Turning left to Poets’ Walk

Lookout

In recovery mode, so short a time after our hasty retreat from a yurt in the border country, we remember Clevedon. When were we last there? That we can’t remember. But it’s close, barely a dozen miles away; we don’t have to return the car until tomorrow; and there will be sea. We drive. Turn left, the Librarian murmurs, left. When? I ask. Back there. Ah. But there will be other turnings, surely. And there are.

Clevedon: seaside town with a fine pier overlooking the Bristol Channel (you can have coffee overlooking the pier). You can gaze across to Wales: on your extreme right the Second Severn Crossing. Ahead of you, the guide to the vista notes, among other allurements, ‘Swansea, 48 miles, not visible.’

There’s a bandstand, a marine lake and, apparently, the oldest purpose-built cinema in the world—the Curzon—which is still in working order. Arthur Hallam, subject of Alfred Tennyson’s immense poem, In Memoriam, is buried here. Tuppence Middleton, whom I’ve been watching lately in Sense8—and previously saw in the BBC’s War and Peace—grew up here. But the most famous cultural association is probably with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who lived here with his wife, Sara Fricker, after their marriage in St Mary Redcliffe in October 1795. ‘After all the upheavals of life with Southey’, Richard Holmes comments—Coleridge and Robert Southey had ‘quarrelled irrevocably’—‘these first few weeks of domestic calm and intimacy were poetically very rich for Coleridge.’[1]

Coleridge-Cottage-Clevedon

Coleridge cottage on Old Church Road
Via http://discovernorthsomerset.co.uk/

It was ‘probably not the cottage now bearing a commemorative tablet’, Tom Mayberry remarks, adding that Coleridge and Sara, ‘in further disregard of the proprieties’, first stayed there over a month before their marriage.[2]

The headnote to Coleridge’s ‘Effusion XXXV’ does indeed read ‘Composed August 20th, 1795, at Clevedon, Somersetshire’. It was revised as ‘The Eolian Harp’, the first of what came to be known as the ‘Conversation Poems’.

My pensive Sara! thy soft cheek reclined
Thus on mine arm, most soothing sweet it is
To sit beside our Cot, our Cot o’ergrown
With white-flowered Jasmin, and the broad-leaved Myrtle,
(Meet emblems they of Innocence and Love!)
And watch the clouds, that late were rich with light,
Slow saddening round, and mark the star of eve
Serenely brilliant (such would Wisdom be)
Shine opposite! How exquisite the scents
Snatched from yon bean-field! and the world so hushed!
The stilly murmur of the distant Sea
Tells us of silence.

The harp is a stringed instrument with a sound box: placed in a window or at a point where the wind can play over it, it emits ‘a natural music’. Coleridge shaped it as ‘an image of inspiration in which the poet was a harp over whom the winds of inspiration blow.’[3]

And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought, as o’er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of all?[4]

Idyllic, perhaps, but the cottage, myrtle and jasmine notwithstanding, would not do for long. Clevedon proved to be too far from Bristol—the library, literary contacts, not least friend and publisher Joseph Cottle—for Coleridge to walk there and back in a day.[5] What milksops these Romantic poets were: a snivelling twenty-seven miles round trip. Today, most people can walk almost as far as the car park without complaint.

Lookout-plaque

Poets’ Walk (Coleridge! Thackeray! Tennyson!) is a popular footpath which runs along the coast and around Wain’s Hill and Church Hill at the southern end of Clevedon. Along the way is the Lookout, with its plaque detailing the watched-for arrival of sugar ships from the West Indies in the nineteenth century. The slave trade was formally abolished in the British Empire in 1807 but slavery was not finally abolished until 1833. Notoriously, the colonial slave owners were handed millions of pounds in compensation by the government: the former slaves were offered nothing.

Poets-Walk

That sloping path under the trees is blessedly cool on those days, quite frequent lately, when the English summer has become a little unhinged.

We make a marginal note: Clevedon again. Soon. Turn left there.

 
References

[1] Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1989), 100, 103.

[2] Tom Mayberry, Coleridge and Wordsworth: The Crucible of Friendship, revised edition (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2000), 45.

[3] Paul Magnuson, ‘The “Conversation” Poems’, in The Cambridge Companion to Coleridge, edited by Lucy Newlyn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 34.

[4] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘The Eolian Harp’, in The Complete Poems, edited by William Keach (London: Penguin Books, 1997), 87, 88.

[5] Rosemary Ashton, The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 78.

 

Milady Millay: or, Edna, come over here.

Sorting-Poetry-Bks

(Sorting out poetry books on the mistaken assumption that they can be fitted into the space available in such a way that the ones I want will always be at the front. . .but no Millay in any case)

‘I have just finished two volumes of letters—’, Elizabeth Bishop wrote to her friends Kit and Ilse Barker in the autumn of 1953, ‘Hart Crane’s and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s and I don’t know which is more depressing. I suppose his is, it was all over quicker—but she isn’t quite so narcissistic and has some sense of humour, at least.’[1] A couple of months later, writing to Robert Lowell, Bishop agreed with Elizabeth Hardwick about ‘poor E St. V Millay’, in Hardwick’s review of letters by Millay, Hart Crane and Sherwood Anderson in the Partisan Review, ‘Heavens she suffered. But I also suffered reading Hart Crane’.[2]

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950). I suspect that, while her name may be widely familiar to readers of poetry, she’s not actually read all that much now; maybe more so in the United States, where she used to be extremely popular. Perhaps the name conjures up a particular kind of poetry; or appeals to a particular kind of reader.

Millay

(That name: seven syllables, with a saint thrown in. I thought at one point I remembered her name being shoehorned into the lyrics of a song I’d heard but now suspect that I’m thinking of an old song lyric of my own, which managed to incorporate the name of blues and boogie-woogie pianist Champion Jack Dupree, the nickname derived from his boxing days when he fought more than a hundred bouts.)

In her long letter to Lowell of 4-5 April 1962, Bishop wrote: ‘I remember reciting that parody on E St. V Millay to you—“I want to be drowned in the deep sea water (?) I want my body to bump the pier. / Neptune is calling his wayward daughter: / ‘Edna, come over here!’” I asked Dwight Macdonald [Parodies, 1960] why he hadn’t put it in his parody book and he thought it was “dated”, I think he said.’[3]

The question mark is justified since Bishop was quoting from memory and didn’t have the first and last lines of Samuel Hoffenstein’s ‘Miss Millay Says Something Too’ exactly right:

I want to drown in good-salt water,
I want my body to bump the pier;
Neptune is calling his wayward daughter,
Crying ‘Edna, come over here!’

(See http://selfstyledsiren.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-love-song-of-samuel-hoffenstein.html )

A good many histories and surveys of the period bypass Millay altogether, though Cary Nelson sets her beside Claude McKay when claiming that the ‘centrality of revolutionary change in traditional forms’ is ‘especially clear in the transformation’ that the two poets ‘worked in the sonnet.’[4]

Millay-2

The sonnet, yes. Here’s ‘Sonnet xlii’:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

Millay has eight poems in F. O. Matthiessen’s The Oxford Book of American Verse (1950); in David Lehman’s 2006 The Oxford Book of American Poetry, she has six. In Geoffrey Moore’s The Penguin Book of American Verse (revised edition, 1983), she’s down to just two, the 1923 sonnet just quoted and ‘Sonnet cv’ (1931):

Hearing your words and not a word among them
Tuned to my liking, on a salty day
When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them
Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray,
I thought how off Matinicus the tide
Came pounding in, came running through the Gut,
While from the Rock the warning whistle cried,
And children whimpered, and the doors blew shut;
There in the autumn when the men go forth,
With slapping skirts the island women stand
In gardens stripped and scattered, peering north,
With dahlia tubers dripping from the hand:
The wind of their endurance, driving south,
Flattened your words against your speaking mouth.

No marked modernist experimentation or pioneering divergences; but real skill and an ear well-tuned to that subtle boundary where the effective, well-spaced deployment of alliteration and assonance tips or slips into droning or hammering. The wind is truly driving in from the sea in this poem and not simply in the words that explicitly tell you so.

Millay—or the generally accepted valuation of Millay—seems to have made a later generation of women poets a little uneasy, especially those wanting to explore their own lives and histories in a franker, less inhibited way. Of course, there were—are?—large and lazy assumptions about what ‘women’s poetry’ was and was not. Robert Lowell, in conversation with Ian Hamilton, would name only four women who ‘stand with our best men’: Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath.[5]

lowell-bishop-1962

Lowell is, of course, often cited—and almost as often damned—for initiating, to a large extent, the ‘confessional’ mode. When Bishop wrote to him in March 1972, expressing her deep concerns about Lowell having used and, crucially, changed letters from Elizabeth Hardwick, she added, ‘In general, I deplore the “confessional”—however, when you wrote LIFE STUDIES perhaps it was a necessary movement, and it helped make poetry more real, fresh and immediate. But now—ye gods—anything goes, and I am so sick of poems about the students’ mothers & fathers and sex-lives and so on. All that can be done—but at the same time one surely should have a feeling that one can trust the writer—not to distort, tell lies, etc.’[6]

Lowell himself was not always comfortable with the work of poets said to be influenced by him, including Anne Sexton—and Sylvia Plath, who readily acknowledged the importance of Lowell’s Life Studies in what she viewed as a ‘breakthrough into very serious, very personal emotional experience, which I feel has been partly taboo.’[7] Plath wrote to her mother in 1956, ‘Ted [Hughes] says he never read poems by a woman like mine; they are strong and full and rich—not quailing and whining like [Sara] Teasdale or simple lyrics like Millay’.[8]

In that same conversation with Ian Hamilton, asked about Anne Sexton, Lowell answered carefully that he knew Sexton well: ‘It would be a test to say what I thought of her.’ But he added, ‘She is Edna Millay after Snodgrass’. ‘After Snodgrass’ meant after—perhaps chronologically but also in the style of—that poet’s 1959 collection, Heart’s Needle: Snodgrass was an acknowledged influence on Lowell’s own move towards a freer and more personal poetry.[9] But ‘Edna Millay’ – alas, alas. Sexton specifically expressed a ‘secret fear’ of being ‘a reincarnation’ of Millay, a poet she considered ‘soggily sentimental’.[10]

‘Soggily sentimental’, though? Some of it may well be, I’ve not ventured that far; best to tread carefully and be selective. Still, you could say that of a great many others, more often than not.

Death devours all lovely things:
Lesbia with her sparrow
Shares the darkness,—presently
Every bed is narrow.

 
References

[1] Elizabeth Bishop, One Art: The Selected Letters, edited by Robert Giroux (London: Pimlico, 1996), 272.

[2] Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, edited by Thomas Travisano with Saskia Hamilton (London: Faber and Faber, 2008), 148.

[3] Words in Air , 402.

[4] Cary Nelson, ‘Modern American Poetry’, in The Cambridge Companion to American Modernism, edited by Walter Kalaidjian (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 78.

[5] ‘A Conversation with Ian Hamilton’ (1971), in Robert Lowell, Collected Prose (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990), 287.

[6] Words in Air, 708-709.

[7] Sylvia Plath to a British Council interviewer, quoted by A. Alvarez, The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1974), 38.

[8] Sylvia Plath, Letters Home: Correspondence, 1950-1963, selected and edited with a commentary by Aurelia Schober Plath (London: Faber and Faber, 1978), 244.

[9] Steven Gould Axelrod, Robert Lowell: Life and Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 97-99.

[10] Quoted by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Volume 1: The War of the Words (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 206.

 

Larking about

Henry, George, 1858-1943; The Lark
(George Henry, The Lark: Newport Museum and Art Gallery)

After last week, when the rain drenched and draggled so doggedly that I was reminded of Louis MacNeice’s comment on ‘those April showers which in Ireland persist for twelve months’,[1] we are back to more settled unsettled weather, veering from sunshine to rain in the merest jiffy. We’re even promised a heat wave soon.

In a cool room, anyway, inching my eyes down the page, I encounter this:

Can vei la lauzeta mover
De joi sas alas contral ray,
Que s · oblida e · s layssa cazer
Per la doussor qu · al cor li vai
,
O my!’

Hmm. Yet it seems faintly familiar. The next lines are: ‘Bird and she bird / Love and fall’.[2] I recalled Guy Davenport outlining his initial version of Ezra Pound, ‘first of all a man who had written a rich, barely comprehensible poem, a man whose portrait bust had been chiselled by Gaudier. My first response was to learn Italian and Provençal, and to paint in the quattrocento manner. All real education is such unconscious seduction.’[3]

henri gaudier-brzeska hieratic head of ezra pound 1914
(Henri Gaudier Brzeska, Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound, 1914: Tate)

I myself have signally failed to learn Provençal and must blunder along as best I can. Perhaps not Arnaut Daniel, and not Bertran de Born. I rummage in teetering piles. In Anthology of Troubadour Lyric Poetry, I find, ah yes, Bernard de Ventadour’s poem, translated there as prose: ‘When I see the lark beating with joy its wings against the ray of the sun until, oblivious, it swoons and drops for the sweetness which enters its heart’.[4] Ah, ‘Bird and she bird / Love and fall’ – so larks, like swifts, mate on the wing? Elsewhere, the poet W. D. Snodgrass offers rhymes:

‘Now when I see the skylark lift
His wings for joy in dawn’s first ray
Then let himself, oblivious, drift
For all his heart is glad and gay’.[5]

And, of course, the path snakes back to Pound: ‘When I see the lark a-moving / For joy his wings against the sunlight, / Who forgets himself and lets himself fall / For the sweetness which goes into his heart’.[6] That must be where I first saw it, thirty years back, probably more. So early in Pound’s career; but, very late in that career, in one of the last scraps of Cantos, the fragment ending ‘To be men not destroyers’, we find this:

“es laissa cader”
so high toward the sun and then falling,
“de joi sas alas”
to set here the roads of France.

In fact, the third line of Bernard’s verse has appeared in the first of the Pisan Cantos; the line about the roads of France, two cantos later.[7] And, apart from the sources of a Bible and an anthology of poetry, the Pisan Cantos are, of course, primarily memories—fragmentary, often imperfect, no doubt, adhering in odd patterns and permutations—mixed with observation of the day-to-day life of the camp. In retrospect, among Pound’s glimpses of paradise were life in pre-war London and his great ventures into Provence, in 1912, 1919 and 1924, but particularly the first. ‘Or, again, a man may walk the hill roads and river roads from Limoges and Charente to Dordogne and Narbonne and learn a little, or more than a little, of what the country meant to the wandering singers, he may learn, or think he learns, why so many canzos open with speech of the weather; or why such a man made war on such and such castles.’[8]

Layng, Mabel Frances, 1881-1937; The Gypsy
(Mabyl Frances Lang, The Gypsy: Bristol Museum and Art Gallery)

Or a man might write ‘The Gypsy’ or ‘Provincia Deserta’—or ‘Near Perigord’:

Take the whole man and ravel out the story.
He loved this lady in castle Montaignac?
The castle flanked him—he had need of it.
You read to-day, how long the overlords of Perigord,
The Talleyrands, have held the place, it was no transient fiction.
And Maent failed him? Or saw through the scheme?[9]

The lark is, I gather, ‘one of the most popular birds in post-classical Europeans poetry.’ I am directed to Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Spenser, Wordsworth, Milton. Tennyson, Dante, Goethe, Shelley and Blake, among others.[10] It was George Meredith’s poem that gave Vaughan Williams the title of his ‘tone poem’, The Lark Ascending. It sometimes seems that this piece has been damned by its widespread popularity, though I don’t tire of it any more than I tire of, say, the several points on Somerset and Dorset roads where you breast a rise between trees and the world suddenly opens up, with great sweeps of country on either side and the clear sky fled endlessly away—or, in bookish vein, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories or yes (I’ve just confirmed) Hergé’s adventures of Tintin. A sweetness entering the heart – more or less.

References

[1] Louis MacNeice, The Strings are False: An Unfinished Autobiography, edited E. R. Dodds (London: Faber and Faber, 1996), 216.

[2] Guy Davenport, Flowers and Leaves (Flint, Michigan: Baumberger Books, 1991), 56.

[3] Guy Davenport, ‘Ezra Pound, 1885-1972’, in The Geography of the Imagination (Boston: David R. Godine, 1997), 174.

[4] Anthology of Troubadour Lyric Poetry, edited and translated by Alan R. Press (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Press, 1971), 77.

[5] W. D. Snodgrass, ‘The Skylark’, in Lark in the Morning: The Verses of the Troubadours, edited by Robert Kehew (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 75.

[6] Ezra Pound, The Spirit of Romance (1910; New York: New Directions, 1968), 41.

[7] The Cantos of Ezra Pound, fourth collected edition (London: Faber and Faber, 1987), 802, 431, 455. In fact, Bernard’s poem crops up in Canto VI (22) as well.

[8] Ezra Pound, ‘Troubadours – Their Sorts and Conditions’ (1913), in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, edited by T. S. Eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1960), 95.

[9] Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations, edited by Richard Sieburth (New York: Library of America, 2003), 304.

[10] Michael Ferber, A Dictionary of Literary Symbols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 104, 105.

 

‘Feed the brutes’: Rupert Brooke

Brooke

In Jane Gardam’s A Long Way from Verona, Jessica Vye tells Florence Bonne about one of the books given to her by Miss Philemon: it includes ‘some poems by a heavenly-looking man (there’s a photo) called Rupert Brooke, but he only seems to write about fish.’[1] ‘Heaven’ is certainly concerned with fish, as is—unsurprisingly—‘The Fish’ but Jessica probably suffered from the oddities of an anthologist’s choices. That ‘heavenly-looking man’, though, was attested to by many, certainly more than the famously smitten, such as Henry James and Sir Edward Marsh. ‘It was in 1913, I think, and I sitting in the Café Royal feeling amazingly grand, when a young man came in who had a great air of beauty and walked like a panther—and the person I was with said, There’s Rupert Brooke. The only time I set eyes on him. [ . . . ] It was a year when everything was happening [ . . . ] but nothing ever got between me and my impression of the young man walking like a panther.’[2]

On this date in 1915 (a popular anniversary: Shakespeare! Wordsworth! Prokofiev! Lee Miller!) Rupert Brooke died of septicaemia aboard a hospital ship in the Aegean, at the age of twenty-seven, and was buried on Skyros. His legacy often seems to have dwindled to a selection of brooding photographs, a few quotations from besotted admirers, occasional ‘iconoclastic’ versions of the life, pointing out that he wasn’t always as nice as he should have been, and a handful of poems loved by a certain kind of reader and dismissed with a sniff by another kind of reader.

Three years ago, in the Times Literary Supplement (24 April, 2015, 13-15), William Wootten, wrote about Brooke’s afterlives, not least those envisaged by Brooke himself, though generally in terms of dust and scuffed earth rather than heavenly light or adoring readers. He traced a line connecting Brooke’s literary interests with those of T. S. Eliot a few years later. Brooke was deeply read in the work of John Webster (the subject of his dissertation) and other Jacobean dramatists, and recognised immediately the significance of Herbert Grierson’s landmark 1912 edition of Donne’s poems. ‘Had Brooke survived the war,’ Wootten commented, ‘he might well have made the gap between Georgian and Modernist seem far smaller than it has been made to appear.’ Of course, Brooke didn’t survive—but would, I suspect, not have made the case for such writers, often by practical demonstration in original poems, as Eliot did.

grantchester

https://dmdujour.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/rupert-brooke-the-old-vicarage-grantchester/

In November 1912, Brooke went to Berlin to stay with his Cambridge friend Dudley Ward. A few days later, T. E. Hulme arrived and Brooke met him at the station. They had several conversations about aesthetics, sitting outside the Café des Westens, though the ten days they spent often together didn’t lead to a friendship. In the following year, Hulme was one of the members of the jury that chose Brooke’s ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ as the best poem to have appeared in The Poetry Review that year, netting Hulme £30.[3] Edward Thomas, though friendly with Brooke and also on the jury, voted for Wilfrid Gibson.[4] The implied place and date of composition—or conception—of the poem, given in parentheses after the title, is ‘Café des Westens, Berlin, May 1912: this was the second of his four trips to Germany that year.

‘[Edward] Marsh gave me a book of English poems [Georgian Poetry]’, Stanley Spencer wrote to his friends, Jacques and Gwen Raverat. ‘I like Rupert Brooke because he knows what teatime is’.[5] ‘Stands the church clock at ten to three? / And is there honey still for tea?’ These are not only two of the best-known lines in British poetry; they are two of the most deceptive, in that they’re often quoted as if comprising almost the entire poem. But that poem contains one hundred and forty lines; and eleven questions precede these two. There is also a lot more humour in the poem than is sometimes allowed for, ‘poor Brooke—he was wittier than I thought’, as Elizabeth Bishop remarked.[6]

I only know that you may lie
Day-long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester. . . .

Before the outbreak of war, Brooke would travel to North America and the Pacific (which produced some of his most interesting work). In 1913, he wrote to Edward Thomas to explain that he hadn’t been able to get down to Hampshire to visit because ‘London gripped me too firmly by the ankle.’ Might Thomas be in the capital the following week? If so, he could charge Brooke with some message for the United States. ‘And I could leave the muses of England in your keeping—I do that anyhow. Feed the brutes. If I don’t see you, farewell.’[7]

Self-Portrait 1914 by Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959

(Stanley Spencer, Self-Portrait, 1914, Tate © Estate of Stanley Spencer)

On the last day of July 1914, Brooke wrote to Stanley Spencer (‘Dear Cookham’), ‘But this damned war business. . . . If fighting starts, I shall have to enlist, or go as a correspondent. I don’t know. It will be Hell to be in it: and Hell to be out of it.’[8] Brooke was not really a war poet: his five sonnets are essentially the total of his ‘war poetry’. But he saw the effects of war closely enough, in Antwerp, writing to Leonard Bacon on11 November 1914, ‘That was like Hell, a Dantesque Hell, terrible. But there—and later—I saw what was a truer Hell. Hundreds of thousands of refugees, their goods on barrows and hand-carts and perambulators and waggons, moving with infinite slowness out into the night, two unending lines of them, the old men mostly weeping, the women with hard white drawn faces, the children playing or crying or sleeping.’ And, later in the same letter: ‘It’s a great life, fighting, while it lasts, The eyes grows clearer and the heart. But it’s a bloody thing, half the youth of Europe blown through pain to nothingness, in the incessant mechanical slaughter of these modern battles. I can only marvel at human endurance.’[9]

skyros-brooke-grave

Brooke’s poetic reputation has often struggled to stay alive among ‘serious’ readers, the established image of him and the symbolic burdens he’s been made to bear tending to obscure his writing and the few good poems to be found there. That figure of the naively patriotic, sentimental pastoralist of Edwardian England was not quite him. The narrator of Elizabeth Taylor’s novel writes of Hugo Macmillan, Vesey’s uncle: ‘He had gone on being Rupert Brooke all through the war – a tremendous achievement – and was only now, much later, finding his enthusiasms hardening into prejudices’.[10] The ironic thrust of this (‘all through the war’) is that Brooke’s death was indispensable to his dazzling afterlife, that celebrity in turn often obscuring what was authentic in his work.

References

[1] Jane Gardam, A Long Way from Verona (Penguin Books, 1973), 74,

[2] Sylvia Townsend Warner to Leonard Bacon, 23 August 1952, in Letters, edited by William Maxwell (London: Chatto & Windus, 1982), 136.

[3] Robert Ferguson, The Short Sharp Life of T. E. Hulme (London: Allen Lane, 2002), 134-136; Alun R. Jones, The Life and Opinions of T. E. Hulme (London: Gollancz, 1960), 99.

[4] Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Edward Thomas: From Adlestrop to Arras (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 202.

[5] Kenneth Pople. Stanley Spencer: A Biography (London: Harper Collins, 1991), 52.

[6] Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell, 30 July 1964, in Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, edited by Thomas Travisano with Saskia Hamilton (London: Faber and Faber, 2008), 548.

[7] The Letters of Rupert Brooke, edited by Sir Geoffrey Keynes (London: Faber and Faber, 1968), 459.

[8] Letters of Rupert Brooke, 601.

[9] Letters of Rupert Brooke, 632, 633.

[10] Elizabeth Taylor, A Game of Hide and Seek (1951; New York: New York Review of Books, 2012), 12.

All roses and shadow: Guy Davenport’s Sappho

Sappho

Reading Guy Davenport’s poems and translations, I paused on one of Sappho’s addresses to the goddess Aphrodite, liking the directness of its call, a sinewy compound of appeal and command:

Come out of Crete
And find me here,
Come to your grove,
Mellow apple trees
And holy altar
Where the sweet smoke
Of libanum is in
Your praise.

Where Leaf melody
In the apples
Is a crystal crash,
And the water is cold.

All roses and shadow,
This place, and sleep
Like dusk sifts down
From trembling leaves.

I paused even longer, I think, on this:

When death has laid you down among his own
And none remember you in all the years to be,
Know, grey among ghosts in that twilight world,
That, offered the roses of Pieria, you refused,
And wander forever in the dark lord Aida’s house
Reticent still, with the blind dead, unknown.[1]

GD-JW-1964

(Guy Davenport, ‘in a somewhat silent, Shakerish mood and garb’, by Jonathan Williams, 1964. Taken from Portrait Photographs , Coracle Press, London, 1979)

Yes. I was reminded of the physical responses to authentic poetry that A. E. Housman famously described in a 1933 lecture. He cites a figure named Eliphaz (in the Book of Job), to whom he ascribes the sentence, ‘A spirit passed before my face: the hair of my flesh stood up.’ He mentions bristling skin, a shiver down the spine; and mentions one of Keats’s letters, in which the poet writes of Fanny Brawne, ‘everything that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear’. Housman is making the point, at some length, that to him poetry seems ‘more physical than intellectual.’[2] Many readers would describe their reactions, rather, as ‘both’, though probably granting that each might apply at different times and in different states of mind or knowing.

Davenport’s translation wears the simple title ‘Vale’, ‘farewell’. The poem is also included in his Seven Greeks, where he gives a little more space to Sappho than to any other of his chosen writers. His note to this poem explains that ‘Aida’ here is Hades and adds: ‘Written, seemingly, to a standoffish girl. Thomas Hardy translates this in a poem called Achtung.’[3]

Achtung? Hardy’s version of Sappho quotes The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám and Shakespeare as epigraphs and runs:

Dead shalt thou lie; and nought
Be told of thee and thought,
For thou hast plucked not of the Muses’ tree:
And even in Hades’ halls
Amidst thy fellow-thralls
No friendly shade thy shade shall company![4]

thomas-hardy-portrait

(Thomas Hardy: Dorset County Museum)

There is no poem called ‘Achtung’ in the index to Hardy’s Collected Poems. The title here is ‘Sapphic Fragment’, which seems reasonable. Two anthologies, The Oxford Book of Classical Verse, edited by Adrian Poole and Jeremy Maule, and Charles Tomlinson’s Oxford Book of Verse in English Translation, point me to more versions of the poem, but they too sternly name Hardy’s translation ‘Sapphic Fragment’. Ah, but there’s one more anthology to check: Confucius to Cummings, edited by Ezra Pound and Marcella Spann. Here’s Sappho and here’s that poem, called here, yes, ‘Achtung’.[5] The Pound connection is often useful when reading Davenport.

The Loeb edition offers: ‘But when you die you will lie there, and afterwards there will never be any recollection of you or any longing for you since you have no share in the roses of Pieria; unseen in the house of Hades also, flown from our midst, you will go to and fro among the shadowy corpses.’ The notes cite Stobaeus and Plutarch to the effect that the poem was addressed to ‘an uneducated woman’, ‘a wealthy woman’ or ‘an uncultured, ignorant woman’.[6]

Still, ‘Written, seemingly, to a standoffish girl’, feels about right to me. ‘Her Aphrodite laughs’, Davenport writes of Sappho, adding, with characteristic sharpness, ‘Sexual frenzy was as respectable a passion to Sappho as rapacious selfishness to an American. Few societies have been as afraid of the body as ours, and in the West none has, within history, been as solicitous as the Greek of its beauty.’[7] And elsewhere, ‘Seems to me that Sappho was the poet of desire.’[8]

Desire, yes.

Percussion, salt and honey,
A quivering in the thighs;
He shakes me all over again,
Eros who cannot be thrown,
Who stalks on all fours like a beast.[9]

‘Vale’—or ‘Achtung’—sets the speaker, the poet who has accepted those Pierian roses, who has drunk deep of the Pierian spring, the fountain of the Muses in Thessaly, against that other, who has not embraced, either directly or through the person of the poet, intimate knowledge of the arts and sciences, who will pass into the shadows of Hades, unmourned and unremembered.

‘Pierian roses’ recalls that man Pound again: in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, ‘The pianola “replaces” / Sappho’s barbitos’, while in Dr Johnson’s old haunts, Fleet Street has gone to the dogs; or, at least, to stallholders with socks to sell:

Beside this thoroughfare
The sale of half-hose has
Long since superseded the cultivation
Of Pierian roses.[10]

HD

(H. D.)

Sappho’s art, Davenport, comments, ‘belongs to cultural springtimes and renaissance’—hints here of the Persephone theme which increasingly appears to occupy an entire continent in the world of modern literature—and she spoke ‘with Euclidean terseness and authority of the encounters of the loving heart, the infatuated eye’s engagement with flowing hair, suave bodies, moonlight on flowers.’ Her imagery ‘is as stark and patterned as the vase painting of her time’ – ‘Never has poetry been this clear and bright.’ And he quotes, by way of comparison, one of H. D.’s— Hilda Doolittle’s—‘conscious imitations’:

delicate the weave,
fair the thread:

clear the colours,
apple-leaf green,
ox-heart blood-red:

rare the texture,
woven from wild ram,
sea-bred horned sheep:

the stallion and his mare,
unbridled, with arrow pattern,
are worked on
the blue cloth.[11]

This is from a late H. D. poem ‘Fair the Thread’ (topped and tailed), though H. D. did produce translations, or imitations, of several of Sappho’s poems – or, rather, fragments. Sappho’s corpus consists almost entirely of fragments, which are often fleshed out by translators with guesswork and conjecture. They are also used—by poets—as taking-off points for longer, connected poems. One example is Swinburne, whose version of the fragment that Davenport called ‘Vale’ is embedded in the 300-plus lines of ‘Anactoria’, beginning there ‘Thee too the years shall cover’.[12] H. D. herself is another example, though a complicated one: the editor of her Collected Poems cites three early poems which are ‘masked as expansions of fragments of Sappho’, while one of her later critics, referring to those poems explicitly based on Sappho’s ‘fragments’, suggests that H. D.’s ‘textual play’ with Sappho ‘goes far beyond these’.[13]

Sappho’s concision and precision seem peculiarly fitted to excite the minds of the early modernist poets, particularly the Imagists; but then the fragmented state of her work, its blanks and inscrutabilities, bafflements and painstaking decipherments are also very appropriate to the story of modern literature.

Flowers-Leaves-REM

(Jacket of Davenport’s long poem, Flowers and Leaves, published by Jonathan Williams in 1966: Ralph Eugene Meatyard, ‘Untitled’, 1959. © The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard.)

One more Davenport-Sappho detail. Writing about his friend, the extraordinary photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Davenport remembered that, ‘Greek nor Latin had he, though he once figured out with a modern Greek dictionary that a lyric of Sappho (which he had set out to read as his first excursion into the classics) had something to do with a truck crossing a bridge.’[14]

The art of the possible. Why not?

 
References

[1] Guy Davenport, Thasos and Ohio: Poems and Translations, 1950-1980 (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1986), 32, 33.

[2] A Shropshire Lad and Other Poems: The Collected Poems of A. E. Housman, edited by Archie Burnett, with an introduction by Nick Laird (London: Penguin Books, 2010), 254-255: the whole lecture, ‘The Name and Nature of Poetry’, is reprinted here (231-256). The letter he refers to is to Charles Brown, 1 November 1820: Letters of John Keats, edited by Robert Gittings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 397.

[3] Guy Davenport, Seven Greeks (New York: New Directions, 1995), 234 n.6. For his introduction, see 4-14 on Sappho, and for translations of her work, 69-116.

[4] Thomas Hardy, The Complete Poems, edited by James Gibson (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1976), 181.

[5] Confucius to Cummings: An Anthology of Poetry, edited by Ezra Pound and Marcella Spann (New York: New Directions, 1964), 18.

[6] Greek Lyric I: Sappho and Alcaeus, edited and translated by David A. Campbell (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1990), 99.

[7] Davenport, Seven Greeks, 9.

[8] W. C. Bamberger, editor, Guy Davenport and James Laughlin: Selected Letters (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2007), 163.

[9] Davenport, Seven Greeks, 87.

[10] Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations, edited by Richard Sieburth (New York: Library of America, 2003), 550, 556.

[11] Davenport, Seven Greeks, 5.

[12] Algernon Charles Swinburne, Poems and Ballads & Atalanta in Calydon, edited by Kenneth Haynes (London: Penguin Books, 2000), 52.

[13] H. D., Collected Poems 1912-1944, edited by Louis L. Martz (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1984), xiv; Eileen Gregory, H. D. and Hellenism: Classic Lines (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 148.

[14] Guy Davenport, ‘Ralph Eugene Meatyard’, The Geography of the Imagination (Boston: David R. Godine, 1997), 370.

Edward Fitzgerald: a Life in Letters

Edward-Fitzgerald

‘Oh this wonderful wonderful world, and we who stand in the middle of it are all in a maze.’—Letter to Bernard Barton, 11 April 1844.

In 1922, modernism’s annus mirabilis, Virginia Woolf confided to her diary that she had made up her mind that she was not going to be popular. ‘My only interest as a writer lies, I begin to see, in some queer individuality: not in strength, or passion, or anything startling; but then I say to myself, is not “some queer individuality” precisely the quality I respect? Peacock, for example: Borrow; Donne; Douglas, in Alone, has a touch of it. Who else comes to mind immediately? FitzGerald’s Letters.’ She added that, ‘People with this gift go on sounding long after the melodious vigorous music is banal.’[1]

People of a bookish bent tend to know one or two things about Edward FitzGerald: the most generally known one is that he translated the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám; the second thing, also pretty widely known now, is that A. C. Benson’s book about FitzGerald, published in the English Men of Letters series in 1909, which includes the lines, ‘Here he sits, in a dry month, old and blind, being read to by a country boy, longing for rain’, lay behind the famous beginning of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Gerontion’:

Here I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.

‘I can recall clearly enough’, Eliot wrote, a decade after The Waste Land, ‘the moment when. at the age of fourteen or so, I happened to pick op a copy of Fitzgerald’s Omar which was lying about, and the almost overwhelming introduction to a new world of feeling which this poem was the occasion of giving me. It was like a sudden conversion; the world appeared anew, painted with bright, delicious and painful colours.’[2]

TSE-VW-1924-OM-NPG

(Lady Ottoline Morrell, T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf (1924): © National Portrait Gallery)

Most recently, I find a small slip of paper lodged in my old proof copy of W. G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, scrawled all over with a couple of dozen one- or two-word notes: names, from literature and history, on which Sebald’s mind has seized until the point is made, the connection or association teased out, the story told. Thomas Browne, Rembrandt, Dunwich, Ashburnham, Michael Hamburger, Middleton, sugar and art, Merton, the Ashburys, Chateaubriand, herrings, silk, the storm of 16 October 1897, Felixstowe, Orfordness – and Edward FitzGerald.[3]

sebald-rings-of-saturn-british-edition

(Jacket of UK edition, W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn)

FitzGerald was born on 31 March 1809. On the death of his grandfather in 1818, his mother was reputed to be the wealthiest commoner in England. After grammar school and Cambridge, he eventually furnished a cottage on the edge of the family estate at Boulge Hall in Suffolk. Two years later, after describing a typical day, he could add, with justice, ‘But such as life is, I believe I have got hold of a good end of it.’[4] He married reluctantly – and briefly: less than a year later, he and his wife Lucy concluded that the marriage was a failure and decided to separate. In 1864, FitzGerald moved to Woodbridge. He numbered among his friends, acquaintances and correspondents George Borrow, Thomas Carlyle, the poet George Crabbe’s son (also George), the actress and writer Fanny Kemble, Alfred and Frederick Tennyson, and William Makepeace Thackeray. At Woodbridge, he read, continued to write marvellous letters and visit his circle of friends.

It was in 1856 that one of those friends, E. B. Cowell, had begun transcribing portions of the Ouseley MS of Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát, which he’d recently discovered in the Bodleian; in July of that year, he gave FitzGerald the complete transcript. The following year, Cowell, by then in India, sent a transcript of the Calcutta MS of the Rubáiyát. FitzGerald submitted a translation to Fraser’s Magazine but later retrieved it and determined to publish it himself, having two and hundred and fifty copies printed, of which he reserved forty for his own use. It appeared in late March 1859 but failed to sell. It was discovered in the bookseller Bernard Quaritch’s ‘penny-box’ by W. H. Thompson and by Whitley Stokes, a Celtic scholar, who bought other copies and gave one to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. From Rossetti, the circle of appreciation widened, taking in George Meredith, Swinburne, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and, through him, his nephew, Rudyard Kipling. Ruskin also read it, quoting a stanza of the poem in a letter to Mrs Simon and remarking, ‘I wish the old Persian could see how much better I write for love of him.’[5] Famously, Ezra Pound would recall, in the context of Burne-Jones and Rossetti that ‘The English Rubaiyat was still-born/ In those days.’[6]

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.

Dulac_Rubaiyat

(Edmund Dulac, one of twenty colour illustrations to the Rubáiyát, 1909)

A second edition of the Rubáiyát appeared in 1866, a third in 1872, a fourth in 1879, resulting in a great many changes over that time; FitzGerald translated other Persian poems, as well as Calderon, Aeschylus and others. Other translations of the Rubáiyát appeared in the 1880s and 1890s.

If a loaf of wheaten bread be forthcoming,
A gourd of wine, and a thigh-bone of mutton,
And then if thou and I be sitting in the wilderness—

This is, apparently, a literal translation by Edward Heron-Allen (1899) of the lines that FitzGerald translated as ‘A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou/ Beside me singing in the Wilderness—’ (II, 308 n.11). No wonder, then, that Ezra Pound, who had condensed twelve lines of poetry translated from the Chinese by H. A. Giles to a three-line work plus, indispensably, the title (‘Fan-Piece, for her Imperial Lord’), was so receptive to the qualities of FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát.[7]

Ah, fill the Cup: – what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
Unborn TO-MORROW, and dead YESTERDAY,
Why fret about them if TO-DAY be sweet![8]

To his friend W. F. Pollock, FitzGerald wrote in 1846: ‘I have been all my life apprentice to this heavy business of idleness; and am not yet master of my craft; the Gods are too just to suffer that I should’ (I, 550). Though no stranger to the capital he was rarely at ease there. ‘Though I had to run to London several times, I generally ran back as fast as I could; much preferring the fresh air and the fields to the smoke and ‘“the wilderness of monkeys”’ in London’ (II, 56). FitzGerald was hit hard by the deaths of two close friends, particularly that of Kenworthy Browne who died in a riding accident, crushed by his horse. It was the death of Browne, the editors of his letters remark, ‘that finally made London intolerable to FitzGerald. The two had visited the city together frequently and the memory of his friend so haunted FitzGerald in streets and taverns as to “fling a sad shadow over all”’(I, 4).

Then too, for all his enjoyment of the English countryside, time could hang heavy even in Suffolk. ‘Oh, if you were to hear “Where and oh where is my Soldier Laddie gone” played every three hours in a languid way by the Chimes of Woodbridge Church, wouldn’t you wish to hang yourself? On Sundays we have the “Sicilian Mariners’ Hymn”—very slow indeed. I see, however, by a Handbill in the Grocer’s Shop that a Man is going to lecture on the Gorilla in a few weeks. So there is something to look forward to.’ (II, 411-412). And one of my favourites, in a letter to Mrs Charles Allen in 1857. ‘I always think a Nation with great Estates is like a Man with them:—more trouble than Profit: I would only have a Competence for my country as for myself’ (II, 296). Hurrah for a Competence.

; Old Jessup's Quay, Woodbridge

(Thomas Churchyard, Old Jessup’s Quay, Woodbridge. Photo credit: Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service: Ipswich Borough Council Collection)

His focus was increasingly on sailing, on his boat, on all things maritime—‘My chief amusement in Life is Boating, on River and Sea’ (II, 400). In August 1875, he wrote to Cowell, ‘I have not been very well all this Summer, and fancy that I begin to “smell the Ground,” as Sailors say of the Ship that slackens speed as the Water shallows under her. I can’t say I have much care for long Life: but still less for long Death: I mean a lingering one’ (III, 592-593).

FitzGerald died on 14 June 1883 and is buried in the churchyard of St Michael & All Angels, Boulge, Suffolk.[9]

References

[1] Entry for Saturday 18 February: The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume 2: 1920-24, edited by Anne Olivier Bell, assisted by Andrew McNeillie (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981), 168. A footnote mentions that Norman Douglas’s Alone had appeared in late 1921; and that Woolf possessed the seven volumes of the 1902 Letters and Literary Remains of Edward Fitzgerald

[2] T. S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933; London: Faber and Faber, 1964), 33.

[3] See W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn, translated by Michael Hulse (London: The Harvill Press, 1998), 195-207, on the FitzGerald family.

[4] To John Allen, 28 April, 1839. The Letters of Edward FitzGerald, edited by Alfred McKinley Terhune and Annabelle Burdick Terhune, four volumes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), I, 224. All references in text to this edition.

[5] The Letters of John Ruskin: Volume I, 1827-1869, edited by E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London: George Allen, 1909), 455.

[6] Ezra Pound, ‘Yeux Glauques’ (Hugh Selwyn Mauberley VI), Personae: The Shorter Poems of Ezra Pound, edited by Lea Baechler and A. Walton Litz (New York: New Directions, 1990), 189.

[7] Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), 197.

[8] Quotations from the first edition, the text used in The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse (London: Allen Lane, 1997), selected and edited by Daniel Karlin, who subsequently produced the Oxford World Classics edition of the Rubáiyát (2009).

[9] A visit to the grave by T. F. Powys is the starting-point for a fascinating discussion of the Fitzgerald–Sebald–Powys connection in Stephen Batty’s ‘“To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things”’: Theodore Francis Powys & the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám’, The Powys Journal, XXI (2011), 71-95.

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.