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.

Eastering

Rabbits

Easter: ‘the greatest feast of the Church year, celebrating the Resurrection of Christ and the salvation of man’,[1] though it may mean different things to children, to bakers, to rabbits and to chocolatiers. To literary-historical folk, it might mean the death of Edward Thomas or, perhaps more likely, the poetry of William Butler Yeats:

Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.[2]

The Easter Rising, Declan Kiberd suggests, ‘is the great, unmentionable fact which hovers behind so many episodes of Ulysses’.[3] I remember being surprised by reading that it was under the dispensation of the Defence of the Realm Act (passed a few days after the war began) that the executions after the Easter Rising were carried out.[4] I’d associated that legislation with censorship, the watering-down of beer and, of course, the shortening of pub opening times to discourage munitions workers and those engaged in other crucial wartime activities from whiling away too many hours in the public bar.

Ford Madox Ford termed the act ‘the unlovely Dora’, commenting that, ‘Even during the war she was offensive and stupid in patches, but one bore with her because it was then expedient and necessary to support authority, however stupid Authority might be.’ But ‘after the war Authority itself became an offence to the Realm.’[5]

The poet Ivor Gurney was Gurney wounded on Good Friday night and sent to the hospital at 55th Infantry Base Depot, Rouen.[6] Three days later, on Easter Monday, Siegfried Sassoon was close enough at Basseux to hear the guns at Arras, where Edward Thomas was killed that morning by the blast from a shell.[7]

Gurney_BBC

(Ivor Gurney via BBC)

Gurney’s poem, ‘The Mangel-Bury’, written a few years later, begins:

It was after war; Edward Thomas had fallen at Arras –
I was walking by Gloucester musing on such things
As fill his verse with goodness; it was February; the long house
Straw-thatched of the mangels stretched two wide wings;
And looked as part of the earth heaped up by dead soldiers
In the most fitting place – along the hedge’s yet-bare lines.
West-spring breathed there early, that none foreign divines.[8]

References

[1] Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 622.

[2] ‘Easter 1916’, W. B. Yeats, Collected Poems, second edition (London: Macmillan, 1950), 204.

[3] Declan Kiberd, Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Living (London: Faber and Faber, 2009), 156.

[4] Arthur Marwick, The Deluge, 2nd edition (London: Macmillan, 1991), 77.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, It Was the Nightingale (London: Heinemann, 1934), 84.

[6] Michael Hurd, The Ordeal of Ivor Gurney (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978)

96.

[7] Harry Ricketts, Strange Meetings: The Poets of the Great War (London: Chatto & Windus, 2010), 101.

[8] Ivor Gurney, Collected Poems, edited with an introduction by P. J. Kavanagh, revised edition (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2004), 263.

 

Fording Kipling

Sadler, John, 1843-1908; The Anchorite's Cell, Chester

(John Sadler, The Anchorite’s Cell, Chester: Grosvenor Museum)

In 1877, Rudyard Kipling’s mother took her children from Lorne Lodge in Southsea—‘the House of Desolation’—to Golding’s Hill, on the edge of Epping Forest. In Kipling and the Children, Roger Lancelyn Green mentions that a part of the young Kipling’s reading there was Meinhold’s Sidonia the Sorceress, ‘a shibboleth of the Pre-Raphaelite circle (Morris later reprinted it at the Kelmscott Press)’. Later in the book, Green cites Edward A. Freeman’s reference to the legends of how Harold survived the Battle of Hastings: ‘Harold is supposed to have become a hermit, visiting many shrines but finally settling in the cell still shown as his near St. John’s Church, Chester.’[1]

The two details together reminded me of The Young Lovell, the last novel that Ford Madox Ford published before The Good Soldier, and which he described in a letter to his agent, dated 17 March 1913.[2]

‘The date is towards the end of the XVth Century, running up to the beginnings of the Reformation, though it isn’t in that sense concerned with religion. The action takes place in Northumberland and the story contains any number of things concerning “The Percy out of Northumberland”, the Bishops Palatine of Durham, the besieging of castles, border raids, and so on with what is called “a strong element of the supernatural” and a vigorous love interest.’[3]

Edward_Burne-Jones_Sidonia_von_Bork

(Edward Burne-Jones, Sidonia von Bork: Tate)

Sidonia the Sorceress, by Wilhelm Meinhold, was indeed ‘a shibboleth of the Pre-Raphaelite circle’, read and recommended by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones (who painted watercolours depicting two of the book’s characters), Oscar Wilde (whose mother had translated it), Ford’s grandfather, Ford Madox Brown, and his brother Oliver (who wrote a book on witches). This is part of the ‘strong element of the supernatural’ contained in Ford’s novel.[4]

FMF-via_Arts_Desk

(Ford Madox Ford: via The Arts Desk)

The legend about Harold ending as a hermit in an anchorite’s cell is mirrored in the closing pages of The Young Lovell, where, in the aftermath of a great battle, Lovell’s body is walled up in a hermit’s cell while his spirit disports in paradise with the goddess Venus. Ford’s story is set in 1486, the year after the death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Historically, then, it follows not merely a battle but a war, since Bosworth Field was the last decisive battle in the Wars of the Roses, as Richard was the last king of the House of York and the last king of the Plantagenet dynasty.

Francis Lovell was a noted supporter of Richard: he disappeared in 1487, presumed dead. Mysteriously, though, when building work was carried out on his ancestral home, Minster Lovell, in 1708, a man’s skeleton was apparently discovered ‘in a vault’, seated at a table, surrounded by papers and with a dog’s skeleton at his feet – all crumbled to dust as soon as air was admitted to the room.[5] Max Saunders also connects Ford’s novel with a Victorian ballad called ‘The Mistletoe Bough’, in which a young bride disappears: her skeleton is eventually found in a trunk, in which she had been accidentally locked while playing hide-and-seek. The husband in the ballad is twice referred to as ‘Young Lovell’.[6]

Rudyard_Kipling .

(Rudyard Kipling)

The Ford–Kipling relationship or, rather, the lack of it, remains an enduring object of interest to me. They were not quite exact contemporaries (Kipling was eight years older) but had very similar Pre-Raphaelite backgrounds; and significant figures in Kipling’s case, the painter Edward Burne-Jones (Kipling’s uncle) and Crom Price (headmaster of United Services College at Westward Ho, scene of the Stalky & Co stories), were aligned not only in their artistic tastes and convictions but also in their anti-imperialist politics. So when Kipling veered off the path that he might have appeared to be cruising along, it was not only Pre-Raphaelitism that he diverged from – he moved camp politically too. Of course, while Ford wrote a lot about the Pre-Raphaelites, he also struggled at times to free himself from the inevitable weight of his familial and cultural connections. As for his politics: they tend to resist any attempt at tidy analysis, since he claims at various points to be strongly Tory, while simultaneously arguing the case for black South Africans at the time of the Boer War, or for Irish Home Rule; and ending as an equally unclassifiable pacifist, anarchist eco-warrior in the 1930s.

Ford’s complex dealings with England and Englishness would also seem to connect with Kipling’s own – his ‘foreignness’ that long sojourn in India, to set against Ford’s German family.  But, while Ford wrote several times about Kipling, as poet and short-story writer, Kipling displayed no evidence of knowing that Ford was even in the world. Yet, despite his many references to Kipling, Ford always seems to locate his best work in the Indian tales, barely mentioning anything thereafter. For me, apart from Kim and a scattering of the early stories, the work of greatest interest starts in Traffics and Discoveries (1904), running all the way through to Limits and Renewals (1932). And those more complex, oblique, often puzzling later stories are sufficiently ‘modern’ to make Ford’s apparent dismissal of them frankly odd.

Still, as literary lives, theirs were very different from one another. Ford’s literary connections were enormous and ranged over three generations, while Kipling’s friends, especially in later life, tended not to be writers. He became quite hostile to London literary society, in fact, and wrote satirical stories about it or  referring to it – they tend not to be among his best.

No, I certainly haven’t explained it satisfactorily to myself. Perhaps a minor mystery, but still one that I’m unlikely to lose interest in any time soon.

 

References

[1] Roger Lancelyn Green, Kipling and the Children (London: Elek, 1965), 49, 204.
And see: http://chester.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Hermitage

[2] He did publish Ring For Nancy in the United States around the same time but this was a slightly revised version of The Panel, a novel published in the UK a year earlier.

[3] Ford Madox Ford to James B. Pinker, Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 56.

[4] I review Ford’s sources for the novel in ‘“Pretty Big and Serious”: Ford Madox Ford and The Young Lovell’, in Laura Colombino and Max Saunders, editors, The Edwardian Ford Madox Ford, International Ford Madox Ford Studies 12 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2013), 237-255.

[5] See, for instance, James Gairdner, ‘Francis, Viscount Lovel: Minster Lovel’, Notes & Queries, 5th series, X (1878), 28-29.

[6] Max Saunders, ‘The Case of The Good Soldier’, in Max Saunders and Sara Haslam, editors, Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier: Centenary Essays (Amsterdam: Brill/Rodopi, 2015), 147, n.17.

Jubilant jaunty Jonathan

JW-via-New-Directions

(Jonathan Williams, via New Directions Publishing Corporation)

In 1973, William Blissett, on a visit to the poet and painter David Jones, went with him through a list of queries about In Parenthesis, one of them ‘yon’s wick as Swale-side rat’. Yorkshire dialect, Jones told him, quick, alert, artful. He was surprised that the Oxford English Dictionary gave only ‘wicked’: that was ‘not what he meant at all.’ Blissett added: ‘He remembers a Yorkshireman in his unit who used to pass things to him, saying “’ere ye are, wick’un.”’[1]

That rang a bell with this Southerner and the ringing sound was traced to the fine collection of Portrait Photographs by Jonathan Williams, with a short preface by Hugh Kenner.[2] One of the photographs is of David Hockney and beside it Williams wrote: ‘I worry sometimes that La Grande Chic will gobble up David and turn him into High Society’s current stand-in for Cecil Beaton or Noel Coward. But, maybe that argument is neither nowt nor summat, as they say in the West Riding where he comes from. Our David is wick as a lop and still knows what’s what.’

JW-DH

(David Hockney by Jonathan Williams)

‘Wick as a lop’, yes, that was the phrase. Getting on for forty years later and Hockney still knows what’s what, is still working endlessly, exploring, experimenting, trying stuff out and giving pleasure. Not bad going.

Jonathan Williams (born 8 March 1929), was poet, publisher, photographer, essayist. He studied at Black Mountain College and, with David Ruff, founded The Jargon Society in 1951. It published an extraordinary range of writers, mainly poets, including Robert Duncan, Mina Loy, Louis Zukofsky, Paul Metcalf, Kenneth Patchen, Robert Creeley and Denise Levertov, though its all-time bestseller seems to have been White Trash Cooking. Following Williams’ death in March 2008, his long-time partner, the poet Thomas Meyer, took the decision to present The Jargon Society’s inventory and publication rights to the Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center: see http://jargonbooks.com/

Niedecker-TG

Charles Olson’s early Maximus volumes appeared from Jargon. So too did Lorine Niedecker’s beautiful T & G: The Collected Poems (1936-1966), printed by the Falcon Press in Philadelphia, in September 1969. Niedecker lived most of her life on Black Hawk Island, Wisconsin.

Black Hawk held: In reason
land cannot be sold,
only things to be carried away,
and I am old.

Young Lincoln’s general moved,
pawpaw in bloom,
and to this day, Black Hawk,
reason has small room.[3]

In the early 1960s, as Niedecker wrote to Louis Zukofsky, ‘Letter from Jonathan says he reads my poems to English audiences but tho the response was good, “very tentative. The English tend to want a lot of ‘profound talk’ in everything, and they are so non-sensual that they find it difficult to enjoy anything else. . .”’.[4] Williams was also given to ‘reading and slide-showing tours around the Republic in his Volkswagen, The Blue Rider’. He is, Guy Davenport wrote, ‘the iconographer of poets in our time, and of the places and graves of poets gone on to Elysium.’[5]

Williams’ own poems were written in the Pennine Dales and the Appalachian Mountains. Hugh Kenner’s observation that ‘Jonathan Williams is our Catullus and our Johnny Appleseed’ hints at the hybrid nature of the poetry.[6] It’s hugely various, veering from high modernism to folk art, exploratory, a little crazy, jaunty, ingenious, funny, often splendidly indecent. From two-line epigrams through acrostics, clerihews and what Williams calls ‘Meta-fours’, four words to a line, these and others often skirting the edge of nonsense, if not toppling over; there’s the fifty-page Mahler; and then many ‘found’ poems. They may be literally so, reshaped from newspaper reports or postcards or public notices; but the term could be applied more widely, to Williams looking and listening with close attention to ordinary lives in the Appalachians or in Cumbria. Guy Davenport quotes such a poem, suggesting that it demonstrates its author having learned from William Carlos Williams’ insistence that ‘the poet’s business is to let the world speak for itself’:

UNCLE IV SURVEYS HIS DOMAIN FROM HIS ROCKER OF A SUNDAY AFTERNOON AS AUNT DORY STARTS TO CHOP THE KINDLIN

Mister Williams
lets youn me move
tother side the house

the woman
choppin wood’s
mite nigh the awkerdist thing
I seen.[7]

As with many of Marianne Moore’s poems or, for that matter, Ezra Pound’s ‘In a Station of the Metro’, the title is an integral part of the text of the poem. It contains twenty words; the poem itself, twenty-one.

Williams quotes with approval Bentley’s Milton clerihew:

The digestion of Milton
Was unequal to Stilton.

He was only feeling so-so
When he wrote Il Pensoroso.

And devises many of his own:

Why did Professor J. R. R. Tolkien
never really come clean

about the scientologists in cupboards
in the House of L. Ron Hubbard?

or (one of my favourites):

Gertrude Stein
arose at nine

and arose and arose
and arose.[8]

GD-JW-Poet

His acrostic on Guy Davenport’s name ends with the line, ‘To keep afloat the Ark of Culture in these dark and tacky times!’ His prefatory ‘A Greeting to the Reader’ mentioned that Davenport ‘has been reading the poems since the 1960s.’[9] The two writers had enjoyed a long and fertile friendship, apparently damaged by the publication of A Garden Carried in a Pocket: Letters 1964-1968, including material that Davenport had specifically asked Williams to omit.[10]

Jubilant Thicket appeared in 2005, the year of Davenport’s death. One of the last poems in it is for Lorine Niedecker:

she seined words
as others stars
or carp

laconic as
a pebble
in the Rock River

along the bank
where the peony flowers
fall

her tall friend
the pine tree
is still there

to see[11]

 

Tremendous collection of photographs of Williams’ life here:
http://jacketmagazine.com/38/jw-life-pictures.shtml

Jeffery Beam’s obituary here:
http://www.ashevillepoetryreview.com/2010/issue-18/the-truffle-hound-of-american-poetry

 

References

[1] William Blissett, The Long Conversation: A Memoir of David Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 123; see David Jones, In Parenthesis, (1937; London: Faber, 1963), 114.

[2] Jonathan Williams, Portrait Photographs (London: Coracle Press, 1979): the Hockney portrait is Plate 22.

[3] Taken from Lorine Niedecker, Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 99.

[4] Letter of 3 February 1963, Jenny Penberthy, Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky, 1931-1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 328.

[5] Guy Davenport, ‘Ralph Eugene Meatyard’, in The Geography of the Imagination (Boston: David R. Godine, 1997), 368; ‘Jonathan Williams’, first published as introduction to Williams’ An Ear in Bartram’s Tree, then as a pamphlet from Jim Lowell’s Asphodel Bookshop; reprinted in The Geography of the Imagination, 180-189.

[6] Dust jacket blurb quoted by Willard Godwin, Hugh Kenner: A Bibliography (Albany, New York: Whitston, 2001), 402.

[7] Jonathan Williams, Jubilant Thicket: New & Selected Poems (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2005), 136.

[8] Jonathan Williams, Jubilant Thicket, 101, 102, 108.

[9] Jonathan Williams, Jubilant Thicket, 114, ix.

[10] W. C. Bamberger, editor, Guy Davenport and James Laughlin: Selected Letters (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2007), 139n.

[11] Jonathan Williams, Jubilant Thicket, 273.