Spaniels, Beards, Lapis Lazuli

Delort, Charles Edouard, 1841-1895; Girl with Bagpipes . Long, Edwin, 1829-1891; Girl with Bagpipes

(Two examples of ‘Girl with bagpipes’, by Charles Edouard Delort, The Cooper Gallery, Barnsley; and Edwin Long, Wolverhampton Gallery)

Walking round the park, attempting to commit to memory – again, a few lines having fallen out of one ear – Louis MacNeice’s ‘Bagpipe Music’ (‘It’s no go the Yogi-Man, it’s no go Blavatsky,/ all we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi’).

Men with dogs, women with dogs, men with men and with women, women with women, all with dogs. Sometimes, the people in view are outnumbered by the dogs, though all are outnumbered by the trees – a positive feature of a park, I’d say. This was lunchtime. Earlier in the day, I often pass the man with three spaniels—one Springer, I think, and perhaps two Cavalier King Charles. He wears a Fedora that has seen long service rather than a cap but still fits comfortably into my standard image of the sea-captain. An actor named John Hewer played Captain Birdseye in the television adverts for thirty years (he died in 2008) and is probably the version that I best remember, though his beard was far less luxuriant than that of Captain Spaniels.

Armfield, George, 1810-1893; Spaniels in a Barn Interior

(George Armfield, ‘Spaniels in a Barn Interior: Torre Abbey Museum)

Writing to her brother Warner (‘Dear Badger’) in 1915, Marianne Moore reported: ‘I brought home Hueffer’s [Ford Madox Ford’s] Memories and Impressions, a pearl of a book in which Hueffer tells about the Pre-Raphaelites and his grandfather who looked “exactly like the king of hearts on a pack of cards,” and Morris who said “Mary those six eggs were bad. I ate them but don’t let it happen again.” He says they all looked like old fashioned sea captains and Morris was gratified beyond measure on several occasions at being stopped by sailors and questioned with regard to their shipping with him.’[1]

And so he did. In Ancient Lights, the book’s British title, Ford writes that the members of that ‘old, romantic circle’, the Pre-Raphaelites and those associated with them, ‘seem to me to resemble in their lives—and perhaps in their lives they were greater than their works—to resemble nothing so much as a group of old-fashioned ships’ captains.’ He recalls the last time he met William Morris, who told Ford ‘that he had just been talking to some members of a ship’s crew whom he had met in Fenchurch Street. They had remained for some time under the impression that he was a ship’s captain. This had pleased him very much, for it was his ambition to be taken for such a man.’[2]

Of his collaborator Joseph Conrad, Ford wrote that he ‘never presented any appearance of being a bookish, or even a reading man. He might have been anything else; you could have taken fifty guesses at his occupation, from, precisely, ship’s captain to, say, financier, but poet or even student would never have been among them and he would have passed without observation in any crowd. He was frequently taken for a horse fancier. He liked that.’ And: ‘His ambition was to be taken for—to be!—an English country gentleman of the time of Lord Palmerston.’[3]

Now, of course, writers and artists look and dress much the same as anybody else, as you’d expect. But there was a time when some artists wanted to look like artists – while some wanted to look like anything but. What is it, though, about those sea captains? A maritime nation? All the nice girls love a sailor? J. M. W. Turner was another one, in later life compared to a sailor, a farmer, a coachman, a steamboat captain, a North Sea pilot. Robert Bontine Cunningham Grahame, though—writer, adventurer, first president of the National Party of Scotland in 1928—looked, Douglas Goldring remembered, ‘like a Spanish hidalgo.’[4]

Carola-Rackete

(Not all ship’s captains fit the template: this is Carole Rackete, captain of a rescue ship carrying 40 people, who broke a blockade and courageously docked Sea-Watch 3 on the island of Lampedusa after a two-week standoff with the Italian authorities, and in defiance of a ban imposed by the right-wing interior-minister Matteo Salvini (since replaced)
(Photograph : Sea Watch Mediateam via The Guardian)
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/29/sea-watch-captain-carola-rackete-arrested-italian-blockade

Conrad had, of course, actually been a ship’s captain; and, if T. S. Eliot looked like a banker or a publishing executive, there was a reason for it. Wallace Stevens no doubt appeared like an insurance executive. Beatrix Potter, after a dozen years of artistic productivity, married and became a farmer, breeding Herdwick sheep and increasingly recognised as an expert in her field: ‘So long as she could live and look like a farmer, she asked no better’.[5]

Ezra Pound, on the other hand, looked like – A Poet. ‘He ordered a snug-waisted full-skirted overcoat of tweed, the blue of delphiniums, and the buttons were large square pieces of lapis lazuli.’[6] Or rather, Ezra ‘would approach with the step of a dancer, making passes with a cane at an imaginary opponent. He would wear trousers made of green billiard cloth, a pink coat, a blue shirt, a tie hand-painted by a Japanese friend, an immense sombrero, a flaming beard cut to a point, and a single, large blue earring.’[7]

Richard Cassell, in conversation with Pound at St. Elizabeths in 1951, recorded that: ‘Ford would take Pound to the drawing rooms of everyone who would accept him, Ford dressed in top hat and swallow-tailed coat, Pound in anybody’s cast-off clothes and old velvet jacket. “The next day, more than likely, Ford would be among his pigs. He was both the lord of the Cinque Ports and a simple farmer.”’[8]

David-Jones.Spectator

(David Jones, via The Spectator)

William Blissett recalled, of one of his visits to David Jones, ‘A couple of anecdotes over tea. Evelyn Waugh (who was very shy and embarrassed if surprised in one of his many kindnesses) took David aside some years ago and remonstrated with him for brushing his hair down over his forehead. “You look like a bloody artist,” he said, to which the only possible reply was, “But I am a bloody artist.”’[9] Waugh, it’s safe to say, did not generally look like a bloody artist. Still, brushing your hair forward certainly requires less financial outlay than tweed or lapis lazuli.

 
Notes

[1] The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore, edited Bonnie Costello, Celeste Goodridge and Cristanne Miller (London: Faber and Faber, 1998), 99.

[2] Ford Madox Ford, Ancient Lights and Certain New Reflections (London: Chapman and Hall, 1911), 17-18.

[3] Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance (London: Duckworth, 1924), 57-58.

[4] Peter Ackroyd, Turner (London: Vintage 2006), 25-26; Douglas Goldring, South Lodge: Reminiscences of Violet Hunt, Ford Madox Ford and the English Review Circle (London: Constable, 1943), 33.

[5] Margaret Lane, The Tale of Beatrix Potter (1946; Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1962), 173.

[6] Brigit Patmore, My Friends When Young, edited with an introduction by Derek Patmore (London: Heinemann, 1968), 61.

[7] Ford Madox Ford, Return to Yesterday: Reminiscences 1894-1914 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1931), 370.

[8] Richard A. Cassell, ‘A Visit with E. P.’, Paideuma, 8, 1 (1979), 67. One or two of these reported facts should be approached warily, and perhaps with the step of a dancer.

[9] William Blissett, The Long Conversation: A Memoir of David Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 61.

 

Lights and shadows

The Good and Evil Angels 1795-?c. 1805 by William Blake 1757-1827

(William Blake, The Good and Evil Angels, Tate Britain

Hell beckons. The handcart trundles a little closer. Yemen, Syria, the latest dangerous ravings from the White House. ‘End of days’, the Librarian murmurs. ‘The wheels have come off.’ Our increasingly grubby country offers only unparalleled political paralysis and irresponsibility, a housing secretary for whom the shameful rise in homelessness and rough sleeping in this country is nothing to do with government policies at all, a Labour leader inflicting what may be the final disappointment upon a large number of the party’s supporters and a Prime Minister still fixated on immigration. The death of Paddy Ashdown is a painful reminder that, not so long ago, party differences aside, there were politicians concerned about the welfare of the whole country. Following David Runciman’s provocative suggestion that six-year-olds should be given the vote, interviews with children aged six to twelve in today’s Observer, demonstrate—encouragingly or dispiritingly or both—that they frequently have a sounder grasp of the important issues than those supposedly forming and directing policies in this country – and are more humane also.

https://www.theguardian.com/global/2018/dec/23/should-we-give-children-the-vote-voting-at-age-6-politics-interviews

Against the encroaching darkness, the Librarian puts up strings of lights on walls and doorways, bakes, makes quince gin and quince vodka. I take refuge in the usual things. It’s been an unsettling year, yet a not unbalanced one, with its births and beginnings, deaths and disappearances.

Gin-Vodka

‘The Dyings have been too deep for me’, Emily Dickinson, observed in the Fall of 1884, ‘and before I could raise my Heart from one, another has come.’ In the nineteenth and earlier centuries, death was a more frequent caller, certainly among the young. Still, even now the frequency inevitably increases when one reaches a certain age; and one death often recalls another. Oscar Wilde famously said that, ‘Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.’ Perhaps less contentiously, art shadows life—for those who know the shadows are there—but shadows death also.

I remember sitting on an early evening train more than seven years ago, avoiding the quiet carriage in case somebody called. The train was taking me to London – to tell my mother that the hospital staff would be turning off my sister’s life support machine the following morning. I remember too making the ultimate banal observation – that life continues, everywhere, even in – perhaps especially in – the context of death. Or we simply notice it more readily. At the station, there had been two men on a bench across the tracks; one of them, a Sikh, I think, was dancing while still sitting down. His friend laughed. An elderly couple passed, intent and purposeful; young women out for the evening shimmied and twirled. And in the carriage, the usual noisy blathering into mobile phones. But life. Now. Like it or not, in that present moment, life, the undramatic pulse of it, movement, irrefutable and irreversible.

A woman had a long, very audible conversation on her phone about her father’s latest consultation with the specialist and the conditions necessary for his operation. I read; then felt guilty about reading; then stopped; then remembered that if I didn’t read I would only have other voices in my head. It was dusk, with heavy cloud, gradually darkening, but across the valley, there was a single blazing field, still in brilliant sunlight. I was rereading Women in Love and abruptly realised that I’d reached Chapter XIV, ‘Water-Party’, in which Gerald’s sister Diana dies from drowning, while he repeatedly, desperately, futilely dives in search of her.

Water-party-scene-WIL

(Alan Bates and Jennie Linden in Ken Russell’s Women in Love)

A few years further on. We scatter some of my mother’s ashes in a secluded part of the river; I say a few words, it’s all very peaceful and positive and appropriate. More recently, we scattered the rest in the sea. The tide was coming in, faster and more strongly than expected, night was approaching (also faster than expected). A dropped urn, flooded boots, more than a touch of farce, absurdity – but that seemed oddly appropriate too.

There have been other familial deaths this year, mostly expected or at least unsurprising. But only weeks after the funeral of one of my loved aunts, we attend another. One of the closest and oldest friends of the Librarian’s parents: she herself has known him since she was eight. He was prodigiously gifted, as artist and writer and photographer, possessed of a genius for friendship and for making connections of every kind, one of the bright beings on this earth, whose intellectual curiosity and vitality were like a shot into the bloodstream. I am sitting at one end of the dining-table as we finish lunch and he surges down to sit next to me. ‘What are you reading? What have you found?’ I tell him – and he already knows, has bought, has read – but wants more and, eloquently wanting more, gives back far more than that.

Anathemata DJ-Dedication

Probably not many funeral services begin with the beginning of David Jones’s The Anathemata but, that being one of his favourite works, it’s highly fitting. We sit in Sherborne Cathedral and hear:

‘We already and first of all discern him making this thing other. His groping syntax, if we attend, already shapes:
ADSCRIPTAM, RATAM, RATIONABILEM . . . and by pre-application and for them, under modes and patterns altogether theirs, the holy and venerable hands lift up an efficacious sign.’

Elsewhere, Jones wrote: ‘It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for us to see the wood in which we find ourselves for the trees against which we break our heads and in the tangle of which we break our hearts.’

I came across the order of service for that funeral a day or two ago. ‘Where shall I put this?’ We are standing by the bookshelves and the Librarian hands me a volume of William Blake, another writer he admired. I tuck it inside the back cover.

Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine

 

 

Sweet Thames, run softly

Callow, William, 1812-1908; The Rialto Bridge, Venice

(William Callow, Rialto Bridge, Venice. Photo credit: Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, Birkenhead)

Sunday. Slower breakfast, slower survey of the morning’s paper, just to see how hugely 2018 is improving on the previous year. Alas, alas. There seem to be remarkable numbers of people that our rich, highly developed democracy is failing in its basic duty of care. Taking in, among others, the very young, the very old, the poor, the sick, the mentally unwell, the homeless and, oh, women, we appear to be looking at the larger part of the population. Clearly, I must have miscalculated. Then a glance at the foreign news prompts the reflection that, were someone to announce in my hearing that he was a stable genius, I would be simultaneously checking the exits, counting the spoons and making very sure that I didn’t turn my back on him. But again, others clearly take a different view.

Still on the subject of floods and deluges. . . Ninety years ago, I was reading just recently, in the early hours of 7 January 1928, the River Thames flooded, as a result of a storm in the North Sea, which ‘created a tidal surge that raised the waters of the river to their highest recorded level.’[1]

‘As the river wall opposite Tate Britain collapsed the water surged across the road flooding the nine lower ground floor galleries and the basement.’ As for the artworks stored there, 18 were ‘damaged beyond repair, 226 oil paintings were badly damaged and a further 67 slightly damaged. The J. M. W. Turner works on paper stored in the basement were saturated and covered in mud although fortunately their colours hadn’t run. Incredibly, the newly completed Whistler mural in the Tate Restaurant remained undamaged although it too had been completely submerged.’
http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/day-thames-broke-its-banks-and-flooded-tate-britain

Tate Britain after flood of 1928

© Tate Archive, 2003

Thomas Dilworth mentions that Jim Ede (H. S. Ede), then assistant curator at the Tate—subsequently an early biographer of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and founder of the wonderful Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge—was keeping some of David Jones’s watercolours in that basement, as well as the drawings and watercolours by Turner. They were ‘submerged but kept dry by ark-tight carpentry of a set of cabinets.’ Jones, he adds, ‘appreciated the feat of carpentry as only a poor carpenter can.’

In this context, Dilworth also discusses Jones’s commission for The Chester Play of the Deluge—‘one of the great illustrated books but not as printed in 1927’—asserting that Jones ‘cannot have worked on these engravings for half a year without associating the biblical flood with the Thames flood’—but he then gives the date of the flood as January 1926, which I take to be a simple error.[2]

The Golden Cockerel Press edition appeared in 1927 but it was 1977 before Clover Hill Editions ‘for the first time printed Jones’s wood engravings with the care they should have received (and did not) in the Golden Cockerel edition of 50 years earlier.’[3]

david-jones-animals-going-to-the-ark

(David Jones, engraving number 5, ‘Animals going into the Ark’, via https://chesterculture.wordpress.com/ )

The casualties were not, of course, only among artworks. The Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London were also swamped, as were ‘many of the crowded basement dwellings into which the city’s poorest families were crammed.’
(Jon Kelly, ‘The great 1928 flood of London’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26153241 )

An estimated four thousand people were left homeless and, as Sylvia Townsend noted in her diary the following day: ‘Fourteen people were drowned in basements, poor souls, and a fish was caught in the kitchen of Battersea police-station. The basement of the Tate Gallery was filled, which may help to settle the question of the 20,000 Turner sketches. In the basement also were some Rowlandsons, and I suspect my Callow of Venice. Very watery and homelike for it.’[4]

Flood-1928-rescue-via-Guardian

(Flood of 1928 via The Guardian)

‘My Callow of Venice’ puzzled me a little. William Callow was a watercolour painter who died in 1908. The Tate now shows only an 1880 ‘Grand Canal Venice’, watercolour and graphite on paper, ‘presented by the artist’s widow’ in 1909. There is, though, a letter from Sylvia to David Garnett, which elucidates ‘my Callow’:

‘Talking of slighted works of art, have you ever been in the underground of the Tate? A long time ago I lent the Tate a small William Callow, and in 1964 I felt it my duty to see how it was getting on. So I wrote to the Curator and was given an appointment. There was a proper person, who took me down in a lift, and led me through this extraordinary graveyard, crammed with marble nudes wrapped in sheets of cellophane, great furry seascapes and lowering landscapes, portraits of pop-eyed children, blessed damozels, Derby winners; and paused in front of a very incompetent late Victorian nymph clutching some shred of muslin and made entirely of vinolia soap, saying, This, I think, is yours. There was a moment of black panic when I thought I should find myself obliged to make her mine. But in the end my William Callow was found in excellent condition, and quietly on show.
‘If you should ever feel inclined for a little Mortality, behold and fear, do go to the Tate underground.’[5]

 

 

References

[1] Peter Ackroyd, Thames: sacred river (London: Chatto and Windus, 2007), 227.

[2] Thomas Dilworth, David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet (London: Jonathan Cape, 2017), 97-98.

[3] Roderick Cave, The Private Press, Second Edition (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1983), 227; see Arianne Bankes and Paul Hills, The Art of David Jones: Vision and Memory (Farnham: Lund Humphries, 2015), 34-37.

[4] The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner, edited by Claire Harman (London: Virago Press, 1995), 10.

[5] Letter of 3 March 1968: Richard Garnett, editor, Sylvia and David: The Townsend Warner/ Garnett Letters (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994), 139.

 

The Heights of Poetry

Haydon-WW-Helvellyn
(Wordsworth by Benjamin Haydon, © National Portrait Gallery, London)

‘Great writers in our time have tended to be tall,’ the six-feet-four Hugh Kenner remarks in the context of his first meeting with the five-feet-ten Ezra Pound. ‘T. S. Eliot, five-eleven-and-a-half—a figure I obtained after bumping my head on his six-foot office door. W. B. Yeats and James Joyce, each five-eleven; Sam Beckett, six-two. Save for psychic height, the physical Pound was a midget among giants.’[1]

Such considerations have cropped up before. I find—dear, dear, the Internet again—that Havelock Ellis, physician, sexologist, eugenicist, in an 1897 article, ‘Genius and Stature’, and his 1904 book, A Study of English Genius, asserted that men of genius—sorry, women, not this time—tended to be either shorter than average or, more frequently, taller than average. Those of average height scored markedly less well and the findings were complicated by the social class of the subjects (the poorer classes, unsurprisingly, tended to be physically smaller). In 1885, a certain Henry Troutbeck claimed to have examined Chaucer’s remains during the preparations for Robert Browning’s burial: he was five feet six inches (not bad for the fourteenth century, surely). Alas, further investigation showed that Browning’s grave was far enough away from Chaucer’s to to make this a bit implausible; then, too, it seems that, in any case, ‘the location of Chaucer’s bones remains somewhat doubtful.’[2]

Certainly, poets come in all sizes. Measuring them precisely is a tricky business, though Benjamin Haydon, when beginning his portrait of Wordsworth on Helvellyn, surveyed the poet in detail and found him to be exactly 5 feet 9⅞ inches tall. (He also did a drawing of him ‘with and without his false teeth.’)[3] Alexander Pope, apparently, came in at four feet six inches, while Edith Sitwell measured around six feet—or five feet eleven inches, by official reckoning.[4] On 20 October 1915, Wilfred Owen underwent his second medical examination at the Artists’ Rifles headquarters. A year earlier, his height of five feet five inches would have disqualified him but the standard had been lowered since then. He officially entered the British Army the following day.[5] Keats was around five feet and one inch—‘around’? Timothy Hilton has him at 5’ 0¾” , as does Robert Gittings, while Andrew Motion has ‘five feet and a fraction of an inch’—but what fraction?[6] And Keats was how much shorter than Charles Olson?

charles_olson_writing_at_black_mountain_college
(Charles Olson writing at Black Mountian College)

Olson (born 27 December 1910) was roughly six foot eight or nine, Robert Creeley wrote; or six feet seven inches, as some say; twenty-one inches taller than Keats, Guy Davenport remarks (‘in his stocking feet taller by half again than Alexander the Great’), which would make him six feet ten inches.[7] Damned tall, anyway, large, everything about him large, the ambition, the format of the volumes of Maximus poems from Cape Goliard, vocabulary, geographical and historical reach.

Sometimes he’s absurdly overpitched, sometimes opaque, sometimes just crazy, sometimes inspired, sometimes visionary. Sometimes he’s just on the money.

Try:

What has he to say?
In hell it is not easy
to know the traceries, the markings
(the canals, the pits, the mountings by which space
declares herself, arched, as she is, the sister,
awkward stars drawn for teats to pleasure him, the brother
who lies in stasis under her, at ease as any monarch or
a happy man[8]

or

It is undone business
I speak of, this morning,
with the sea
stretching out
from my feet

or

I am not at all aware
that anything more than that
is called for. Limits
are what any of us
are inside of

or, ah:

The upshot is
(and this the books did not tell us) the race
does not advance, it is only
better preserved[9]

George Butterick, the Olson scholar who edited the Collected Poems (nearly 650 pages of non-Maximus poems) and The Maximus Poems for the University of California Press, cites in this connection Emerson’s ‘Self-Reliance’: ‘Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. It undergoes continual changes [… ] but this change is not amelioration. For every thing that is given, something is taken.’[10]

T. S. Eliot, along similar—though not the same—lines wrote that the artist must ‘be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same’. And that the mind of Europe ‘is a mind which changes, and that this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawing of the Magdalenian draughtsmen.’[11]

On a more individual note, David Jones, putting on his wall in 1958 a drawing of a dancing bear he’d produced in 1903, at the age of seven, wrote to a friend: ‘“It’s much the best drawing I’ve ever done, which shows how, in the arts, there ain’t no such thing as getting better as you get older!”’ Again, in 1967, Jones wrote of this drawing, ‘there are few of my subsequent works which I prefer to that.’[12] The assertion held in a wider perspective in Jones’s case too. Though moved and impressed by books that he read by Teilhard de Chardin, he thought Teilhard’s ‘idea of evolution towards union with God naïve — like any belief in general progress. In art, for example, “Picasso is no improvement over Lascaux.”’[13]

Jones-dancing-bear
(David Jones, ‘The Bear’ (1903), via Apollo magazine)

Is that true? Individually, the issue is complicated by a general acceptance of the fact that advancing age must inevitably be accompanied by a loss of powers—but it’s a fact often confounded by extraordinary artistic performances from writers and painters in their seventies, eighties and even nineties: among others, Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Tomlinson, Rose Macaulay, Sybille Bedford, W. B. Yeats, Titian, Thomas Hardy, Penelope Fitzgerald, Isak Dinesen, Louise Bourgeois, Ezra Pound—and David Jones himself.

And more generally? Those of us who grew up with the unexamined optimism common enough in those days, a version of the Whig interpretation of history (the inevitable and continuing advance of progress over the forces of reaction) have had rude awakenings enough in this new age of unreason. As for the arts—it’s a good, a constant question. In the essay already quoted, Eliot wrote: ‘Someone said: “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did”. Precisely, and they are that which we know.’ That actually accounts for a large part of the confident assertion that painters, poets, novelists—and critics—are better or smarter or more profound than those in earlier periods: they are simply positioned later in history. Our own age knows a great deal that people in the early twentieth and nineteenth and eighteenth centuries didn’t know; but we’d be fools to think that those earlier ages didn’t know a great many other things that are completely lost to us now.

It has to be said, though, that, as a general rule, we’re taller than they were.

References

[1] Hugh Kenner, The Elsewhere Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 35.

[2] Thomas A. Prendergast, Chaucer’s Dead Body: From Corpse to Corpus (London: Routledge, 2003), 106, 108, 59.

[3] See Alethea Hayter, A Sultry Month: Scenes of London Literary Life in 1846 (London: Robin Clark 1992), 142-143.

[4] Pope mentioned in Hugh Kenner’s review of Maynard Mack’s Alexander Pope: A Life (1986), in Historical Fictions (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995), 253; ‘Sitwell’s passport recorded her height as five feet eleven but she was often reported as being well over six feet’: Rosemary Hill, ‘No False Modesty’, a review of Richard Greene, Edith Sitwell: Avant-Garde Poet (London: Virago Press, 2011), in London Review of Books, 33, 20 (20 October 2011), 25.

[5] Dominic Hibberd, Wilfred Owen: A New Biography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002), 164.

[6] Timothy Hilton, Keats and his World (London: Thames & Hudson, 1971), 56; Robert Gittings, John Keats (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1971), 135; Andrew Motion, Keats (London: Faber and Faber, 1997), 36.

[7] Robert Creeley, ‘Introduction’ to Charles Olson, Selected Writings (New York: New Directions, 1966), 1; Guy Davenport, ‘Olson’, in The Geography of the Imagination (Boston: David R. Godine, 1997), 80.

[8] Charles Olson, ‘In Cold Hell, in Thicket’, in The Collected Poems of Charles Olson, edited by George F. Butterick (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 155. The reference here is to the Egyptian sky-goddess Nut, arching over and around her earth-god brother and lover Geb (‘her starry belly was painted inside the sarcophagi of Egyptian kings’): Robert von Hallberg, Charles Olson: The Scholar’s Art (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 145.

[9] Charles Olson, The Maximus Poems, edited by George F. Butterick (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 57, 21, 59.

[10] George Butterick, A Guide to the Maximus Poems of Charles Olson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 86. See Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays and Lectures, edited by Joel Porte (New York: Library of America, 1983), 279—I’ve quoted very slightly more than Butterick does.

[11] Eliot, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, in Selected Essays, third enlarged edition (London: Faber and Faber, 1980), 16.

[12] Thomas Dilworth, David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet (London: Jonathan Cape, 2017), 11; David Jones, ‘A Note to the Illustrations’, Agenda, Vol. 5, Nos. 1-3, Special David Jones issue (Spring-Summer, 1967), 2.

[13] Dilworth, David Jones, 314.

 

Reckoning with David Jones

DJ-Books

The David Jones reckoning cannot be long postponed. I was reliably informed that, preparatory to a serious grappling with Jones’s second great long poem The Anathémata, there were tremendously useful essays, collected in The Dying Gaul, published in 1978 and long out of print. I no longer remember which essays they were: perhaps ‘Use and Sign’? Or ‘Art in Relation to War?’

I seem to recall a conversation with Dr Cornelius van Muchey (lately of Sumatra):

Have you read In Parenthesis?

I have, yes. Twice.

Okay with that?

I think. . . yes, pretty much.

Watched the films? Read the biography?

Yes. Yes.

And have you read The Anathémata?

Sort of.

What does that mean?

It means that In Parenthesis is like Ulysses while The Anathémata is more like Finnegans Wake.

Ah. Have you read Finnegans Wake?

Sort of.

Ah.

Dying-Gaul

I now have a copy of The Dying Gaul.*

‘It was a dark and stormy night, we sat by the calcined wall; it was said to the tale-teller, tell us a tale, and the tale ran thus: it was a dark and stormy night . . . ‘

* And I belatedly see that Faber, presumably taking advantage of the publication of Thomas Dilworth’s biography from Cape, have reprinted in paperback both The Dying Gaul and the wonderful Dai Greatcoat: a self-portrait of David Jones in his letters.

Hallowmas, ducks, poets

Hodder, Albert, 1845-1911; Bolling Mill near the Brewery, Bridport, Dorset

(Albert Hodder, Bolling Mill near the Brewery, Bridport, Dorset, 1900;
The Coach House: Photo credit: Bridport Museum Trust)

The first of November: All Saints’ Day, Allhallows Day, Hallowmas, Hollantide.

If ducks do slide at Hollantide,
at Christmas they will swim;
if ducks do swim at Hollantide,
at Christmas they will slide.[1]

Briefly: keep an eye on the ducks.

On Tuesday 1 November 1892, Olive Garnett reported to her diary: ‘To-day being All Saint’s Day Mamma called on Christina Rossetti with pink & white heath, her favourite flower. Miss Rossetti wishes nothing to be said about her state of health, life or anything else. She has heart disease & absolute quiet is indispensable. Practically she has left the world already.’[2]

(In fact, she lived another two years, dying on 29 December 1894, aged sixty-four.)

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.[3]

Goblin Market, published in 1862, was an artistic and critical success of the kind dangerously liable to make everything that follows seem something of an anti-climax. The poem continues to provoke an astonishing range of interpretations, from Christian allegories of temptation and redemption through discussions of the marriage market and the constraints on talented and artistic women to debates about lesbian sexuality. There’s a wonderful collision between the way in which Rossetti is often seen—the ascetic  Christian poet who turned down suitors for religious reasons—and the lush and sensual language she uses in Goblin Market:

She cried “Laura,” up the garden,
“Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me:
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men.”[4]

Christina-Rossetti
(Christina by brother Dante Gabriel, c.1866: ©Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

1 November is also the birthday of two poets with strong connections to the First World War, though both lived on into the 1970s. David Jones was born on this date in 1895. He had begun writing In Parenthesis (though it wasn’t published until 1937) when Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War, another classic work about the war, appeared in 1928:

‘Fine days succeeded, and moonlit nights, temperate nights with their irresistible poetry creating a silver lake in the borders of Thiepval’s lunatical wood, a yellow harvest on the downs towards Mesnil the mortuary.’[5]

Blunden was born exactly one year after Jones, 1 November 1896. He was awarded the Military Cross in the same month twenty years later.

At the noon of the dreadful day
Our trench and death’s is on a sudden stormed
With huge and shattering salvoes, the clay dances
In founts of clods around the concrete sties
Where still the brain devises some last armour
To live out the poor limbs.[6]

Siegfried Sassoon told David Jones, when they met and talked in 1964, that, however hard he tried, he couldn’t get the Great War out of his system; and that this was also true of Blunden. Jones said it was true for him too. He told his friend Harman Grisewood he was glad that Sassoon thought highly of Undertones of War, ‘which I’ve felt to be one of the very best of those various accounts of that infantry war.’[7]

Jones, David, 1895-1974; Portrait of a Maker
David Jones, Portrait of a Maker [Harman Grisewood], 1932 © trustees of the David Jones estate. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

Born within a year of one another, dying in the same year (1974) and both largely shaped by their experiences in the Great War, they yet remained very different writers: Blunden with his devotion to English literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to the pastoral tradition, to Englishness in its many forms and guises, whether villages, prose or cricket; Jones emerging as one of the major modernists, in both literature and the visual arts, often drawing on materials less familiar to the general reader: Welsh myth, Arthurian romance, the experiences of Roman legionaries in Britain, details of Catholic ritual.

‘It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for us to see the wood in which we find ourselves for the trees against which we break our heads and in the tangle of which we break our hearts.’[8] 

References

[1] Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 440.

[2] Barry C. Johnson, editor, Tea and Anarchy! The Bloomsbury Diary of Olive Garnett, 1890-1893 (London: Bartletts Press, 1989), 132-133.

[3] Christina Rossetti, ‘A Birthday’, Poems and Prose, edited by Jan Marsh (London: Everyman, 1994), 60.

[4] Rossetti, Poems and Prose, 174.

[5] Blunden, Undertones of War (1928; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982), 116.

[6] Blunden, ‘Third Ypres: A Reminiscence’, Selected Poems, edited by Robyn Marsack (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1993), 50.

[7] Thomas Dilworth, David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet (London: Jonathan Cape, 2017), 328; René Hague, editor, Dai Greatcoat: A self-portrait of David Jones in his letters (London: Faber and Faber, 1980), 210.

[8] David Jones, ‘Art and Democracy’, in Epoch and Artist (1959; London: Faber, 1973), 96.

 

 

Dylan, Dai Greatcoat and Welshness

Dylan-Caitlin-via-Telegraph

(Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin via The Telegraph)

Dylan Thomas (born 27 October 1914) was probably my first poetic crush or obsession or, let’s say, preoccupation. No doubt I had others of a non-poetic kind and it was not solely as a spectator that I approached Thomas: I myself was to be a poet in the Thomas mode – a lord of language but also comedian, raconteur, champion drinker, roaring boy. I can see now that I actually read relatively few of Thomas’s poems: I just read them a lot. They were, for the most part, the ones that remain the best known and most often cited: ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’, ‘Light breaks where no sun shines’, ‘I see the boys of summer’, ‘After the funeral’, ‘When all my five and country senses see’, ‘The hunchback in the park’, ‘A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London’, ‘Fern Hill’, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, and perhaps especially then, ‘Poem in October’ (I won’t worry too much about the indented lines, which will vanish when I post this):

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
Myself to set forth
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.[1]

When I became aware of the scheme in ‘Prologue’, written especially for the 1952 Collected Poems—the two central lines rhyme, then the lines on either side of those and so back to the first and last lines—I admired that excessively for a time. (Then thought it a gimmick, mere ‘technique’ – and now simply like the poem.)

We tend to grow wary of youthful enthusiasms; we may encounter contrary or negative views of their objects; we may hug them protectively to ourselves and try to sustain them; but often other things crowd in to absorb our attention and the early enthusiasms—or infatuations or passions—are deprived of air and light and can’t always be resuscitated. Yet they’re not always gone for good. Sometimes we come back to them, years later, perhaps on quite other terms, and establish different but often surprisingly strong relations.

DJ-outside-Faber

(David Jones outside the Faber offices: http://www.david-jones-society.org/david-jones.html )

My most recent poetic preoccupation, still current in fact, is with David Jones. It’s a point of interest that, while Dylan Thomas was actually Welsh, born in Swansea—though much of his material is not substantially or conspicuously Welsh—David Jones, though he had a Welsh father, was born in Brockley, south-east London, spent very little time actually in Wales, but was hugely interested in Welsh history and literature. A great deal of his work, concerned with ‘the matter of Britain’, deals with themes of Welsh antiquity, mythology, language. Of course, both Dylan Thomas, ‘the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive’, and David Jones speak in the accents of upper-class Englishmen.

(The remarkable 1965 interview—two hours of film edited down to around twenty minutes—between Jones and Saunders Lewis, produced by Tristram Powell, is available here: http://www.david-jones-society.org/research-resources.html
(Also accessible through this site are the three invaluable films about Jones by the late Derek Shiel)

Despite the prevalence of Welsh matter in David Jones’s work, he tends to be viewed—when he’s not being neglected or overlooked, which is still too often the case—in relation to British modernism. This can seem something of a drawback for those seeking to establish a distinct strain of Welsh modernism and situate Dylan Thomas centrally within it: ‘If modernism in Britain was largely imported – think of James, Conrad, Pound, and Eliot – it was heavily Irish-influenced [presumably Joyce and Yeats]. Predictably, the Welsh variety has been seen solely in terms of its input to the definition of British (i.e., English) modernism, in the shape of David Jones. Although its anomalousness and belatedness are arguably a sign of writing which deals with the condition of Welshness, concentration on Jones’ high modernism (endorsed by Eliot, and publication by Faber) has led critics away from Welsh modernism.’[2]

David Jones told William Blissett that he’d met Dylan Thomas on three occasions: ‘twice he was drunk and unreachable, though amusing, the other time sober, and they talked at some length about Welsh metres, in complete accord.’[3] Thomas Dilworth points out that, on this last occasion, 30 March 1953, David Jones did ‘most of the talking since Thomas knew little about it.’ Thomas regarded Jones with ‘“great reverence”’, and ‘expressed huge admiration for him as a poet’, while Jones thought that Dylan Thomas ‘invigorated English through an underlying sense of Celtic language’.[4]

Both of David Jones’s major poems, In Parenthesis and The Anathemata were dramatised on the BBC, and Dylan Thomas performed in both recordings. In 1946, David Jones went to the basement flat in Albany Street of his friend Douglas Cleverdon to hear the first broadcast of Cleverdon’s adaptation of In Parenthesis; and listened to the following evening’s repeat with his friends Harman and Margaret Grisewood. He felt that the actors, including Richard Burton and Emrys Jones, wrongly stressed words and exaggerated emotions. Jones ‘hated it, broke down, and went to bed for a week.’[5] But Dylan Thomas, who delivered Dai Greatcoat’s boast, seems to have escaped the author’s censure. And in 1954, a year after Dylan’s death, when Douglas Cleverdon’s version of The Anathemata was repeated on Friday 26 November, Jones wrote to his friend Jim Ede: ‘It’s a peculiar thing. They sweated on it, but of course, from my point of view, it is all over-dramatized etc. etc. etc.—one or two bits not so bad—Dylan Thomas said his [pre-recorded] bits beautifully and the Welsh women in Part VII are all right.’[6]

I read In Parenthesis for the first time more than thirty years ago but feel that I’m only now beginning to see David Jones properly for the first time; reading Dylan Thomas and experiencing that intoxication—language as if mainlined, shot straight into the vein—even longer ago than that, I think that seeing him for the second time, though less enthralling than the first, may, in the end, prove even more rewarding.

 
References

[1] Dylan Thomas, The Poems, edited and introduced by Daniel Jones (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1971), 176-177.

[2] John Goodby and Christopher Wigginton, ‘Dylan Thomas’ modernism’, in Alex Davis and Lee M. Jenkins, Locations of Literary Modernism: Region and Nation in British and American Modernist Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 99.

[3] Conversation dated 25 September 1970: William Blissett, The Long Conversation: A Memoir of David Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 57.

[4] Thomas Dilworth, David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet (London: Jonathan Cape, 2017), 276.

[5] Dilworth, David Jones, 239.

[6] René Hague, editor, Dai Greatcoat: A self-portrait of David Jones in his letters (London: Faber and Faber, 1980), 164.