[ilds] born without tongues

Michael Haag michaelhaag at btinternet.com
Sun Jul 22 21:14:53 PDT 2007

What Durrell did say about poems (Personal Landscape, issue One, I 
think, but anyway found in the PL Anthology, pp77-8) is:

'1) Neither poet nor public is really interested in the poem itself but 
in aspects of it.
2) The poet is interested in the Personal aspect: the poem as an aspect 
of himself.
3) The public is interested in the Vicarious aspect; that is to say 
"the universal application", which is an illusion that grows round a 
poem once the logical meaning is clear and the syntax ceases to puzzle.
4) This is why good poems get written despite bad poets an why bad 
publics often choose right.
Meanwhile, the poem itself is there all the time.  The sum of these 
aspects, it is quite different to what the poet and the public imagine 
it to be.  Like a child or a climate it is quite outside us and our 
theories don't affect it in any way.  Just as climate must be endured 
and children kept amused, the poem as a Fact must be dressed up 
sometimes and sent to the Zoo -- to get rid of it.  It is part of the 
ritual of endurance merely.  People say that writing Poetry is one of 
the only non-Gadarene occupations left -- but this is only another 
theory or aspect.  Poems are Facts, and if they don't speak for 
themselves it's because they were born without tongues.'

Note that in trying to decipher The Tree of Idleness we are performing 
action 3.  But Durrell is interested in action 2.  These are not the 
same thing; you can spend the rest of your life wrestling with 3 
without coming a millimetre closer to 2.  Durrell is saying that the 
poem is the sum of 2 and 3, but what he does not tell us is whether 2 
is comprehensible.  What he does seem to expect is that the poem, 
regardless of the poet or the public, will speak for itself, but if not 
then that has nothing to do with the poet or the public, rather that 
the poem itself which was born with no tongue.

What Durrell does not say is that he wants his readers to understand 
his poems.

I see some sense in this.  I also see a fair amount of obfuscation in 
this and a justification for privacy and incomprehensibility.


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