John Bayley

  • With Friends Possessed: A Life of Edward FitzGerald by Robert Bernard Martin
    Faber, 313 pp, £17.50, February 1985, ISBN 0 571 13462 9

A book could be – perhaps already has been – written on art whose success is connected with getting outside the idiom and context of its age. Such art reassures by its apparent timelessness, and depends on the reassurance of anachronism for its populist impact. When Gray observed that ‘the language of the age is never the language of poetry’ he was noting something that the common reader usually takes for granted. Tennyson achieved wide popularity by making poetry sound old-fashioned in a new way. The idiom of The Shropshire Lad was quaint in its time but became the more modern the more it caught on. FitzGerald’s version of Omar Khayyam, which became the most popular poem of the century, is sui generis in the same way.

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