The Long Lake and Other Poems by Daril Bentley
Reviewed by Seth Jani

Daril Bentley’s “The Long Lake and Other Poems” is a book firmly rooted in the Grand Western Tradition of nature poetry, a line which in modern times stretches from the English Romantics to the American Transcendentalists and continues to this day in the work of such great well-known poets as Mary Oliver as well as the less-well known but equally compelling Bentley. 

Bentley’s work is separated into four unique but interweaving parts that subtly hint at the stages of a life, or perhaps a planet, and are beautifully titled the “waters of promise,” “waters of verdure,” “waters of progress,” and “waters of repose.” 
The poems contained in each are infused by one of the great benefits of writing within the nature tradition, that being the sense of some archetypal meaning. Everywhere in the work there exists an objective existential comfort. The back cover itself posits that “The long lake symbolizes a gratitude and contentment that may not be corrupted or made complicated-and that may not be ultimately thwarted”, and indeed everywhere in the poems are simple yet dazzling images taken, for the most part, not from the various haunts of the human world but rather the eternal, serene countries of the natural world where the “quaking and trembling aspen/arbutus and lily of the valley” are  so “like the folks you meet” (American Trees). Poems inhabited not by human expression but rather the faces of the earth, whether they be “Three trees twisted with year and water and light” (Three Apple Trees) or the red fox in the snow who “Makes his exit with a white kerchief” (Red Fox). Everywhere the natural world speaks in its own mute language, one so beautifully caught by this seasoned writer.

And indeed it is the delicacy of Bentley’s craft that makes so many old subjects startlingly new (How many poets have written about owls, apples trees, chestnuts and stars? Lots, but few like Bentley).
In fact Bentley is interesting in his ability to recycle old seemingly outdated forms and make them appealing to a contemporary reader.
When he composes a “Sonnet for a Primal Wood” one leaves it not with that derisive laughter one so often guiltily indulges after reading a modern piece of rhyme but rather with a head haunted by such finely tuned lines as “Our flesh, however pure, will not have rest in this paradise of impermanence”.
Of course in a collection of over 50 poems there are bound to be some weaknesses however minor and it is true that the very same stylistic quirks that make the book so enticing at times cause the reader to fumble here and there, such as in the closing lines to “Queen Anne’s Lace” which read “With our failed powers/the years have gone under protections of crown of Queen Anne’s lace and the patronage of such flowers as are abdicate since then”. The lines read awkward and outdated. But luckily such instances are few and many of them (as I found out) can be mended by reading the poem out loud.

Reading Bentley’s book, which in its faith and sureness in the natural world is so different than many of the troubled products in contemporary literature, I am reminded of something said by Robert Bly in reference to the country of Norway. He said, speaking about that other great poet of the natural world Rolf Jacobsen, that Norway has a long history of protecting it’s landscapes, and that this respect and preservation is a sign of a mature country. I think Bentley’s work is that of a mature individual, and though we may protest its at times old fashioned diction I think us younger writers/people (and I say “younger” in comparison to his “older” writing as I have no idea how old Bentley physically is) could learn much from the calm and certainty inherent in such gorgeous poems as “Facing the Wind” which says “One day…We and the wind will surrender”.
Ultimately “The Long Lake and Other Poems” serves a valuable purpose, that of helping to bring a meditative calm to the oftentimes tumultuous shelves of contemporary literature. For that we should be gracious.