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Review: Guests of Eternity, by Larissa Miller

Sasha Dugdale mourns in her introduction that Larissa Miller's poems possess a musicality [...] hard to reproduce in English. But Richard McKane's clear, eloquent translations reveal poetry of extraordinary power. Even the briefest phrase can be radiant with the possibilities of the unbounded earth. Every moment is a mystery. It is humbling to learn that Miller had a harsh post-war childhood in Soviet Russia, where her dissident husband was later imprisoned. These poems, written during four decades, were not published until the 1990s, in a collection called Between the Cloud and the Pit. Miller's short intense lyrics encompass both:

When they led away the innocent under guard
the cherry trees were blossoming tenderly [...]
in those black, black years.

The poet's extraordinary range is shown in her poems about her son, from the apocalyptic the cradle is hanging over an abyss to the ruefully affectionate your mother, tiresome and tender. Some poems declare themselves starkly: How can you measure / truth, good and evil? Others try, like winter's snow-white threads, to link the unearthly and the earthly. Her work is both sensuous and passionately religious. One poem calls Come here to a lover; another cries O Lord. Yet Miller is unaffectedly human, relishing tea and honey cake. Her work is rich in reference to rhythm, breaths in and out, and the yearning for rhyme. The parallel text reveals
how often the ecstatic rush of her poems depends, throughout the decades, on intricate rhymes; and she has written how hard it is to maintain order in that space [...] our souls. Yet music orders the space of her poems. The power of Larissa Miller's work restores ones faith not simply in poetry, but in life itself.