When Charles Causley's Collected Poems was published in 1975, reviewers in American magazines generally praised his work but somehow managed to relegate him to the limbo of minor poets. By focusing on his mastery of the ballad, they may have given the impression of a Johnny One-Note who, in his idiosyncratic disregard for the main currents of modernism, was engaged in an attempt to write as if Pound and Eliot had not existed. Here, in the opening stanzas of a poem in a characteristic mode, Causley chronicles the fortunes of errant youth:
My friend Maloney, eighteen,
Swears like a sentry.
Got into trouble two years back
With the local gentry.
Parson and squire's sons
Informed a copper.
The magistrate took one look at Maloney.
Fixed him proper.
This is squarely in the honorable line of descent that begins with the anonymous folk ballads of the late Middle Ages and counts among its later scions Davidson and Hardy. But what is one to make of verse like this, with its comic rhymes and erratic meters, when it issues from a poet of the present day? The tradition of English modernism, while catholic enough...