[ilds] One cannot copy to unearth the new

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Fri Mar 7 21:30:10 PST 2008


 > I hope we can talk about this poem. I but
 > darkly understand it. I just fict.

I love that verb...  I'm caught by the "found" poem that finds its own 
pathos in the end, as Charles' subject line so nicely shows.

My sense (very tentative at this stage) is that Durrell's playing three 
games here: poetic echoes and allusions, poetic cannibalism to create 
the new, and the genuinely original.  All three are going to happen, but 
when "Totals turn up and insist," it's only the last that counts, though 
you'll likely need the first two to get there.  I also suspect that 
we're not meant to really trust Totals either...  I think of the death 
of every capitalist in his fiction.

I'm stuck too by how we get, as readers, from "Capacities in doubt and 
lovers failing" to "However chimerical or choice the few, / Once cannot 
copy to unearth the new."  That's quite a span.  I'm almost feeling a 
shift from the end of "Blind Homer" (a poem to which I continually 
return) to some Keatsian despair over the immature harvest of unripened 

Like "Anniversary," I think the poem shows us just how precociously and 
persistently Durrell was aware of his literary precursors, and how 
little the financial 'job' mattered in the face of the artistic struggle 
to reconstruct a tradition (not that the job didn't matter...  It did, 
and it had a craft all its own).  Why is it so unfashionable to talk 
about Bloom?

All that said, the poem is still only "darkly understood," and I like 
that you only fict.  I must ask though, who's sailing, and where is 'he' 
sailing to?  I can't help but look very, very far back in poetry even as 
this poem struggles over how to move forward.  However, that might be 
because I'm looking forward to watching the skeletons in "Jason and the 
Argonauts" this weekend, so some Mediterranean sailing is on my mind.

Without coming up with a genuine interpretation, let me at least say I 
greatly enjoyed encountering the word "unreal" in such close proximity 
to "I do not cannibalise my fellow-man."  Eliot must have been trying to 
toughen himself up as much as possible, so much that they'd need brine 
and 2 months of ageing to tenderize him.  Eliot counted on being 
distasteful, as he'd say.  And whose head was served on that platter?

I like too that the new is only unearthed and not made -- Ezra never 
gets his due in Durrell, and I rather like that.  The artists "makes it 
new" by cannibalising and feasting on his fellow-man, until the moment 
when spade strikes earth and the long-buried becomes the new, having 
been already digested by time and forgetfulness.

Why can't I have more of these poems in my classroom?  Keats, Blake, 
Eliot, and Durrell always open up much discussion, and the few times 
I've had Durrell, we all had great fun.

But that's the general response.  Maybe tomorrow there will be more 
specifically, or maybe I'll just get my editing work done...


william godshalk wrote:
> I hope we can talk about this poem. I but darkly understand it. I just fict.
> Bill
> At 10:43 PM 3/7/2008, you wrote:
>> PRESS INTERVIEW [from Collected Poems: 1931-1974 (1985) , Faber and Faber  ]
>> Capacities in doubt and lovers failing?
>> We feel time freshen but we keep on sailing.
>> No, sir, I do not cannibalise my fellow-man
>> In writing of him. I just fict.
>> Unfashionable if you wish, or even unreal
>> So to evict the owner from his acts
>> In propria persona; spit out the bones
>> When once the bloody platter's licked.
>> Of course things experienced or overheard
>> Swarm up the wall and knock;
>> But we disperse them as they flock
>> And redistribute, word by silly word.
>> But when Totals turn up and insist
>> We give them way; and only then you see,
>> However chimerical or choice or few,
>> One cannot copy to unearth the new.
>> 1966/ 1966
>> --
>> **********************
>> Charles L. Sligh
>> Department of English
>> Wake Forest University
>> slighcl at wfu.edu
>> **********************
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> ***************************************
> W. L. Godshalk		*
> Department of English         *
> University of Cincinnati            Stellar disorder  *
> Cincinnati OH 45221-0069      *
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