In the Blood

Frank Kermode writes:

This memoir takes its title and its epigraph from Wordsworth:

I have owed to them\ In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,\ Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart.

The poet laureate thus salutes a distinguished predecessor. Yet there is nothing particularly Wordsworthian about Andrew Motion’s book. The only character who uses the expression ‘in the blood’ is the poet’s father, and what he means is that when the time comes Andrew is bound to enjoy hunting. There is little evidence here of childish wildness or wickedness, no hint of Wordsworth’s animating discipline of fear – ‘more like a man/Flying from something that he dreads, than one/Who sought the thing he loved’ – and even less in the way of ‘aching joys’ and ‘dizzy raptures’. Nor does Motion’s bear much resemblance to other classic accounts of childhood; though sometimes movingly and expertly sad, he is normally rather sedate, with a matching prose style that offers nothing in the least like those huge combing sentences that break over the head of Proust’s boy, and none of those uncanny spots of time that in their various ways obsessed both Proust and Wordsworth. Nor are there glimpses of a shining angel infancy like Vaughan’s.

(LRB 7 September 2006)

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