The poems of Donald Justice reach into the deepest recesses of memory, time, and reflection. There is a certain elegance and eerie understatement about his work that is the hallmark of a great talent. While I think it would be unfair to compare him to Philip Larkin, who was far more of a conscious "Nay-sayer" than Justice ever was, his gentle melancholy and razor-blade lucidity pervade even his lighter work:
"On The Death Of Friends In Childhood
We shall not ever meet them bearded in heaven
Nor sunning themselves among the bald of hell;
If anywhere, in the deserted schoolyard at twilight,
forming a ring, perhaps, or joining hands
In games whose very names we have forgotten.
Come memory, let us seek them there in the shadows"
This luminous regret coupled with the appreciation of fleeting beauty is tempered by the not quite ultimate, but certainly undying, hope of a kind of redemption:
"A Birthday Candle"
Thirty today, I saw
The trees flare briefly like
The candles on a cake,
As the sun went down the sky,
A momentary flash,
Yet there was time to wish"
For all his seriousness, Justice was not afraid to play around, even sometimes employing Dadaist techniques in the subject matter of his poetry: "Ode To A Dressmaker's Dummy", one of his best pieces, was inspired by the instructions found on the back of a store-front window dummy. This is the kind of work that deserves national attention, and I have little doubt that Donald Justice's poetic legacy will with time become legendary.