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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

One-Way Song

Wyndham Lewis

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Title: One-Way Song
Author: Wyndham Lewis
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1933
Length: 132 pages
Availability: in Collected Poems and Plays - US
in Collected Poems and Plays - UK
in Collected Poems and Plays - Canada
  • First published by Faber and Faber on 2 November 1933, in an edition of 1500
  • Published by Methuen on 25 February 1960, with a Foreword by T.S.Eliot
  • The Methuen edition was of 1500 copies; less than a 100 were remaindered in 1972
  • Included in the 1979 (rev. 2003) Carcanet edition of Lewis' Collected Poems and Plays (edited by Alan Munton, with an Introduction by C.H.Sisson)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : energetic and quite gripping verse

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Republic . 12/8/1934 James Neugass
New Statesman . 2/12/1933 G.W.Stonier
New Statesman . 2/4/1960 Walter Allen
The Spectator . 1/12/1933 Stephen Spender
The Spectator . 4/3/1960 John Wain
TLS . 15/3/1934 .
TLS . 15/4/1960 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "This book is finely planned. It contains five separate poems, but they are so ordered that the book has not only immense variety, but also the strength of unity. (...) One-Way Song is a didactic poem. (...) It is a poem of great interest even to those who do not usually read contemporary poetry." - Stephen Spender, The Spectator

  • "I am repelled by it, as I am by all Lewis's writings." - John Wain, The Spectator

  • "The manner is personal and the verse incisive." - Times Literary Supplement (1934)

  • "The work contains throughout its frantic progress some passages of stunning vigour." - Times Literary Supplement (1960)

  • "(T)he poem cannot be fully understood without some knowledge of Wyndham Lewis's prose work. (...) From the very first page of any book of Lewis, no reader remains neutral: you are either attracted or repelled." - T.S.Eliot, from his Foreword to the 1960 edition

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The title page from the 1933 edition of the volume One-Way Song (usefully reproduced, along with numerous other illustrations, in the excellent 1979 Carcanet edition of Collected Poems and Plays) gives the titles of the four poems in this collection in order, in ever-larger fonts, building up to the title-piece (or -section), with the final brief Envoi then presented appropriately diminished in size. The growth in size and intensity (and then the quick rounding off) mirrors that of the poems themselves. Though there are four poems (and the Envoi), One-Way Song can be considered one larger sequence, with the title-poem as emphatic centrepiece.
       Wyndham Lewis is not known as a poet; indeed, the Carcanet volume contains only One-Way Song, the brief Grignolles, and two short, previously unpublished poems. One-Way Song is, however, more than a literary oddity, and should be of interest even to those who are not specifically Lewis-fans.
       Lewis was a confident writer. Early in If So the Man You Are he writes

       Verse for verse
I can stand toe to toe with Chapman -- or
With Humbert Wolfe or Kipling or Tagore !
I link my arm with the puff-armlets of Sweet Will,
I march in step with Pope, support Churchill.
The tudor song blossoms again when I speak.
       These lines give some indication of his influences and interests -- some of them quite unexpected -- as well, to some extent, as dating him. The "tudor song" may come unexpectedly, but that was one of his ambitions. As to the influences: Nobel laureates Kipling and especially Tagore were far more popular in that time than in ours (as was Humbert Wolfe). The Churchill he refers to is Charles (1731-1764), who was, along with the also-invoked John Cleveland, one of Lewis' "poetic models" (so Alan Munton). These, and others mentioned, were the poets he measured himself against -- and he was right, at least in part, in not being completely outclassed by most of them.
       The first poem, Engine Fight-Talk offers some lecturing; indeed, Lewis said it could be seen as "a dramatization of a schoolmaster". He offers some unpopular opinions -- of "the marxist mahomet / Of that false colossus", for example. He judges the world around him, and speaks on a variety of topics. Nevertheless:
     I turned up my notes on magic, engineering, Irish stews.
But poetry came out first.
       And poetry continues to come out first -- surprisingly, and reassuringly.
       The second poem, The Song of the Militant Romance, was originally titled The Duc de Joyeux Sings, apparently a pun on James Joyce's name; the Carcanet edition includes a drawing with the same title, the figure clearly Joycean in appearance.
       "Break out word-storms !" he says there, and he does his best to achieve this. "Better a bad word than none", Lewis insists, and the words, bad and otherwise, gush forth.
As to the trick of prosody, the method of conveying the matter,
Frankly I shall provoke the maximum of saxophone clatter
       Lewis embraces literary freedom -- "Let words forsake their syntax and ambit" he suggests -- but is surprisingly traditional in his approach, with many of his rhymes and "fourteeners".
       The third poem is If So the Man You Are, comes with a litany of "The man I am". An "Enemy Interlude" interrupts it, with considerable biographical material.
       The fourth poem is One-Way Song. "All in this bitch of an epoch is for Backness" was the schoolmasterly complaint in the first poem, and here it is the focus. Lewis insists that man must look forward:
Try and walk backwards: you will quickly see
How you were meant only one-way to be !
       The cadenced rhymed verse is full of vigour -- and anger too. But it is a curiously tempered temper, constrained by the form. It reads well, with a flow that seems almost at odds with Lewis' intent. But at least it does move relentlessly only in that one direction: forward.

       These are oddly didactic poems. They are almost rousing, though they have lost something outside their historical setting. It is not great verse, but it is accomplished verse -- and little which is really bad. Lewis manages a light touch even when he is most heavy-handed.
       An interesting collection.

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One-Way Song: Wyndham Lewis: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       (Percy) Wyndham Lewis (1884-1957) was a noted artist and modernist author.

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