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It is a poem of pure celebration. And he teases himself in it — when he first met her in Florence as a young man he spotted at once her "brilliant scholar's soul" because "you took notes at the same speed that I ate".

This combination of sturdy straightforwardness and a quick, dashing play of mind and wit has marked everything that James has done since he arrived in Britain. It was there in his early television reviews, where he once called the long-running TV saga Poldark "a wall of corn from Cornwall", and it was there in his marvellously funny performances on TV, announcing at midnight the arrival of the coming year. They have made New Year's Eve dull ever since he stopped doing them.

One can only be glad that he has turned these gifts again to the writing of poetry. Besides "Book Review", there are other poems here which praise the human qualities that he admires, without him showing a jot of care in some of them for political correctness. The title poem is inspired by the sight of the famous painted head of Nefertiti in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin which, kept in a flak tower for five years, survived both Allied bombing and Russian assault — and the implicit heroes are the Germans who saved it, even though he acknowledges that the tower was "built by slaves". He also throws Nefertiti a good word — she "looks as if she never heard a thing".

There are also poems about poetry that make clear how much it has always meant to him. "The Later Yeats" is an extended metaphor, brilliantly sustained, in which he portrays the array of Yeats's great late poems as

                          a majestic vessel made
Out of the sea it sails on, yet so strong
We never, watching it our whole lives long,
Doubt its solidity. All else may fade,
But this stands out as if it had been sent
To prove it can have no equivalent.

The poem also acclaims the role of music in the poem — "it holds the flow of splendour in one place" — just as in the poem "A Perfect Market", about Ronsard, he observes that there is "no mystery more profound/Than how a melody soars from a string/Of syllables". So what about James's music? Well, these are primarily discursive, not lyrical or dramatic poems, and for them he uses that established base line of English verse, the iambic pentameter. Occasionally it falters in his hands, but for the most part he uses it extremely well, speeding it or slowing it subtly, never wasting the effect of pauses at the end of the line, and giving all he has to say a steady urgency that draws us on. Some of the poems, although mostly still using that line, are composed in stanzas with rhymes, while the Yeats poem is a series of sonnets. In the Ronsard poem, he deplores the modern "flight from rhyme", which he nevertheless sees ruefully as

                       a technically precise
Reponse to the confusion of a time
When nothing, said once, merits 
hearing twice.

His own rhymes perform well their job of lifting and dropping emphasis in a well-crafted, song-like way.

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