[ilds] RG Bitter Lemons -- Tree of Idleness & Swallows Gather

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Wed Jul 18 21:06:56 PDT 2007

On 7/18/2007 10:19 PM, James Gifford wrote:
>         "The lack of someone spreading like a stain."
>         -- Eve's stain? Let's not forget that 'stain' is 'bruised' in the
>         poem, again returning to the theme of injury.
Jamie:  I am glad you picked up on the poem that gave its name to the 
volume of poetry (my favorite of Durrell's poetic works) and shares a 
name with this chapter, "The Tree of Idleness."  You tease out so many 
points that I can only touch on a few.  "The lack of someone spreading 
like a stain"--I have always been attracted to the humanity and 
vulnerability of that line.  An emotional hemorrhage?   A trauma case.  
It recalls those other favorite lines about always "waiting in an 
emergency of anguish" for our parents in another--

        'There are sides of the self
        One can seldom show. They live on and on
        In an emergency of anguish always,
        Waiting for parents in another.'

A bit of the old Durrellian /nostos algos /-- the "homing pain" -- which 
all in all may be at the root of what I enjoy most about Durrell, the 
memory man.  And the tenderness--a tenderness which I have always sensed 
in the tracing of Sapphy Durrell's hand, the working prototype for the 
hand on the cover of /Justine/.  The palm with five fingers spread 
outward.  It warns away the evil while also haling in a hopeful greeting.
>         "A ragged banana-leaf outside"
>         -- the last time I checked, the banana was not an indigenous
>         species
>         to Cyprus. 
So there we have memories of India, as Durrell recalls in the "How to 
buy a House" chapter in /Bitter Lemons/:  "crowning every courtyard like 
a messenger from my Indian childhood spread the luxuriant green fan of 
banana-leaves, rattling like parchment in the wind."   On that same page 
of /Bitter Lemons/ we find "the mournful whining of a mandolin," a 
description which had also appeared in the earlier poem as
>>             Perhaps a single pining mandolin
>>             Throbs where cicadas have quarried
>>             To the heart of all misgiving and there
>>             Scratches on silence like a pet locked in.
A great poem, and clearly a cistern or holding vessel for storing up 
those strong memories, images, and feelings which inform /Bitter 
Lemons/--"the heart of all misgiving."


Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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