Be Seated, Thou

Abse, Dannie

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: May-22-2001


What is the nature of your country? the voice of authority asks. "Its frontiers keep changing," the refugee answers. ("Refugee," p. 72) For Dannie Abse the frontiers of imagination continue to expand, though he is more than a half century into the project of poetry. However, the nature of his country remains unchanged. That country includes medicine, literature, history, a Welsh and Jewish heritage, a strong narrative voice, and intelligent wit. As Stanley Moss writes on the back cover of Be Seated, Thou, the country also includes "mystery, moral sunlight, a gift for the simple truth."

Dannie Abse's earlier volume of Collected Poems was entitled White Coat, Purple Coat (1991) and represented his work from 1948 to 1988. The present volume includes two books of new poems that were published in England between 1989 and 1998: On the Evening Road (1994) and Arcadia, One Mile (1998).


Few of Dannie Abse's new poems deal directly with illness or medicine. "Child Drawing in a Hospital Bed" (p. 88) tenderly evokes a sick girl whose face is "white as leukemia" as she draws fantastic shapes with crayons and pencils. "Alzheimer's" is even more evocative. "Absolutely nothing," goes the poem. "8 jars of nothing . . . when the electric / in the high bedroom / at last goes out." (p. 86)

Many of these poems deal with historical, religious, or literary themes. In "Talking to Blake" (p. 5) the poet encounters the ghost of William Blake who commands him, "Write visionary lines that give a moral light . . . " But the writer answers, "Most poets make / a pale sound now," confessing to our age's "smoldering word fires" and "permutations of despair." At this point Blake lowers his candle and concludes, "the Rose of English poetry is sick."

Abse brings additional historical figures to life in "Meurig Dafydd to his Mistress" (p. 19), "Ghosting for Mayakovsky" (p. 24), and "The Lament of Heledd" (p. 62). The book ends with a long tour-de-force poem entitled "Events leading to the Conception of Solomon, the Wise Child" (p. 110), an innovative retelling of the story of David and Bathsheba.


Sheep Meadow

Place Published

Riverdale, N.Y.



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