[ilds] Rivals

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Fri May 9 07:23:24 PDT 2008


Why Keats?  They're similarities between the two:  their class, education, and early success.  But I'm simply guessing -- Keats is generally looked upon as the greatest English poet since Shakespeare, and maybe Durrell wanted to cross swords with him and prove his meddle.  Why Horace?  That I'm saving for my essay which comes out next month.  Why not Byron?  Lord Byron is a greater personality than he is a poet, less of a threat, and I think Durrell had a soft spot for him.  Hence, Pursewarden has obvious Byronic qualities -- "bad, mad, and dangerous to know" -- e.g., fame and wit and incest, along with the secrets that require the burning of his letters.  Harold Bloom has already covered this territory -- writers and their problems with their forefathers.


-----Original Message-----
>From: slighcl <slighcl at wfu.edu>
>Sent: May 8, 2008 4:37 PM
>To: Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>, ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>Subject: Re: [ilds] "On First Looking into Loeb's Horace"
>On 5/8/2008 6:22 PM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
>> The title already tells us that the poem is playing off Keats's famous sonnet, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," which is an unabashed tribute to a great poet.  Durrell reworks a tribute into a poem of scathing criticism of Horace's personality and also strikes blows at Keats.
>> I believe it was Newton who said he stood on the shoulders of giants. 
>> I don't see Durrell saying this. He seems bent on cutting those giants 
>> down to size.
>So why would Durrell cultivate an agon with Keats?  Why the antagonism 
>towards Horace? 
>So if not Keats, then why Lord Byron? 
>I can hardly resist dropping off one of my favorites.  Here I think that 
>Durrell is identifying to a high degree with the "hobbled," "farded," 
>and compromised self of Byron.  I believe that Durrell saw a reckoning 
>with the "Notself" as the speaker calls it here to be the unavoidable 
>fate of any conscious soul, of any self-aware writer.
>This also could be Pursewarden at his mirror in the penultimate moment, 
>I think.
>Durrell, Lawrence :  BYRON [from Collected Poems: 1931-1974 (1985) , 
>Faber and Faber ]
>The trees have been rapping
>At these empty casements for a year,
>Have been rapping and tapping and
>Repeating to us here
>Omens of the defeating wind,
>Omens of the defeating mind.
>Headquarters of a war
>House in a fever-swamp
>Headquarters of a mind at odds.
>Before me now lies Byron and behind,
>Belonging to the Gods,
>Another Byron of the feeling
>Shown in this barbered hairless man,
>Splashed by the candle-stems
>In his expensive cloak and wig
>And boots upon the dirty ceiling.
>Hobbled by this shadow,
>My own invention of myself, I go
>In wind, rain, stars, climbing
>This ladder of compromises into Greece
>Which like the Notself looms before
>My politics, my invention and my war.
>None of it but belongs
>To this farded character
>Whose Grecian credits are his old excuse
>By freedom holding Byron in abuse.
>[Page 121 ]
>Strange for one who was happier
>Tuned to women, to seek and sift
>In the heart's simple mesh,
>To know so certainly
>Under the perfume and the politics
>What undertow of odours haunts the flesh:
>Could once resume them all
>In lines that gave me rest,
>And watch the fat fly Death
>Hunting the skeleton down in each,
>Like hairs in plaster growing,
>Promising under the living red the yellow---
>I helped these pretty children by their sex
>Discountenance the horrid fellow.
>I have been a secretary (I sing)
>A secretary to love ...
>In this bad opera landscape
>Trees, fevers and quarrels
>Spread like sores: while the gilded
>Abstractions like our pride and honour
>On this brute age close like doors
>Which pushing does not budge.
>Outside them, I speak for the great average.
>My disobedience became
>A disguise for a style in a new dress.
>Item: a lock of hair.
>Item: a miniature, myself aged three,
>The innocent and the deformed
>Pinned up in ribbons for posterity.
>And now here comes
>The famous disposition to weep,
>To renounce. Picture to yourself
>A lord who encircled his life
>With women's arms; or another
>Who rode through the wide world howling
>And searching for his mother.
>[Page 122 ]
>Picture to yourself a third: a cynic.
>This weeping published rock---
>The biscuits and the glass of soda-water:
>Under Sunium's white cliffs
>Where I laboured with my knife
>To cut a 'Byron' there---
>I was thinking softly of my daughter.
>A cock to Aesculapius no less ...
>You will suggest we found only
>In idleness and indignation here,
>Plucked by the offshore dancers, brigs
>Like girls, and ports of call
>In our commerce with liberty, the Whore,
>Through these unbarbered priests
>And garlic-eating captains:
>Fame like the only porch in a wall
>To squeeze our shelter from
>By profit and by circumstance
>Assist this rocky nation's funeral.
>The humane and the lawful in whom
>Art and manners mix, who sent us here,
>This sort of figures from a drawing-room
>Should be paused themselves once
>Under these legendary islands.
>A landscape hurled into the air
>And fallen on itself: we should see
>Where the frail spines of rivers
>Soft on the backbone intersect and scribble
>These unbarbered gangs of freedom dribble
>Like music down a page and come
>Into the valleys with their small
>Ordnance which barks and jumps.
>I, Byron: the soft head of my heart bumps
>Inside me as on a vellum drum.
>[Page 123 ]
>Other enemies intervene here,
>Not less where the valet serves
>In a muddle of papers and consequences;
>Not less in places where I walk alone
>With Conscience, the defective: my defences
>Against a past which lies behind,
>Writing and rewriting to the bone
>Those famous letters in my mind.
>Time grows short. Now the trees
>Are rapping at the empty casements.
>Fevers are closing in on us at last---
>So long desired an end of service
>To the flesh and its competitions of endurance.
>There is so little time. Fletcher
>Tidies the bed at dusk and brings me coffee.
>You, the speaking and the feeling who come after:
>I sent you something once---it must be
>Somewhere in Juan ---it has not reached you yet.
>O watch for this remote
>But very self of Byron and of me,
>Blown empty on the white cliffs of the mind,
>A dispossessed His Lordship writing you
>A message in a bottle dropped at sea.
>1946/ 1944
>Charles L. Sligh
>Department of English
>Wake Forest University
>slighcl at wfu.edu
>ILDS mailing list
>ILDS at lists.uvic.ca

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