"The unexamined life is not worth living (ho de anexetastos bios ou biōtos anthrōpoi)."


René Weis, Professor of English at University College London (areas of interest: Shakespeare and Renaissance literature; modern literature and drama.) July 2011 & Jan 2012:
“I read through Harry’s volume of poetry and enjoyed it very much indeed .... Harry writes in tongues, doesn’t he? The English language was invented for people like him. He has such a wonderful ear, and I think his best poems sing .... His verse clearly flows from the heart, and strikes me as timeless.”

Edwin Muir, the noted Orcadian poet, novelist, translator, & literary figure, wrote to Harry shortly before he died, saying “I think you are the best lyric poet writing today.”

Harry Haines’ poetry is not very good: It is simply brilliant. Don’t take my word for it - read Harry.

His poetry is personal, which directly transmits, and his style is natural, flowing, and approachable. His expression is crystal clear, with instant and sustained impact which accumulates to deeply move. He doesn’t hide anything: Like a limpid pool, his verse is transparent, so that you can gaze into its depths. His verse is engagingly understandable, readable, and often pleasurable, a real joy for those inured to the obscurity of much that is passed off as deep. For me, I am often left wondering after reading modern poetry, “What was all that about? What did it mean? How is this relevant to me or anyone else?” Perhaps this is one factor why poetry is comparatively little read these days. Tennyson made a mint out of his verse. At least you know what Victorian poets were on about, even if their content to my taste can be relatively trite. Obscurity & profundity are of course entirely different: The one is a failure to communicate &/or a lack of meaning or significant content in the first place; the other is the life blood of great writing. You always know what Harry’s poetry is about, despite its multi-levels and multiplicity of meanings. He demonstrates that clarity can be combined with profundity (and really the two are closely linked, despite the consummate difficulty in achieving this). Recall for instance the “Beowulf scop” (“bard”), the Gawain Poet, Chaucer ... and Shakespeare. There is in addition, no impression of self-conscious striving in Harry’s poetry (nor, amazingly so, in its composition) - he remains simply and scintillatingly himself.

Harry says that for him, poetry should have both meaning and music, and certainly his work reflects this. His work is strewn with jewel-like metaphors. For instance, in his poem “Impressions Late Evening” are the lines:
A sports car changes gear for the corner,
Its voice breaking to solicit
Dreams of youth to follow.
With the multiple harmonics of the breaking of the male voice at the gear change into manhood, and hints of all that this entails.

He entrains alliteration and internal rime frequently. An exuberant example of both being used together, is his poem “Laughter” (the first poem in the web page “Poems of the Joy of Living” on this web site):
The joy and the boy of the bouncing
Belly of ballyhoo, bursting of seams
And dreams blown up on exploding breath
Into a mixture of rollicking
Rainbows and stars and fairs
Of music, with no cares
And no heads to ache.
O the heart’s hallelujahs make
Men free and alive and long after
Chuckle the echoes of their laughter…
He deploys a wide variety of stanza lengths & patternings. He has a distinct style of punctuation, which is somewhat reminiscent of Shakespeare, in that his verse often has long bursts of lyricism barely contained within sequences of commas. In general, this lyrical flow has the effect of unleashing the Muse in flights of “steams of consciousness”, and enables a reciter with more latitude of interpretation; and more importantly, the listener the space to have their own reactions & thoughts. More specifically, there is a tendency to start a poem or passage with more tightly grouped phrasing, followed by the exhilarating opening up of the throttle as if on a powerful motorbike, sometimes culminating in a smooth fast gear change down into a profound and transcendent ending.

Another aspect of his art is his range of imagination and subject. There are perennial themes for verse, and rightly so - the musing on love, death, courage, the beauty of nature, and so on. Harry treats all these. He also imbues with lyricism many other much less likely subjects, such as modern science. Take for instance his new poem “Genesis”, written after hearing the news of the discovery that there might be a sub-atomic particle that travels faster than the speed of light (thus upsetting Einstein’s thinking on physics):
Eternally I was there
At the flying birthday of the stars,
Believing how to bear
The miracle of living till my tears
Gave me eyes to see
What gave the light to all over all.
And when what was to be
I knew in the beginning with no end,
My tongue told the word
To come as it had been for ever
In my ears and I heard.

And then I became.
Slowly taking shape, taking form,
Conscious of the claim
For my making in the me and mine.
Joining there the two,
Death and victory, beginning, end,
Even as I grew
Into the one that was always
On the day of all
Days, before the flying stars were born.
I am eternity.
Mirroring this multiplicity of subject, is a very wide compass of moods, emotions, and states of mind. Although much of his verse is joyful, even exuberant, some of it skirts the boundaries of taboos, airing issues not often spoken about, and asking soul-searching questions that need to be asked. Although there is a conspicuous absence of what my wife aptly calls “fluffy bunny poems”, there are however plenty of gentle pleasant and lyrical pieces. This makes for a rewarding, thought provoking, and healthy mix.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch commented that a capital difficulty of verse is “of bridging the flat intervals between high moments.” I cannot recall any flat intervals in Harry’s poems; they are all muscle. This has a unusual result: It is difficult to notice liftable quotes or to summarize his poems by quoting parts, because every line is quotable, and necessary for the cumulative effect. He is straight & unerringly to the point. He sometimes cuts through politically correct blinkers and hobbles to expose the searing truth, with profound decency. There is constant onward movement through his verse: He doesn’t hang around. Like many great artists, you cannot anticipate what he is going to say next, except that it will be an exhilarating surprise which both grips the attention and is continually refreshing.

Alongside this, his poems are characteristically multi-faceted and multi-layered. Certainly on first reading I have missed much of the depth of meaning in his poems. For instance, his poem “Looking at a House being Built” (the first in his latest book) initially came over to me as a very pleasant poem of simple contentment in the everyday realities of life. At a subsequent re-reading, two new levels of meanings hit me in quick succession. It seemed to me that on a higher level it was also an extended metaphor of human life; then on a higher level again, a transcendent expression of the wonderful “suchness” and “nowness” of the everyday life (the experience of which Buddhism is more focused about than the western tradition) that we all lead, though we are often oblivious to it ... after all we’ve got to “get ahead”, haven’t we just.
But after all, what more
Can you make of a house?
A door for entries,
A door for escapes,
A window to look through
And let in the light,
And in its centre
The gathering hearth;

All else elaborates
Past our designation.
A door is open
Or a door is shut
And we pass through to come
Or go; nothing more.
It’s all so simple
But, God knows, so great.
This is an example of the boon for re-readings of his verse.

He has an amazing technique of writing, which seems to flow effortlessly from a hot-line with his unconscious; the sequence of ideas and imagery appear to stem from an intimate connection with the depths of the human heart. It results in a high-octane mix which is universal & timeless.

Over the years, Harry has poured out what amounts to a large œuvre of over two hundred consistently brilliant poems with wide sweep of subject. He deploys a broad range of poetic architecture, for instance displaying mastery in the demanding sonnet form. Here is another example of his art; notice amongst other things the tight & fiendishly difficult riming pattern of AAABBB. etc.
All embracing sea
Placid mother of tranquillity.
Keeper of creation’s secrecy.
All life aspired
From your great fecund womb unsired
By plan or hope or wistfulness desired.

Bountiful mother
You encouraged dreamers to discover
Over horizons places where no other
Beast or man had found
A wondrous fertility in their ground,
Making all simplicities profound.

Mistress of the wind,
Unstable lover, who puts you out of kind
But creates in you such passions blind
To make the shivering land
Crumble to its knees with gifts of sand,
A golden necklace round every strand.

Melodious sea
Your sound is a glorious symphony,
Your rise and fall the rhythm of poetry.
Your small waves, like shy
Lullabies sung to a sunset sky,
Where peace and quietness, like lovers, lie.

Indomitable sea
We cannot understand your mystery.
Begetter and deliverer of we,
Who with reverence gaze,
In incomprehension and amaze,
On you to only wonder and give praise.
On the other hand he is equally at ease with writing vers libre, and effortlessly moves along the full spectrum of rigorous traditional form to free verse with total absence of partisanship. All his diamonds, whatever their hue, are brilliant cut.

His poetry had a tremendous lyrical intensity, which can reveal the spiritual depths for those who have half a mind to be receptive. Profound spiritual meaning cannot be encapsulated, only pointed to, and that by very few; Harry is one. His verse is inspired and inspiring. It encourages you to express yourself more fully and openly; in short, to be more authentically yourself. It broadens and enriches perception of life, which is perhaps one of the finest attributes of great art; in short it enhances life. It gets better the more you read & think about it - the rare hall mark of the most profound expression. If at its best, poetry and its near relatives - poetic prose, rhetoric, and lyrics - epitomize the most noble and the most sublime enunciation of human language and its reflection of the human spirit, Harry’s work is there in the vanguard. I think his work can equally inspire the aspiring poet and the perceptive reader. How about this:
Well can I remember how we came to Nazareth;
It was on the business of Caesar that we came,
And not as pilgrims with a vision burned on our minds.
For the world had forgotten that he called men brothers,
And his name was an oath on the lips of our flesh.
That day the world shone bright in the darkness of war,
And the quiet hills sang peace like a hymn in our hearts
Till we remembered home and love came without thought.
We saw it first cradled like a swaddling child
In the protecting arms of the Madonna hills;
Perhaps we were tired but our voices were hushed,
And there was a shame in our eyes that knew no reason
As we stared at the fallen rocks on the hillsides.
Even our lorries exhaled less loudly their breath,
Or so it seems to us for we listened to silence.
In the city we walked, like children in a dream,
Half expecting to meet him at some blind corner
Where past and present merge into a vision;
See him as a child, his crucifixion yet to be,
His side unpierced, his hands and feet unscarred, and God,
His father, no more than mortal fathers to their sons.
We would have walked with him, as men walk with their brothers,
Feeling his cross no more a burden in our hearts,
The rusting nails withdrawn from the flesh of our joy,
And shared with him the living dream that all men crave;
The dream that is not a dream made of intangibles,
Not an illusion conceived by desire and fear,
But an intimacy with truth, a sudden peace
That descends with a healing balm to make life whole,
As though the disintegrated jigsaw of this world
That’s thrown with all a riddle’s purpose on the earth,
Fell into place before our eyes, and we no more
Were outcasts, seeking a home across the desert wastes
Of our own loneliness and longing that only knows
The ever receding oasis of mirage.
But the meek whom he said will inherit the earth,
Knowing that what our pain and hate cannot believe
Is truth, and that heaven is more than just a name
Conjured up by sillies in the towers of fantasy,
Find it is the shape and substance of life’s soul.
But when the last drop of our wonder drained away,
And our souls renewed their compromise with time,
We knew our failure and hid it deeply in our hearts
For grief, then mocked our pain and his with lusting eyes
Cast at a pretty girl who called us by our name.
So the world we’d always known was back in place,
As though it had never trembled and half withdrawn,
And he was dead again, his cross a stake in time,
And we were Caesar’s soldiers journeying by,
Perhaps to die for the sins of the forsaken world.
Yet, still we remember that day in Nazareth,
The quiet hills and the dream we almost dreamed,
And remembering, retreat from our arena of despair.

As a man, Harry is equally estimable. He fought for his country and humanity in World War 2 serving in the RAF, was a coal miner for 20 years, and latterly was a senior social worker helping young people who no one else could handle, get their lives back on track (see webpage “Biography of Harry’s Life”). He has not promoted his work in the contemporary fashion. Not for him touring the country on a uni-bike in clown’s motley. His merit lies not in “notice me” gimmicks, but where it should - purely and simply in his large opus of brilliant verse. In Chaucer’s updated words:
He had found no preferment in the church
And he was too unworldly to make search
Admirers of Harry marvel at his determination, dedication, focus, and persistence, in the face of, as yet, scant recognition. He carries on writing verse of his finest with grace, ease, and enjoyment, at the age of ninety four. An example to us all.

But finally, I believe his verse speaks for itself: His is simply the best verse I have ever read. Exaggerated? Just read his poetry. A paraphrase of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s appreciation of the Odes of Horace comes to mind: “Jewels ... that on the stretch’d forefinger of all Time sparkle for ever.”

Dr John Astill.


Marc Rattue, poet, novelist, & songwriter, Salisbury, October 2011.
“Shakespeare's facility with words is probably superior to Harry's, but the quality of Harry's poetic inspiration, I believe, transcends that of Shakespeare. The bard described our humanity in all its richness; absurdity and folly as well as its grandeur, but no more; Harry touches us with a resonance and power that hints at something greater than ourselves. The poem 'We Passed Through Nazareth' is an obvious illustration of this. This is what a great artist does, I believe. We are not shown ourselves, nor the thoughts of humanity in great art. We are shown what transcends it.

“Thinking in a religious sense, as in poetic form, the highest form of association with scripture is not theological, or prescriptive, nor descriptive, but mystical, “incomprehensible”, and utterly wonderful.”

Edwin Astill, Sheffield, June 2011:
“Poetry tends to be something we study at school, and then never touch again. Harry’s poems show us how much we're missing if we don’t continue! Some poetry is complex (and often overly complex) and requires critical apparatus to help us understand it. Some is just downright silly or pretentious. Harry’s poetry just strikes the right chord: it gets to the heart of the matter, and makes a direct impact upon us. His range of subject matter reflects the varied roles he has played in life. The internet offers a valuable means of communication, and it is good to see that it is being used to bring Harry’s work to a wider audience.”

Audi Maserati, Portsmouth, May 2011; “Your new website”:
“I found your website and look forward to reading your
poetry. I enjoyed your reading on Friday. Listening to your poetry is a real inspiration for young upstarts like me. It reminds me what being a poet is all about ....”