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Perhaps it is not surprising that Bob’s serious verse took the lyrical form. Anna Akhmatova wrote, “Lyric verse is the best armour, the best cover. You don’t give yourself away” — and like her, he was discreet about events in his personal life, and restrained in expression. At the end of the war he had written to his mother: “All I really want to do is go somewhere alone and write.” Instead, with a family to support, he joined the Foreign Office, and over the next ten years was posted to Bulgaria (where he witnessed the brutal Stalinist takeover), to the United Nations, and then to the Information Research Department — experiences useful in grasping the realities of international politics.

Throughout Bob’s time at the Foreign Office he continued to write — and publish — poetry. Indeed, he first came to public attention as a poet. The first reference to him in the USSR was in the Large Soviet Encyclopaedia Yearbook for 1957, there described as a poet and anthologist — a reference to New Lines, an anthology Macmillan had asked him to put together. The Cambridge Introduction to Poetry, 1945-2010 named it “the pivotal anthology of mid-century poetry”, which “had an outsized influence on the course of British poetry in the latter half of the twentieth century and helped shape a discourse and set of arguments around English poetry that linger today”. In the Introduction, Bob made the case for poetry “written by and for the whole man, intellect, emotions, senses and all . . . empirical in its attitude to all that comes”. Describing the poets in the anthology (Kingsley Amis, Donald Davie, D. J. Enright, Thom Gunn, John Holloway, Elizabeth Jennings, Philip Larkin, John Wain, and himself), he wrote: “We would have agreed with no less a product of classicism than Gibbon himself, who spoke of the alternative aims of poetry being to ‘satisfy, or silence, our reason’. This seems a frightfully good account of what the poet should do.” Certainly his own poems fit that description, as we find in the last lines of “Galatea”, where the sculptor regards his creation with “The whole intent of art — /With passion and reserve.”

Sometimes the mask slipped. In another unpublished poem, “First Love”, he’d written: “Pardon his early poems that could confound a/Boy’s heartbreak with the images of war.” A decade passed before a chance meeting sparked, “Song”, a poem never included in any of his collections.


Yes, each was old enough to know
In theory, that the dark would pass
And through the years they would recover:
That in the accidents of time
They both would by another’s image
Replace the only, perfect lover.

Yet they were young enough to feel
Unstartled when they never found
The consolation Time contrives:
And knew that in their hearts and knowledge
They still were happier than many
— And only wept for half their lives.
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