turns acrimonious; they do not allownpolitics to dominate their lives, or theirnlove. The young couple were firstncousins who had met when Agnes wasna young girl of nine and Olaf was 17.nAgnes went home to Australia and didnnot visit England again until she wasn19, but Olaf had retained vivid memoriesnof that earlier visit and was soon innlove with her. In their long-distancencourtship lies the charm of the letters;none is reminded of Clarissa, and thentension that can be evoked in thisnliterary form.nOlaf is certain from the first: “Inremember a certain day some ten yearsnago … I, being I suppose, a romanticnkid, was wonderfully impressed. It isnrather quaint, and a little comic, butnfrom that moment I thought of littlenelse but you . . . and if I did not feelnsure, dead sure, that I could be all thatnyou ever want, indeed I would notneven try to win your love. But in mynheart I know it. I have nothing wonderfulnto offer you, but because I love younI am made strong enough to do anythingnand bear anything. You shall seenif not so, both you and I will know it.nBut it is so.”nAgnes, who returned to Australiansoon after the war broke out, was morenhesitant. “I have always talked to younabout why we should not be engagedn— about Mother, and about being toonyoung and about being so far away innthe future, etc., etc. . . . but the onenbig thing and only thing remains whichnis that yet I do not really love you. . . .nIf really I were filled with the fire younare filled with I could be old enoughnand wise enough and I could speak tonconquer Mother and all the world andnI could wait a very age.” But as thencorrespondence continues — occasionallyninterrupted by the sinking ofnthe mailship by enemy ships—Agnesnincreasingly realizes she is in love, andnthey become engaged.nLike most women of her day, Agnesnis not well-educated, at least not in thenacademic sense. But she has a good eyenand ear. The homey family outingsnand daily life in Australia, both innSydney and up in the mountains, arenrecounted with a beguiling naturalness.nBy contrast, the intellectual Olaf isninitially patronizing in the way he discussesnlofty subjects and quotes liberallynthe great books he reads. As thenyears pass, however, he comes to ad­nmire the simplicity and straightforwardnessnof her observations and arguments,nand apologizes for hisnarrogance.nHis accounts of the war and of hisnexperiences as an ambulance driver arenwell-written, if familiar. But that verbalnfacility so suitable to debate and monographnis just too stiff for letters to one’snbeloved. Only when writing of hisnfeelings or commenting on Agnes’nown letters does he relax and writenwith more ease.nThe literature of World War I is anrich and abundant collection, far morendistinguished than that of any subsequentnwar. For the first time war wasnput under the microscope, and whatnwas seen there was then described bynperhaps the best-educated generationnever to fight. And to this examinationnthey brought not only their education,nbut all the modern impulses that flourishednat the beginning of the 20thncentury: aestheticism, atheism, socialism,nand the naivete that came fromntoo many years of comfortable peacen— England had not been in any dangernof direct invasion since the Napoleonicnwars, over a hundred years earlier.nTalking Across the World reminds usnagain of not only that literary heritage,nbut that of all the many wars of ourncentury, World War I was indeed thenGreat War, precisely because it wasnapproached and fought with a peculiarlynmodern sensibility.nJudith Chettle writes from Bethesda,nMaryland.nMeasured Speechnby William C. RicenThe Selected Poems: ExpandednEdition by A.R. Ammons, NewnYork: W.W. Norton.nA maritime artist I know tells me that henonce met an eminent critic who claimednto have given up the brush and takennup the pen because he had won all thenprizes in art school. Those laurels mustnbe testimony that he was washed up—nhow could an artist of genuine importance,nhe despaired, possibly satisfy thenreigning tastes of his era?nIf the poet A.R. Ammons were tonfollow the art critic’s reasoning, he’dninstantly cease composing verse andnnnbegin discoursing on, say, “constellationsnof intention in Ginsberg’s earlynpoetry.” Ammons has won all thenprizes — the BoUingen, the MacArthur,nthe National Book Award—and holdsnan endowed chair at Cornell University.nInfluential literary critics like HaroldnBloom of Yale and Helen Vendler ofnHarvard extoll him.nAnd yet, improbable as it may seemnto those accustomed to challenging thendecisions of our literary SupremenCourt, we should be thankful indeednthat A.R. Ammons has not allowednpraise to silence his art. The critics, tonmy mind, are quite on the mark inncalling him one of the very best of ournliving poets. I would only add whatnseems to me, these days, just as important:nhe composes remarkably accessiblenpoems.nAmmons writes from a deep familiaritynwith the natural world. He is notncontent simply to offer a moody responsento a landscape. He must watchnthings move and mark the interplay ofnwild animals, evergreens, hillsides, andnman-made objects. This passage fromn”Viable” shows his eye at work:nthe caterpillar sulls on the hotnmacadamnbut then, risking, ripples tonthe bush:nthe cricket, startied, leaps thenquickest arc: the earthworm,ncasting,nnudges a grassblade, and thensharp robin strikes. . . .nAs befits a student of nature, Ammonsnalso writes from an awareness of man’snphysical and intellectual limitations. Hisnpoems preach gentie lessons in humility,nlessons comparable to those of ChinesenSung landscapes in which temples,nbridges, and fishermen are dwarfed,nphysically and philosophically, bynmountains that hover in a distant uppernspace. In “Staking Claim,” Ammonsncontrasts the autumn flight of willownleaves — “dream-wraiths song-turned,/nbent in troops of unanimity” — with thenhuman mind’s conceptual powers. Bynthe end of the poem the two are morenalike than different:nlook I said to the willowsnwhat the mindncan apprehend.nNOVEMBER 1988/41n