[ilds] Tree of Idleness -- ding an siche

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sat Jul 21 21:13:34 PDT 2007

Bill, thanks for the confession.  Well, I'm a New Critic, of sorts, and one certainly old in years, with a decidedly biographical bent and who knows what else, but without any of the "newfangleness," as Wyatt might say.

Here, I think, the thing (das Gedicht) unto itself is not sufficient, as with much of Durrell's poetry, which to me, as is often the case, just doesn't make much sense.  Because his syntax is screwy, his imagery baffling, and the context confusing.  Moreover, the man clearly doesn't much care if he makes sense or not.  Another words, Durrell's poems don't explain themselves on their own, much like Pound's Cantos.  To make sense of them, you have to bring in outside information.

Two pieces of outside information:  Durrell writes a play entitled Sappho (1948), and he names his second daughter Sappho Jane (1951).  Sappho the poet means something to him.  He must like her poetry, such as it has come down to us.

Do boys collect roses and put them in jam-jars?  None that I knew of.  Me and my companions were more interested in snails and puppy dog tails.  Girls and women do that, god bless'em.  In fact, my wife did it today.  I wouldn't like roses in vases were it not for her.  Sure you can find exceptions, but let's not, as Roman Jakobson said, be afraid to make generalizations in the face of exceptions.

Tanned skin an attribute of feminine pulchritude?  Not in Sappho's time, I'll bet.  Goddesses are white limbed, and women stayed out of the sun (hence, women in Egyptian paintings are given a light yellow color).  "Gold arms," as Sappho mentions (6), I take not as a color, as in having a golden tan, rather as an attribute of imperishable gold.  So, what we have here are the "brown fingers" of someone exposed to the sun.  I see a little girl's fingers.

Mainly, when I said I see Sappho in "The Tree of Idleness," I'm referring to the themes and the movement of the lines.  And that I think I've already explained in the previous posting you refer to.


-----Original Message-----
>From: william godshalk <godshawl at email.uc.edu>
>Sent: Jul 21, 2007 7:49 PM
>To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>Subject: Re: [ilds] Tree of Idleness -- ding an siche
>Okay, I'll confess. I am an old New Critic. I believe that a poem has 
>a meaning -- even if we do not know the biographical background.
>I think we can explain this poem by concentrating on the poem itself 
>and its imagery. For me I find the poem is finally becoming clearer 
>-- perhaps because we are discussing it. I do not believe that this 
>poem is indecipherable as it stands. I try to teach students to 
>decipher the apparently indecipherable every class period. 
>Deciphering takes time and effort, perhaps more of these than we may 
>wish to invest in a tough little poem.
>And, you will all, please, forgive me when I say that I find almost 
>nothing of a little girl in this poem. Sure, kids put flowers in a 
>jam jar. I have also, and I have known women who do the same. I don't 
>find this to be gendered.
>Tanned skin became popular when Coco Chanel in the 1920s came back to 
>Paris with a tan -- or so the story goes. I have suggested that 
>melanin or darkness may account for the brown fingers. I'll also 
>accept the sun.
>And I don't immediately think of Sappho of Lesbos when I read this 
>poem. I have read and taught her poetry -- in English, unfortunately. 
>You may be able to convince me if you point to passages in Sappho 
>that are comparable to Durrell's lines.

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