[ilds] Durrells

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Thu May 8 12:05:48 PDT 2008

Hi Bruce,

Respectfully, I must disagree quite strongly.  Durrell's ego, whatever 
it may have been, does not strike me at all in those examples.  There 
may be an abundance of bafflegab in his interviews, but I think self 
doubts and a genuine sense of fair play with unsuspecting interviewers 
is to blame.

> I would also cite a poem like "Loeb's Horace" 
> (which Peter Porter, respected poet, calls 
> Durrell's greatest poem), where Durrell/narrator 
> takes on a great poet and faults (attempts to 
> diminish?) him for sins he (Durrell) himself 
> is guilty of.

In this instance, I disagree most strongly, and the sins strike me as 
the point of contention, as well as the confusion of poet, narrator, 
character, and past poet.  To whom do you see the poem addressed, and 
who writes those sins in the margin?  It's clearly a dual approach to 
Keats and Horace, but there's also another reader involved, complete 
with marginalia, and I don't catch egoism here at all.

Porter places the other reader as a former lover, both in his 
encyclopedia entry and in his introduction to the new /Selected Poems/ 
of LD.  I think perhaps you are reading the lover's criticism of Horace 
as Durrell's own (whether this other voice is an invention or not!), yet 
I think there has to be something far more human in that marginal 
annotation she has added to Horace:

   You would discern the liar by a line,
   The suffering hidden under gentleness
   And add upon the flyleaf in your tall
   Clear hand: 'Fat, human and unloved,
   And held from loving by a sort of wall,
   Laid down his books and lovers one by one,
   Indifference and success had crowned them all.'

If Horace lies by hiding that same self that is so crucial to the 
opening stanzas, might we also assume Durrell learned this trick from 
him?  And, if so, do you think this lover is really addressing Horace in 
her marginalia, the same way we casually leave books open to particular 
pages on coffee tables?  She's a lost lover writing to her reader, not 
to a poet long dead -- speaking to Horace, she writes a note meant for 
Durrell the poet.  I read this as a rebuke against the poet reading the 
marginalia in Horace, not Horace himself -- I suspect my lovely wife 
uses the same technique with magazines containing articles about people 
who work too much.

There are also the tasteful and kind references back to Durrell's 
influences (those who influenced him), such that this Horace can be 
afraid of urns and a slave to quietness, since I doubt he'd have been 
permitted the position of a bride...

I also enjoy the moment in the seventh stanza when we hear:

         ... the landed man,
   Found a suffering limb on the great Latin tree
   Whose roots live in the barbarian grammar we
   Use, yet based in him, ...

I can't help but think back to a similar moment in Durrell's 
"Anniversary" for T.S. Eliot, which blurs an allusion to an allusion to 
an allusion:

   In you his early roots drove through
   The barbarian compost of our English
   To sound new veins and marbled all his verses
   Through and through like old black ledgers,

I see tribute in these references to five great poets whose influences 
linger: not an ego seeking to bury them.  Still, if I could tumble my 
way through writing a poem like "On First Looking into Loeb's Horace," 
I'd probably swell like a bullfrog too -- he repeats that phrase when 
interviewed by Lyn Goldman as well.


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