In Stanley Spencer’s great painting Resurrection, Cookham (1924–27), now in the Tate Gallery, the dead arise from their village graves just as we knew them in life; they may be naked or cloaked in spotless cerements, they may be unsteady yet on their uncertain feet, the lids of their tombs laid gently aside like the coverlets of awakened sleepers, but they are all familiar, with their own irreplaceable names and unmistakable faces. They are intact but not transfigured; they are as they were when we brushed against them in the lane or bought a loaf of bread from them in the shop. This strange and eerily jubilant canvas inspired one of Guy Davenport’s most accomplished poems, now included in The Guy Davenport Reader. And no wonder: In its playful solemnity, its unexpected humor, and above all perhaps in its sense of startled simultaneity—the dead are dead yet quickened into life—it could...


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