[ilds] RG Bitter Leons --The Tree of Idleness -- more questions

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Thu Jul 19 18:39:37 PDT 2007

On 7/19/2007 7:46 PM, william godshalk wrote:

>         Jamie appears to regard the "ragged banana leaf" as a genuine
>         banana leaf outside the Turkish house the persona inhabits.
>         Michael points out that bananas do grow on Cyprus (and in
>         London according to Pynchon), though they are not indigenous
>         as Jamie points out. Jamie suggests that the banana tree is
>         like the persona himself -- not indigenous, a transplant. The
>         banana leaf is a poetic image* *rather than a statement of
>         horticultural fact. Could the raged leaf suggest something
>         about the outside of the house, something more about the
>         persona? Are there other suggestions?

I will only repeat my earlier post in the hope of drawing attention back 
to /Bitter Lemons/.  Whether bananas are aboriginal or imported to 
Bellapaix, these plants signify /India /for Durrell, as he 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."    
Beyond India, they signify /nostalgia/, one of Durrell's key modes, I 
>         In the second stanza "Perhaps a single pining mandolin/Throbs
>         where cicadas have quarried," i.e. to the "heart of all
>         misgiving and there/Scratches on silence like a pet locked in."
I would like to hear more speculation about the /throbbing/, /bruising/, 
and /spreading /stains.  (Landscapes and skies are /bruised /in the 
/Quartet/.)  As I said in that other post, we are reading in "The Tree 
of Idleness" a case study of a trauma incident.  That artsy house at 
Bellapaix would thus have been a salve or a balm beyond dreaming given 
this deep fund of recollected violence and regret.  A very good place to 
die.  I am happy to hear biographical, political, literary, and personal 
responses to that. 


           * THE TREE OF IDLENESS [from Collected Poems: 1931-1974 
(1985), Faber and Faber]

            I shall die one day I suppose
            In this old Turkish house I inhabit:
            A ragged banana-leaf outside and here
            On the sill in a jam-jar a rock-rose.

            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.

            Will I be more or less dead
            Than the village in memory's dispersing
            Springs, or in some cloud of witness see,
            Looking back, the selfsame road ahead?

            By the moist clay of a woman's wanting,
            After the heart has stopped its fearful
            Gnawing, will I descry between
            This life and that another sort of haunting?

            No: the card-players in tabs of shade
            Will play on: the aerial springs
            Hiss: in bed lying quiet under kisses
            Without signature, with all my debts unpaid

            I shall recall nights of squinting rain,
            Like pig-iron on the hills: bruised
            Landscapes of drumming cloud and everywhere
            The lack of someone spreading like a stain.

            Or where brown fingers in the darkness move,
            Before the early shepherds have awoken,
            Tap out on sleeping lips with these same
            Worn typewriter keys a poem imploring

            Silence of lips and minds which have not spoken.


            Author's Note

            The title of this poem is taken from the name of the tree
            which stands outside Bellapaix Abbey in Cyprus, and which
            confers the gift of pure idleness on all who sit under it.

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

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