Frank Kermode having now become 'Sir Frank', it seems a good moment to take a look back over his remarkable career: though by no means because that career is at an end, for he is producing at such a rate just now that it is quite a job to keep up with him. Very broadly, one can think of his career so far as falling into four stages. The first stage, from Romantic Image (1957) to Puzzles and Epiphanies (1962), was very much imbued with Symboliste theory, and Kermode was ready to go along with the notions of the autonomy and organic unity of the work of art (and with the word 'art' itself) and with the identity of form and meaning. Merely - though of course it was not a small 'merely' - he argued against the hermetic tendencies of Symboliste aesthetics. He praised Yeats for insisting that poetry was made for ordinary human beings and for ignoring the forbidding notice 'No through road to action', and he contested the idea, implicit in Eliot's 'dissociation of sensibility', that to embrace Donne you had to give up Milton. It was a stage in which, not for the last time, Kermode offered himself as a reconciler and peacemaker. Romantic Image, moreover, in the way it pursued a certain figure, that of the Dancer, through innumerable avatars, anticipated the long vistas of his later work.
LRB 7 March 1991 | PDF Download