Jonathan Williams: The Lord of Orchards

JW-Lord

A little late to the party but hugely glad to finally arrive, I’ve been immersed in Jonathan Williams: The Lord of Orchards, edited by Jeffery Beam and Richard Owens.[1] This ‘memorial festschrift’ briefly brought to mind an earlier example, Madeira & Toasts for Basil Bunting’s 75th Birthday, edited by Williams himself, which gathered prose and poetry (and illustrations and music) from almost a hundred writers and artists, published by the Jargon Society and with a cover (a pastel portrait of Bunting) by R. B. Kitaj. But none of those contributions was more than three pages long and most were less than a page, whereas this book of ‘essays, images, and shouts’ (xiv) is not only a good deal heftier, not far short of 500 pages, but also includes substantial studies of several aspects of Williams’ life and work, and is thus perhaps more reminiscent of the ‘Person and Poet’ series of often ground-breaking volumes produced by the National Poetry Foundation (https://personandpoet.wordpress.com/ ).[2]

‘Heft’ is an apposite word, in fact, with its cluster of meanings, some obsolete or archaic, some dialect, ‘weight’, ‘ability or influence’—and one alternative reading ‘a number of sheets fastened together: an instalment of a serial publication.’ Apposite for Jonathan Williams, to be sure. Polumetis—‘many-minded’, versatile—was one of the stock epithets for Odysseus, which Ezra Pound took over and lavished also upon Sigismondo Malatesta; and Williams possessed, and displayed, that versatility in spades, a versatility not only of cultural activities and poetic forms but in his range of reference, from the Greek and Latin classics to Appalachian eavesdropping.

Divided into four sections—‘Remembering’, ‘Responding’, ‘Reviewing’ and ‘Recollecting’—and concluding with two invaluable checklists, of Jargon Society titles and of Williams’s own publications, this volume explores and celebrates that many-minded Williams in a rich array of prose, poetry and, appropriately, illustration—Williams was a superb photographer. There is an extraordinary gallery of images, both of and by Williams, some truly memorable (and also offering a splendid selection of Williams’ hats). A good number of the contributors to Williams’ festschrift for Bunting are represented here too, among them Robert Kelly, Ronald Johnson, Simon Cutts, Eric Mottram, Guy Davenport, Thomas Meyer and Bunting himself.

JW-Jubilant

The last three sections include extensive, thoroughly-researched essays: on Williams and Black Mountain; on Williams’ poetic practice and, more specifically, on ‘metafours’, the form that he invented, refined and extended through several books—‘Williams proves there is always something new under the sun. And that the new is usually found in the glory of the remaindered old’ (195)—and on Williams the photographer. Tom Patterson considers Williams’ long and dynamic engagement with the visual arts: he was a significant collector of folk or vernacular art and, in a talk transcribed here, says that a lot of his poetry of the last ten or fifteen years has been ‘involved with what they call these days, I guess, “outsider art” or “self-taught art” or “naïve art” or . . . Again, it’s essentially people who live in the country who make things’ (416). Patterson’s lengthy essay on this ‘involvement’ details Williams’ discovery of the potter Lanier Meaders and the wood sculptor Edgar Tolson, listing, at one point, nearly forty other ‘self-taught artists’ from Williams’ native region from whom he’d acquired pieces for his collection, not only buying from them but meeting and talking with them too. Much of this was field work connected with the Southern Visionary Folk Art Project though the resultant manuscript, Walks to the Paradise Garden, remained unpublished (338-339).

‘The essential thing in a poet is that he build us his world’, Ezra Pound wrote in 1915.[3] It’s striking just how often the word or the sense of that scope and reach arises in this book. In his introduction, Beam refers to ‘the Jonathan who collected the world and offered it to anyone willing and capable of responding’ (xiii). Guy Davenport points to ‘a long and distinguished history of poets who have balanced a love affair and a feud with the world’, and comments a little later: ‘A pattern of artists emerge—Blake, Ives, Nielsen, Samuel Palmer, Bruckner—and (if we have our eyes open) a whole world’ (118, 120). Kenneth Irby writes that Williams’ is ‘a contemplative poetry, attentive upon the entire world before the clear senses’ and further comments: ‘It is very much a poetry of what Ford Madox Ford called, in that neglected masterpiece, England and the English (1907), assoupissement, “a bathing in the visible world”’ (225).[4] The poet Thomas Meyer, Williams’ partner for forty years, remarks: ‘Here is a man for whom the world cannot be the world until it is palpable, until it can be handled. Or is itself a “handle”’ (247). ‘He has made a great motion in the world’, Vic Brand observes, ‘in his goings and comings, on foot and by car across America’ (278). And Williams himself, in the ‘Foreword’ to his beautiful collection of photographs and extended captions (or mini-essays) A Palpable Elysium, pronounced: ‘So, finally, what we have here is a “Home-Made World,” to use Hugh Kenner’s term.’[5]

The main impressions—either new or enhanced—that I take away from this remarkable collection are, firstly, the truly multifarious nature of Williams’ activities and enthusiasms. ‘His wide-ranging passions and interests were omnivorous. Literature, photography, hiking, food & wine, folk art, music were just a few of his serious preoccupations’ (Jonathan Greene, 202)—and he means serious: Williams’ knowledge of these things was deep and detailed. Jeffery Beam, friend and colleague of Williams for almost three decades, writes that ‘his work of more than half a century is such that no one activity or identity takes primacy over any other—seminal small press publisher of the Jargon Society; poet; book designer; editor; photographer; legendary correspondent; literary, art, and photography critic and collector; early collector and proselytizer of visionary folk art; cultural anthropologist and Juvenalian critic; curmudgeon; happy gardener; resolute walker; and keen and adroit raconteur and gourmand’ (xiii). That ‘resolute walker’ takes in the Appalachian Trail (close to 1500 miles, walked with poet Ronald Johnson over some four months) and later the fells and dales of Cumbria and Yorkshire, while the ‘legendary correspondent’ kept up an average of fifty letters a week for fifty years.

Secondly, I’d say, a much better grasp of Williams’ complex relationship with the Black Mountain poets (so many of whom he published and, often, launched), the subject of Ross Hair’s thirty-page essay: Williams’ strong admiration for Charles Olson coupled with his understanding that, ‘You ran a risk being a student of his of being kind of smothered’ (393). Hair is very good on the paradox of Black Mountain College’s being so liberal and advanced in many ways while still strikingly conservative in its gender politics and the prevailing view of the men as ‘shakers and makers’, while women ‘cooked the cornbread and made children and kept quiet’ (Williams, quoted, 138).

JW-Blackbird

Thirdly, the Jargon Society’s irrefutable importance in the history of American literature in the second half of the twentieth century: look at the authors of the first twenty Jargon titles, famous now but many or most of them far from famous then. Apart from Williams (volumes of his own poetry as well as his calligraphy and photographs deployed in several others), they include Oppenheimer, Patchen, Olson, Creeley, Zukofsky, Duncan, Levertov, McClure – and Henry Miller, Mina Loy and Paul Metcalf are just around the corner, as are introductions by William Carlos Williams and Kenneth Rexroth. Nor are we seeing only the names of writers: here are Robert Rauschenberg, Paul Ellsworth, Dan Rice, René Laubiès, Aaron Siskind – and drawings by Miller, Patchen and Fielding Dawson.

Fourthly, the extent of Williams’ enthusiasm for the chance encounter, the overheard remark, the glimpsed roadside sign, the ready-made. One of his favourite quotations (and one cited several times by other contributors here) is from John Clare: ‘I found these poems in the fields and only wrote them down.’ Jim Cory asserts that, more than any other poet in the postmodern schools descending from the Pound–William Carlos Williams line, Jonathan Williams ‘made the found poem central to his enterprise’, believing that ‘discovery was at least half the process of creation’ (197). As far back as the Black Mountain years, Hair points to Williams sharpening his ears on local speech at Ma Peak’s Tavern, three miles from the college: ‘The beer joint in Hicksville, USA should never be underestimated’ (Williams quoted, 156). Eric Mottram quotes Williams (in the London Times, 1970) saying that, ‘Poetry to me is a kind of field—a place in which things happen’ (187-188).[6] Their happening requires a democratic openness, a quickness of response and recording, a detailed memory—but, above all, attention. ‘It is the life of attention which is life itself for the Epicurean, the panoply of detail and experience’, Thomas Meyer writes. ‘Pay attention. Close attention. Is his credo. / For attention is the highest form of delight’ (250). As Williams himself said, ‘I don’t make much distinction. I like to find things, and then I like to make things. I don’t particularly like to make up things. I just like to make things, and they’re usually things that I’ve found—either signs or conversation or words out of some stranger’s mouth, which struck me as terrific’ (383).

JW-Palpable

Fifthly, the extent of his concern to commemorate and celebrate those—poets and others—who have gone on to Elysium. Gary Carden remembers that Williams ‘was fond of addressing his dead friends, saying things like, “If there is a flight out of the Elysian Fields tonight, old friend, I’ll pick you up at the airport.”’ (49). And Guy Davenport described Williams as not only ‘the iconographer of poets in our time’ but also ‘of the places and graves of poets gone on to Elysium’ (111).[7] Indeed, some of the most resonant photographs in A Palpable Elysium are of the many and varied graves: Jelly Roll Morton, Kenneth Grahame (‘who passed the river on the 6th of July 1932’), Erik Satie, Wallace Stevens, Rachmaninoff, Charlie Parker, Vincent and Theo Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise, E. E. Cummings and H. P. Lovecraft, James Thurber, Edgar Tolson (‘the Woodcarver’) and the mausoleum of Walt Whitman.

Attention and death— they come together in Tom Meyer’s elegant and often intensely moving poem Kintsugi. Robert Kelly, in his foreword, notes that, ‘When we are that close, so close that the whole of one’s attention is given to that person who is going away, love means little more than paying attention’ (98). Meyer writes:

Walk into a room.
Not know where I am.
Once it was Love
had me so distracted.
Now it’s Death. (103)

As soon as I came across Jeffery Beam, in his introduction to this print edition, quoting a 1991 letter from Williams that starts by recommending Alan Judd’s fine biography of Ford Madox Ford, I knew that the omens were good, at least for this reader. And so it proved, to a greater extent than I’ve managed to outline here – and a sense of Williams’ real significance is brought into sharp relief by the extraordinary range and variety of the contributors gathered in The Lord of Orchards, to remember, bear witness, respond, review and celebrate the poet, the publisher, the photographer and the man.

In his 2007 interview with Beam’s co-editor, Richard Owens, Jonathan Williams remarked of Lorine Niedecker: ‘It’s hard to imagine people not being interested in her but most people do manage not to be interested and it continues on’ (367). Most people do so manage and it does continue on – but it’s at least as hard to imagine anybody with an interest in Jonathan Williams, or Charles Olson and the other Black Mountain poets, or small press publishing, or Anglo-American literature from the 1940s to now, not finding a great deal of intense and lasting interest—and enjoyment—here.
References

[1] Jonathan Williams: The Lord of Orchards, edited by Jeffery Beam and Richard Owens. ISBN 978-1-63226-087-1. Westport and New York: Prospecta Press, 2017. The title is taken from Williams’ ‘Symphony No. 2 in C Minor’, v (‘Scherzo tempo: all stops out’): ‘The Lord of Orchards/ selects his fruits/ in the Firmament’s/ breast’. See Jubilant Thicket: New & Selected Poems (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2005), 61. The book is an expansion of the feature on Williams which appeared in late 2009 in the online journal Jacket: http://jacketmagazine.com/38/index.shtml#jw

[2] Sensibly amalgamated from the earlier ‘Man and Poet’ (William Carlos Williams, Eliot, Bunting, Zukofsky, Bunting) and ‘Woman and Poet’ (Mina Loy, Lorine Niedecker, H. D., May Sarton, Marianne Moore).

[3] Pound, ‘Hark to Sturge Moore’, Poetry, VI, 3 (June 1915), 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.

[4] Indeed he does, in The Soul of London (1905): see England and the English, edited by Sara Haslam (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2003), 75.

[5] Jonathan Williams, A Palpable Elysium: Portraits of Genius and Solitude, introduction by Guy Davenport (Boston: David R. Godine, 2002), 10. The Hugh Kenner book referred to is A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers (1975).

[6] This may recall William Carlos Williams’ ‘The Poem as a Field of Action’ (1948) – ‘we here must listen to the language for the discoveries we hope to make’: Selected Essays (New York: New Directions, 1969), 290.

[7] In his ‘Introduction’ to A Palpable Elysium, Davenport notes of Williams: ‘It is his opinion (in conversation) that lots of people who think they are alive are actually dead’ (11).

 

‘Now it is time’ – revisiting Rilke

rilke-clara-1906
(Rilke and Clara, 1906)
http://fondationrilke.ch/rainer-maria-rilke/

‘Where to begin? And am I the one to give the Elegies their proper explanation? They pass infinitely beyond me.’[1] Yes, I’ve been revisiting Rilke, having read a good deal of his work decades ago, and always in translation, but nothing at all recently. In that long interval, though, I often noticed his name cropping up in all sorts of contexts in other books I was reading. Here was Lewis Hyde, writing about Rilke on art as a way of life, referring to his ‘wise blindness’.[2] Then W. H. Auden explaining to Alan Ansen that he wouldn’t mind Yeats’s ‘crazy mythology if he took it more seriously’, or, conversely, tipped a wink at the end to say the whole thing was a hoax; adding: ‘I like really crazy people like Rilke, yes, and D. H. Lawrence.’[3]

There are four versions of Rilke poems in Robert Lowell’s Imitations and, in History, a poem called ‘Rilke Self-Portrait’.[4] In Vernon Watkins’s poem, ‘Discoveries’, ‘Rilke bears all, thinks like a tree, believes,/ Sinks in the hand that bears the falling leaves.’ In the early summer of 1941, Watkins stayed with Dylan Thomas in Laugharne. ‘We had read Rilke’s Duino Elegies to each other in the look-out of Laugharne Castle perched on the wall over the estuary. The poems excited Dylan deeply, though he called Rilke “a very odd boy indeed”.’[5]

Here is Ted Hughes writing to Anne Stevenson in the autumn of 1986, pointing out the very wide range of Sylvia Path’s reading in modern poetry, particularly European poets. ‘She was saturated with Rilke, of course’, Hughes notes, ‘she was perpetually studying German and used Rilke as a text. She regarded Rilke and [Zbigniew] Herbert as much more her “fellow-countrymen” than other US poets.’[6]

There are almost twenty Rilke translations in Randall Jarrell’s published work:

‘One star in the dark pass of the houses,
Shines as if it were a sign
Set there to point the way to—
But more beautiful, somehow, than what it points to,
So that no one has ever gone on beyond
Except those who could not see it, and went on
To what it pointed to, and could not see that either.’[7]

And then—Guy Davenport. Discussing Eliot’s Four Quartets, he suggests that they are, ‘in one sense Eliot’s emulation, and rivalry, of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies [1923]. Both are the greatest poems of our century about time, mortality, and our tragic incomprehension of existence. Both negate time for an eternal present containing the past and the future.’[8]

Schloss-Duino

In his essay on Ezra Pound published a few months after the poet’s death, Davenport recalled, on a visit to Venice, learning that Pound was then reading aloud to Olga Rudge Jean Paul Sartre’s recently published Les Mots. ‘A book less likely to interest Pound cannot be imagined’, Davenport observes, ‘and yet he was always capable of surprising our notions of what he did and didn’t like. His last journey was by yacht to the Schloss Duino. Rilke! Who could have foreseen that act of homage?’[9]

This finds its echo or enlargement in an August 1972 letter from Davenport to Hugh Kenner, in the wonderful edition of their correspondence forthcoming from Counterpoint Press next month: ‘Last report is that Ezra, Olga, and some well-heeled friend with a yacht are off to the Schloss Duino to inspect the ramparts from which Rilke, gazing into the storm, heard the angel cry, or shriek, or whistle. It is news to me that Ezra Pound ever looked into a copy of the Duineser Elegien.’ Edward Burns’ note informs us that Davenport is thinking of ‘the opening of the first elegy’, which Davenport translates as ‘“What eye among the rungs and hordes / of angelkind would turn and find / my long call through the storm of time?”’[10]

J. B. Leishman begins his translation of that first elegy like this:

Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic
orders? And even if one of them suddenly
pressed me against his heart, I should fade in the strength of his
stronger existence. For Beauty’s nothing
but beginning of Terror we’re still just able to bear,
and why we adore it so is because it serenely
disdains to destroy us. Every angel is terrible.[11]

I think, though, that what really jolted me back to Rilke was happening across this translation by Michael Hamburger of a poem, dated ‘October, 1925’, that begins, ‘Jetzt wär es Zeit, daß Götter träten aus / bewohnten Dingen…’

Now it is time that gods came walking out
of things inhabited. . .
And then demolished every wall inside
my house. New page. For nothing but the wind
that would be raised by such a wind in turning
could turn the air as shovel turns a sod:
a brand-new field of air. O gods, you gods,
the often come, who are asleep in things,
cheerfully rise, at wells that we conjecture
wash wide awake their faces and their necks
and add their restedness to that which seems
full as it is, our lives already full.
Another morning make your morning, gods!
We’re the repeaters, only you the source.
Your rising is the world’s, beginning shines
from every crack within our patched-up failure. . . .[12]

An extraordinary poem, an extraordinary translation and, surely, both. All those gods! And angels! Yet, referring to the scepticism of Nietzsche, Charles Tomlinson remarks that it was ‘a disbelief that found its most lasting poetic embodiments in the Duino Elegies of Rainer Maria Rilke’.[13] And Rilke himself wrote, in the letter first quoted, ‘The angel of the Elegies has nothing to do with the angel of the Christian heaven (rather with the angelic figures of Islam. . . .) The angel of the Elegies is that Being in whom the transmutation of the Visible into the Invisible, which we seek to achieve, is consummated.’

PMB-Rilke

(Paula Modersohn-Becker, Rainer Maria Rilke, 1906)

Drusilla Modjeska Stravinsky’s Lunch, largely devoted to the study of two Australian women painters— Grace Cossington-Smith and Stella Bowen, one of the most important people in the life of Ford Madox Ford—briefly traces in the early pages the life and career of Paula Modersohn-Becker, who painted most of her significant pictures, and eighty in all, in one year, 1906-1907, the year in which she died at the early age of thirty-one. Modjeska mentions that Modersohn-Becker sold only one painting in her lifetime (in fact, it seems to have been three) and that one to her friend Rilke. She was a close friend of the artist Clara Westhoff, who did in fact marry Rilke.[14] After Modersohn-Becker’s death, Rilke wrote a long, remarkable ‘Requiem for a Friend’, though without naming her.

‘Are you still there? Still hiding in some corner? —
You knew so much of all that I’ve been saying,
and could so much too, for you passed through life
open to all things, like a breaking day.
Women suffer: loving means being lonely,
and artists feel at times within their work
the need, where most they love, for transmutation.’[15]

B opener Moderson-BeckerSelfPortrait.jpg

(Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-Portrait on the 6th Wedding Day, 1906)

Naturally, I became interested in Modersohn-Becker: the recent fine biography of her by Marie Darrieussecq—‘And, through all these gaps, I in turn am writing this story, which is not Paula M. Becker’s life as she lived it, but my sense of it a century later. A trace’—was largely responsible for the major retrospective of Paula Modersohn-Becker’s work at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris in 2016, for which Darrieussecq wrote the catalogue texts.[16]

Rilke arrives in Worpswede in Northern Germany in September 1900, initially to visit his friend, the painter Heinrich Vogeler. ‘Rilke thinks that painters know how to live, always. They depict anxiety. In hospital, Van Gogh paints his hospital room. The bodies of painters and sculptors are active. Their work is given over to this movement. He, the poet, doesn’t know what to do with his hands. He doesn’t know how to be alive.’ Then: a painter and a sculptor. Rilke ‘is in two minds. Paula, Clara. His heart is torn. He has a preference for threesomes, which will continue his whole life’ (Being Here 27, 28). In 1901, in preparation for her marriage to Otto Modersohn, Paula Becker is sent to Berlin, to take a cookery course. Rilke is also there and they meet. ‘As soon as she leaves, he writes to her again. It is midnight under his green lamp; he doesn’t touch a thing, in order to retain her presence’ (Being Here 49). They have dinner together for the last time in Paris, 27 July 1906. She dies of an embolism in November 1907: she is thirty-one years old. A year after her death, Rilke will write the ‘Requiem for a Friend’ over ‘three haunted nights in Paris’, at the Hotel Biron, 77 rue de Varenne, ‘a building Clara located for him and which will become the Musée Rodin.’ (Being Here 136).

‘Do not return. If you can bear it, stay
dead with the dead. The dead are occupied.
But help me, as you may without distraction,
as the most distant sometimes helps: in me.’[17]

So yes—intrigued, baffled, astonished, bemused, exhilarated—I am reading Rilke.

 
References

[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, Selected Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, 1902-1926, translated by R. F. C. Hull (London: Macmillan, 1946), 392.

[2] Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (New York: Vintage, 1983), 150.

[3] Alan Ansen, The Table Talk of W. H Auden, edited by Nicholas Jenkins (London: Faber and Faber, 1991), 72.

[4] Robert Lowell, Collected Poems, edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 273-279, 497.

[5] Vernon Watkins, ‘Discoveries’. Selected Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), 8; Dylan Thomas, Letters to Vernon Watkins, edited by Vernon Watkins (London: J. M. Dent and Sons and Faber and Faber, 1957), 105.

[6] Letters of Ted Hughes, selected and edited by Christopher Reid (London: Faber and Faber, 2007), 516-517.

[7] Randall Jarrell, ‘The Evening Star’, The Complete Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969), 485.

[8] Guy Davenport, ‘Civilization and its Opposite in the 1940s’, The Hunter Gracchus and Other Papers on Literature and Art (Washington: Counterpoint, 1996), 80: Davenport had the date as 1921 but appears to have been two years out.

[9] Guy Davenport, The Geography of the Imagination (Boston: David R. Godine, 1997), 171.

[10] Questioning Minds: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner, edited by Edward Burns (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2018), II, 1413; 1447, n.105.

[11] Rainer Maria Rilke, Selected Works. Volume II: Poetry, translated by J. B. Leishman (London: The Hogarth Press, 1980), 225.

[12] German Poetry, 1910-1975, an Anthology translated and edited by Michael Hamburger (Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1977), 22-23.

[13] Charles Tomlinson, American Essays: Making It New (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2001), 59.

[14] Drusilla Modjeska, Stravinsky’s Lunch (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 6-13.

[15] Rilke, Poetry, 204.

[16] Marie Darrieussecq, Being Here: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker, translated by Penny Hueston (Melbourne, Australia: Text Publishing, 2017), 44, 154, n.34.

[17] Rilke, Poetry, 205.

 

Taking some lines for a walk: Ford, Conrad, Novalis

(Ford by Hoppé; Conrad via New York Public Library)

On this day in 1913, Ford Madox Ford published an essay in The New Freewoman, the middle incarnation of three journals edited wholly or in part by the suffragist and radical activist Dora Marsden. She started The Freewoman: A Weekly Feminist Review (1911-1912) with her friend Mary Gawthorpe; in the latter half of 1913, she edited what had become The New Freewoman – Rebecca West (who had got her start in The Freewoman) was literary editor; finally, it became The Egoist, with Harriet Weaver as editor (and primary financial backer) and Marsden as contributing editor, running from January 1914 to December 1919 and famously publishing some key modernist texts (by Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Pound and Eliot).[1]

Dora-Marsden

Dora Marsden apparently necessitating the attention of several big strong men:
http://spartacus-educational.com/WmarsdenD.htm

Ford’s essay, ‘The Poet’s Eye’, unsurprisingly bore a strong resemblance to the ‘Preface’ to his Collected Poems, published towards the end of that year. Much of it discussed his view of the differences between poetry and prose, the first being for him quite uncontrollable, ‘words in verse form’ coming into his head from time to time and being written down ‘quite powerlessly and without much interest, under the stress of certain emotions.’ With prose, ‘that conscious and workable medium’, it was ‘a perfectly different matter.’

Ford is actually arguing that the ‘literary jargon’ to which English poetry is wedded, together with the narrow assumptions of what constitutes the suitable material of poetry, renders it incapable of dealing with modern life, ‘so extraordinary, so hazy, so tenuous with, still, such definite and concrete spots in it’. Poetry in English was, of course, on the cusp of extraordinary change: Pound’s Ripostes the previous year had included ‘The Return’ and T. E. Hulme’s poems; Des Imagistes would follow in 1914, as would W. B. Yeats’s Responsibilities; Cathay and Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ in 1915. But, at the time of his writing, there was still a strong and widespread adherence to what Ford termed ‘the sure cards of the poetic pack’.

‘I may really say’, Ford asserted, ‘that for a quarter of a century I have kept before me one unflinching aim—to register my own times in terms of my own time, and still more to urge those who are better poets and better prose writers than myself to have the same aim. I suppose I have been pretty well ignored; I find no signs of my being taken seriously. It is certain that my conviction would gain immensely as soon as another soul could be found to share it. But for a man mad about writing this is a solitary world, and writing—you cannot write about writing without using foreign words—is a métier de chien.’[2]

Ford was precocious—but perhaps not to quite that degree: a literal ‘quarter of a century’ would have made him fourteen. His first book was published shortly before his eighteenth birthday. But there are some splendidly recurrent phrases here, I mean ones that resonate in minds that have grazed in Fordian fields. I remember Donald Davie writing about a phalanx of details in Pound’s Canto 80, pausing to remark that ‘Anyone is free to decide that life is too short for such unriddlings; others (I speak from experience) may develop a taste for them.’[3] This is not such an unriddling but certainly a related pleasure—or vice.

Novalis

(Friedrich von Hardenberg: Novalis)

‘It is certain that my conviction would gain immensely as soon as another soul could be found to share it.’ Yes, ‘recurrent’ is an apt word here. In 1900, William Blackwood published Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, its epigraph reading: ‘“It is certain my conviction gains infinitely, the moment another soul will believe in it.”—Novalis.’ Cedric Watts’ note points out that in the German original, the word means ‘opinion’ rather than ‘conviction’, that Conrad was probably using the translation by Thomas Carlyle in On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, and that an alternative version appears in another Carlyle book, Sartor Resartus, which Conrad has his character Marlow read in his novella Youth. Watts also notes that Conrad quotes Novalis’ aphorism again in A Personal Record.[4]

Lord Jim was published during the intense period of collaboration between Ford and Conrad which eventually produced The Inheritors (1901), Romance (1903) and The Nature of a Crime (1909; 1924). It was in the September of 1898 that the two men met and , in the following month, Conrad and his family moved into Pent Farm, Postling, Kent, sublet to them by Ford. A quarter of a century later, Ford recalled of that time: ‘Conrad’s conviction restored life to the fainting Pent: it breathed once more: the cat jumped off the window sill; the clock struck four’: this immediately preceding the arrival of W. H. Hudson—their first meeting—who would be of immense importance to Ford, though in less immediately evident ways than Conrad.[5]

Use what’s at hand: ‘pent’, wonderful. Ford’s fictional ambitions were both fired and freed in the course of the collaboration, while ‘the bulk of [Conrad’s] greatest fiction—the completed Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and The Secret Agent—was written while collaborating with Ford.’[6]

In 1915, in the second of Ford’s propaganda books, he notes in the ‘Preface’, ‘It is certain that my conviction gains immensely as soon as another soul can be found to share it.’[7] The following year, writing to Conrad from a Red Cross hospital in Rouen, he commented, ‘Since I have been out here this time I have not had one letter from one living soul. So one’s conviction does not get much from wh[ich]. to gain anything!’ By 1921, when Ford was writing to Harriet Monroe to acknowledge the Poetry prize awarded to him for A House (1921), the quote from Novalis (not named here) had become ‘the immortal dictum: “It is certain that my conviction gains immensely as soon as another soul can be found to share it”’[8] and the precise wording recurs in a 1927 essay about Ford’s memories of New York.[9]

One clear implication of these instances is that, while Ford—at least trilingual—could have read, and translated for himself, the lines from Novalis, he didn’t: though perhaps, even if he’d done so, he might have persisted with the version he associated with Conrad. But it’s also very striking, and surely poignant, that Ford, editor as well as writer, closely connected with so many groups of writers and artists, from the late 1890s through the English Review crowd, Imagism, Vorticism, Paris in the 1920s, New York and Tennessee in the 1930s, had that constant need for another soul to share his conviction. ‘He needed more reassurance than anyone I have ever met’, Stella Bowen remembered.[10] ‘Until the arrival of such “uncomfortables” as Wyndham Lewis, the distressful D. H. Lawrence, D. Goldring, G. Cannan, etc., I think Ford had no one to play with’, Ezra Pound wrote—an oddly selected cast but with a grain of truth, nevertheless.[11]

Hokusai

Those phrases, ‘a man mad about writing’ and ‘a métier de chien’ in Ford’s essay also have their histories. Describing himself as ‘an old man mad about writing’, Ford pointed to the artist Hokusai who called himself ‘an old man mad about painting’: he used the phrase or variations on it several times.[12] That ‘métier de chien’ is, again, associated particularly with Conrad: ‘For Conrad hated writing more than he hated the sea. . . . Le vrai métier de chien. . . . ’ but employed and alluded to in various contexts.[13] Then later references to the Shepherd’s Bush Exhibition and that phrase, ‘We are the heirs of all the ages’. . . But no, the comments on the essay would threaten to rival, in length at least, the essay itself. Perhaps another time, another walk, another conviction. ‘Taking a line for a walk’ – that was Paul Klee, I think. Another kind of line but the phrase would probably serve: taking a few Fordian lines for a walk. Yes, why not?

 
References

[1] Detailed on the indispensable Modernist Journals Project website: http://modjourn.org/index.html

[2] Ford Madox Ford, ‘The Poet’s Eye’, New Freewoman, I, 6 (1 September 1913), 107-110.

[3] Donald Davie, ‘Ezra Pound Abandons the English’ (1975), reprinted in Studies in Ezra Pound (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1991), 236.

[4] Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, edited by Robert Hampson with an introduction and notes by Cedric Watts (London: Penguin Books, 1989), 41, 353; see also Ian Watt, Conrad in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 40 and n.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance (London: Duckworth, 1924), 155.

[6] Max Saunders, Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), I, 117. Alan Judd observes that, ‘Most of Conrad’s best work was written during periods of their intimacy’: Ford Madox Ford (London: Collins, 1990), 63.

[7] Ford Madox Ford, Between St. Dennis and St. George: A Sketch of Three Civilisations (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), vi.

[8] Ford Madox Ford, Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 80, 136. E. M. Forster was at it too, quoting the same aphorism of an unnamed ‘mystic’: Howards End (1910; edited by Oliver Stallybrass, London: Penguin Books, 1989).

[9] Ford Madox Ford, New York Is Not America (London: Duckworth, 1927), 91.

[10] Stella Bowen, Drawn From Life (London: Collins, 1941), 80.

[11] Ezra Pound, ‘Ford Madox (Hueffer) Ford; Obit’, in Selected Prose 1909-1965, edited by William Cookson (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 433.

[12] Ford Madox Ford, The March of Literature: From Confucius to Modern Times (London: Allen & Unwin, 1939), vi: Conrad is named on the last page (850) of the text. Nicholas Delbanco’s essay on this book is titled ‘An Old Man Mad about Writing’: Joseph Wiesenfarth, History and Representation in Ford Madox Ford’s Writings (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004), 219-231. In A Mirror to France (London: Duckworth, 1926), for instance, Ford is ‘an old man mad about Provence’ (208).

[13] Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad, 113, 255; Thus to Revisit (London: Chapman & Hall, 1921), 57; Return to Yesterday: Reminiscences 1894-1914 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1931), 292; The Simple Life Limited by ‘Daniel Chaucer’ (John Lane, 1911), 73.

 

As easy as pie – sometimes

Basil

‘Basil returned with the two pies. He was wearing the expression of a man who has laid hands on a symbol of his boyhood: it made him look somewhat ponderous.’[1] This seems a pretty straightforward example of a symbol (pie = boyhood), though the passive construction of those verbs (‘He was wearing’ and ‘it made him look’) must be seen a little warily in the context of ‘Basil’ being the ‘great actor’, Sir Basil Hunter, come back from England to Australia to ease his dying mother into an old folks’ home, secure as much of the loot as he can, and play whatever roles are required.

EyeOfTheStorm.jpg

In the opening paragraph of her second novel, Penelope Fitzgerald writes of her central character, Florence Green: ‘She had once seen a heron flying across the estuary and trying, while it was on the wing, to swallow an eel which it had caught. The eel, in turn, was struggling to escape from the gullet of the heron and appeared a quarter, a half, or occasionally three-quarters of the way out. The indecision expressed by both creatures was pitiable. They had taken on too much.’ Bracketing this description, there are passages of studied ambiguity: it is one of the nights when Florence is ‘not absolutely sure whether she had slept or not’; and ‘Florence felt that if she hadn’t slept at all – and people often say this when they mean nothing of the kind – she must have been kept awake by thinking of the heron.’

A little later, we read that, ‘The weather was curious, and reminded her of the day she saw the flying heron trying to swallow the eel.’ One more reference, a dozen pages further on, seems to emphasise dreaming rather than thinking in that first instance: ‘Completely tired out by the time she went to bed, she no longer dreamed of the heron and the eel, or, so far as she knew, of anything else.’[2]

Some fifteen years later, in an essay on the voices of fictional characters, Fitzgerald quoted from that opening and commented, ‘I now think this was a mistake, because dreams in fiction are just as tedious as people’s dreams in real life.’[3] True enough: but the reference to the form rather than the content seems a little disingenuous – or am I oversimplifying by seeing the heron and the eel as a symbolic conjunction relevant to Fitzgerald’s entire corpus? One of her critics, enlarging on this ‘remarkable, predatory image’, remarks that, ‘As if borrowed from the sphere of sleep’s hauntings, the image, Darwinian and predacious, will be recalled more than once in the course of the novel, and it sets up, right at the start, the theme of survival—and the challenges that make survival, especially for the less fit and self-assertive, a chancy matter.’[4]

Blue-Heron-via-Telegraph

(Blue heron, via The Telegraph)

Yes, just before the second reference to the heron and eel, we find: ‘She blinded herself, in short, by pretending for a while that human beings are not divided into exterminators and exterminatees, with the former, at any given moment, predominating.’ And elsewhere, reflecting on V. S. Pritchett’s warning against writing one’s life away, Fitzgerald wrote: ‘This is a warning that has to be taken seriously. I can only say that however close I’ve come, by this time, to nothingness, I have remained true to my deepest convictions – I mean to the courage of those who are born to be defeated, the weaknesses of the strong, and the tragedy of misunderstandings and missed opportunities which I have done my best to treat as a comedy, for otherwise how can we manage to bear it?’[5]

The heron and the eel—together—comprise then an image, and surely a symbol, of the battle that life entails for a certain kind of person, with that particular balance of courage and confidence, who will never triumph yet will never quite give up either. How conscious, how deliberate must the use of a symbol be to qualify as a symbol? It seems absurdly patronising to suggest that so accomplished a writer wouldn’t have been perfectly aware of what she was doing. Nevertheless, I wonder if some writers—having produced such images, or symbols, capable of such strong and varied interpretations—hold them at a distance, play down their ownership with its implied rights of sustained control, concerned to allow those images room to breathe, to expand and flower in their readers’ minds.

‘I think you are playing a dangerous game,’ Patrick White wrote to Manfred Mackenzie in 1963, ‘fascinating to the player, no doubt – in all this symbol-chasing. Most of the time, I’m afraid, it leads up the wrong tree!’ He added, ‘I am sorry not to be able to confess to most of the influences you suggest. I may have arrived at certain conclusions via other writers who had read those you mention. Otherwise I suppose symbols can pop out of the collective unconscious.’ Two years earlier, replying to James Stern’s queries about his religious development, White replied: ‘Certainly in my own case I did not return to orthodox Anglicanism, but the Anglican church is a feeble organisation compared with the Jewish faith. I made the attempt, found that Churches destroy the mystery of God, and had to evolve symbols of my own through which to worship.’[6]

White did sometimes use symbols quite deliberately, often foregrounding them, as with the mandala that becomes part of the title of one of his novels, though circles and other figures of wholeness are everywhere in his books (as are roses). Linked to this, a sense of the wholeness of the world, certainly the artist’s world, perhaps not rationally apprehended but felt, sensed, known, is conveyed by the figure of the dance: Arthur Brown dancing the mandala for Mrs Poulter, or the young musician when she first enters Hurtle Duffield’s house: ‘As she continued turning within the conservatory’s narrow limits, she began also to hum. A golden tinsel of light hung around her lithe, mackerel body; while out of the dislodged tiles and shambles of broken glass her shuffling feet produced discordancies, but appropriate ones: Kathy Volkov would probably never teeter over into sweetness.’[7] William Butler Yeats, mindful of the interconnectedness of every part of both a tree and a work of art, famously asked at the end of ‘Among School Children’, ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’[8] And the novelist Richard Hughes, in his introduction to an edition of a William Faulkner novel, mentioned the story told of ‘a celebrated Russian dancer, who was asked by someone what she meant by a certain dance. She answered with some exasperation, “If I could say it in so many words, do you think I should take the very great trouble of dancing it?”’[9] It occurs to me that the title of Poussin’s painting that Anthony Powell adopted for his novel-sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time, could hardly have comprised three terms more mysterious and more difficult to grasp with confidence and conviction.

Dance_to_the_music_of_time

(Nicolas Poussin, A Dance to the Music of Time: Wallace Collection)

The gap that uncertainty—as to whether a literary image or motif is deliberately designed to perform a more substantial symbolic function—allows can carry a good deal of force. I’ve reflected more than once on Ford Madox Ford’s multiple references to cooking and gardening. They are almost always, in the first instance, actual cooking and actual gardening—both arts that Ford practised and regarded as hugely important. But, of course, they also offer extraordinary scope for symbolic interpretation. Ford uses more explicitly symbolic images too, which occur less often but with a more focused aim. So Christopher Tietjens characterises his wife and his lover thus: ‘If you wanted something killed you’d go to Sylvia Tietjens in the sure faith that she would kill it: emotion: hope: ideal: kill it quick and sure. If you wanted something kept alive you’d go to Valentine: she’d find something to do for it . . . The two types of mind: remorseless enemy: sure screen: dagger . . . sheath!’ Later, the suffragette and pacifist Valentine Wannop will acknowledge her ‘automatic feeling that all manly men were lust-filled devils, desiring nothing better than to stride over battlefields, stabbing the wounded with long daggers in frenzies of sadism.’[10]

For literary critics, psychoanalysts and many others, the world is a seething mass of symbols—in the index to my Penguin edition of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, ‘symbol’ runs into three columns, offering no end of joyous examples: asparagus, burglar, nail-file, zeppelin—but they would probably be the first to agree that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, a pipe a pipe, a rose a rose. And surely sometimes a pie is just a pie.

 

 

References

[1] Patrick White, The Eye of the Storm (London: Penguin Books, 1975), 452.

[2] Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop (1978; London: Everyman, 2001), 5, 29, 40.

[3] Penelope Fitzgerald, ‘Hearing Them Speak’ (1993), in A House of Air: Selected Writings, edited by Terence Dooley with Mandy Kirkby and Chris Carduff (London: Harper Perennial, 2005), 499-500.

[4] Christopher J. Knight, ‘The Second Saddest Story: Despair, Belief, and Moral Perseverance in Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop’, Journal of Narrative Theory, 42, 1 (Spring 2012), 70, 71.

[5] Fitzgerald, ‘Curriculum Vitae’, in A House of Air, 480.

[6] Patrick White, Letters, edited by David Marr (London: Jonathan Cape, 1994), 216, 217, 196.

[7] See Patrick White, The Solid Mandala ( Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969), 265-267; The Vivisector (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970), 443-444.

[8] W. B. Yeats, Collected Poems, second edition (London: Macmillan, 1950), 245.

[9] Hughes, ‘Introduction’ to William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (London: Chatto and Windus, 1966), vii.

[10] Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not. . . (1924; edited by Max Saunders, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010), 160, 284. Related images occur in many of Ford’s other works.

Fathers and daughters – and sons

Milo-OShea-as-Leopold-Blo-001

(Milo O’Shea as Leopold Bloom via http://ulyssesetc.blogspot.com/ )

Yesterday, of course, was Bloomsday when, in dozens of countries around the world, people celebrate the anniversary of the events of James Joyce’s great novel, published in Paris in 1922 but set in Dublin (16 June 1904).

‘Kidneys were in his mind as he moved about the kitchen softly, righting her breakfast things on the humpy tray. Gelid light and air were in the kitchen but out of doors gentle summer morning everywhere. Made him feel a bit peckish.’

Today is Father’s Day, at least here and in the United States, the date varying wildly in other countries, often occurring in March and April as well as June: my reference book says simply, ‘USA: Father’s Day (first celebrated 1910; not proclaimed by President until 1966).’

The author of Ulysses ended his previous novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, thus: ‘Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.’ The book had begun with Stephen’s own father telling him a story; by the end, that ‘old father’ is Daedalus, labyrinth-maker. This, critics point out, casts Stephen as Icarus, who had a famously nasty encounter with the heat of the sun, not waxing but waning – and worse. W. H. Auden begins his poem ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’, ‘About suffering they were never wrong, / The Old Masters’, that is, they understood that, however appalling the event or spectacle or outrage, everything else goes on regardless. He ends the poem by evoking a famous painting:

XIR3675

(Brueghel, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus)

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

The poem is dated December 1938.

At the very beginning of Charles Olson’s first published book, Call Me Ishmael, there are these striking lines as epigraph:

O fahter, fahter
gone among

O eeys that loke

Loke, fahter:
your sone!

The editors’ note reveals that Frances Bolderoff wrote to Olson in May 1949 to say, ‘I love very deeply—the lines at the opening of Call Me Ishmael. Are they early Swedish?’ Olson wrote back by return: ‘They are early Olson.’

Dombey-and-Son

My own father is long gone, alas. Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev wrote; Father and Son, wrote Edmund Gosse’s. Kathleen Tillotson, writing about Dickens’ 1848 novel Dombey and Son, pointed out that the title was ‘deliberately misleading—serving to keep the secret of Paul’s early death, and to point the irony of the book’s true subject—which is, of course, Dombey and Daughter.’ And yes, around here—as used to be the case in the office—it’s certainly fathers and daughters. The Librarian now on the phone to hers; a text just flown in from my younger daughter; and the creases on the new shirt reluctantly vanishing (‘You’d better run the iron over that. It looks as if you’ve just taken it out of the wrapper’ – ‘I have just taken it out of the wrapper’), as I get ready to meet my elder daughter. Lunch!

—Have you a cheese sandwich?
—Yes, sir.
Like a few olives too if they had them. Italian I prefer. Good glass of burgundy take away that. Lubricate. A nice salad, cool as a cucumber, Tom Kernan can dress. Puts gusto into it. Pure olive oil. Milly served me that cutlet with a sprig of parsley. Take one Spanish onion. God made food, the devil the cooks. Devilled crab.
 

 

 

 

Processions, congresses, crowds

t-e-hulme

In ‘Notes on the Bologna Congress’, dated ‘Bologna 7 April’—it was a philosophical conference held over six days in April 1911, attracting between five and six hundred attendees—T. E. Hulme touched on a conversation with Henri Bergson and a meeting with the French philosopher and essayist Jules de Gaultier but was most concerned with the people in the streets, there apparently to welcome the Duke of the Abruzzi, who had come from Rome to open the Congress, on behalf of his cousin, King Victor Emmanuel III.

Hulme recounted the strong admiration that he felt for that gathering, which had ‘achieved the impossible. It was a crowd without being a crowd. It was simply an aggregation of people who managed the extraordinary feat of coming together without becoming that very low class multicellular organism – the mob.’ He added: ‘If anyone could invent a kind of democracy which includes, as an essential feature, the possession of large and sweeping brown cloaks, then I will be a democrat.’

But circumstances force upon him ‘a frightful dilemma’ since it’s now time for the official opening of the Congress. He should go and hear the opening paper on ‘Reality’. But, if he does, he will miss the street scene and ‘I regard processions as the highest form of art’. In the end, accepting the absurdity of crossing Europe to attend a conference and then watching a procession instead, Hulme goes in. ‘I missed a spectacle I shall never see again. I heard words I shall often hear again – I left the real world and entered that of Reality.’[1]

Heinrich_Heine-Oppenheim

(Heinrich Heine: one of those German lyric poets. . . )

Memory snags a little on that word ‘procession’. Here’s Ford Madox Ford talking about the German lyric poets, who ‘sit at their high windows in German lodgings; they lean out; it is raining steadily.  Opposite them is a shop where herring salad, onions and oranges are sold. A woman with a red petticoat and a black and grey check shawl goes into the shop and buys three onions, four oranges and half a kilo of herring salad. And there is a poem! Hang it all ! There is a poem.
‘But this is England—this is Campden Hill, and we have a literary jargon in which we must write. We must write in it or every word will “swear.”

Denn nach Köln am Rheine
Geht die Procession.

“For the procession is going to Cologne on the Rhine.” You could not use the word procession in an English poem. It would not be literary.’[2]

Would it not? Robert Hampson suggested in a 1993 essay that Ford ‘must have forgotten’ Lionel Johnson’s poem to Oliver George Destree (‘Dead’), which includes the lines:

Past the ruinous church door,
The poor procession without music goes.

He points out that Ford’s own poem ‘The Starling’, which opens High Germany (1911), uses ‘procession’ and that Ezra Pound subsequently rises to the challenge with a cluster of processions in the poems of Lustra (1916).[3]

Ford might also have ‘forgotten’ Richard Corbet’s ‘Farewell Rewards and Fairies’:

By which we note the Fairies
Were of the old profession;
Their songs were Ave Marys,
Their dances were procession.

puck

(Puck, via the Kipling Society)

Why would he have known it? Though not, as far as I recall, in the habit of browsing through Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, he might well have found it in the first story of Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906), where it’s sung (if not those precise lines) by Puck and Una; while the ‘sequel’ to Puck was, of course, Rewards and Fairies (1910).[4] There was also Ford’s friend Stephen Crane, who once began a poem: ‘There were many who went in huddled procession’.[5]

Hulme died, aged barely thirty-four, on 28 September 1917, literally blown to pieces in the trenches by a direct hit from a shell. He features in many narratives: as the translator of Henri Bergson and Georges Sorel; or, influenced by the German art historian Wilhelm Worringer, influencing in turn the course of early modernism in Britain. His friends and acquaintances included Jacob Epstein, Wyndham Lewis (whom Hulme hung upside-down, by his trouser turn-ups, from the railings of a house in Soho Square), David Bomberg and, of course, Pound. The painter Kate Lechmere, Hulme’s partner during much of this period (and the ostensible occasion of the ruckus that resulted in the railing-suspension), contributed substantially to the start-up costs of Blast, the Vorticist journal edited by Lewis (only two issues ever appeared).

blast1

Hulme wrote and lectured in support of ‘classicism’ as against ‘romanticism’—one critic suggested that ‘man is by nature bad or limited’ was the basis of all Hulme’s thinking—developing and articulating his essentially conservative philosophy in over fifty pieces for A. R. Orage’s influential journal, The New Age, many of them under the heading ‘War Notes’ by ‘North Staffs’ once he was serving in the army.[6] Some of his brief poems were included as an appendix to Pound’s Ripostes (1912) and reprinted in subsequent editions of Pound’s shorter poems.

Above the quiet dock in mid night,
Tangled in the tall mast’s corded height,
Hangs the moon. What seemed so far away
Is but a child’s balloon, forgotten after play.[7]

Speculations

Speculations, a collection of essays ‘on humanism and the philosophy of art’, edited by Herbert Read, was highly praised by T. S. Eliot when it appeared in 1924: ‘In this volume he appears as the forerunner of a new attitude of mind, which should be the twentieth-century mind, if the twentieth century is to have a mind of its own.’[8] Competing versions of the ‘origins’ of the Imagist movement have sometimes privileged Hulme as primary source – and sometimes Ford. Ezra Pound remembered Hulme in ‘Canto XVI’ and his ‘Poem: Abbreviated from the Conversation of Mr T. E. H.’ ends:

My mind is a corridor. The minds about me are corridors.
Nothing suggests itself. There is nothing to do but keep on.[9]

Eclogues

Guy Davenport’s story about Hulme at the Bologna Congress is called ‘Lo Splendore della Luce a Bologna’. It has many slyly wonderful moments; and the first of its seventeen short sections ends with the word ‘procession’.[10]

 

References

[1] T. E. Hulme, ‘Notes on the Bologna Congress’, New Age, VIII (27 April 1911), 607-608, reprinted in Further Speculations, edited by Sam Hynes (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1955), 21-27.

[2] Ford Madox Ford , Collected Poems (New York: Oxford University Press, 1936), 326-327. This was the ‘Preface’ to the 1913 Collected Poems.

[3] Robert Hampson, ‘“Experiments in Modernity”: Ford and Pound’, in Andrew Gibson, editor, Pound in Multiple Perspective: A Collection of Critical Essays (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1993), 121, n.31 and 32.

[4] Rudyard Kipling, ‘Wieland’s Sword’, in Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies, edited with an introduction by Donald Mackenzie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 10 and 413n.

[5] Stephen Crane, The Black Riders, XVII, in Prose and Poetry , edited by J. C. Levenson (New York: Library of America, 1984), 1304.

[6] Alun R. Jones, The Life and Opinions of T. E. Hulme (London: Gollancz, 1960), 69; some of the ‘War Notes’ are included in Further Speculations.

[7] T. E. Hulme, ‘Above the Dock’, in Personae: The Shorter Poems of Ezra Pound, edited by Lea Baechler and A. Walton Litz (New York: New Directions, 1990), 267.

[8] Eliot reviewed Speculations in The Criterion, II (7 April 1924), 231-232.

[9] Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations, edited by Richard Sieburth (New York: Library of America, 2003), 568.

[10] Guy Davenport, Eclogues: Eight Stories (London: Picador, 1984), 125.

 

Isaac Rosenberg of Bristol – and Whitechapel – and France

Rosenberg-Self-Portrait-NPG

(Isaac Rosenberg, Self-Portrait 1915: National Portrait Gallery)

Exactly one hundred years ago, at dawn on 1 April 1918, the poet and painter Isaac Rosenberg was killed by a German raiding party. He was twenty-seven years old. He left behind ‘more than one hundred and fifty poems, four plays, three slight volumes of poems that he had published himself, a handful of prose works, and at least two hundred letters’, Vivien Noakes writes. She adds that, ‘Although he is thought of as a war poet, the greatest part of his output has nothing to do with war; when he left for France in the summer of 1916 he had written 137 of the 158 poems that are known to have survived.’[1]

Rosenberg was born a few hundred yards from where I’m sitting. ‘I spent my wild little pick a back days in Bristol’, he wrote to Ruth Löwy in early 1917. His three Bristol homes—in Adelaide Place, Victoria Square and Harford Street—have all been destroyed but the family lived in the city from his birth in November 1890 to 1897.[2] His boyhood in Stepney and Whitechapel was marked by extreme poverty but, in 1911, a patron named Mrs Herbert Cohen funded his first year at the Slade School of Fine Art. The famous photograph of the 1912 Slade picnic, showing Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington, Barbara Hiles, C. W. R. Nevinson, William Roberts, Edward Wadsworth and David Bomberg, among others, includes Rosenberg, kneeling at the far left of the picture, a little apart from the others, his left forearm resting on his knee and so pointing away from the group, out of the frame.

Slade-picnic-1912

(Slade picnic, 1912 via Christie’s)

Before the war, Rosenberg was a part of the group that frequented the Whitechapel Library, ‘the university of the ghetto’, a member of the ‘intellectual elite among the Jewish immigrants’, which included Gertler, John Rodker and Bomberg.[3] In 1914, the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s summer exhibition, ‘Twentieth Century Art: A Review of Modern Movements’, showed fifty-four works in the ‘Jewish Section’, selected by Bomberg and including five by Rosenberg.[4]

In early 1914, Rosenberg’s poor health resulted in a trip to South Africa to stay with his sister Minnie, his fare paid by the Jewish Educational Aid Society. By October of the following year, unable to find a job, he enlisted in the army. Sent first to the Bantam Battalion of the 12th Suffolk Regiment, he was transferred, in January 1916, to the 12th South Lancashire Regiment. Reaching France in June 1916, he was soon in the front line and wrote the first of his ‘trench poems’, ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’:

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old Druid Time as ever.
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.

In a letter postmarked 8 February 1917, Rosenberg told Edward Marsh that his commanding officer, after being contacted by Marsh, had had Rosenberg examined ‘but it appears I’m quite fit.’ He went on: ‘This winter is a teaser for me; and being so long without a proper rest I feel as if I need one to recuperate and be put to rights again. However I suppose we’ll stick it, if we don’t, there are still some good poets left who might write me a decent epitaph.’ In January of the following year, he wrote, again to Marsh,‘ You see I appear in excellent health and a doctor will make no distinction between health and strength. I am not strong.’ And he added (these lines, his editor comments, were excised or censored): ‘What is happening to me now is more tragic than the “passion play”. Christ never endured what I endure. It is breaking me completely.’

And it was to Marsh that Rosenberg wrote on 28 March 1918—the letter was postmarked 2 April 1918, a day after the poet’s death: ‘We are now in the trenches again and though I feel very sleepy, I just have a chance to answer your letter so I will while I may.’[5]

A year later, Stanley Spencer wrote to Gwen and Jacques Raverat, ‘I will always feel sorry for Rosenberg; he was never fit for active service. His suffering must have been terrible.’[6] He was, Robert Graves asserted, ‘one of the three poets of importance killed in the war’, along with Wilfred Owen and Charles Sorley.[7] In 1921, Graves mentioned to Edmund Blunden that he had ‘urged’ Sydney Pawling of Heinemann, ‘to publish Rosenberg before anyone else hears about him.’[8] A few people already had: Gordon Bottomley, Laurence Binyon, R. C. Trevelyan and, of course, Edward Marsh. In 1922, Poems by Isaac Rosenberg appeared, edited by Bottomley and with an introductory memoir by Binyon. It ‘passed almost unnoticed.’[9]

Rosenberg-Portrait-of-Sonia

(Rosenberg, Portrait of Sonia Cohen, 1915: Ben Uri Gallery & Museum)
http://benuri100.org/artwork/portrait-of-sonia/

There have been several biographies – three in 1975 alone – and Jean Moorcroft Wilson’s second life of the poet was published in 2007. The late Vivien Noakes’ superb edition of Rosenberg’s poems, plays, prose and letters (following the collected editions of 1937 and 1979), appeared in 2008, as did Whitechapel at War: Isaac Rosenberg and His Circle, the catalogue accompanying the impressive exhibition of that title at the Ben Guri Galley. And, of course, Rosenberg crops up in dozens of other biographies, memoirs and art histories. Most recently, he’s warranted a good many mentions and entries on the website, A Century Back, which follows an extensive cast of characters, day by day, through the Great War:
http://www.acenturyback.com/

A few years ago, the Guardian reported on the discovery – or probable identification – of film footage of Rosenberg in the trenches:
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/07/war-poet-isaac-rosenberg-film-footage

So much critical and biographical and editorial attention. And yet Rosenberg seems never to have been quite accepted at the War Poets’ top table – Owen, Sassoon, Graves – and is not even always found at the next table in the company of, variously, Brooke, Blunden, maybe Sorley and, more and more often now, Ivor Gurney. He certainly doesn’t seem as widely known, even though ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ and ‘Returning, we hear the larks’ and, perhaps, ‘Dead Man’s Dump’ are so frequently anthologised. Is he seen as just a little off the main track? And is that because he was also a painter (Wyndham Lewis suffers a little from this, in some contexts, I suspect) – two arts! confusing! – or is it to do with his background, his social class, his Jewishness? Or, most likely, a combination of several or all of these?

He may just be one of those figures that doesn’t fit easily into the dominant narrative: but then the interesting figures often turn out to be precisely those that don’t fit the accepted modernist model (from Gurney to Sylvia Townsend Warner with quite a few in between) and that narrative has, in any case, fragmented into many colliding or overlapping stories.

Here, anyway, is ‘Apparition’:

From her hair’s unfelt gold
My days are twined.
As the moon weaves pale daughters
Her hand may never fold.

Her eyes are hidden pools
Where my soul lies
Glimmering in their waters
Like faint and troubled skies.

Dream pure, her body’s grace,
A streaming light
Scatters delicious fire
Upon my limbs and face.

And – why not? – ‘August 1914’, composed in France in the summer of 1916, not least for its opening volley of monosyllables:

What in our lives is burnt
In the fire of this?
The heart’s dear granary?
The much we shall miss?

Three lives hath one life–
Iron, honey, gold.
The gold, the honey gone–
Left is the hard and cold.

Iron are our lives
Molten right through our youth.
A burnt space through ripe fields,
A fair mouth’s broken tooth.[10]

 

There are manuscript versions, letters, notes and other fascinating material on the outstanding First World War Poetry Digital Archive:
http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/rosenberg

 

References

[1] Vivien Noakes, editor, Isaac Rosenberg, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), xi, xix.

[2] See Charles Tomlinson, Isaac Rosenberg of Bristol (Bristol: The Historical Association, 1982), 1-4; Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Isaac Rosenberg: The Making of a Great War Poet. A New Life (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007), 18-30, on Rosenberg’s Bristol years.

[3] Rachel Lichtenstein, On Brick Lane (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2007), 32; Wilson, Isaac Rosenberg, Chapter 5, ‘The Whitechapel Group’.

[4] Lisa Tickner, Modern Life and Modern Subjects: British Art in the Early Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 145-146; Sarah MacDougall and Rachel Dickson, editors, Whitechapel at War: Isaac Rosenberg and His Circle (London: Ben Uri Gallery, 2008), 45.

[5] Noakes, Isaac Rosenberg, 327, 356, 364.

[6] Quoted by Kenneth Pople, Stanley Spencer: A Biography (London: Harper Collins, 1991),184.

[7] Robert Graves, Good-bye to All That: An Autobiography (1929; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2014), 214.

[8] In Broken Images: Selected Letters of Robert Graves, 1914-1946, edited by Paul O’Prey (London: Hutchinson, 1982), 123.

[9] Noakes, Isaac Rosenberg, xviii.

[10] Noakes, Isaac Rosenberg, 91, 106.