A new collection by Sean O’Brien – ‘Auden’s true inheritor’, and one of our wisest poetic chronographers – is not just a literary event, but also, invariably, a reckoning of the times. Given the nature of our times, his voice is an essential one: there is no other poet currently writing with O’Brien’s intellectual authority, historical literacy and sheer command of the facts. Embark also registers our unique cultural climacteric, where the larger crises of the planet – the pandemic and the terrifying spectre of revanchist nationalism among them – impact all of us, and where the illusion of a church-and-state separation of the personal and political can no longer hold. As the poet turns seventy, he shows us how the inevitable absences that age brings are assuaged by how we furnish them; the result is not just a logic made from loss and pain, but a music, a metaphysic, and finally a redemptive art. Embark reminds us of the enduring consolations of love, of friendship, of the freedoms and possible futures still afforded by the imagination – and, through O’Brien’s own exemplary model, of poetry itself.