Prince, F(rank) T(empleton)
PRINCE, F(rank) T(empleton)
Nationality: British. Born: Kimberley, Cape Province, South Africa, 13 September 1912. Education: Christian Brothers' College, Kimberley; Balliol College, Oxford; Princeton University, New Jersey, 1935–36; Study Groups Department, Chatham House, 1937–40. Military Service: Intelligence Corps, 1940–46. Family: Married Pauline Elizabeth Bush in 1943; two daughters. Career: Member of the English Department, from 1946, and professor of English, 1957–74, University of Southampton. Visiting fellow, All Souls College, Oxford, 1968–69; Clark Lecturer, Cambridge University, 1972–73; professor of English, University of the West Indies, Jamaica, 1975–78; visiting professor, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1978–80, Amherst College, Massachusetts, 1979, Washington University, St. Louis, 1980–81, Sana'a University, North Yemen, 1981–83, and Hollins College, Virginia, spring 1984. President, English Association, 1985–86. Awards: American Academy E.M. Forster award, 1982. D.Litt.: University of Southampton, 1981; D.Univ.: University of York, 1982. Address: 32 Brook vale Road, Southampton, Hampshire S02 IQR, England.
Poems. London, Faber, and New York, New Directions, 1938.
Soldiers Bathing and Other Poems. London, Fortune Press, 1954
The Stolen Heart. San Francisco, Press of the Morning Sun, 1957
The Doors of Stone: Poems 1938–1962. London, Hart Davis, 1963.
Memoirs in Oxford. London, Fulcrum Press, 1970.
Penguin Modern Poets 20, with John Heath-Stubbs and Stephen Spender. London, Penguin, 1971.
Drypoints of the Hasidim. London, Menard Press, 1975.
Afterword on Rupert Brooke. London, Menard Press, 1976.
Collected Poems. London, Anvil Press Poetry/Menard Press, and New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1979.
The Yüan Chên Variations. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1981.
Later On. London, Anvil Press Poetry, and New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1983.
Walks in Rome. London, Anvil Press Poetry and New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1987.
Collected Poems: 1935–1992. Manchester, Carcanet, and New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1993.
The Italian Element in Milton's Verse. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1954.
William Shakespeare: The Poems. London, Longman, 1963.
Editor, Samson Agonistes, by Milton. London, Oxford University Press, 1957.
Editor, The Poems, by Shakespeare. London, Methuen, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1960.
Editor, Comus and Other Poems, by Milton. London, Oxford University Press, 1968.
Translator, Sir Thomas Wyatt by Sergio Baldi. London, Longman, 1961.*
Critical Studies: F.T. Prince: A Study of His Poetry by Alka Nigam, Salzburg, University of Salzburg, 1983; "The Later Poetry of F.T. Prince" by W.G. Shepherd, in Agenda (London), 26(4), winter 1988.* * *
For more than half a century, F.T. Prince has stood fast among the tides of fashion. His verse is leisurely, eloquent, and syntactically elaborate. It suggests the spaciousness of a bygone age:
A beautiful girl said something in your praise.
And either because in a hundred ways
I had heard of her great worth and had no doubt
To find her lovelier than I thought
And found her also cleverer...
"To a Friend on His Marriage" is related to modern classics such as the Yeats of "Her Praise" and "No Second Troy" and, more remotely, the Auden of "A Bride in the 30's." Prince's poem does not, however, merely derive from these. Rather, what we have here is a remarkable absorption of sources. That is to say, the eloquence of Prince is an achievement in its own right.
Though his mode may seem essentially that of the meditative lyric, Prince has turned it to account in several ambitious monologues. Leonardo da Vinci informs his patron,
You should understand that I have plotted,
Being in command of all the ordinary engines
Of defence and offence and fifteen buildings
Less others less complete: complete, some are courts of
In a tone not dissimilar, Michelangelo surveys his old age elegiacally, but with a certain detachment:
And there is always
Some victor and some vanquished, always the fierce
And the divine idea, a drunkenness
Of high desire and thought, or a stern sadness...
This, in its turn, is related to the resigned stance imputed to Edmund Burke:
in both worlds
There is now this fistulous sore that runs
Into a thousand sinuosities; and the wound now
Opens the red west, gains new ground...
These voices have a family resemblance. They share a deliberate vocabulary and slowness of movement. The tone is essentially that of such meditative lyrics as "The Babiaantje," "The Question," and "To a Friend on His Marriage" itself. It would seem that the oeuvre of Prince adds up to a respectable contribution to modern literature by a scholar-poet.
Such a characterization of Prince, however, is not complete. He has, as most academics have not, his classic. It is a poem that lives in the mind rather than in the study. "Soldiers Bathing" is one of the few great poems of World War II, the only one perhaps that could justly be said to stand beside the classics of World War I. It is a remarkable fact that the techniques deployed in Prince's other poems do duty here: the slow-moving line, the distilled concept, the imagery refracted through a recollection of great art. Yet the total effect is, unlike the Leonardo and Michelangelo poems, urgent and poignant:
The sea at evening moves across the sand.
Under a reddening sky I watch the freedom of a band
Of soldiers who belong to me. Stripped bare
For bathing in the sea, they shout and run in the warm air;
Their flesh worn by the trade of war, revives
And my mind towards the meaning of it strives...
The plot is direct and moving. Soldiers stripped of the accoutrements of war show themselves thereby at once released and vulnerable. Such a datum need not come a poet's way once in a lifetime. The poem superbly combines story line with archetype. Further, there is a highly characteristic vision here. We are aware of a detached persona considering all of this. It is not Leonardo, not Michelangelo, but it is certainly someone not unlike Prince's presentation of those figures—erudite, distanced, eloquent. The person is a kind of ideal aesthete:
Because to love is frightening we prefer
The freedom of our crimes. Yet, as I drink the dusky air,
I feel a strange delight that fills me full,
Strange gratitude, as if evil itself were beautiful,
And kiss the wound in thought, while in the west
I watch a streak of red that might have issued from Christ's
Prince is unlikely to thank his critics for setting "Soldiers Bathing" far above the rest of his work, intelligent and informed though that work is. Notwithstanding, it will be the specialist who analyzes "The Old Age of Michelangelo" and who will go on to peruse Prince's autumnal works—thoughtful studies of the communal life of the Hasidim, of Rupert Brooke at Cambridge, of the love life of Laurence Sterne. Those who are not aware of caring especially for poetry may, on the other hand, find that they know "Soldiers Bathing" by heart.