The Silence of Green

Extract from review of The Silence of Green by Daniel Weissbort in PNReview 191: January-February 2010

To my mind, this poet’s collection evinces the merits of approaching, in a spirit of judicious tranquillity allied to a scrupulous attention to detail, what is often seen as ordinary or humdrum, that which hides, to use his own expression, under ‘the silence of green’. I think that what he accomplishes is of considerable significance, re-directing our attention to what is about us, and removing it somewhat from obsession with exotica glimpsed or imagined. [He] is concerned with the realia of life and … in this spirit perhaps he re-introduces into the poetic lexicon words which many may feel belong exclusively to the natural sciences – words such as ‘photosynthesis’ – but doing so without apparent strain, because his need evidently is for precision and un-ambiguity … observing almost microscopically the world about us all. David Morphet, in short, writes with care and, above all, love and compassion, conveying a sense of wonder at a natural force that has entered into his garden and governs its growth as much as it does that of what remains of a wider natural world. His attention to sound and structure should not surprise us, part and parcel … of a morphologically botanical approach to the composition of lyric verse. I end with [his] own words, taken from his generous response to some questions I put to him.

My poetry depends on ‘restlessness’, the characteristics of [animals’] speed and movement. You cannot say that about plants! I am, however, constantly struck by our physical and emotional dependence on them … We are also interested in them for themselves, their colour, variety, shape etc. Above all, their silence – therapeutic in its contrast to the cacophony of our daily lives. Next the complex unseen processes of growth – what happens within root, leaf, stem or trunk. Thirdly their omnipresence … Lastly, the fact that they do not need us, whereas we need them … I like poems to have both song and rhetoric. I also like my work to be as clear as possible … I don’t mind using unusual words where I think they earn their place, but abhor anything that looks like obscurity for obscurity’s sake.

The Angel and the Fox

Professor John Crook, University of Cambridge, reviewing in The Eagle, 2003

“This is poetry, all right:  David Morphet commands and wrestles with words (‘another round with sly, elusive words,/ which duck and weave’), freed, now, from the diplomatic necessity of using them to say what others direct should be said.  He commands, also, metrical structures and rhyme-patterns.  The poems derive from particular personal experiences and impressions –  more places, as in his earlier volume [Seventy-Seven Poems] – Kyoto, the Acropolis revisited, Coniston Water, his native north Yorkshire dales; more scenes in hospital wards, diplomacy, his mother’s tale of encountering a meteorite.  There is a surprising lot of geology … The first section, ‘The Angel and the Fox’, is self-reflective, about the two pulls that create tension within a personality, noble aspiration on the one hand and canny se débrouiller on the other …

“Plain speaking is Wordsworthianly important in David Morphet’s poems.  The words are ordinary words, not fancy ones: only seldom … comes a phrase like ‘ … the tide’s consternation’.  And in the satires especially, though not exclusively, there are sharp descents of register into colloquialism and jargon (‘The fox is a bookie; takes his cut/ even before the field has got away’).  The things expressed are also ordinary and familiar enough : – not banal or superficial, that’s different, for this poet’s reactions call across to our reactions and elicit, time and again, the response ‘Yes, that’s exactly so’.  Thus, from the love poem ‘Heights’: ‘You are so much a part of me,/ I know that where you stand, I stand./ You are the lens through which I see/ love focussed till I understand/ its sharpness and integrity’.  It is the exactitude of the words (‘High kites shunting in the sky’) that works the poetic trick.”

Louis Jennings MP, Editor of the New York Times and Tory Democrat

Full text of the review in the Times Literary Supplement of May 24th, 2002, by E S Turner

“The best-remembered journalists of the Victorian age are probably Sir William Howard Russell, whose Crimean despatches to The Times rocked a government and W. T. Stead, who sensationally exposed child prostitution.  Forgotten by all but David Morphet is Louis Jennings, the London-born Editor of the New York Times, who at thirty-five toppled Tammany Hall’s “Boss” Tweed, the Moriarty of corruption in New York between 1868 and 1871.  This was muck-raking of the highest order, all the more remarkable for being performed by a strong-nerved Englishman, when American editors had funked the challenge, or were themselves in Tweed’s camp.  The damning evidence was virtually dropped in Jennings’ lap, but his fiery pen exploited it brilliantly.

“A tailor’s son of modest education but high ambition, Jennings became a protégé of John Delane (Editor of The Times, 1841-77), who first sent him to India as a correspondent.  In 1864, he witnessed the horrors at the “great Juggernaut saturnalia” and in later years was “given to claiming that he had more or less single-handedly put an end to the practice of self-immolation under the Juggernaut”.  Next, he reported vividly on an America wasted by civil war and distracted by such bizarreries as the Fenian assault on Canada.  What he really wanted was an editorial post on The Times and a political career.  A brief stint as leader-writer showed he lacked “the Olympian tone”, and it was then that he took off for New York.  After six years, he returned to Britain and was taken up by John Murray, writing copiously for the Quarterly Review and editing the Croker Papers.  Standing as a protectionist, he was elected MP for Stockport, later courting Lord Randolph Churchill’s Tory Democrats (honest, educated working men with traditional values).  This proved an unhappy tale.

“The judicious Morphet is in full control of his subject, but his problem is twofold:  that Jennings’ finest hour came too early, and that the Indian and American backgrounds hold more fascination than the British.  As they said in New York, Jennings had “an exceptional talent for stirring up the animals”, but a passion for polemics, says Morphet, was his limitation.  So was “an impetuous streak in his temperament which, allied with strong partisan political feelings, led him to fatal miscalculations”.

Professor John North, University of Waterloo, reviewing in Victorian Periodicals Review Volume 36, Number 3, Fall 2003.

“This biography is full of detail about some of the major Victorian periodical publications, their policies, staffing, and struggles.  Its vignettes of mid-century India and post-bellum America through the eyes of this remarkable English journalist, as well as the details of Jennings’ career, family life, and private convictions, are plain good reading.

“David Morphet has had a career in the British Diplomatic Service, the Department of Energy (representing the UK on various international energy bodies), and in industry.  His style is refreshingly direct and free from academic cant; his research is meticulous and his inferences judicious; he supplies a solid index of names, topics, events, titles of publications; and a dozen of illustrations of people, title pages, cartoons and mss., lightly annotated and .. conveniently grouped by topic.”

Michael S Sweeney, Utah State University, reviewing in American Journalism Spring 2003

Louis Jennings MP would serve as a key resource for historians examining the New York Times and the Tweed Ring …  Given Morphet’s extensive … search for primary documents about Jennings, this biography likely will remain the standard.”

The Victorian Web has a page on Jennings.