Marriage, mortality, memory, the onset of middle age and the pressure of children criss-cross Andrew Motion's latest collection. Should we treat the vivid images and incidents that comprise this volume as fragments to be fused into a unity? We might try to construct a single protagonist: a man entering mid-life, married, a father, aware of his own mortality and that of others, slipping at moments through the doors of memory into his childhood, into his adolescence, into an earlier, failed relationship. We could take up the hint of the title and propose a thematic unity, the workings of love in one life - or more precisely, if we recall the Browning poem from which the title comes, the pursuit of a love which is always elusive: 'Still the same chance! she goes out as I enter.' Or we might follow the prompting of the blurb, which proffers 'marriage' as the governing formal idea. But it is questionable how far we should see these poems as the limbs of Osiris, to be gathered into the unity of one self, story or structure. That was once the favoured approach to Modernist poetry; but Motion's poetry is, in some ways at least, Post-Modernist. It gestures towards a coherence that is not achieved, that breaks down in blankness, disconnection and inconsequence. Love in a Life offers anecdotes in search of a narrative.
LRB 21 February 1991 | PDF Download