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Robert Baird

  • BuyRobert Duncan: The Ambassador from Venus by Lisa Jarnot
    California, 509 pp, £27.95, August 2013, ISBN 978 0 520 23416 1

As a boy, Robert Duncan had a recurring dream. He would imagine himself in the middle of a treeless field. The ripe grass rippled, though there was no wind, and the light, as he later remembered, ‘was everywhere’, though there was no sun to be seen. Seeing himself in the centre of a circle of children, all of them singing and playing ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’, Duncan understood that he was ‘it’: ‘the Chosen One … a “King” or victim of the children’s round dance’. From there the scene shifted underground, to a huge cavern where Duncan found himself alone with a stone chair. Again he felt himself picked out as a king, but now fear joined the feeling of lonely nobility, a sense that ‘all things have gone wrong and I am in the wrong.’ The doors of the chamber would collapse inwards under a tower of water, and some nights Duncan would watch himself die in the flood. At other times he survived, floating alone ‘over a grey and forbidding sea towards new land’.

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[*] Robert Duncan: The Collected Early Poems and Plays (California, 1040 pp., £34.95, November 2012, 978 0 520 25926 3); The H.D. Book by Robert Duncan (California, 678 pp., £25.95, January 2012, 978 0 520 94802 0).