Ezra Pound, Stella Bowen and ‘the stylist’

Ford-_E_Pound_Rapallo_1932 Stella-Bowen-photo

(Ford Madox Ford and Ezra Pound, Rapallo, 1932; Stella Bowen, 1920s, Cornell)

On 30 October 1885 Ezra Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho. (‘Here he lies, the Idaho kid,/ The only time he ever did.’)[1] On 30 October 1947, Stella Bowen, painter and writer, died at the age of fifty-four, three weeks after the birth of her grandson, leaving her last painting (‘Still Life with Grapes’) unfinished.[2]

Stella met Pound during the First World War, when the studio she shared with her friend Phyllis Reid was lent for a party, to which Pound came. ‘To me’, Stella remembered, ‘he was at first an alarming phenomenon. His movements, though not uncontrolled, were sudden and angular, and his droning American voice, breaking into bomb-shells of emphasis, was rather incomprehensible as he enlightened us on the Way, the Truth, and the Light, in Art.’[3] Thereafter, largely through Pound, she and Phyllis met everyone: Eliot, Yeats, Wyndham Lewis, May Sinclair, Violet Hunt, Arthur Waley, Edward Wadsworth and others, including Ford Madox Ford.

Solitaire

Stella Bowen, Ford Playing Solitaire, Paris 1927
(Private collection: via https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/stella )

By the autumn of 1917, Stella was exchanging letters with Ford, she in London, he still stationed in Redcar, on the Yorkshire coast. They would live together for almost ten years. The first cottage they shared was Red Ford, in Pulborough, ‘a leaky-roofed, tile-healed, rat-ridden, seventeenth-century, five-shilling a week, moribund labourer’s cottage.’[4] ‘Penny, (not Pound) the goat, the sweet corn, Mrs Ford and the hole in the roof are still, here, going strong’, Ford wrote to Herbert Read in June 1920.[5] That summer, they moved to Bedham, ten miles away, while the indispensable Mr Hunt was still working on Coopers Cottage. Pound visited them there, ‘once, just before he and Dorothy migrated to Paris’, Stella remembered.[6] Or, in Ford’s own, lengthier version: ‘And Mr Pound appeared, aloft on the seat of my immense high dog-cart, like a bewildered Stuart pretender visiting a repellent portion of his realms. For Mr Pound hated the country, though I will put it on record that he can carve a sucking pig as few others can.’[7]

Two months before Pound’s visit to Bedham, the poet John Rodker published at The Ovid Press, in a limited edition of 200 copies, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley by ‘E. P.’ The press’s backers included May Sinclair and Pound himself but was primarily financed by Mary Butts, then married to Rodker.[8] Butts was one of the first friends that Stella made when she moved to London, when they both worked on a Children’s Care Committee in the East End.

Mary_Butts

Mary Butts (Photo by Bertram Park, 1919: Beinecke Library, Yale University)

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley is a long poem or suite of poems, numbering eighteen in all. The centre of the work (poems IX and X) is occupied by two poems contrasting different types of writer. The first, ‘Mr Nixon’, is often taken to refer to Arnold Bennett. Pound wrote to Ford that Rodker ‘thinks both he and I will be murdered by people making personal application of necessary literary constructions verging too near to photography.’ He went on: ‘My defence being that “Mr Nixon” is the only person who need really see red, and go hang himself in the potters field or throw bombs through my window.’[9]

A ‘potter’s field’ is generally applied to a burial place for paupers and unidentified strangers but Bennett, famously, was from ‘the Potteries’, his most celebrated novels (certainly up to 1920) all focusing on the ‘Five Towns’, centres of the pottery industry. In his prose collection Instigations, published in April 1920, Pound wrote of Wyndham Lewis’s Tarr (1918): ‘What we are blessedly free from is the red-plush Wellsian illusionism, and the click of Mr Bennett’s cash-register finish.’ When this essay was reprinted many years later, Pound added a footnote to the effect that he’d ‘rather modified his view of part of Bennett’s writing’ when he finally got around to reading The Old Wives’ Tale.[10] Still, three years before Virginia Woolf’s famous essay ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’, Pound has the same realist novelists in his sights; and there is a clear imputation to Bennett of predominantly mercenary motives.

HSB-Ovid

What other ‘people making personal application of necessary literary constructions verging too near to photography’ might Pound’s poem suggest? The second type of writer in that central pair of poems, is termed ‘the stylist’:

Beneath the sagging roof
The stylist has taken shelter,
Unpaid, uncelebrated,
At last from the world’s welter

Nature receives him,
With a placid and uneducated mistress
He exercises his talents
And the soil meets his distress.

The haven from sophistications and contentions
Leaks through its thatch;
He offers succulent cooking;
The door has a creaking latch.[11]

‘Unpaid, uncelebrated’: a pretty stark contrast with the famous and successful ‘Mr Nixon’. If this draws—as it surely does—on Ford and Stella in their first Sussex cottage, just what does this imply about Pound’s view of Ford at this juncture? There’s sympathy—as you’d expect in a friendship that extended over thirty years—even an acknowledgement of the justification for that withdrawal, that ‘taking shelter’. But I think there are indications of something more, a taking leave, a sense of retrospect or valediction, for all the prominent use here of the present tense.

For himself, Pound feels, despite all the usual frustrations of shrinking periodical outlets, paltry funding, uncooperative editors and the rest, a sense of burgeoning strength after a hugely productive few years, culminating in Homage to Sextus Propertius (1919) and now Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, with the Cantos too definitely under way. As for the others, the ones who mattered to Pound: T. S. Eliot had published Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) and Poems (1919); Wyndham Lewis, like Ford, had been to the war but had also just published Tarr while, since March 1918, The Little Review had been serialising Ulysses by James Joyce, whose A Portrait of the Artist had appeared in 1916 and his Exiles in 1918. And Ford? Since 1915 and his entry into the British army, he had published only a handful of articles and stories, and one volume of poems, On Heaven and Poems Written on Active Service (April 1918). Pound’s brief review of that book was not a positive one (‘Time was when he held a brief for good writing’).[12]

Poem X is a subtle and artful performance, with its long first sentence and feminine rhymes; the polysyllabic ‘sophistications and contentions’ enacting just what ‘the stylist’ has retreated from, set against the plain language in which the—leaking—‘haven’ is described; these, together with the choice of verbs and the forms those verbs take, combine to suggest passivity and diminution. In fact, this is part of a long-running story, Pound always urging the active, the intense, the harder edge against what he felt to be Fordian impressionism’s softer, vaguer character and reliance on the visual. Still, there are hints here that, in Pound’s eyes, Ford’s strongest creative period might be over. Of course, as David Moody remarks, Pound ‘could not know that growing in the stylist’s mind was the best English novel of the Great War, a work of wide-angled and deep truth-telling that would cut to the heart of the war and culminate in a brilliantly written act of post-war reconstruction based on his life in that Sussex country cottage.’[13]

stellabowen-drawnfromlife

But then – a ‘placid and uneducated mistress’. Really? Stella? We may be tempted to see in ‘placid’ further hints of passivity or self-effacement or male constructions of ‘desirable’ qualities, considering at the word’s origins in the verb ‘to please’. And yet. . . the dictionary gives only ‘calm’, ‘not easily upset or excited’. As for education: Stella wrote that Pound ‘took the trouble to occupy himself with our joint education’—Phyllis Reid and Stella herself—and, wondering about his and others’ efforts, she remarked: ‘I can only suppose that they found my complete lack of education something of a novelty! The clean slate.’ Then too, reviewing her relationship with Ford, she recalled that, while he got his cottage, domestic peace and a baby daughter, she herself got out of it ‘a remarkable and liberal education, administered in ideal circumstances’.[14]

In the autumn of 1917, in Imaginary Letters, a series begun by Wyndham Lewis, Pound wrote of an ‘eminently cultured female’ named Elis—and her cousin, ‘who knows “nothing at all” and is ‘ten times better educated.’ She asks him ‘sane’ questions. She is ‘“wholly uneducated”. That is to say I find her reading Voltaire and Henry James with placidity.’[15] In the summer of 1914, Lewis had written that ‘[e]ducation (art education and general education) tends to destroy the creative instinct’ while Pound, in another 1917 piece, wrote that ‘[t]his little American had rotten luck; he was educated – soundly and thoroughly educated’.[16]

No, ‘uneducated’, for both Stella and Pound at this juncture, was not a particularly simple matter. In any case, the friendships continued, apparently untroubled by poems about stylists, mistresses and leaky havens.

References

[1] Rex Lampman’s ‘Epitaph’ is in Pound’s Pavannes and Divagations (1958; New York: New Directions, 1974), vii.

[2] Drusilla Modjeska, Stravinsky’s Lunch (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 169: the painting is reproduced as Plate 15.

[3] Stella Bowen, Drawn From Life (London: Collins, 1941), 48.

[4] Ford Madox Ford, It Was the Nightingale (London: Heinemann, 1934), 9.

[5] Ford, Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 103.

[6] Bowen, Drawn From Life, 81.

[7] Ford Madox Ford, It Was the Nightingale, 138.

[8] See Mary Butts, The Journals of Mary Butts, edited by Nathalie Blondel (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 132 and fn.; Nathalie Blondel, Mary Butts: Scenes from the Life (New York: McPherson & Co., 1998), 71-72.

[9] Brita Lindberg-Seyersted, Pound/Ford: The Story of a Literary Friendship (London: Faber & Faber 1982), 36-37.

[10] Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, edited by T. S. Eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1960), 429 and footnote. In 1937, a letter to Michael Roberts included a reference to ‘nickle [sic] cash-register Bennett’: Ezra Pound, Selected Letters, 1907-1941, edited by D. D. Paige (New York: New Directions, 1971), 296.

[11] Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations, edited by Richard Sieburth (New York: Library of America, 2003), 555.

[12] Lindberg-Seyersted, Pound/Ford, 27.

[13] A. David Moody, Ezra Pound: Poet: A Portrait of the Man and His Work: Volume I: The Young Genius 1885–1920 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 404.

[14] Bowen, Drawn From Life, 50, 52, 64.

[15] Pound, Pavannes and Divagations, 59, 60.

[16] Lewis, ‘Long Live the Vortex!’, Blast: Review of the Great English Vortex, I (20 June 1914), 7; Pound, ‘Stark Realism: This Little Pig Went to Market’, Pavannes and Divagations, 105.

‘We poets in our youth’

Redcliffe_Church_via_OBI.tumblr

(George Shepherd, Via https://www.oldbookillustrations.com/ )

‘The weather was brilliant’, the Reverend Francis Kilvert recorded in his diary, Friday 24 October 1873, when he attended the Bristol Music Festival. ‘We walked first to St Mary Redcliffe Church and remained to service in the beautiful Lady Chapel at 11 o’clock.’[1]

This imposing church, some of it dating back to the twelfth century, is about a mile from where I sit at this moment. Bristol boasts a giddily multifarious literary-historical line-up, those who have lived, visited or worked here ranging from Richard Hakluyt, Maria Edgeworth and Thomas Lovell Beddoes to Walter Savage Landor, Angela Carter and Charles Tomlinson. Edmund Burke was Member of Parliament, Humphry Davy experimented with laughing gas (often on himself) and Daniel Defoe may have met Alexander Selkirk, the ‘original’ of Robinson Crusoe, in a tavern in King Street. But traces of English Romanticism show up particularly strongly in any blood sample taken from the city’s literary history, and St Mary Redcliffe’s is a name that recurs often.

On this day, 4 October, in 1795, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet—recently, though briefly, having served with the Fifteenth Light Dragoons under the name Silas Tomkyn Comberbache—was married to Miss Sara Fricker in St Mary Redcliffe. He was not quite twenty-three, she a year or two older. The marriage would not be a conspicuous success but, in and around this year, Coleridge was meeting and often enchanting other figures who would be crucially important to his life and art.

‘SOUTHEY! thy melodies steal o’er mine ear
Like far-off joyance, or the murmuring
Of wild bees in the sunny showers of Spring –
Sounds of such mingled import as may cheer

The lonely breast, yet rouse a mindful tear’.[2]

Coleridge and Southey first met in Oxford in June 1794. Coleridge and his travelling companion, Joseph Hucks, had just begun a walking tour which would extend to more than five hundred miles in just over a month. The three-day stopover was transformed into a three-week stay, essentially because of this encounter between Coleridge and the twenty-year-old Southey, who ‘wrote bad poetry at tremendous speed’ and, though a self-proclaimed atheist and democrat, ‘with strong Jacobin sympathies’, was at that stage destined for the church.[3] Southey was a Bristol man, born above the family draper’s shop in Wine Street in August 1774, educated at Westminster School and then Balliol College. Coleridge’s friendship with him—like his friendships with several other men of letters—would be prone to convulsions, smarts and sorties but it started out with a tremendous velocity.

Coleridge

(Coleridge, 1975, by Peter Vandyke: © National Portrait Gallery)

By the time he and Hucks moved on from Oxford, Coleridge had established with Southey plans for a community on the banks of the Susquehanna river in Pennsylvania, which would sustain itself through farming (two or three hours’ daily labour) and would be grandly based on the principles of ‘Pantisocracy’, a Coleridgean coining, from Greek roots, meaning, more or less, government by all. The ‘astonishing’ speed with which this all happened ‘was testimony not only to the transforming effect they had on one another, but to the very weak foundations upon which the whole enterprise rested.’[4]

Within the next three months, Coleridge would meet Thomas Poole, radical, philanthropist and essayist, then living in Bristol, who would become a lifelong friend; and his future wife, Sara Fricker.

‘My gaze! Proud towers, and Cots more dear to me,
Elm-shadowed Fields, and prospect-bounding Sea.
Deep sighs my lonely heart: I drop the tear:
Enchanting spot! O were my Sara here.’[5]

In August and September, Coleridge composed other poems looking forward to his marriage: ‘The Eolian Harp’, the first of his celebrated ‘Conversation’ poems; and ‘Lines Written at Shurton Bars’, in which he ‘even dares to anticipate metaphorically the soon-to-be-enjoyed sexual congress with Sara (‘And so shall flash my love-charg’d eye/ When all the heart’s big ecstasy/ Shoots rapid through the frame!’).[6]

Still, there were hints for Sara of the absences and unreliability to come:

‘O Peace, that on a lilied bank dost love
To rest thine head beneath an olive tree,
I would, that from the pinions of thy dove
One quill withouten pain ypluck’d might be!
For O! I wish my Sara’s frowns to flee,
And fain to her some soothing song would write,
Lest she resent my rude discourtesy,
Who vowed to meet her ere the morning light,
But broke my plighted word—ah! false and recreant wight!’[7]

In August or September 1795, Coleridge met William Wordsworth, in Bristol: most likely at the house of John Pinney, a hugely wealthy merchant whose fortune was founded on sugar and slaves.

(The University of Bristol Library Special Collections include the Pinney family papers: accounts, letter-books, family and estate papers, mainly relating to Dorset and the West Indies, 1650-1986. See https://www.bristol.ac.uk//library/resources/specialcollections/archives/#pinney )

WW-Robert-Hancock-1798

(William Wordsworth, 1798, by Robert Hancock: © National Portrait Gallery)

In that same busy period, he quarrelled with Southey: though they were reconciled in the autumn of the following year, their Pantisocracy scheme, hardly surprisingly, fell through. And, less than six weeks after the Coleridge wedding, on 13 November 1795, Southey also married—also in St Mary Redcliffe Church. His bride was Edith Fricker, a sister of Coleridge’s wife.

In later years, when the Southeys lived in Keswick, at Greta Hall, they also supported Sara Coleridge and her children. And where was Coleridge then? In London, perhaps; or Germany; or South Wales; or Scotland; or Malta; or Sicily; or Italy. In September 1798, Lyrical Ballads, the landmark volume by Wordsworth and Coleridge, was published in Bristol by Joseph Cottle. Thereafter, Coleridge nursed an increasingly hopeless love for Sara Hutchinson (whom he addressed in print as ‘Asra’, not quite an unbreakable code), sister to Mary—whom Wordsworth would marry in 1802; there were quarrels and reconciliations; unfinished poems; accusations of plagiarism; lectures, marathon conversations, table-talk—and opium.

The early celebration of French revolutionary principles fell entirely away in the cases of both Wordsworth and Coleridge—and fell away even more steeply, perhaps, in that of Robert Southey, with whom Byron’s ‘Dedication’ to Don Juan was concerned (the first two Cantos appeared in 1819), though he had begun his ‘Preface’ with a swipe at Wordsworth’s unintelligibility and here jabbed at Coleridge’s recent preoccupations.

Byron-Thomas-Phillips

(Byron by Thomas Phillips)

Bob Southey! You’re a poet – Poet Laureate,
And representative of all the race;
Although ‘tis true that you turned out a Tory at
Last, yours has lately been a common case.
And now my epic renegade, what are ye at
With all the Lakers, in and out of place?
A nest of tuneful persons, to my eye
Like ‘four and twenty blackbirds in a pye,

Which pye being opened they began to sing’
(This old song and new simile holds good),
‘A dainty dish to set before the King’
Or Regent, who admires such kind of food.
And Coleridge too has lately taken wing,
But like a hawk encumbered with his hood,
Explaining metaphysics to the nation;
I wish he would explain his explanation.[8]

There were major achievements still to come from Coleridge, though, barring his restless revising, few of these were in the field of poetry, after the first years of the nineteenth century, and some—the Notebooks—would be barely visible in his lifetime. Wordsworth too, after the publication of Poems in Two Volumes (1807), is generally viewed in terms of poetic decline. In ‘Resolution and Independence’, written in the first half of 1802, though not published until 1807, Wordsworth’s narrator thinks of Chatterton, ‘the marvellous Boy’, whose brief life and tragic death were inextricably linked to St Mary Redcliffe Church, where his father was sexton and found the papers in the Muniment Room which led to Chatterton’s ‘discovery’ of the poet Thomas Rowley.[9] The same stanza concludes with two famous lines:

We Poets in our youth begin in gladness;
But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness.[10]

And yes, ‘sadness’ would have scanned—and would have rhymed too. But it just wouldn’t have cut the mustard, somehow. . .

References

[1] Francis Kilvert, Kilvert’s Diary, edited by William Plomer, Three volumes (London: Jonathan Cape, 1938, reissued 1969). Volume Two (23 August 1871—13 May 1874), 386.

[2] ‘To Robert Southey of Balliol College, Oxford, Author of the “Retrospect”, and Other Poems’, in Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Complete Poems, edited by William Keach (London: Penguin Books, 1997), 74.

[3] Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1989), 61-62.

[4] Tom Mayberry, Coleridge and Wordsworth: The Crucible of Friendship, revised edition (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2000), 22-23.

[5] ‘Lines composed while climbing the left ascent of Brockley Coomb, Somersetshire, May, 1795: Coleridge, The Complete Poems, 80.

[6] Rosemary Ashton, The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 74-75; Coleridge, The Complete Poems, 87-88, 89-91.

[7] ‘Lines in the manner of Spenser’: Coleridge, The Complete Poems, 81.

[8] Lord Byron, Don Juan, edited by T. G. Steffan, E. Steffan and W. W. Pratt (London: Penguin Books, 1996), 37, 41. Southey accepted the post of Poet Laureate in 1813. Byron had assisted Coleridge financially, sending him £100 in February 1816: Ashton, The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 295. On the Pye joke, see an earlier post: https://reconstructionarytales.blog/2017/08/21/sorrows-joys-magpies/

[9] On Chatterton, see Richard Holmes, ‘Thomas Chatterton: The Case Re-opened’, in Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer (London: Harper Collins, 2000), 5-50; Alistair Heys, editor, From Gothic to Romantic: Thomas Chatterton’s Bristol (Bristol: Redcliffe Press, 2005).

[10] William Wordsworth, edited by Stephen Gill (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 232.

 

Circumspect and right

Mauve, Anton, 1838-1888; Shepherdess
Anton Mauve, The Shepherdess (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff)

Early in Ford Madox Ford’s Some Do Not. . ., the first volume of the Parade’s End tetralogy, Christopher Tietjens and Vincent Macmaster are talking together in a railway carriage (their topics of conversation ranging over many of the novel’s themes).

“I’m thinking,” Tietjens said, “thinking how not to be too rude.”
“You want to be rude,” Macmaster said bitterly, “to people who lead the contemplative. . . the circumspect life.”
“It’s precisely that,” Tietjens said. He quoted:

‘She walks the lady of my delight,
A shepherdess of sheep;
She is so circumspect and right:
She has her thoughts to keep.’”[1]

As the note says, these lines are from ‘The Shepherdess’, one of the best-known lyrics by Alice Meynell. She was born on this day, 22 September, in 1847 and died on 27 November 1922 (within a month or so from the probable start date of Ford’s writing of Some Do Not . . .). ‘The Shepherdess’ had first appeared in Meynell’s 1901 Later Poems, was reissued in a 1914 volume of that title, and was collected several times thereafter, usually in editions  issued by Burns and Oates, the Catholic publishing house of which her husband Wilfrid was manager.

Alice_Meynell

Curiously, the 1939 revision of The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1918, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, includes this poem under the title ‘The Lady of the Lambs’—which somehow makes it worse—and, in the version Tietjens quotes, the third and fourth lines of Meynell’s stanza have been promoted to the first and second lines. Then, too, while Tietjens has ‘thoughts to keep’, Meynell, characteristically, has ‘soul’.

Born Alice Thompson, she spent much of her early life in Italy, where she was educated mainly by her father. After the family returned to England in 1864, Alice converted to Catholicism at the age of twenty-five and, in 1877, married Wilfred Meynell, with whom she co-edited several magazines and had eight children between 1879 and 1891. They were friends with the leading Victorian poets (Tennyson, Meredith, Coventry Patmore) and famously took in the destitute, opium-addicted and—at that stage—suicidal poet Francis Thompson, who lived with them for the best part of twenty years, though he also spent time in a Franciscan monastery in North Wales.

Meynell was highly popular and also critically applauded but her public persona of piety and ‘femininity’ have complicated later reactions to her, not least because of her involvement with the struggle for women’s suffrage: critical of the Women’s Social and Political Union’s methods, she joined the Women Writers Suffrage League, formed in 1908 by the playwright and novelist Cicely Hamilton.

The enduring response to that image of the pure and impeccably virtuous Angel in the House, which prompted Ford’s use of Meynell’s poem at this juncture, also underlies D. H. Lawrence’s letter to his agent, James Pinker, about the decision of Chatto and Windus to omit the poem ‘Song of a Man who is loved’ (and one other poem, plus several lines in others) from the collection Look! We have Come Through! Lawrence remarked of the poem that ‘I’m sure Alice Meynell might print it without reproach.’[2]

Probably not. The poem ends:

So I hope I shall spend eternity
With my face buried between her breasts;
And my still heart full of security,
And my still hands full of her breasts.[3]

Perhaps, then, his publisher’s nervousness was not a complete mystery in wartime England, just two years after the prosecution of The Rainbow.

hyde2
William Hyde, from London Impressions

The Lawrence connection with the Meynell family is probably the one of greatest interest, though their story breaks off in several directions which reward pursuit. Another Ford connection which suggests itself  is through Edward Hyde, an artist and illustrator whom Ford greatly admired and knew well. Hyde provided the illustrations (‘Photogravure plates’) for Ford’s 1900 volume, The Cinque Ports. Ford published an appreciation of the artist in January 1898 and, in December of that year, there was a private view of Hyde’s ‘London Impressions’, to accompany the publication of his book of that title: Hyde’s illustrations accompaned a series of essays by Alice Meynell. The volume was priced at eight guineas—‘equal to a house servant’s wages for a year’—and, at the private view, Arthur Balfour (who would become Prime Minister in the summer of 1902) bought two of Hyde’s pictures on the spot.[4]

One more connection is that to David Garnett, through Francis Meynell, the youngest of the children, who founded the famous Nonesuch Press, which produced its first title in 1923. Garnett was a partner in the Press, together with Francis and his wife Vera. He was also, of course, a friend of Lawrence and the Nonesuch titles would include an edition of Lawrence’s Love Among the Haystacks, in the year of his death—with a memoir by David Garnett.

Nonesuch-DHL

Just two days ago, it was the anniversary of the launching of Georgian Poetry, 20 September 1912, in Edward Marsh’s rooms in Gray’s Inn. Present were Rupert Brooke, Marsh, Wilfred Gibson, John Drinkwater, Harold Monro and Arundel del Ré. Brooke and Marsh were the prime movers at the earliest stage but both Francis and Alice Meynell have been credited with awakening that interest in contemporary verse in Marsh which led to the production of the anthology and its successors.[5]

But the best-known connection is that with D. H. Lawrence, whose closest contact with the Meynell family occurred from late January to the end of July in 1915. He and Frieda had been invited to stay on the Meynell estate at Greatham, just a few miles from Pulborough in West Sussex (where Ford Madox Ford first lived with Stella Bowen between June 1919 and August 1920). The cottage was lent to the Lawrences by Viola Meynell; and their stay there produced one story, ‘England, My England’, which has provoked a good deal of criticism of Lawrence for his apparent ‘ruthlessness’ in using figures and events ‘from life’.[6]

The cottage was also the venue for a much-disputed visit by Ford and Violet Hunt. They saw—and quarrelled with—Frieda Lawrence; unless Frieda quarrelled with Catherine Wells, wife of H. G. And Lawrence himself was not present. Almost certainly. . .[7]

D_H_Lawrence_1915

(D. H. Lawrence, 1915)

David Garnett visited, in the company of his friend Francis Birrell, and the pair were invited to breakfast with the Meynells. Garnett remembered that ‘Wilfred Meynell, the Patriarch, was rustling the pages of the Observer, the room was full of dark, madonna-like girls and women, the Poetess [Alice] lay stretched upon a couch’.[8]

Viola Meynell, herself the author of more than twenty books, was an early supporter of Lawrence. The typescript of The Rainbow dates from February 1915 to 31 May 1915, and Viola was one of its three, possibly four, typists.[9] It was also to Viola that Lawrence announced that he was ‘going to begin a book about Life.’[10]

‘It is the Meynells’ place’, Lawrence wrote to his friend William Hopkins before he and Frieda set off. ‘You know Alice Meynell, Catholic poetess rescuer of Francis Thompson.’[11] Thompson had died only eight years earlier, his Selected Poems appearing posthumously, though his critical standing was already high, his best-known poem probably ‘The Hound of Heaven’. As late as 1952, Viola would publish Francis Thompson and Wilfrid Meynell: A Memoir.

Alice Meynell’s poems have not lasted well. To modern eyes—certainly to mine—they’re redolent of a kind of Victorian self-parody: very conventional, often sentimental, worthy, rather thin and clunky. Perhaps some of the essays, introductions and reviews have survived in ruder health. There was a centenary volume of her prose and poetry, published in 1947 by Jonathan Cape, with an introduction by Vita Sackville-West. It’s noticeable that, in that 400-page book, the selection of her poems doesn’t begin until page 357. That selection includes a poem entitled ‘The Lady Poverty—‘The Lady Poverty was fair / But she has lost her looks of late’—which, in 1932, George Orwell mentioned when trying to settle on a title for his first book. He thought of calling it ‘The Lady Poverty’ or ‘Lady Poverty’—but settled instead on Down and Out in Paris and London, which finally appeared on 9 January 1933.[12]

On the other hand, Alice Meynell: Prose and Poetry­—circumspectly, perhaps—does not include ‘The Shepherdess.’

References

[1] Ford, Some Do Not. . . (1924; edited by Max Saunders, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010), 26.

[2] To Pinker, 3 August 1917: Letters of D. H. Lawrence III, October 1916–June 1921, edited by James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 145-146 and notes.

[3] D. H. Lawrence, The Complete Poems, edited by Vivian de Sola Pinto and F. Warren Roberts (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977), 250.

[4] Ford, ‘William Hyde: An Illustrator of London’, The Artist, XXI (January 1898), 1-6; Jerrold Northrop Moore, The Green Fuse: Pastoral Vision in English Art, 1820-2000 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2007), 90.

[5] Robert H. Ross, The Georgian Revolt: Rise and Fall of a Poetic Ideal, 1910-1922 (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), 120, 103-104.

[6] Mark Kinkead-Weekes, D. H, Lawrence: Triumph to Exile, 1912-1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 252-255.

[7] Max Saunders reviews the evidence—and some related assertions—in Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), I, 476-478.

[8] David Garnett, Great Friends (London: Macmillan, 1979), 86.

[9] The Rainbow, edited Mark Kinkead-Weekes, introduction and notes Anne Fernihough (Cambridge, 1989; Penguin edition with new editorial matter, 1995), 1 (‘A Note on the Text’). One of the other typists was Eleanor Farjeon.

[10] Letter of 2 March 1915: Letters of D. H. Lawrence II, June 1913-October 1916, edited by George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 299. This was ‘The Crown’.

[11] Letters of D. H. Lawrence II, 259. Eric Gill was only brought into contact with this prominent Catholic family when he was commissioned by Everard Meynell to carve the tomb for Thompson in St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green: Fiona MacCarthy, Eric Gill (London: Faber & Faber, 1990), 112.

[12] George Orwell, A Kind of Compulsion: 1903-1936, edited by Peter Davison, revised and updated edition (London: Secker and Warburg, 2000), 253.

 

 

 

Margins and Montague

Cat-hair

What a menu of news: a major earthquake in Mexico, another hurricane battering the Caribbean, and leading politicians well down to their usual standard, whether of dishonest posturing or reckless and irresponsible ranting. Sidestepping further gloom, I decide to forego the pleasures of the churchyard shortcut—a man shooting up on the steps a few weeks ago, two agitated women clearly waiting for The Man a few days ago—and take another route, the way I used to walk to work, to call at the baker, the deli and the fishmonger. I pause only long enough for the visiting cat to successfully deposit some hair on the leg of my trousers before setting off.

The fishmonger is open but seems a little unready, as none of the fish is labelled yet. ‘Am I a bit early?’ I wonder. No, no, he says, then asks casually if I know exactly what I want and mentions, when I come to pay, that he’d prefer a card transaction because he hasn’t sorted out a float yet. But no, I’m not too early, he’s just ‘marginally, marginally late.’ How marginal is that, precisely?

Henry-Thoreau

Margin: an edge or border, blank edge on the page of a book, something allowed more than is needed. ‘I love a broad margin to my life’, Thoreau wrote—and elsewhere: ‘The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day.’[1] This is (possibly) not an experience of work and working conditions commonly shared by those on zero-hour contracts in the United Kingdom’s contemporary employment paradise.

I saunter, pausing from time to time to check that the two cartons of double cream—‘Keep upright’—in my rucksack are in fact keeping upright. I am thinking of margins, firstly of that blank edge of a book’s page. W. J. Jackson wrote a book entirely about the notes that found their way there: Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books (Yale University Press, 2002) and the British Library holds William Blake’s copy of the three-volume set of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, with their extensive annotations in Blake’s hand (there are—of course—books and articles wholly devoted to these).

When Sr Joshua Reynolds died
All Nature was degraded;
The King dropd a tear into the Queens ear;
And all his Pictures Faded.[2]

reynolds-joshua-works-B20132-53

Blake’s copy of Reynolds’ Works: British Library.
(‘To Generalize is to be an Idiot  To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit—General Knowledges are those Knowledges that Idiots possess’)

In Lawrence Durrell’s Sebastian, ‘In the margin of a book she had borrowed from Sutcliffe’, Constance ‘had found the scribbled words: “The same people are also others without realising it.”’[3] Robert Phelps wrote to James Salter: ‘Scrapbooks, footnotes, almanacs, letters, diaries, questionnaires, marginalia, memos, alphabets . . . how I love them. Pasolini once called himself a “pasticheur.” I think I am an annotator. The story exists for the scribbled notes in the margin.’[4]

Secondly, that edge or border, often physical, often psychological and sometimes both at the same time. In war, certainly in the First World War, that sense of being on the edge of things, never having sufficient information to know what was actually going on, worsened by feeling abandoned or forgotten. Eric Leed wrote: ‘Astonishing numbers of those who wrote about their experience of war designate No Man’s Land as their most lasting and disturbing image. This was a term that captured the essence of an experience of having been sent beyond the outer boundaries of social life, placed between the known and the unknown, the familiar and uncanny. The experience of war was an experience of marginality, and the “change of character” undergone by the combatant could adequately be summarized as marginalization.’[5]

David Jones writes of John Ball and his comrades (‘Here they sat, his friends, serving their harsh novitiate’), in contrast to the Army Service Corps, Base-wallahs, Staff-wallahs and the like: ‘but these sit in the wilderness, pent like lousy rodents all the day long; appointed scape-beasts come to the waste-lands, to grope; to stumble at the margin of familiar things—at the place of separation.’[6]

‘Marginal’ is often applied to those figures that are viewed as of secondary importance, off-centre: but in some disciplines, the centre has an unsettling habit of shifting.[7] Certainly, in the arts, the ‘canon’ broadens and deepens constantly as some of the most important figures of previous generations are found not to last, the new questions addressed to them getting little or nothing in reply.

Montague-Capt-Cadge-censors

(C. E. Montague and Captain Cadge as army censors via Spartacus International

That third margin, the ‘something allowed more than is needed’, is a critical element in the title story of C. E. Montague’s Action (1928), part of our recent haul from Hay-on-Wye. It concerns Christopher Bell, ‘reigning sovereign’ of a dynasty of Manchester merchant princes, who wakes one morning to feel a numbness down one side of his body. He has fought in the Great War, during which he lost his beloved wife, and is a keen climber. Facing a future of invalid-chair and male nurse, and after a couple of humiliating allowances being made for his condition, he revolts. He won’t commit suicide but, reading of a great climber’s ‘greatest adventures’, Bell wonders how big a margin of safety had attended that successful expedition: ‘what if such a party were to try paring and paring away at that pretty wide margin?’ He returns to an old haunt, Zinal, in the Swiss canton of Valais, in late September. His target is a glacier with ice ‘steep and bare and blue’—with an overhang: ‘nowhere in the whole thousand feet of ascent would a man have a foothold to stand on, unless he made it.’ He climbs conscientiously until genuinely exhausted: ‘that was the end, he felt, of all possible effort’. Then a falling ice-axe and the standard Alpine cry for help, alerts him to a drama just above the overhang: a woman at the end of a rope which her husband desperately hangs on to above her. Bell is galvanised into heightened, unthinking action, and all three are eventually saved. In the Weisshorn hut, while she sleeps, he tells the man, Gollen, who’s a doctor, his symptoms. Gollen talks about artists, saints, raised to the uttermost through action, ‘“every bit of your consciousness taken up into some ecstasy of endeavour that’s passion and peace.”’ Looking out at the mountain under the moon, Gollen asks, when Bell says it’s ‘all right’, whether it’s all right enough. Bell says oh yes, he’s ‘sticking on’.

Thirty pages in my pocket edition,[8] and a story, ‘inspired by a report of a climber who had died of exposure on Kinder Scout following a mountain storm on New Year’s Day 1922’, which manages to touch on a surprising number of themes, the effects of the recent war, masculinity, heroism, trauma and recovery.[9]

Montague himself might be regarded as a ‘marginal’ man but is of great interest to those working in and around the Great War, especially those concerned with its after-effects, social and cultural, through the nineteen-twenties.

There’s an informative page on Montague at Spartacus International:
http://spartacus-educational.com/Jmontague.htm
and he also crops up on Josh Levithan’s remarkable site, A Century Back
http://www.acenturyback.com/
and on George Simmers’ excellent Great War Fiction blog:
https://greatwarfiction.wordpress.com/

Some very good criticism on Montague can be found in Andrew Frayn’s Writing Disenchantment: British First World War Prose, 1914-30 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014) and in his essay, ‘“What a victory it might have been”: C. E. Montague and the First World War’, in Trudi Tate and Kate Kennedy, editors, The Silent Morning: Culture and Memory After the Armistice (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), 131-148.

Montague is a fascinating figure who really illuminates some important aspects of the post-war period—and I’m still reading him.

 
References

[1] Henry David Thoreau, Walden, edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004), 108 and note.

[2] The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, newly revised edition, edited by David V. Erdman (New York: Anchor Books, 1988), 641. This edition also includes Blake’s underlinings and annotations in works by Swedenborg, Lavater, Bacon, Wordsworth, Edward Young and others.

[3] Durrell, Sebastian or Ruling Passions (1983), in the Avignon Quintet, one-volume edition (London: Faber and Faber, 2004), 978.

[4] Memorable Days: The Selected Letters of James Salter and Robert Phelps, edited by John McIntyre (Berkeley, California: Counterpoint, 2010), 38.

[5] Eric J. Leed, No Man’s Land: Combat and Identity in World War I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 15.

[6] David Jones, In Parenthesis (1937; London: Faber and Faber 1963), 70.

[7] So the first two, at least, of Piers Gray’s Marginal Men: Edward Thomas; Ivor Gurney; J. R. Ackerley (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991) are much more visible twenty-five years later.

[8] C. E. Montague, Action (1928; London: Chatto & Windus, Phoenix Library, 1936), 1-31.

[9] Paul Gilchrist, ‘Mountains, Manliness and Post-war Recovery: C.E. Montague’s “Action”’, Sport in History, 33:3 (2013), 288 and passim.

 

Waking, Sunday morning

Dante_Inferno_XV

(Gustav Doré, illustration for Dante, Inferno, Canto XV)

Waking on Sunday morning, I listen to the headlines, just to be sure that the 45th President of the United States has not brought about the incineration of a large part of the world because someone called him names in the playground. Then downstairs, to resume my book over coffee, hoping that there’s no significance in the title of the long story I’m finishing: ‘The Nemesis of Fire’.[1]

Sunday seems to preoccupy poets, with its unsettling conjunction of religion and war, of prophecy and delusion.

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.

An attractive setting in which to consider questions of religious belief, the possibility of paradise on earth and the acceptance of inevitable endings. There are unsettling moments, to be sure:

Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.[2]

More direct, perhaps, is Robert Lowell in ‘Waking Early Sunday Morning’, the poem which opens Near the Ocean. Politics and religion in the era of the Vietnam War and, of course, the Six-Day War,[3] bled profusely into one another:

O Bible chopped and crucified
in hymns we hear but do not read,
none of the milder subtleties
of grace or art will sweeten these
stiff quatrains shovelled out foursquare—
they sing of peace, and preach despair;
yet they gave darkness some control,
and left a loophole for the soul.

Lowell

(Via The Poetry Foundation: www.poetryfoundation.org/)

The last three stanzas move from an imagined glimpse of the President (Lyndon B. Johnson on his Sunday morning) to end thus:

No weekends for the gods now. Wars
flicker, earth licks its open sores,
fresh breakage, fresh promotions, chance
assassinations, no advance.
only man thinning out his kind
sounds through the Sabbath noon, the blind
swipe of the pruner and his knife
busy about the tree of life . . .

Pity the planet, all joy gone
from this sweet volcanic cone;
peace to our children when they fall
in small war on the heels of small
war—until the end of time
to police the earth, a ghost
orbiting forever lost
in our monotonous sublime.[4]

On a Sunday in September 1819, John Keats wrote ‘To Autumn’. The Odes, of which this is one of the most famous, were written, Robert Gittings notes, ‘in what Keats had now come to regard as a fever, a beating at the bars of life.’ Less than five months later, on the night of Thursday 3 February 1820, came the first showing of arterial blood, followed by a second, massive haemorrhage.[5]

Gittings_Keats

There are less portentous Sundays, some offering simple (or complex) pleasure. ‘This is the day that Robert Burns delighted in,’ the Reverend Francis Kilvert remarked in his diary, ‘the first fine Sunday in May.’[6] Fifty years later, D. H. Lawrence was in receptive mood: ‘This Sunday morning, seeing the frost among the tangled, still savage bushes of Sardinia, my soul thrilled again. This was not all known. This was not all worked out. Life was not only a process of rediscovering backwards. It is that, also: and it is that intensely. Italy has given me back I know not what of myself, but a very, very great deal.’[7]

There was a time, not that long ago, when Sunday in this country was either a huge relief, peaceful and relaxing; or stupendously boring, enough to drive you up the wall, depending on your age, character and predilections. Norman Lewis remembered that ‘England, this April [1946], was an everlasting Sunday morning, lying under a spell of emptiness and silence.’[8]

And in the United States? Charles Reznikoff remembered ‘Sunday Walks in the Suburbs’, hardly an Edenic setting:

On stones mossed with hot dust, no shade but the thin, useless shadows of roadside grasses;
into the wood’s gloom, staring back at the blue flowers on stalks thin as threads.

He details rubbish, rats, scared dogs, old women, old men and remarks that:

This is where I walked night after night;
this is where I walked away many years.[9]

Henry Thoreau, though, sought to reach back to something precisely Edenic, before the religious disagreements that complicated the life of his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘It was a quiet Sunday morning, with more of the auroral rosy and white than of the yellow in it, as if it dated from earlier than the fall of man, and still preserved a heathenish integrity’.[10]

SundayBloodySunday

We could certainly do with a large infusion of integrity in public life. But heathenish? No, probably not. Always these complications. Sunday bloody Sunday, as they say. (U2, yes, but John Schlesinger first.)

 

References

[1] ‘Nemesis of Fire’, in The Tales of Algernon Blackwood (London: Martin Secker, 1938), 440-513. The story is about a ‘fire-elemental’, enraged by the desecration of a tomb and the theft of a ‘scarabaeus’, a gem in the form of the dung-beetle, sacred to the ancient Egyptians.

[2] Wallace Stevens, ‘Sunday Morning’, The Collected Poems (New York: Vintage Books, 1982), 66-67, 69.

[3] See Lowell’s comments on the poem in The Letters of Robert Lowell, edited by Saskia Hamilton (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), 485-486, 487.

[4] Robert Lowell, Collected Poems, edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 384, 385-386. See 933-936 for the magazine version of the poem, which included two more stanzas between the last two quoted here.

[5] Robert Gittings, John Keats (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1971), 507, 508.

[6] Kilvert’s Diary, edited by William Plomer, Three volumes (London: Jonathan Cape, 1938, reissued 1969). Volume One (1 January 1870—19 August 1871), 329: entry for Sunday 7 May 1871.

[7] Lawrence, Sea and Sardinia (1921), in D. H. Lawrence and Italy (London: Penguin Books, 1997), 123.

[8] Lewis, The World, the World (London: Jonathan Cape, 1996), 18.

[9] Charles Reznikoff, Poems 1918-1936: Volume I of The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff, edited by Seamus Cooney, two volumes (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1978), 41.

[10] A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, in Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers; Walden; The Maine Woods; Cape Cod (New York: Library of America, 1985), 36.

 

‘Remember that I have remembered’

Binyon_via_BBC
(Laurence Binyon via BBC)

A great many people in the English-speaking world, even if unfamiliar with the name of Laurence Binyon, would probably recognise his words. These words anyway:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.[1]

The fourth stanza of seven, used in all manner of places on Remembrance Day, formerly Armistice Day—of course, many people still call it that, though the date refers to only one armistice: the signatures on a document in a railway carriage in a clearing in the forest of Compiègne on 11 November 1918.

Binyon was born on 10 August 1869 (he died in 1943). For literary historians and, perhaps, some art historians, the authorship of those famous words might easily be forgotten or set aside as a mere detail in Binyon’s story, interesting in its own right but also connecting with a great many other stories.

One example would be the Abstract & Concrete exhibition (February 1936), which was organised by Nicolete Gray. She was a friend of Myfanwy Evans, who edited a periodical called Axis, devoted to abstract art, from 1935 to 1937, and married John Piper in the latter year. Nicolete was an art scholar and calligrapher, later a friend of David Jones, publishing a book about his paintings  – and the youngest of Laurence Binyon’s daughters: she married Basil Gray, Binyon’s assistant at the British Museum.[2]

Gray-Jones

(The jacket illustration is Jones’s 1931 self-portrait entitled Human Being).

Another example would be an encounter in the Vienna – or Wiener – Café:

So it is to Mr Binyon that I owe, initially,
Mr Lewis, Mr P. Wyndham Lewis. His bull-dog, me,
as it were against old Sturge M’s bull-dog, Mr T. Sturge Moore’s
bull-dog[3]

The poet and playwright Thomas Sturge Moore was, in a way, Lewis’s mentor at that stage and, thirty years later, Lewis would write from his self-imposed wartime exile in Toronto: ‘How calm those days were before the epoch of wars and social revolution, when you used to sit on one side of your work-table and I on the other and we would talk’.[4] Thirty years before the Pisan Cantos, Pound wrote in Poetry magazine (June 1915) an appreciation of Sturge Moore in which he referred to the poet as ‘more master of cadence than any of his English contemporaries.’ In the same piece, he wrote a famous line that William Cookson would isolate many years later in his edition of Pound’s Selected Prose: ‘The essential thing in a poet is that he build us his world.’[5] And Pound said that these lines of Sturge Moore’s had stayed with him: ‘Aie, aie, aie!/ Laomedon![6]

At the time of that meeting in the Wiener Café, Binyon was Assistant Keeper at the British Museum. He became, in 1913, Keeper of the new Sub-Department of Oriental Prints and Drawings, with the orientalist Arthur Waley as his assistant. The exhibition Binyon organised of Chinese and Japanese paintings ran throughout 1910-12. His access to, and wide knowledge of, oriental art was hugely influential in the development of modernism. He published over forty books, including more than a dozen volumes of poetry and almost as many on British art and literature, another eight on oriental art, plus plays and biographies.

Binyon_Flight_Dragon

Pound often referred approvingly to Binyon’s 1911 book, The Flight of the Dragon, on Chinese and Japanese art (one factor in preparing Pound to respond as he did to the gift of Ernest Fenollosa’s notebooks from his widow, Mary, which resulted in Cathay); and he remembered too Binyon’s thirty-page poem Penthesilea (1905), about the queen of the Amazons, her involvement in the Trojan War and her eventual death at the hands of Achilles, whose spear penetrates her shield:

in her side it pierced
And bore her down; imperially she fell
Without a cry, sank on lost feet, nor heard
Achilles’ dread voice, ‘Art thou satisfied,
Penthesilea?’ but the heavy shield
Rang on her fallen, the helmet rolled in dust
From her proud head, and the long, loosened hair
Tossed one tress richly over throat and bosom
Shuddering strongly up from where the blood
Welled dark about the spear forced deep within;
And sudden as a torch plunged in a pool
Her face lay dead-pale with the eyes quite closed.[7]

Much later in life, Binyon produced a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy in terza rima, which was the version used in the Portable Dante, published by Viking and available from Penguin Books for many years. Pound corresponded with him about his ten-year project and involved himself quite actively in it. In 1934, he published a long, complimentary review, in T. S. Eliot’s Criterion, of Binyon’s version of Inferno. In the course of that review, looking back to his pre-war acquaintance with Binyon at the British Museum, he recalled how he ‘perused, it now seems, in retrospect, for days the tales of . . . demme if I remember anything but a word, one name, Penthesilea, and that not from reading it, but from hearing it spoken by a precocious Binyonian offspring.’[8]

Pound wrote several detailed letters while Binyon was working on the Purgatorio and went through the proofs, commenting to his old teacher William Shepard that Binyon ‘sheds more light on Dante than any translation I have ever seen.’[9]

Ezra Pound 1939 by Wyndham Lewis 1882-1957
(Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound (1939): Tate Modern
© Wyndham Lewis and the estate of Mrs G A Wyndham Lewis
A major exhibition, Wyndham Lewis: Life, Art, War, is currently at IWM North (until 1 January 2018): The Quays, Trafford Wharf Road, Manchester, M17 1TZ)

His attitude to Binyon was often one of ‘baffled exasperation’, as Donald Davie phrases it in some fascinating pages on the relationship between them. Binyon, Davie says, ‘knew the unformulated rules of the society that he moved in, and played the game consistently as the amateur that that society required him to be. It is true to this day in England that, if one has learning, one must wear it so lightly that it is unnoticeable.’[10] (That was 1976. Forty years later—?)

before the world was given over to wars
Quand vous serez bien vieille
remember that I have remembered[11]

One other thing that Pound remembered was mentioned in a letter of 6 March 1934, when he asked Binyon: ‘I wonder if you are using (in lectures) a statement I remember your making in talk, but not so far as I recall, in print. “Slowness is beauty,” which struck me as very odd in 1908 (when I certainly did not believe it) and has stayed with me ever since’.[12]

It stayed with him for at least another twenty years, until ‘Canto LXXXVII’: ‘BinBin “is beauty”./ “Slowness is beauty.”‘

 

References

[1] Laurence Binyon, ‘For the Fallen’, first published in The Times, 21 September 1914. See Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology, edited by Tim Kendall (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 44.

[2] Frances Spalding, John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 86-89.

[3] Ezra Pound, ‘Canto LXXX’, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, fourth collected edition (London: Faber and Faber, 1987), 507.

[4] Letters of Wyndham Lewis, edited by W. K. Rose (New York: New Directions, 1963), 293.

[5] Pound, ‘Hark to Sturge Moore’, Poetry, VI, 3 (June 1915), 139-145 (141, 140). The line was used as epigraph to ‘Part One’ of Ezra Pound, Selected Prose 1909-1965, edited by William Cookson (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 19.

[6] Richard Sieburth points out that this is the opening to Sturge Moore’s 1903 work, The Rout of the Amazons: Ezra Pound, The Pisan Cantos, edited by Richard Sieburth (New York: New Directions, 2003), 148, note.

[7] Collected Poems of Laurence Binyon (London: Macmillan, 1931), 215. More Amazons! Why just then? The Suffragette group called The Bodyguard was dubbed ‘The Amazons’ by sections of the press, but this was a few years later.

[8] Pound, ‘Hell’, in Polite Essays (1937; Plainview, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1966), 28-46 (29). Nicolete was born in 1911; Pound’s memory is probably of 1909 (he met Binyon in February of that year), and thus of one of the twins, Helen or Margaret (born in December 1904). See ‘Canto LXXX’, 506: ‘Mr Binyon’s young prodigies/ pronounced the word: Penthesilea’.

[9] Ezra Pound, Selected Letters, edited by D. D. Paige (New York: New Directions, 1971), 311. These letters to Binyon are concentrated in the period April–May, 1938.

[10] ‘Ezra Among the Edwardians’ (1976), collected in Studies in Ezra Pound: Chronicle and Polemic (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1991), 227-231.

[11] Pound, ‘Canto LXXX’, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 506.

[12] Pound, Selected Letters, 255.

[13] Pound, ‘Canto LXXXVII’, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 572.

‘Here shall he see no enemy but winter and rough weather’

Marie_0009

(Our house in Queen’s Avenue, Singapore, 1960s)

‘It was a day in that season when the sun bolsters a fallen wing with a show of soaring, a day of heat and light. Light so massive stout brick walls could scarcely breast it when it leaned upon them; light that seemed to shiver windows with a single beam; that crashed against the careless eye like rivets.’[1]

No, never hot like that here; in any case, our weather is reverting to a more typical summer temperature: around 23C today (73.4F), after several instances lately of the level tipping over 30C. I noticed a few days ago that Arizona had registered 48C (118.4F) and wondered briefly how life forms other than cacti, rocks and sand could function in such heat, before recalling that people manage such temperatures well enough in large parts of the world: if anything, we’re the odd ones out, given our ‘temperate maritime’ climate. Then, too, I remembered landing at Tehran airport in nineteen sixty-something, when the temperature was in the region of 120 degrees Fahrenheit and the tarmac was sticking to our shoes.

Years ago, when I started researching the literature and history of, roughly, the 1890-1939 period, I would peer into the indispensable Annual Register. This told me that, in 1911, the thermometer at Greenwich reached 97F on July 22. I remember it mentioned the USA, ‘the intense heat of the summer, repeatedly passing 100F in New England and the Middle West’. On 9 August, the temperature over much of England reached 95F. at South Kensington it was 97F and at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, 100F – ‘the highest shade temperature ever registered in England’. That English summer was generally the hottest since 1868 and the sunniest on record, though those particular records only dated back thirty years.[2] Nowadays, we can point to Faversham, in Kent, in 2003: a champion 38.5C (101.3F).

Kenner

(Hugh Kenner)

Why 1911 in particular? Well, Ford Madox Ford published four books that year—though he did exceed that total on more than one occasion.[3] Also, I was intrigued by the unadorned assertion by Hugh Kenner that the summer of 1911 ‘was the hottest since 1453.’[4] Unadorned but not unreferenced: ‘Ford’s hyperbole’, Kenner’s note reads, ‘but Marianne Moore, in Paris with her mother, remembered that heat for 50 years. “One of the hottest summers the world has ever known.”’[5]

Ford’s hyperbole, no doubt, though the claim actually occurs in a book credited to the novelist Violet Hunt, Ford’s then lover. He does, however, contribute an introduction and two chapters, together with numerous footnotes in which he ‘corrects’ her statements. ‘So you have here a book of impressions,’ Ford writes in his introduction, carefully registering his admiration for ‘the kindly, careless, inaccurate, and brilliantly precise mind of the author’.[6]

VH_FMF_Selsey

(Ford and Violet Hunt at her cottage in Selsey)

Why 1453? Any personal significance as far as Ford is concerned escapes me for the moment. But it’s certainly a significant date in world history: the French victory at the Battle of Castillon effectively brought to an end the Hundred Years War, while the Byzantine Empire also came to a close when Constantinople fell to the forces of the Ottoman Empire.

As to the hot weather—though one person’s sweltering day is another’s mild one—while I get a bit twitchy in anything much more than twenty degree heat these days, as a child in Singapore, in a tropical climate, with a consistently high temperature (somewhere between high twenties and low-to-mid thirties Celsius, I’d say), together with very high humidity—and three times the average UK rainfall—I was fine. Fine? I was just dandy. In the afternoons, while the British civil servants worked in airy offices with huge ceiling fans and memsahibs lay on their beds under mosquito nets until it was time for tea, children my age rode their bicycles for miles or played cricket on concrete pitches. The weather was what it was and people acclimatised and adapted to it.

So it’s partly a matter of age; and partly that, while people will still remark on unusually hot or cold weather, for the most part, it’s accepted as something that can’t be changed and must be put up with. And in literature, it often becomes a metaphor for what is simply there. So Private Williams, in Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye, ‘accepted the Captain as fatalistically as though he were the weather or some natural phenomenon.’[7] Arnold Bennett’s Sophia ‘had accepted Gerald as one accepts a climate.’[8] And in D. H. Lawrence’s story about a fateful relationship between a Prussian captain and his orderly, ‘the officer and his commands he took for granted, as he took the sun and the rain.’[9]

Given the ending of that story, it was a little too much taken for granted, a little too much accepted. If in doubt—resist.

 

References

[1] Henry Roth, Call It Sleep (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1989), 259.

[2] Annual Register, 1911, Part II, 29, 31, 32, 62.

[3] 1907, 1913 and 1915.

[4] Kenner, The Pound Era (London: Faber and Faber, 1975), 80.

[5] The Pound Era, 567. Kenner cites Moore’s interview in Paris Review, 26 (Summer-Fall, 1961), 46.

[6] Violet Hunt, The Desirable Alien, with two chapters by Ford Madox Ford (London: Chatto & Windus, 1913), 294, x.

[7] Carson McCullers, The Complete Novels (New York: Library of America, 2001), 390.

[8] Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives’ Tale (1908; Harmondsworth, 1983), 361.

[9] ‘The Prussian Office’, in D. H. Lawrence, The Collected Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence (London: William Heinemann, 1974), 91. With unfortunate timing, The Prussian Officer and Other Stories had been published on 26 November 1914, less than three months after the outbreak of war.