[ilds] Tree of Idleness -- mimic your mother's lovely face

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Sun Jul 22 10:04:01 PDT 2007

On 7/22/2007 12:13 AM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
> So, what we have here are the "brown fingers" of someone exposed to the sun.  I see a little girl's fingers.

>         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.

A great deal of mystery in those lines.  When I take them as they come, 
I see the "enigma" that Bruce notes.  The "brown fingers" up early 
typing/tapping on "sleeping lips."  Peasantry, rustic life, healthy 
paganism of the Mediterranean.  Are these "brown fingers" literally 
tapping on lips, or literally typing words on keys to implore "silence" 
from the lips of an absent reader-lover?  I see the brown fingers of a 
writer who labors outside in the elements and gets up early to type out 
his poems about traumatic loss, his poems which touch upon something so 
bruised and so sensitive that it would be too painful to revisit their 
words of witness by reading them aloud.  Perhaps this poem's ending is 
an imploring request to those of us reading /here /and /now /to hear, 
but not press too closely with our operations and inquiries? 

But then I must admit that Durrell's biography and Cyprus book, /Bitter 
Lemons/, are filtering through. 

"Brown fingers" appear in /Bitter Lemons/--"The Swallows Gather"--where 
they are "the brown fingers of 'the Seafarer'."  Those fingers witness 
the elements, but I do not think they are the fingers from the poem.

What if we set aside Durrell's /Collected Poems/ and turned to reading 
"The Tree of Idleness" within the particularities of its original 
context, /The Tree of Idleness/ (1955)?  What could we learn if we read 
the poem within the currents of motif and echo flowing through that 

For instance, how might the volume's epigraph glance off of and refract 
"The Tree of Idleness"?

            The notion of emptiness engenders compassion.

            MILA REPA

Bruce:  I am thinking of your nod to Sappho.  If you have /The Tree of 
Idleness/, try it.  The initial poem is "Lesbos," followed by "Niki" and 
"Mneiae."  Do those poems, coming before "The Tree of Idleness," 
accentuate the Sapphic nature of some of the verse in this collection?

Bill:  I cannot recall why you mentioned Coco Chanel--tanning?  Out of 
pure associational value--subjective--I will remind you that "Chanel" 
sits on page 19.

Eve and the child born from the "clay" of a woman's "wanting" (desire? 
or lack?) become more achingly present if we read "The Tree of Idleness" 
after we have read "Cradle Song (to Eve)":

>         CRADLE SONG (to Eve)
>         /Erce-Erce-Erce Primigravida/ 
> curled like a hoop in sleep
> unearthly of manufacture,
> tissue of blossom and clay
> bone the extract of air
> fountain of nature.
> softly knitted by kisses,
> added to stitch by stitch,
> by sleep of the dying heart,
> by water and wool and air,
> gather a fabric rich.
> earth contracted to earth
> in ten toes: the cardinals.
> in ten fingers: the bishops.
> ears by two, eyes by two,
> watch the mirror watching you,
> and now hush
> the nightwalkers bringing peace,
> seven the badges of grace
> five the straw caps of talent,
> one the scarf of desire, go
> mimic your mother's lovely face.
> 1955//1951/


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

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