Richard Howard, who celebrated his sixtieth birthday this year, has had a remarkable literary career. He has written four plays, a volume of critical essays, nine books of poetry, and over one hundred and fifty translations from the French, among them Baudelaire’s Les Flairs du mal and works by Gide, Cocteau, and Camus. His current project is the gargantuan task of translating Proust’s À la Recherche du temps perdu. If one adds to these bibliographical facts some biographical ones—that, for example, Howard was reading at the age of two, was writing poetry at four, worked for a while as a lexicographer, and once suggested in an interview that a person devoted to the arts could live through books—one is tempted to observe that Howard has come as close as anyone to living a life that is thoroughly devoted to literature.

It is therefore ironic that Howard’s poems—most of which are...


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