Among the trees

Trees-VP

‘This house looks out on a great rampart of trees; all day they are motionless in the strong sun’, Sylvia Townsend Warner wrote to Llewellyn Powys in the summer of 1933, from Frankfort Manor, Sloley, Norwich. ‘But at dusk they seem to creep silently across the lawn, until looking from my window I seem to see their enormous foreheads pressed to the pane. I have never lived with trees before. They take some mastering; but I think I shall be on good terms with them even before I see them naked.’[1]

In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the Ents are a race of huge tree-like beings who stride across the country to take part in the battle against Saruman. But the image of trees walking is an old one. In St Mark’s gospel, the blind man, his sight only partially restored when touched once by Christ, ‘looked up, and said, I see men as trees walking.’ His sight will be fully restored when touched for a second time, so that he sees ‘every man clearly’ (Mark 8:24-25). This is explicitly echoed in Elizabeth Bowen’s description of a young woman called Emmeline, at a party, looking down the hall. ‘There she saw men as trees walking, her mind already at home in the dusk of her white room outside the lamplight.’[2]

ent_Tolkien

(Tolkien’s Ents: from The Two Towers)

Shakespeare’s Macbeth, told that he’ll never be defeated until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane to oppose him, says with understandable confidence: ‘That will never be./ Who can impress the forest, bid the tree/ Unfix his earthbound root?’ But every soldier in the approaching army carries a bough cut from the trees of Birnam Wood, to ‘shadow/ The numbers of our host, and make discovery/ Err in report of us’, as Malcolm says. Very much men as trees walking.

Trees are miracles of growth, sometimes reaching enormous heights from tiny beginnings. They bear fruit, shed leaves, are cut down and die, take on other forms. Unsurprisingly, they’re everywhere in the world’s religions and mythologies: Yggdrasil, the tree of life that connects the nine worlds of Norse cosmology; the Bo tree under which the Buddha sat and attained enlightenment; sacred fig trees in Jainism and Hinduism; the Christian tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the tree of life in the Kabbalah; many more.

They’re everywhere in literature too: oak, willow, laurel, olive, cypress, yew. The elm alone traces a path from Homer and Virgil through Chaucer and Milton to Thomas Gray and Tennyson.

‘I love the fitful gust that shakes/ The casement all the day’, John Clare declared:

And from the mossy elm tree takes
The faded leaves away,
Twirling them by the window-pane
With thousand others down the lane. (‘Autumn’)

Not everyone is, or remains, enamoured. ‘On the way’, William Carlos Williams wrote:

we passed a long row
of elms. She looked at them
awhile out of
the ambulance window and said,

What are all those
fuzzy-looking things out there?
Trees? Well, I’m tired
of them and rolled her head away.[3]

‘I wrapped my tears in an ellum leaf/ And left them under a stone’, Ezra Pound wrote in an early poem.[4] In a what leaf? Is that an Idaho thing – or Philadelphia, or New York? But then here’s Mr Faulkner of Mississippi: ‘The buggy was drawn by a white horse, his feet clopping in the thin dust; spidery wheels chattering thin and dry, moving uphill beneath a rippling shawl of leaves. Elm. No: ellum. Ellum.’[5]

Ah, these Americans. Perhaps one more. ‘“They come down like ellum-branches in still weather. No warnin’ at all.”’ This is in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘An Habitation Enforced’, an early example of his ‘healing’ stories, this one involving a very rosy picture of Edwardian England, where the death of Mr Iggulden prompts Mrs Betts to make that observation to Sophie Chapin (who has found the old man dead in his fireside chair).[6] The Chapins are American—her family there comes from Connecticut—but this is Mrs Betts speaking, a local woman, long resident here. So: Idaho, Mississippi —Sussex.

Swallowdale

At this time of year, walking on a slowly thickening carpet of leaves, with the odd branch fallen in an occasionally fiercer wind, the trees in my local park impress themselves even more closely than usual on my attention. They certainly have a positive effect on people—some people, most people?—and there’s something curiously heartening in the sight of newly-planted saplings. New growth but also a distinctive kind of latent energies, a gathering of strength.

‘“Sleep like young trees and get up like young horses, as my old nanny in Australia used to say”, their mother tells the Walker children in Arthur Ransome’s Swallowdale.[7]

 

References

[1] Sylvia Townsend Warner, Letters, edited by William Maxwell (London: Chatto & Windus, 1982), 25.

[2] Elizabeth Bowen, To the North ([1932] Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1945), 26. In Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War (1928; edited by John Greening, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 58, ‘Willow-trees seemed moving men.’

[3] William Carlos Williams, ‘The Last Words of My English Grandmother’, in The Collected Poems, Volume 1: 1900-1939, edited by A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1987), 465.

[4] ‘La Fraisne’, in Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations, edited by Richard Sieburth (New York: Library of America, 2003), 23.

[5] William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929), in Novels 1926-1929, edited by Joseph Blotner and Noel Polk (New York: Library of America, 2006), 972.

[6] Rudyard Kipling, Actions and Reactions (London: Macmillan and Co., 1909), 20.

[7] Arthur Ransome, Swallowdale (1931; London: Jonathan Cape, 1985), 30.

Elation, Misprints, Anthony Burgess

Ink-Trade

I’ve been poring over the intended final proofs of the first issue of the Ford Madox Ford journal, looking for misprints, of course, those tiny details that are capable of provoking rage or despair in some individuals, as I’m only too aware. I’ve reacquainted myself with the well-known phenomenon of staring at a word a dozen times before noticing, at the thirteenth attempt, that a letter is missing. Still, since I’ve come close on past occasions to dismissing out of hand people who can’t spell Ford Madox Ford’s name or who jam an apostrophe into Finnegans Wake, I can hardly rule out a similar intolerance in others, potential readers of our journal.

FMF-Logo

I’ve now reached the point where I tacitly assume that there will be errors in every book I read. Novels are less affected by the virus but anything with a lot of names, places and book titles is at risk. Usually, these are minor lapses, probably invisible unless you have that proofreading or editorial predilection – but not always. I’ve just been reading a highly enjoyable selection of journalism by Anthony Burgess, The Ink Trade (edited by Will Carr, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2018) and, while ‘the playgoing pubic’ is mildly amusing, to be told that, in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ ‘The Windhover’, the word ‘buckle’ ‘resents a forceful ambiguity which is at the root of the strength of the poem’, gives me pause to frown. Resents? Presents? Represents? Interesting, anyway, to learn that, apart from Shakespeare, the two writers that have meant much to him are James Joyce – hardly a secret, that one – and Hopkins.

In any case, the book offers so many pleasures that it warrants a high degree of tolerance to such errors. There are sixty items, uncollected and several unpublished, with numerous reminders of Burgess’s energy, erudition, wit and wide-ranging enthusiasms. On censorship, Henry Miller, Nabokov, Erica Jong, A. S. Byatt, Evelyn Waugh and Malcolm Lowry; Ellmann on Wilde, V. S. Naipaul, Graham Greene and Kingsley Amis. Burgess is always readable, often provocative, generally engaging. Remembering Earthly Powers, whose main protagonist was reputedly based on, or drew upon, Somerset Maugham, it’s salutary to be reminded of Burgess’s considerable and genuine regard for Maugham’s writing. He describes Cakes and Ale as ‘a textbook of literary criticism as well as a superb novel’ and, though he proposes to modify that to ‘a superb work of fiction’, since the book may be seen as an inflated short story, he adds that some of Maugham’s stories are ‘among the best in the language.’ Of his first reading of The Waste Land: ‘I was only fifteen, and I understood very little of the poem, but I recognised that it was important. I seemed to hear a door, a long way down one of my mind’s corridors, trying to creak open but not quite making it.’ That last sentence is right on the money.

He writes often and well on Joyce, of course, is consistent in his championing of Ford—‘without doubt the greatest British novelist of the century’—offers some clear and often compelling insights into the writing of fiction (‘The problem for all fiction writers is to decide who is telling the story’), is always fascinated by language, slang, class differences in speech and pronunciation. I liked this, from an unpublished piece (a version of a speech given at the Tate in 1991): ‘I say that a thing portrays beauty when it induces a feeling of elation which is unrelated to the biological or the utilitarian. The orgasm produces elation because that is nature’s bribe to ensure the continuation of the race, even through that bribe is thwarted. The elation of health, or its recovery, or financial success, the winning of a difficult game doesn’t call into being the praise or near-worship of an artefact. The elation is probably the elation of a kind of metaphysical discovery, and that discovery is very frequently a sense of unity which only the arts can convey.’

Burgess

(Anthony Burgess via theconversation.com)

That word ‘elation’ caught my eye because it recurs in several Jonathan Williams contexts, usually when he was quoting Louis Zukofsky to the effect that the function of poetry is ‘to record & elate’ (or, on occasion, ‘to elate and record’), while Elite/Elate was the title of his 1979 Selected Poems. It’s ironic that Burgess is mentioned in a Williams essay only in a negative context: ‘In one of the Sunday papers, Mr. Anthony Burgess considered it withering and simple enough to call [Zukofsky] “a New Yorker, a Communist, a Jew, and a poet” (I think in that order)’.

Still, Burgess and Zukofsky at least have in common the valuing of ‘elation’ as a desirable effect of literature or the arts and an indispensable element in the perception of beauty.

My other recent Burgess-spotting came in my fat volume of Patrick White’s letters. Writing to Marshall Best, his American publisher, in 1970, White commented that Burgess had seemingly ruffled a gathering of Australian writers with a talk given at the Adelaide Festival, in which he asserted that, ‘A country is only remembered for its art. Rome is remembered for Vergil, Greece for Homer, and Australia may be remembered for Patrick White.’ According to the newspaper report, no one clapped. ‘How I wish I had been watching and listening at a hole in the wall’, White remarked.

 

Dog Days

Dog

We’ve had a dog as houseguest for the past few days while her owners disport themselves in Portugal – quite an old dog now, a little doddery and pretty set in her ways but still fine company. This means that the Librarian is rousted from her bed at an unearthly hour to share with me the joy of walking to the park before sunrise, clutching small black bags, a torch and pockets full of dog treats.

During the very hot summer of 1925, the poet Charlotte Mew spent some time in a cottage near Rye, in Sussex, with Alida Munro, the wife of Harold Monro, poet, proprietor of the Poetry Bookshop, and publisher of The Poetry Review, Poetry and Drama and The Chapbook. He also produced, at his own expense, volumes by several poets, including both Pound’s Des Imagistes and the Georgian Poetry anthologies. After his death a few years later, Pound wrote: ‘I doubt if any death in, or in the vicinity of, literary circles could have caused as much general regret as that of Mr Harold Monro’.[1] The Monros went through a succession of weekend cottages, in Essex and Hampshire as well as Sussex.[2] ‘All of them had earth closets and well-water, and had to be adapted to the needs of six dogs and a cat. Harold Monro, meanwhile, was often abroad, seeking cures for what Alida called “the enemy” though she also felt that the continent, where wine was sixpence a bottle, was “not the place to fight such a battle”.’[3]

Six dogs. One, two, three. . .But this can only recall Beatrix Potter’s tale:

Flopsy-Bunnies

‘Mr. McGregor climbed down on to the rubbish heap—
“One, two, three, four! five! six leetle rabbits!” said he as he dropped them into his sack. The Flopsy Bunnies dreamt that their mother was turning them over in bed. They stirred a little in their sleep, but still they did not wake up.’

Do dogs in literature outnumber cats? A glance at the index to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations suggests that they do – by quite a margin. Walking with dogs, hunting with dogs, playing with dogs in ways that are impossible with cats—it seems likely enough. Certainly dogs in literature, as in life, fill many roles. Roger Grenier includes one in his title, begins with a reference in his preface to Odysseus’ dog Argos—who recognises his returned master as several people who know him signally fail to do—and opens with the story of how, ‘A few years ago, whenever a tourist visited Paul Valéry’s famous oceanside cemetery at Sète and asked the caretaker to show him the location of Paul Valéry’s tombstone, the caretaker would wake up his dog and give the command, “Valéry!” Whereupon the dog, all on its own, would lead the tourist to the poet’s grave.’[4]

Familiarity with canine expressions, characteristics and perceived associations with both social classes and individuals, are also fertile ground. In Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, Gerald ‘turned in thought to confident English country, days like the look in a dog’s eye, rooms small in the scope of firelight, neighbourly lights through trees.’[5] In Henry Green’s novel Nothing, Mrs Haye considers whether it would not be kinder to have Ruffles, the old, blind dog, put down: ‘Yet he had been such a good servant, for ten years he had barked faithfully at friends. And the only time he had not barked was when the burglars had come that once, when they had eaten the Christmas cake, and had left the silver.’ Almost immediately afterwards, when the aged retainer William comes in, ‘carrying one of the silver inkstands as if it had been a chalice’, the same sentiments are rehearsed. William is so old and feeble that he can barely do his share of the work. ‘But what could one do? He had served her for years, he had been a most conscientious servant, and it was only the night when the burglars did come that he had been asleep. However, they had only eaten the Christmas cake, they had left the silver.’[6]

Kipling-TSAD

‘Thou good and faithful servant’. Rudyard Kipling made good use of dogs in several of his stories while the 1930 volume, Thy Servant a Dog, contained three stories told from the dogs’ point of view. Collected Dog Stories (1934) gathered them all.

In Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, Norah claims not to believe in churches and parsons but accepts God, not believing that he ‘minds much about what you do as long as you keep your end up and help a lame dog over a stile when you can.’[7]

Just so, Ford Madox Ford remembered his grandfather, the painter Ford Madox Brown, ‘laying down a rule of life for me. He said: “Fordie, never refuse to help a lame dog over a stile. Never lend money: always give it. When you give money to a man that is down, tell him that it is to help him to get up; tell him that when he is up he should pass on the money you have given him to any other poor devil that is down. Beggar yourself rather than refuse assistance to any one whose genius you think shows promise of being greater than your own.”’ Ford adds: ‘This is a good rule of life. I wish I could have lived up to it.’[8]   To a surprising degree, he did.

Then too, while authorial comment may be frowned upon, a fictional dog can be persuaded to stand in for its creator. In Patrick White’s story, ‘A Cheery Soul’, the dreadful Miss Docker, so noisily ‘doing good’ all over the place, in fact does immense harm. But when, at the end of the story, she tries to attract a blue cattle-dog, offering to allow it ‘every licence’ if it will come home with her, ‘the dog turned, and lifted his leg on the suppliant, and walked stiffly off.’[9] I think ‘stiffly’ is the indispensable word there.

Our period of stewardship ends soon. There will no longer be the unwavering scrutiny of my every move in the kitchen; urination and defecation will not be quite so prominent in my thoughts; I shall feel a little disorientated for a while, leaving the house without reaching for the dog’s lead, the bags and the treats; and the Librarian will stay in bed a little longer.

 
References

[1] Ezra Pound, ‘Harold Monro’ (1932), in Polite Essays (1937; New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1966), 3.

[2] Joy Grant, Harold Monro and the Poetry Bookshop (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 209.

[3] Penelope Fitzgerald, Charlotte Mew And Her Friends (1984; London: Flamingo, 2002), 209.   Fitzgerald tried for years to interest a publisher in a book on The Poetry Bookshop but never succeeded in doing so.

[4] Roger Grenier, The Difficulty of Being a Dog (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), vii, 1.

[5] Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September (1929; Collected edition, London: Jonathan Cape, 1948), 123.

[6] Henry Green, Nothing (1950; in Nothing, Doting, Blindness, London: Vintage Books, 2008), 382-383.

[7] Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969), 318.

[8] Ford Madox Ford, Ancient Lights and Certain New Reflections (London: Chapman and Hall, 1911), 197-198.

[9] Patrick White, The Burnt Ones (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968), 188.

 

Not turning away for solace

dhw_flyer

https://www.bristolferry.com/trips/DHW/

 I was thinking, as you do, about solace – to comfort in distress, to console or allay. Not really a word you bump up against on a daily basis, though individuals working with the bereaved or the clinically depressed may meet it or send it out into the world rather more frequently. I tend to connect it with the poem by Delmore Schwartz—‘All of us always turning away for solace/ From the lonely room where the self must be honest,/ All of us turning from being alone’—though in truth I always liked the title more than the poem itself. In his introduction to Schwartz’s work, Douglas Dunn quotes John Berryman’s Dream Song #150; and I’d forgotten that there is not one but a sequence of more than a dozen consecutive Dream Songs which are elegies for Schwartz, who died alone in a New York hotel room in 1966. [1]

Delmore-Schwartz

(Delmore Schwartz)

Solace as consolation, then, which I’ve found in two contrasting situations just lately. This in the midst of national and international news which continues dark and darker. Along with millions of other people, we watched in horrified fascination the spectacle of the Senate judiciary committee hearing, admiring Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s courage while wondering aloud and often how a man who was behaving like that could ever have been considered a suitable candidate for the highest court in the land. O America!

But quickly to the solace—although, briefly detained by the thought of pessimism (Latin, pessimus, worst) and his sibling, optimism, I find a note from a William Gerhardie novel: ‘Our spacious pessimism, what is it? The squeal of a puppy. Life hurts, and then the night is starless, the world a desolating void where the wind groans and mutters and complains in our echo. But we go on, amazed, a little puzzled, inert, day-dreaming and unquestioning.’[2] I recall reading, more recently, a note to one of Patrick White’s letters which mentioned, admiringly, Charles Manning Clark, author of the standard history of Australia (in six volumes). Introduced to White about 1960, Manning Clark later told David Marr, the editor of White’s letters (also his biographer) that he was struck by the hunger on White’s face, ‘a hunger for forgiveness in a man who places himself, through his pride and pessimism, beyond the reach of forgiveness.’[3]

guildofhandicraft-silk-mill

(Guild of Handicraft at the Silk Mill)

http://www.chippingcampdenhistory.org.uk/content/new-contributions/c_r_ashbee

William Faulkner succinctly defined optimism by running a track through its supposed opposite: ‘Miss Jenny, being a true optimist—that is, expecting the worst at all times and so being daily agreeably surprised’.[4] More poignantly, looking back to the early years of the twentieth century and the removal of the Guild of Handicraft from the East End of London to a small market town in Gloucestershire, which thus became a centre of Arts and Crafts activity, Fiona MacCarthy writes: ‘The years of the Guild of Handicraft in Chipping Campden were something unique in the life of England. There had been experimental communities before but very few as large and as coherent as this one. It was an episode of unusual conviction, in its emphasis on aesthetic excellence and in its creation of a special kind of life-style, and in many ways it was a swan-song: such extraordinary optimism never came again.’[5]

The simple life—connects, in a way, with one of those positives. ‘I booked us on this’, the Librarian emailed me, briefly and to the point. ‘This’ was part of the Docks Heritage Weekend, a tour of the floating harbour aboard a Bristol ferry. There was ‘an authentic soundscape’, created from interviews with former dock workers, part of an oral history project, run by Amy King of the University of Bristol, and the audio was presented in conjunction with a superb shadow puppet show. The place was packed with both children and adults who, without benefit of box sets, flashing lights, virtual reality goggles or state of the art electronic devices, were thoroughly engaged—and many of them transfixed—by some recorded voices and puppets moving behind a screen, augmented by a pause at the pub for drinks and sea shanties.

River-2

The day before that, I spent three hours in a busy emergency department—a precautionary visit, as it turned out—and, perhaps paradoxically, my time there was also restorative and curiously therapeutic. I had the advantage of the Librarian’s company together with the knowledge that my symptoms had receded very quickly: so I was at liberty to lie on the bed and watch and listen until the blood test results came back. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the patients there were very ill; a couple of those wheeled past were pretty obviously homeless people, who may have collapsed in the street or been referred by a concerned passer-by, while a morbidly obese woman, in evident pain, required the attentions of eight staff at one stage. Yet they all—doctors, nurses, porters, the man filling the paper towel dispenser and emptying the bins—went about their business so professionally, so composedly and efficiently, and with such good humour where appropriate, that it was curiously calming. Solace, yes.

It is in fact in Dream Song #150 that the word occurs, in the stanza that Dunn quotes:

I’d bleed to say his lovely work improved
but it is not so. He painfully removed
himself from the ordinary contacts
and shook with resentment. What final thought
solaced his fall to the hotel carpet, if any,
& the New York Times’s facts?[6]

 

References

[1] Delmore Schwartz, ‘All of Us Always Turning Away for Solace’, What Is To Be Given: Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1976), 28; Douglas Dunn, ‘Introduction’, viii.

[2] William Gerhardie, The Polyglots (1925; revised edition, London: MacDonald, 1970), 172.

[3] Patrick White, Letters, edited by David Marr (London: Jonathan Cape, 1994), 262fn.

[4] William Faulkner Flags in the Dust (1929), in Novels 1926-1929, edited by Joseph Blotner and Noel Polk (New York: Library of America, 2006), 716.

[5] Fiona MacCarthy, The Simple Life: C. R. Ashbee in the Cotswolds (London: Lund Humphries, 1981), 90.

[6] John Berryman, The Dream Songs, collected edition (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969), 169.

 

Pound Punning on Talbot

CloisterWalkLacock-NT
(Lacock Abbey cloisters: National Trust)

On 30 September 1920, in a letter to his father Homer, Ezra Pound reported that he and his wife Dorothy had spent four days at Lacock Abbey, ‘14th century cloisters , charter of Henry III left there in 1225 still in the tower room, etc. Family name Talbot, vide works of Wm. Shx. et al. Got a little tennis, etc.’[1]

Talbot-2

In October 1945, Pound sent two extracts from the Pisan Cantos to Dorothy, one of them from ‘To watch a while from the tower’ to ‘attic rafters’.[2] ‘“My aunt took me there a couple of times”, Dorothy told Hugh Kenner in 1965, “and once Ezra and I crawled over the roof to a turret to see a copy of the Magna Charta, kept there in a glass case. Cousin Charles left the place to his niece, a Scotswoman named Maud Gilchrist-Clark on condition she take the name Maud Talbot.”’

The emblem of the Talbot family was a dog: Kenner mentioned that Omar Pound possessed ‘a beautiful gold seal of the Talbots’, once owned by Dorothy’s father, ‘their dog emblem both as handle and in imprint.’[3]

Maud Gilchrist-Clark needed to sell some valuable possessions to raise the funds necessary to maintain the property (‘more pictures gone to pay taxes’ and, in 1944, she presented the Lacock copy of the Magna Charta to the British Museum. She gave the abbey to the National Trust in the same year.

Talbot

Canto 80 is always, for me, the English canto, certainly in its last two-thirds. Of the lines just quoted, Donald Davies writes that here is part of what Pound loved in Dorothy, and that his ‘feelings for and about England were, right to the end, not much less tormented than any English reader’s can be.’ He adds that, ‘the English reader who does not understand that the punning on “Talbot” is painful and all but hysterical, like the punning of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, does not understand Pound at all.’[4]

‘All but hysterical’? Yes, perhaps, it’s like the riff on similar-sounding words that we play with just a little too long; and, certainly, some of those rhymes, almost doggerel-like, are unusual for Pound in the context of the Cantos. Yet, rhyme, particularly simple, declarative monosyllables, often serves as a mnemonic device. Rhymed poetry is generally easier to recall than unrhymed. And here? Out and doubt, nation’s and patience, slide and hide, the tangle of Talbots and tall butts, left it and cleft it. But then the whole canto is ‘about’ memory, as is the whole Pisan sequence (to pause at that boundary).

Pound had lived through an extraordinary twenty years, more, since he left England, first for Paris, then Rapallo. Yet England, his time in England, was ineradicable, inescapable. He arrived in 1908, young, derivative, inexperienced; he left as the author of Cathay, Homage to Sextus Propertius, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and the early Cantos. He had met and married Dorothy Shakespear in London. He was centrally involved in Imagism and Vorticism. He had known, encouraged or learned from almost every writer of importance then at work there, spending three winters in Ashdown Forest with Yeats, consulting with Ford over the latter’s Collected Poems and his book on Henry James, close to Wyndham Lewis and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. How could England not have lodged in his body and mind, impossible of removal?

In early 1946, Dorothy wrote to him from Rapallo and mentioned a book by Douglas Goldring – this was South Lodge: Reminiscences of Violet Hunt, Ford Madox Ford and the English Review Circle (1943). His biography of Ford would not emerge for a couple more years. In April, Pound wrote to Eileen Lane Kinney from St Elizabeths: ‘Weeping over Goldring’s memoir “South Lodge.”’ He said it brought back his ‘jeunesse, 1908-1920 à Londres. An honest book in a flurried world.’[5] And Charles Olson recorded: ‘Goldring’s SOUTH LODGE, on Yeats, Pound, Ford. P: “It was the high period of my life . . . . (or something like that, a sort of apology for his sentimentality about it, as he is reading it).’[6]

The copy of the Magna Charta given by Maud Talbot to the British Museum was sent to Washington as part of an exhibition while both Pound and Dorothy were there. It was not then ‘still there if you climb over attic rafters’. Its still being there was, perhaps, the crucial point: continuity, a fixed point, however specific or even personal, in a world—quite literally, to a considerable extent—blown to pieces: ‘and God knows what is left of our London/ my London, your London’. Earlier in the sequence, the poet identified himself ‘As a lone ant from a broken ant-hill/ from the wreckage of Europe, ego scriptor’ (76/458) and in the same canto, asked: ‘and who’s dead, and who isn’t/ and will the world ever take up its course again?’ (76/453).

Unanswerable questions – or answers that won’t keep still for the space of a single heartbeat. Pound’s own final answer was, essentially, silence.

 
References

[1] Ezra Pound to His Parents: Letters 1895–1929, edited by Mary de Rachewiltz, David Moody and Joanna Moody (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 471. Pound must be referring to Henry VI, Part I, which features Lord Talbot, afterwards Earl of Shrewsbury, and his son, John.

[2] Omar Pound and Robert Spoo, editors, Ezra and Dorothy Pound: Letters in Captivity, 1945-1946 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999)101, 100-101fn.2.

[3] Hugh Kenner, ‘D. P. Remembered’ (1973), reprinted in Mazes (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995), 292-293. The essay mentions ‘a magnificent old abbey in Yorkshire’, when Wiltshire is meant. I assume this error was also in the original Paideuma piece but can’t lay hands on my copy just now to check that. The Talbot Magna Charta was not the original 1215 version but that of 1225, technically ‘An Exemplification of Henry III’s reissue of Magna Carta, 1225’, as Carroll F. Terrell explains: see A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound, one-volume edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 447.

[4] Donald Davie, ‘Ezra Pound Abandons the English’, reprinted in Studies in Ezra Pound (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1991), 234.

[5] Ezra and Dorothy Pound: Letters in Captivity, 243, 242n.

[6] Charles Olson and Ezra Pound: An Encounter at St. Elizabeths , edited by Catherine Seeley (1975; New York: Paragon House, 1991), 86.

 

Making space, taking space

Parking

The round trip to the baker—one of the bakers—takes around an hour. I walk on the long back road, on the shaded side if the weather’s warm. The black and green boxes are out on the pavement, which triggers an odd memory. In 2011 there was a referendum on the alternative vote, following what one commentator termed a ‘bad-tempered and ill-informed public debate’.[1] The vote went not as I’d hoped but more or less as I’d expected. At some point, walking along a pavement crowded with recycling boxes and looking at the state of them, I remember thinking that, if so many people had such problems sorting out their rubbish, they were not that likely to explore the intricacies of competing voting systems.

Skip forward five years and you might say that the phrase ‘bad-tempered and ill-informed public debate’ was still serviceable, though barely. Skip forward two more and I’m edging my way through parts of the city, thinking of the word ‘space’, ‘the final frontier’ as the first speech of every episode of Star Trek had it, recalling too how Charles Olson begins Part One of Call Me Ishmael: ‘I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom Cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy.’[2]

By way of contrast, space is mercilessly shrinking here as local government, starved of funding and agency, falls and fails. Private intrusion into public spaces; not only roads but pavements too now given over to cars, which block pedestrian pathways; neglected bushes and hedges jutting out onto pavements already littered with bins and boxes. No room for an Olson.

PNR

Opening the latest issue of PN Review, I see a review by Ian Brinton—reviews editor of Tears in the Fence (https://tearsinthefence.com/blog/ )—of Chris Torrance’s The Magic Door and Brinton begins by quoting precisely those words from Call Me Ishmael: ‘I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America . . .’ They are, he writes, ‘central to an understanding of the wide-ranging poetry written by Chris Torrance, British poet who was born in Edinburgh, raised in Surrey and who moved to an isolated cottage in the Upper Neath Valley in South Wales nearly fifty years ago’. The names cited in the course of his review include Iain Sinclair, Lee Harwood, Roy Fisher and Barry MacSweeney, and Brinton closes by quoting a letter from Torrance, who recalls how he ‘grabbed onto Olson mid-60s’ and concludes: ‘I’ve kept at Olson ever since. I love to take the big books outside in the summer, read those wide poems out in the open where they belong.’[3]

torrance_citrinas1

I’d quite lost track of Torrance yet, without moving from my desk, I can just reach a tall, slim volume, Citrinas, published in an edition of 300, ‘of which 15 are casebound and contain additional holograph material.’ In fact, I see it’s signed, with a personal inscription – though not to me.

the birds are lost, out of sight
though the food goes, mysteriously,
invisibly, except when the imperious jay,
flashing electric blue & snowy white,
with immense black mustachios
over his olive-smoked sheath
picks up crushed oats[4]

Remembered impressions I have are of landscape, place, the natural world, the mystery of things, prompting the thought of Pound writing—in an essay first published in Quest, edited by G. R. S. Mead, leading Theosophist and founder of the Quest Society—‘We have about us the universe of fluid force, and below us the germinal universe of wood alive, of stone alive.’[5]

In fact I have a little more Torrance in-house, a dozen pages in the anthology edited by Iain Sinclair:

straight from sleep
to chase sheep from the garden
a bloody, dead blackbird on the doormat
’mid thousands of feathers & catspew
the world jumps
from this to that
to break the ennui
of my own tense control
all goes into the melting pot of acid
over the hill kicking a dead lambskin
what to do with all this energy, lambent, unreconciled
an atmosphere almost of terror
the planet helpless with mirth
gold coins rolling in the streets
the skylark’s interminable raga
borne aloft on shivering wings[6]

These are early poems, several dated 1970-1971, at the beginning of the poet’s time in Wales. When this anthology appeared (1996), five books of The Magic Door had appeared. The recently published volume that Brinton is reviewing apparently represents eight books in all, reaching back over forty years.

A launch event for The Magic Door is announced on the Test Centre website: Wednesday 4 October, 7 pm, Swedenborg House, where Torrance will be joined by Iain Sinclair and Allen Fisher. The author’s afterword to this edition, quoted on the website, includes the statement that, ‘With this collected volume, I am only halfway through.’

A life’s work, then. At least. . .

See: (https://testcentre.org.uk/magic-door/ )

 

 

References

[1] Iain McLean, ‘“England Does Not Love Coalitions”: The Most Misused Political Quotation in the Book’, Government and Opposition: An International Journal of Comparative Politics, 47, 1 (2012), 10.

[2] Call Me Ishmael, in Charles Olson, The Collected Prose, edited by Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 17. As in Moby Dick itself, this ‘beginning’ is preceded by a prologue, here ‘First Fact’.

[3] Ian Brinton. ‘Reading in the Open Air’, PN Review 243 (September-October 2018), 78, 79.

[4] Chris Torrance, Citrinas: The Magic Door, Book II (London: Albion Village Press, 1977), unpaginated: this is ‘Retreat’, from the book’s first section.

[5] Ezra Pound, The Spirit of Romance (1910; New York: New Directions, 1968), 92. The essay, ‘Psychology and Troubadours’ became Chapter V of this book.

[6] Chris Torrance, ‘Straight from Sleep’, in Iain Sinclair, editor, Conductors of Chaos: A Poetry Anthology (London: Picador, 1996), 453.

 

Gammon and spinach. Ha!

Millais, John Everett, 1829-1896; Autumn Leaves

(John Everett Millais, Autumn Leaves, 1856: Manchester Art Gallery)

Autumn Leaves. Autumn, on the contrary, now definitely arrives in a flurry of contradictory weather, though, really, we need to borrow the American term, ‘fall’.

‘Let us stop this war’, Edmund Blunden wrote, ‘and walk along to Beaucourt before the leaves fall. I smell autumn again.’[1]

‘But, my Marguerite, how strange it all is!’, Colette wrote to her friend Marguerite Moreno, ‘I have the fleeting confidence of people who fall out of a clock tower and for a moment sail through the air in a comfortable fairy-world, feeling no pain anywhere . . . ’[2]

‘What are the chances’, the Librarians wonders aloud, ‘of an adult standing up and saying: This Brexit business was a terrible, terrible idea, which everyone surely realises by now, if they didn’t know already. So let’s just scrap the whole thing.’ Not good, I think, the chances are not so good. I recall the note I came across a few days ago, from a William Faulkner novel: ‘They all talked at once, their voices insistent and contradictory and impatient, making of unreality a possibility, then a probability, then an incontrovertible fact, as people will when their desires become words.’[3]

Magpie

I was also remembering the magpies in the park last week. It began with an evident squabble between two birds, who kept fluttering a few feet off the ground, jabbing at one another and coming to earth again: a couple of minutes later, they were racing around above my head, one obviously pursuer and one pursued but keeping only inches apart, however abruptly the lines of their flight paths veered and soared. But the most striking thing was the way in which the dispute spread and the speed at which it did so: at least two more pairs were scuffling with one another almost immediately, while more and more magpies kept arriving, then gathered in groups of three or four in the branches of surrounding trees. And all the while, their distinctive chatter, more than twenty of them by the end, scattered over four or five locations. They all had something to shout about, they all insisted on outshouting others and weren’t above getting physical if they disagreed.

Doctor-maggotty

I stood on the path for a good ten minutes, thinking: magpie Brexit? In Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan, the local doctor is a magpie by the name of Dr Maggotty. He has the disconcerting habit of shouting ‘Gammon!’ or ‘Spinach!’ and, ultimately, ‘Gammon and spinach! Ha ha HA!’ Why does that last ejaculation oddly suggest a sly commentary on our current political woes?

Still, I’ve always liked magpies and been impressed by their acumen, as well as the wealth of folklore and superstition associated with them. Patrick White’s biographer reveals that, by the end of his second year at university, White realised that he didn’t have ‘a scholar’s mind’ and wouldn’t get a brilliant degree. ‘This discovery hurt him at first’, Marr writes, ‘and he was nagged by a sense of intellectual inadequacy until he came to see that he had another kind of intelligence, a “magpie mind” that found ideas as he needed them and seized any image that caught his eye.’[4]

Magpies-Bagpipe

Then, very recently, in the Jonathan Williams festschrift I was reading, I came across the writer and folklorist Gary Carden’s remark that, over the years, he had ‘often searched for a fitting icon or symbol’ for Williams. Carden focused on Williams’ ability to perceive talent and to spot what others missed. ‘Finally, I can pick my icon’, Carden announced. ‘Jonathan is a magpie!’ He wrote of watching a magpie stalking through a landfill site and extracting something that caught his eye, to carry home and give it ‘a choice setting’, while Williams, he added, did much the same thing, having ‘waded through the wreckage of our culture’, sometimes finding ‘the real thing’.[5]

Indeed, Williams published his first book of essays under the title of The Magpie’s Bagpipe (1982) – and the avian theme continued with his second essay collection, Blackbird Dust (2000).

‘Gammon and spinach! Ha ha HA!’ Hold that thought. I am certainly holding that thought.

 
References

[1] Edmund Blunden, Undertones of War (1928; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982), 90.

[2] Letter of 11 June 1925: Letters from Colette, selected and translated by Robert Phelps (London: Virago Press, 1982), 90.

[3] William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929), in Novels 1926-1929, edited by Joseph Blotner and Noel Polk (New York: Library of America, 2006), 967.

[4] David Marr, Patrick White: A Life (London: Vintage, 1992), 128.

[5] Gary Carden, ‘The Bard of Scaly Mountain’, in Jeffery Beam and Richard Owens, editors, Jonathan Williams: The Lord of Orchards, (Westport: Prospecta Press, 2017), 49.