Eleanor Wilner’s poems attempt to absorb the shock of the wars and atrocities of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In their litany of loss, in their outrage and sorrow, they retain the joy in life, mercy for the mortal condition, and praise for the plenitude of nature and the gifts of human artistry. As with her six earlier collections, these poems are drawn from the transpersonal realm of history and cultural memory, but they display an increasing horror at the bloody repetitions of history, its service of death, and the destructive savagery of power separated from intelligence and restraint. The poems describe “a sordid drama” in which the players wear “eye masks,” and the only thing time changes is the name of the enemy.
Underneath it all, driving “the art that” in both senses “keeps nothing at bay,” swim the enormous formal energies of life, the transitive figure that moves on in the depths, something glimpsed in the first light, something stronger than hope. “It is a relief to come across work in which a moral intelligence is matched by aesthetic refinement, in which the craft of the poems is equal to their concerns.”--Christian Wiman, Poetry