[ilds] What would you have me write?

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Tue May 6 15:53:19 PDT 2008

I am continually struck by the way the listserv will suddenly come 
a-buzz with life when the words of some poster to the listserv are 
perceived as contentious. 

We seem ready to talk and talk and talk when the topic is a post by Bill 
Godshalk set out in plain, cogent, telegraphic terms. 

Surely, it seems, this Bill Godshalk fellow, a man who actually sat 
across a table and drank with Lawrence Durrell "in life"--surely Bill 
Godshalk is heretical for setting out in simple terms the historical 
fact of Durrell's continued absence and persistent unavailability? 

Surely we should stop our ears and insist that, no no, it cannot be so 
when he tells us that yes--truthfully--once Lawrence Durrell or 
Pursewarden or Prince Hamlet have gone into the undiscovered country, 
then we the survivors are indeed thrown back upon our own imaginative 
resources--left with ideas of Lawrence Durrell which might be based upon 
letters printed upon a page, ideas of Lawrence Durrell which might be 
drawn from a dwindling and imperfect fund of human memory, gossip, 

The wounded name, and how we bear it.

But what happens when words from Durrell's writings are the supposed 
topic of conversation?

Well, let us just see.  Let us try again and begin at the beginning. 

Here is an early poem, from 1934.  That Durrell chose to exhume it and 
make it public in 1980 may be worth noting.

The topics are germane: love, death, absence, memory, words, silence, 
unknowing, nothingness. 

Interesting that young Larry and old Larry seemed to agree on these as 
the central facts.  Or did they?


Durrell, Lawrence :  LOVE POEMS

[from Collected Poems: 1931-1974 (1985) , Faber and Faber ]


1          Lost, you may not smile upon me now:
2          You, nor that grey-eyed counterpart of you
3          Inhabiting the sunlight in still places:
4          Substant always in the netted moonshine.

Poem section

5          'Remember' is a lost cry on a wind:
6          A hollow nothing-heard,
7          Most memorable, in a deaf night
8          That does not heed.

Poem section

9          I have forgot even, dear pagan,
10        The holding of hands, the beseeching,
11        Intolerable darling!
12        No more do the loose hands of devilry
13        Tangle your fingers like nets in my soul.

Poem section

14        You ... I ...
15        They are such very little faces---
16        Flowers in a stippled moonshine
17        Only recalled when the moon's a mad farthing,
18        The sky a december of steel.


1          I cannot fix the very moment or the hour,
2          But an inevitable sometime I shall meet
3          One face, your face among the faces,
4          Notice one step
5          Among the winding footfalls of a hollow street.
6          Perhaps at evening in smooth rain
7          That runs all silver-shod among the houses,
8          In a void gathering of men and women
9          Who tread their lives out on the jointed stones,
10        I shall be challenged by your smile again:
11        Your voice above the loaded gutter's monotones.

12        Voice among voices ...
13        Face among faces. ...

[Page 39 ]

14        I cannot fix the moment, and my present clock,
15        The dandelion-puff, lies cruelly;
16        Yet, in the action of that hour's surprise
17        What will you do, or I?
18        Catch hands and laugh upon each other's eyes?
19        Or will some imp of the spontaneous moment
20        Devise some other signal than this?
21        Shall I, perhaps, put hands upon your elbows,
22        Outface your consternation with a kiss?


1          What would you have me write?
2          Scraps, an attentive phrase or two
3          To soothe your vanity's delight?
4          Pay down a fee of words to you,
5          That lesser you, who dwindle, shrink
6          When formal sentences of fine desire
7          Fix your minute reflection in a shining ink?
8          Would you have all of this:
9          A macaroni payment for a wink?
10        A pastiche for a kiss?

11        No. I'll not devise such nothings:
12        Not countenance dissection with my pen:
13        Make an essay on torment when
14        Ink is for fixing fables.
15           O! can anything
16        Engendered of the mind be more than this:
17        A hazard flight on an imperfect wing?
18        The motion of the muscle in a kiss;
19        Features aligned for laughter; can the mind
20        Transliterate such metamorphosis
21        Evoking thence
22        More than a leaning pothook for a sense?

23        Words? They are not large enough.
24        The sense is never minion to the word.

[Page 40 ]


1          Absent from you, I say:
2          'Let there be no more songs,
3          Those faulty units of the heart.'
4          Let them defer to senses they can know,
5          Be pander to air's comprehended graces---
6          Daffodil smells and the turned earth and snow.
7          Let them disseminate and prove
8          The mere music's overture to love
9          Whose dear vicissitudes may never show
10        Upon the surface of thought's countenance.

11        Sure that I've tried and tried,
12        Leading my ink across this acreage
13        Of vacant pages.
14        I can glean nothing from the scars of heart.
15        Always the finer fabric of the sense protests:

16        'Let there be no more songs
17        Lest an obscuring music's overtone
18        Disperse the purer meaning of the words.'


1          You too will pass as other lovers pass.
2             There will no more be hands to hold you by.
3          Love, like wet fingers dabbled on a glass,
4             Traces a soon disfigured charactery.
5          As there is end to every narrative,
6             So must the string fall silent on the air.
7          Dear, these poor suppliant hands may only give
8             Scant loveliness to cast before despair.
9          To hold you will not make creation young,
10           Nor all the pattern of the planets new.
11        Time may not grant what beauty I have sung
12           More lease than sunlight to a last night's dew.

13        Unbearable enchantment! All and all of this
14        Will slip to nothingness beneath a kiss.

[Page 41 ]


1          There is no strict being in this hour,
2          No scent nor dust that moves:
3          Only this dawdling clock
4          Clapping a tireless knuckle at the doors
5          Of cogent thought:
6          Reviving echoes in the wasted mind.
7          The night-time swings resentment like a hammer---
8          Murderous long minutes, pendulous over me,
9          And all the dark divorces of the mind and body
10        Are cancelled quite, devoured by this hot nothing,
11        Night.
12        I am become my thought's compositor
13        And the laborious darkness here my devil.

14        I, lapt in the vacuum of this hot white bed,
15        What can I see beyond the triple wall?
16        What sense beyond soul's damage---
17        Your absence, white Compassionate?
18        The mind is windle-straws
19        Herded in regiments by the poignant wind:
20        A thimble-full of restless lava contemplating
21        Only the motionless elbows of these trees
22        Swagged hard with fruit,
23        Nudging the neighbour wall like a boor at table.
24        Marble realities!
25        These, only these.

[Page 42 ]

26        Yet somewhere thoughts conspire to show you standing,
27        The obedient evening at your elbow,
28        Upon a terrace in that southern land,
29        Free of these dread devices of discomfort---
30        Silence---this hot blank silence and this bed---
31        My youth's warm winding-sheet---
32        Free of them all!
33        O! dear my saint, sometime I vision you,
34        As summer lightning winking in my brain---
35        All your youth's shapely arrogance!
36        You, limb-lusting, Pan-fleet!
37        Leaning upon a terrace in the south,
38        Forgetting and forgetting.

39        The wind's your only Romeo.

1980/ 1934

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

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