[ilds] RG Justine 1.1 -- "again" & "chaucer"

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Tue Apr 10 13:05:57 PDT 2007


Hmmm.  An intriguing potential allusion...

Durrell certainly knew Eliot¹s opening allusion in The Waste Land well, or
at least well enough to mock it in a kindly way:

  Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
  The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
  And bathed every veyne in swich licour
  Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Versus Eliot¹s (in only two lines, thanks to the Eliot estate...) month
after March:

  April is the cruellest month, breeding
  Lilacs out of the dead land ...

Which leads the reader into memory and desire as a couple that are nudged
back to activity by ³Dull roots with spring rain.²

Durrell, naturally, returns to this in his poem ³Anniversary,² which is
dedicated to Eliot:

  In you his early roots drove through
  The barbarian compost of our English
  To sound new veins and marbled all his verses

Given the number of references to Eliot, I wouldn¹t be at all surprised to
find a parallel to Chaucer in the opening of Justine, and I do read the
opening of Balthazar this way, since there is no Spring.  Even in
³Anniversary,² the ³Alluding and delimiting can only mystify / The singer
and his mystery more,² which would seem to be a tip of the hat to Eliot¹s
theory of impersonality...  This may even be hinted at in the eighth
asterisk section: ³I want them to live again to the point where pain becomes
art....² through some kind of catalytic conversion.

But, for The Waste Land in Justine, my inclination would be to cast ³all
those who have been deeply wounded in their sex² (1.1, or p. 18 in the
omnibus) as a Fisher King image.  Like the Fisher King, the narrator has
fled to a wasteland where the wind is ³unpacking the great planes,
ransacking² those poor trees.  Like the Fisher King, the sexual wound brings
suffering to the world around him, and like Oedipus in his barren land, what
he will not talk about brings the suffering (again, talk vs. crime).  After
all, the shepherds in Oedipus refer to Arcturus, and Durrell likewise opens
with it, already in the 4th paragraph.  Arcturus snatches him from darkness
only to place him in lime-laden dust (the opposite of Chaucer, who opens the
Prologue with ³the yonge sonne / Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne²).

For Chaucer, I¹d be particularly inclined to look at things differently than
with Eliot.  I¹d suspect Durrell would go for the importance of the
landscape, such that it mirrors (or introduces or presages) the spiritual
rebirth: ³Than Longen Folk to Goon on Pilgrimages.²  That ³than² is as
crucial as any in Keats¹ sonnets...  Even in the third asterisk section of
Justine, the ³Notes for landscape tones² turns to ³inflaming the body... The
flesh coming alive² and then ultimately Sade¹s noose for Dionysus reborn:
³Anthony heard the heart-numbing strains... Which persuaded him to
surrender.²  This is anything but Chaucer¹s rebirth in pilgrimage.

And, if that¹s the case with landscape leading the body like a flower
following the sun, ultimately leading to the noose after crime, how do we
read Durrell¹s turn on the flora?

The ³folk² who need the pilgrimage are clearly all back in Alexandria, and
only the anonymous narrator (wounded in his sex) has made the trip.  They
are all ³flora² (oddly not fauna, suggesting their vegetative ties to the
city, following it¹s rays like a heliotrope), and these flowers are ³a part
of city...² (a lovely ellipsis ending asterisk section 4 with an adjectival
urbanity).  Such flora are not bathed in virtue like Chaucer ‹ anything but!
Even on the second page, the fauna become flora when ³A drunken whore walks
in a dark street at night, shedding snatches of song like petals.²  Like
Blake¹s ³Sick Rose,² these flowers are ill.

They are, then, nocturnal flora fed by the stars rather than the young sun,
and Chaucer¹s Georgics allusions vanish in this desolate land the Fisher
King figure has banished himself to.  As with Blake, the invisible worm
flies in the night, under cover of darkness, infecting with shame and
disease through his dark, secret love.

Since Durrell¹s had used Blake later as a change from Keats (when Keats
became a character), I think that comparison is reasonably apt.  I might
even be tempted to link (by link, by link) Blake¹s ³mind forg¹d manacles²
with Durrell¹s ³iron chains of memory.²  Certainly they bear a kinship in
their regard for the city ‹ I wouldn¹t hesitate to elide Blake¹s ³London²
with Durell¹s Alexandria.

Or at least that¹s what Bruce prompts me toward...

Having fun,
James


On 4/10/07 12:04 PM, "Bruce Redwine" <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net> wrote:

> Anyone care to go back, again, to Chaucer's Prologue to the CT and note the
> similarities?  It's not April, but the speaker feels "Spring." Chaucer's
> sexuality ("So priketh hem nature in hir corages") is that fleshy sky of "hot
> nude pearl."  "Zephirus" has a violent analogue in that wind "unpacking the
> great planes."  And the speaker will make a pilgrimage back to a spot ("The
> hooly blisful martir for to seke"), which may not be holy but from which he
> seeks release.  Durrell is probably doing no more than making a slight bow, as
> Eliot did, and adding his own twists.
> 
> Bruce
> 
> 
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: william godshalk
>> Sent: Apr 10, 2007 10:15 AM
>> To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>> Subject: Re: [ilds] RG Justine 1.1 -- "again"
>> 
>>> The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of
>>> wind.  In the midst of winter you can feel the inven-
>>> tions of Spring.  A sky of hot nude pearl until midday,
>>> crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind un-
>>> packing the great planes, ransacking the great planes. . . . (CLS's
>>> emphasis)
>> 
>> For me, the word "again" immediately suggests the circadian rhythms of the
>> island. Only later in the passage do we learn that the narrator is on the
>> island to "return link by link along the iron chains of memory to the city,"
>> hoping or perhaps fearing to return again in his imagination to "beloved
>> Alexandria." From the description of what Alexandria has done to the narrator
>> and his friends -- "precipitated in us conflicts which were hers" -- "beloved
>> Alexandria" may be ironic.
>> 
>> The AQ is concerned with looking again.
>> 
>> Invention is worth a trip to the OED if you are interested in sligh shades of
>> meaning. One of the inventions of spring is the Invention of the Cross, the
>> reputed finding of the Cross by Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, in
>> A.D. 326, hence, the church festival observed on the 3rd of May in
>> commemoration of this (OED I.1.b.). Definition 2.6.b suggests that an
>> invention may be a "discovery." But "The action of devising, contriving, or
>> making up; contrivance, fabrication" (OED I.2.) reminds us that the
>> inventions of Spring may be (in part) fictional, as does II.8: "A fictitious
>> statement or story; a fabrication, fiction, figment."  And finally an
>> invention may be an "arrival" (III.12.). Why does the narrator use the plural
>> inventions rather than the singular form?
>> 
>> Spring may be capitalized to indicate that it is a personification. Spring
>> actively invents even though it is still winter. Winter on the other hand is
>> simply a time marker.
>> 
>> If it is still winter in Justine 1.1, it is spring in Justine 4.2: "On these
>> spring mornings while the island slowly uncurls from the sea in the light of
>> an early sun I walk" (no limping here in the first Cardinal edition). In
>> Justine 4.3 it is "early summer," and in Justine 4.4 the narrator observes
>> the "summer stars." Now "The cicadas are throbbing in the great plains, and
>> the summer Mediterranean lies before me in all its magnetic blueness." I
>> would expect the full yearly cycle, but my expectation is denied. Why no
>> autumn?
>> 
>> WLG 
>> ***************************************
>> W. L. Godshalk          *
>> Department of English         *
>> University of Cincinnati           Stellar disorder  *
>> Cincinnati OH 45221-0069      *
>> 513-281-5927
>> ***************************************
> 
> 
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___________________________
James Gifford
Department of English
University of Victoria
Victoria, B.C., Canada
http://web.uvic.ca/~gifford

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