[ilds] BITTER LEMONS the poem

Denise Tart & David Green dtart at bigpond.net.au
Wed Feb 16 12:03:12 PST 2011

the line that puzzles me is 'habits half a lifetime dead'. The rest I get, pretty much. And dark globes...apart from the idea of hidden secrets, how about the lemons in the half light of a moonlit night; works for me.


From: Ken Gammage 
Sent: Thursday, February 17, 2011 6:18 AM
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca 
Subject: Re: [ilds] BITTER LEMONS the poem

Wonderful! Thanks for that. But I have one quibble that perhaps is germane.


"Bitter" and "Sour" are two separate tastes that the tongue can distinguish. I was taught that lemons are sour - and that quinine is bitter. I was thinking of this last night while reading the poem - did Durrell agree with this distinction, and if so, what the title of both the book and the poem then implies - other than the universal bitterness resulting from Enosis.


-- Ken


From: ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca [mailto:ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca] On Behalf Of Bruce Redwine
Sent: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 10:28 AM
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
Cc: Bruce Redwine
Subject: Re: [ilds] BITTER LEMONS the poem




The full title of "Loeb's Horace" is "On First Looking into Loeb's Horace" (1943), an allusion to Keats's sonnet, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" and those "realms of gold."  The late Peter Porter called it Durrell's greatest.  It's difficult.  I've published and commented on this before, as has James, so I won't repeat.  Our readings are just about diametrically opposed, which attests, I think, to the poem's greatness.


Here are some notes on "Bitter Lemons," an easier poem to understand, as far as "easy" ever applies to LGD.  It's another great poem and one of my favorites.


1.  The poem appears at the end of the book of the same title, so it's only natural to take it as coda and summa.  But just as the book leaves a lot "unsaid," particularly in biographical detail, so does the poem.


2.  "Bitter Lemons" - the title is redundant.  When are lemons not bitter?  I'll make the bold statement that Durrell indulges in redundancy for a reason, which is more than simple emphasis.  I link redundancy to repetition, a certain obsessiveness.


3.  "The dark globes of the fruit."  Fruit is not specified, but the reader naturally assumes that to be lemons.  But when are yellow lemons "dark," especially in the light of the "moon's cool fevers?"  And when are fevers ever "cool?"  Durrell likes paradox, oxymoron, contradiction.


4.  The use of "dark" recalls the "dark crystal" imagery of Prospero's Cell (pp. 11, 133), The Greek Islands (p. 21), and "Letter to Seferis the Greek" (l. 11).  In this regard, I'd even include The Dark Labyrinth.  Dark has special meaning for LDG.  He sees darkness in light, something similar to Milton's "darkness visible."


5.  "Beauty, darkness, vehemence" - what do these nouns refer to?  A whole line of abstractions, the kind of thing poets are not supposed to do.  Isn't "be specific" the thing usually taught in Writing Poetry 1A?   A couple of years ago Michael Haag pointed out to me that similar words appeared earlier in the Epilogue to Reflections on a Marine Venus:  "the dark vehement grace of E."  E refers to Eve Cohen, Durrell's second wife, and Eve figures in the background of Bitter Lemons, but she goes "unsaid," unless you want to pick her out of the "dementia" of Turner's Venice at the beginning.  To understand LGD fully you have to absorb just about everything he wrote.  He cross-references himself.


6.  Finally, note the repetition of the two concluding lines, "Keep its calms like tears unshed."  The lines beautifully mimic the action of waves, "the Greek sea's curly head."  Moreover, the rhymes of unsaid/unshed repeat and underscore the hidden aspects of the poem.  The poem "Bitter Lemons" suggests to me that Lawrence Durrell is hiding a lot of personal pain and using poetry as a means of catharsis.







On Feb 15, 2011, at 10:53 PM, Ken Gammage wrote:

Apparently I don't have "Loeb's Horace" in my Dutton paperback The Poetry of Lawrence Durrell (1962). However, I do have "BITTER LEMONS," - and yes, I agree that this poem is about hiding or suppressing feelings: pain, sadness, memories, emotions. "Better leave the rest unsaid," - he wants to be understated, and yes he is bitter. "Keep its calms like tears unshed." He doesn't want to cause any more trouble. But still - even understated, even hiding something: the poem leaves a powerful impression. I don't know more about it at the moment: when it was written in relation to the book. But knowing what we know about the subject matter, it is terribly sad.


-- Ken



From: ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca [ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca] On Behalf Of Bruce Redwine [bredwine1968 at earthlink.net]
Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2011 11:40 AM
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
Cc: Bruce Redwine
Subject: [ilds] CPC and LGD



The way you "inhaled" Cavafy on a rainy night was the way I first read Durrell in 1958.  The two are very different poets, however.  Cavafy is better at infusing his feelings into everyday objects, as in "The Afternoon Sun" and "In the Evening."  In contrast, I think Durrell uses his poetry to hide his emotions, "Bitter Lemons," for example, or "Loeb's Horace."  A poem I like, H. R. Stoneback's "Meditation on an Old Photograph IX:  Larry and Sparrow in the Dark Garden at Sommières - June 1986," in the current issue of Deus Loci, owes more to Cavafy than to Durrell, I think.  That I find ironic, given the publication, the title, and the appearance of Durrell himself.







On Feb 9, 2011, at 8:51 PM, Ken Gammage wrote:

I don't think we need be overly concerned about whether Durrell is popular at the moment. Ephemera is popular. Whole genres of human endeavor in the arts go out of popular favor - like Jazz, which was last truly popular music (in the U.S. at least) in the 1940s, before bebop became too challenging for many listeners. For Jazz fans, as well as LD fans, this should be irrelevant. There are many other topics to address on the list. What about the 1987 BBC-TV series My Family and Other Animals, with Anthony Calf portraying Larry Durrell? I would like to see this again - I may have seen some of it on VHS at the time. What of C.P. Cavafy? There is much more to be said about his role as muse to the Quartet. I picked up the Rae Dalven translation on a rainy night in Berkeley a few years ago - and inhaled it! I don't think I've ever sat down and read a whole book by a single poet before, rapt. But I still like Durrell's translation of "The Afternoon Sun" in Clea the best.

-- Ken



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