Sunday 28 June 2009

After Nature by W.G. Sebald

The thing with blank verse is that you can mentally string it back into prose and it often reads equally well either way.

The thing with Sebald's prose is that it always seemed poetic to me, in a forlorn, elegiac way.

The thing here, in the three blank-verse poem/essays that constitute 'After Nature' is the music imposed by the line-breaks, the halting rhythms that emerge, the occasional breaks from the controlled if gloomy, peripatetic Sebaldian tone into something more abstract and fraught.

The first and second poems are closer to versified approximations of typical Sebald material - essays on Matthias Grunewald (which made me take a new look at Grunewald's works, not particular favourites of mine in the past apart from the cool monsters), botanist Georg Steller, they use biographical facts as a peg on which to hang reflections on our ongoing assault on nature and one another. The last, autobiographical, piece, delves into Sebald's own life and family history to reflect on the burden of history and ends with an inspired segue into a vision of Alexander the Great contemplating the continent of Africa - a prelude and overture to so much of the colonial history Sebald so often looks back on and deplores in his other works, and in that sense an effective prelude to themes and concerns that were later explored again in his prose.

Excellent stuff. A book I shall have to read again several times to fully grasp.

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