[ilds] Rivals

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Fri May 9 09:45:20 PDT 2008


Bruce,

Though we must disagree quite strongly, I do want to hear more about 
this piece next month -- I must say I think you're utterly wrong, but I 
hope it's persuasive and am glad to see something on this coming out.

> Why Keats? 

That's the easy part -- Durrell had what seems to have been a mild 
obsession with Keats' works since the outset.  Note that he writes to 
Miller, "it’s all dove-tailing into my heraldry," and the presence of 
allusions to Keats as early as /Panic Spring/.

As for Horace/Keats, I still can't bring myself to read this as a poetic 
attack, not because I think Durrell incapable of such a thing, but 
because it seems to run contrary to the self-doubts, the plague of 
needing art, and the tributes to great voices from the past that run 
rampant through is works in general.  This decision, whether to read the 
poem's transcribed marginalia as Durrell ventriloquising Eve (/Cities, 
Plains and People/ is dedicated to her, after all) or voicing his own 
critique is surely something a 'reader' must decide, because the author 
has expressly not told us.  Or, perhaps he did -- it's the woman.  But, 
you as a reader prefer to ignore this instruction from the author and 
read it as something else...

A strong reader indeed; are you becoming chummy with Bill, the man who 
leaps through poems like over hurdles at the track?

> maybe Durrell wanted to cross swords with 
> him and prove his meddle.

I certainly don't see it as crossing swords, especially since Keats is 
revered in so many other works.  I can understand how one might choose 
to read "slave to quietness" as a jab, though *I* certainly do not see 
it in that manner at all; yet, does "crossing swords," with all its 
phallic insinuations, really account for Durrell's use of Keats 
elsewhere?  Think to the opening of /Nunquam/ or "Cities, Plains and 
People" (section II, penultimate stanza), the whole section of which is 
a tribute to poetic influences.  Keats is aligned with "campion," making 
him both a lovely flower and a garland for the victorious.  Notably, 
both poems are in /Cities, Plains and People/.

Moreover, the forefather in "Cities, Plains and People" is the father 
himself, and the poets are the escape route that creates fecundity, even 
though the poetic path seems to lead only to pruning and eventually 
being plucked out by the roots.  If there's resentment to Keats, I'd 
think it's for a great poet who inducted Old D into the long sickness of 
practicing art.

I might, for that matter, ask after how you see Durrell relating himself 
to the GREAT poet (I think caps...) in "Blind Homer," a poem of the same 
period?  Who, then, sits at the end of the poem,

   Much more uncertain of his gift with words,
   By this plate of olives, this dry inkwell.

I read Durrell as putting himself in his place, because Blind Homer 
certainly had no inkwell.  I rarely see the disparagement of another 
poet, often the envy, and almost certainly a sense of being a fellow 
practitioner of loneliness, all sharing a common sickness.

But, to go with Bruce's subject line, perhaps Old D can speak for 
himself about jealousies vs. standing on the shoulders of giants...

"The Rival Poet." /The Times Literary Supplement/ 5 Jan 1951: 7.

"Your interesting correspondence concerning the Rival Poet of the 
Sonnets prompts at least one reader to suggest a reconsideration of 
Marlowe's claims, and one cannot help feeling that his claims are at 
least as weighty as those of Chapman.  The tongue that made "lascivious 
comments on thy sport" does not sound like Chapman: while the "strained 
touches" lent by rhetoric could as easily suggest the author of 
/Tamberlane/ as anyone else.  ....  It seems likely, too, that Marlowe's 
influence over Shakespeare was greater thantaht of Chapman in the one 
field which concerned him most, the theatre. .... [O]ne is driven to 
wonder whether the author himself was not at pains to conceal the 
identity of his subjects.  It is even possible that Shakespeare provided 
false clues.  "How many lambs might the stern wolf betray, if like a 
lamb he could his looks translate?" might provide a peg on which to hand 
a theory about Thomas Kyd, the scrivener-translator; while the quotation 
"what care I who calls me well or ill, so you O'er green my bad, my good 
allow" might on its merits suggest the playwright Robert Greene. ...."

Best,
James


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