Proust wrote, in Time Regained, that “Style is a question not of technique, but of vision.” Technique may be said to inform and undergird the style, but the artistic vision has priority: It is the style. In Charles Edward Eaton’s recent collection, his 17th, comprising new verse (some published previously in Chronicles) and a generous selection of poems from earlier volumes that appeared between 1991 and 2002, a controlling artistic vision is everywhere. Immediate topics, or pretexts for the poems, vary greatly, but the vantage point on experience, or style of mind, is identifiable throughout, conveyed by a mature voice using a range of suitable tones, or hues, of expression. The collection adds impressively to Eaton’s distinguished achievement as an American (and Southern) poet and prose writer, in a career stretching over more than six decades.
Eaton’s early writing was shaped by his studies at Harvard with Robert Frost. A 1955 collection attracted praise from William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and Robert Lowell. James Merrill wrote to the author:
With the death of Stevens it seemed that no one would ever again command that vital intersection of thought and sensuous beauty, but you are there, with your own rhythms, and the effect is spellbinding.
Others have connected Eaton’s writing to the...