not excluded; in the words of Northrop Frye “heroic action is transferred … from the leader to humanity as whole,” as in DRYPOINTS OF THE HASIDIM.
In MEMOIRS, the personal memories of the poet are presented against the background of English history, from the time of poet’s birth till his maturity. In the poet’s mind England is “like a damp-stained book”. The imperial glory of Britain is seen as declining. MEMOIRS refers to this change as “ crisis, nineteen thirty-one”. Prince calls the miserable condition of the world after the second world war as the “Bad weather of our century.” The new spirit of the times both reflected and shaped the whole range of this generation’s thought and behavior. MEMOIRS captures a sense of confusion and turbulence as part of contemporary human condition .
In AFTERWORD ON RUPERT BROOKE the major events of Brooke’s life are seen influenced by the forces of his times. His jealousy, his views on parents as “grotesque/ Encumbrances”, his love affairs with many girls and his misery, his “politics flushed with the young easy romance/ And fun,” his wide circle of “advanced” friends, all these were deeply influenced by the times in which he lived. He is revealed as the representative symbol of the spiritual malaise of his time.
In DRYPOINTS OF THE HASIDIM the precarious lives and society of the Eastern European Jews in exile, living in he eighteenth and nineteenth centuries represent the unrolling cycles of human life, it’s suffering and pain. Through the epic saga of the Hasidim, Prince presents the essential human condition, one of heroic endeavours, toil and suffering. The life of the Hasids, extending over generations gives the poem an encyclopedic form, which according to Northrop Frye “concerns itself with the cycle of human life…” repeating itself. Prince extends the scope of cyclical Hasidic life to embrace modern times as well. The helplessness felt by the Jews is the same as that suffered by religious people of our times:
It is the same faith, the same pain In those brethren of the spotted robe,
The same in us, the same in them Dying and yet surviving…
A sense of contemporary history is a strong point in all these character studies. To take a person from actual life and transmute him into a poetic figure which as a symbol, can communicate a vision and complexities of value– is Prince’s achievement.
Once somebody asked me the reasons why Prince failed to catch the literary attention in UK and I was reminded of the literary giant Matthew Arnold whose popularity was eclipsed during his lifetime by the glamour of Tennyson and Browning but a confidant Arnold wrote to his mother, “I am likely enough to have my turn as they have had theirs”. His expectation that his turn would come had a kind of fulfillment in 20th century. This symposium held in the honour of Prince is a clear proof that Prince’s turn to be recognized as an important poet has come. He has won a very high place among the poets of 40s—a place he undoubtedly deserves.