[ilds] Tree of Idleness

Michael Haag michaelhaag at btinternet.com
Fri Jul 20 21:21:34 PDT 2007

OK, a series of thoughts, progressing through the poem, trying to pick 
bits of it apart.

My impression is that Durrell is writing of a place where he could stay 
all his life and therefore where he could die.  The rock rose itself 
can signify death, but also it can heal.

How will life and death be?

Will I die in the sense of memory dispersing (though the village 

Or 'with so great a cloud of witnesses' (Hebrews 12) do I have faith 
and run the race, expecting life forever after?

Moist clay of a woman's wanting may refer to conception: so before the 
heart starts beating and after it stops beating, is there a haunting 
(spirit   existence)?

No, none of the above.

Things will go on as they do now.

Kisses without signature: anonymous, nameless women?  Women of no 
account?  Prostitutes?

The lack of someone (Eve? or any permanent relationship) spreading like 
a stain.  (See Auden, The Wanderer, where 'spreading like a stain' is 
the ruin that comes to the house in the absence of the wanderer and is 
to be preserved against.)

I also have the feeling that Sappho is in this poem.  That perhaps it 
is she who put the rock rose in the jam jar.  And perhaps it is her 
brown fingers tapping out a poem on her father's lips in the dark 
before the dawn.


>>             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.

More information about the ILDS mailing list