“For me, poetry is always a search for order”
Elizabeth Jennings

I chanced upon a book of poems by Elizabeth Jennings on a dusty bookshelf of the British Library on a quiet Saturday afternoon. A few pages later, I was immediately struck by both the form and tone of her verse, that explored and laid bare the fragility of the human condition in graceful and elegant words. As a reader, I lean towards poems that rhyme, or suggest a sense of rhyme through their lines. I like how images and ideas bloom from within regular beats of sound. I admire modern poets who can make the lines of their poems conform to conventional structures on the page. Jennings became a favourite poet, both on account of the often formal structure of her verse, as well as the themes of spirituality, solitude, nature, the dimensions of time and pen portraits of still life that she captures in them.

I was delighted to find that her poem ‘Delay‘ echoed the same core of thought around which Rupert Brooke wrote his South Seas poem ‘Fafia‘,

Love that loves now may not reach me until
Its first desire is spent. The star’s impulse
Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful
And love arrived may find us somewhere else.”
Elizabeth Jennings (From Delay)

Reading Jennings is like meditation of a kind. Her poems evoke a sense of stillness. In ‘Fountain‘, she writes,
“the fountain, too fast for shadows,
Too wild for the lights which illuminate it to hold,
Even a moment, an ounce of water back;
Stare at such prodigality and consider
It is the elegance here, it is the taming,
The keeping fast in a thousand flowering sprays,
That builds this energy up but lets the watchers
See in that stress an image of utter calm,
A stillness there.” She is reported to have said that “Art, for me, is that strength, that summoning fountain.

Her poems on relationships reveal unspoken passions that surge forward between tranquil sounding lines. She writes about the absence of a person, presumably a significant other as,
It was because the place was just the same
That made your absence seem a savage force,
For under all the gentleness there came
An earthquake tremor: Fountain, birds and grass
Were shaken by my thinking of your name.” (Absence)

And sometimes, the genteel poet’s voice gives way to a human longing for closer relationships, as in ‘Friend‘ where she writes that she wants a special friend,
Who’s always on my side,
Who never cares what others say,
Who lets me come and hide
Within his shadow, in his house —
It doesn’t matter where —
Who lets me simply be myself,
Who’s always, always there.” (Friend)

You cannot fake anything if you are trying to write serious poetry” said Elizabeth Jennings. She was a serious poet, who wrote in a genuine voice that speaks gently and courteously to the reader.

If you like literary fiction, you will love The Reengineers: