[ilds] Loeb Classical Library

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Sat May 10 10:22:27 PDT 2008


> Jamie, I wonder what the poem-as-process might 
> tell us?  I mean, what  can you tell me about 
> the typescript with holograph emendations at 
> McMaster?

Ah, Charles, it tells us a great deal, but might it not have been more 
fun to wait until next month?

The corrected ts. comes from a collection given by Mary Honor to 
McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (just outside of Toronto). 
It's primarily from the 1940s and 50s, consisting of correspondence 
between Durrell and she & her husband, mss., ts., and several holograph 
corrections to the poetry materials.  There's also the original letter 
Miller includes at the end of /The Colossus of Maroussi/, among other 
lovely bits & pieces.  It's worth the trip, even if only to see the 
Bertrand Russell collection housed there as well.

First, /this/ "On First Looking in Loeb's Horace" is corrected ts., so 
it's not ur-"On First" (and who's on second), but it is still a 
significantly different poem from the one we eventually find in /Cities, 
Plains and People/, one that I think emphasizes the humanity Durrell 
affords Horace.

The poem has no breaks between stanzas, ends without the last 7.5 lines, 
and there is a distinct emphasis on the correctives he adds to the 
previous reader's uncharitable comments:

      ....; bald, human [-unloved-] kind
   Waiting and watching in his orchard at the end
   He found [-the-] irony and love necessary to admit
   That even the stylist could not pierce
   The wall--
   Long after the mere man had exhausted
   Life and the idea of death in art.

Earlier, there's also a slight change (among many):

   Here where our clear hand marked up
   "The _hated_ cypress" I added "Because it grew
   On tombs, revealed his fear of autumn and the urns",
   Depicting for you a solitary at an upper window
   Inventing metaphors for the winter sea ....

All in all, I find the revisions pointing ever more heavily toward an 
uncharitable reader whose notes Durrell finds in "*your*" Horace, which 
he modifies to emphasize the humanity of a man whom he was perhaps being 
led to read uncharitably.

And, in no version of the poem is Horace the branch and Durrell the 
root.  Horace is both branch, leaf, limb, trunk, and root (he is 
bucolic, after all), and Durrell gets to be the dirt:

   And found a suffering limb on the great Latin tree
   Whose roots grew under the barbarian grammar we
   Use -- though based on his -- his mason's tongue.  (McMaster)

     vs.

   Found a suffering limb on the great Latin tree
   Whose roots live in the barbarian grammar we
   Use, yet based in him, his mason's tongue;  (/Cities, Plains/)

The trees roots live in the compost of our barbarian language, rotting 
yet fecund.  Hence, I find it exceptionally apt to point back to the 
similar phrase (as I did previously) in "Anniversary" in which Durrell 
echoes Eliot's roots of lilac, which allude to Chaucer's April showers 
that pierce the barbaric earth to the root of the flowers, bathing the 
vines in sweet draughts, which ain't so far from Virgil's Eclogues 
either...  Bucolic indeed.

Yet, I particularly like the ending of the McMaster ts., and the revision:

   Only the great art of death eluded,
   Like a problem of style, an observance or an act,
   In poems easily surmounted but in life
   The evading, the damnable, the only Fact
   [-Where-] That art and charm and manners could not [-find-] bind
   [-A way of getting round it-]

The lover's harsh comments on Horace being fat are altered and 
transformed, but initially they are the poet's own kinder words.  They 
are the lover's, which are rebutted elsewhere, I think in order to 
encourage the reader to do the same, rather than leave Horace like 
Durrell, sitting in the orchard recognizing that style cannot pierce the 
veil of mystery.  Durrell is rebuked with Horace, for neither will get 
the answer he desires, sitting there exhausting life.

Best,
James

ps: as an afterthought, I particularly like this phrase from the Oxford 
history that Charles quotes, mainly because we see it played out in his 
prose thoroughly as well (and beautifully articulated as a concept in 
Seferis' misprision of Cavafy in his essay "Cavafy & Eliot: A Comparison"):

> Perhaps Durrell's greatest gift is his 
> celebration of the antinomy of past and 
> present, of classical persistence and 
> contemporary emotion. 

Compare perhaps to Seferis' reading of Cavafy's "Those Who Fought for 
the Achaean League."


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