[ilds] BITTER LEMONS the poem

Ozlem Ince holistic3000 at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 17 05:52:50 PST 2011

Lemons are a good sequel to the "sea, sand and sun" trinity associated with the 
islands. Morocco has its tangerins as well...Durrell might have wanted 
to express his "bitter" experiences, but not in a personal way. So, he used the 
word bitter in conjunction with lemon, to avoid any personal statement..

From: Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
Cc: Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>
Sent: Wed, February 16, 2011 11:22:08 PM
Subject: Re: [ilds] BITTER LEMONS the poem

Anne and Ken, 

It's useful to study Durrell diction which shows how he goes about creating his 
inner "world."

Re "bitter lemons" as a variety of lemons, did LGD know colloquial eastern 
Arabic?  Does Cyprus have this variety?  Does Durrell ever refer to "sweet 
lemons" and enable a comparison?  I only find references to "bitter lemons" in 
this book.  Perhaps he has the bitter variety in mind.  Perhaps all these 
questions are true, although the fact that sweet lemons have little "commercial 
value" would argue against the distinction.  Aside from the questionable 
validity of my comment on "bitter," I'm suggesting that Durrell creates his own 
semantic field in this poem, one which relies on repetition, redundancy, and 
contradiction — all of which have meaning within the context of "habits half a 
lifetime dead" or not.

I wonder if the skin of the "sweet lemon" is dark.  Perhaps someone can comment.

The bitter-sour distinctionis correct.  I find, however, no references to "sour" 
in Bitter Lemons but twelve to "sweet."  Old LD definitely had a sweet tooth. 
 Whether he confused sour with bitter, as I do, is open to debate.

I also find it interesting that the darkness at the end of Bitter Lemons (1957) 
turns to light at the beginning of Clea (1960).  The novel opens thus:  "The 
oranges were more plentiful than usual that year.  They glowed in their arbours 
of burnished green leaf like lanterns, flickering up there among the sunny 
woods."  So, instead of "dark globes" we have bright "lanterns" of fruit.  In my 
mind's eye, the islands are the same, Cyprus, where Justine was written, where I 
see Darley residing in exile.  This fits a stage in Durrell's life.  Things were 
must sunnier for him in 1960.


On Feb 16, 2011, at 11:15 AM, Anne R Zahlan wrote:

>In response to this comment and just for the record:
>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 
    In fact there are "sweet lemons" (see below).  In colloquial eastern Arabic, 
the following terms exist "lemon helou" sweet lemon(s) and "lemon hamoud" sour 
Sweet Lemon (C. limetta Risso)–a general name for certain non-acid lemons or 
limettas, favored in the Mediterranean region, In India, they are grown in the 
Nilgiris, Malabar and other areas. The fruits are usually insipid, occasionally 
subacid or acid. The seeds are white within and the tree is large, resembling 
that of the orange. One cultivar, called 'Dorshapo' after the plant explorers, 
Dorsett, Shamel and Popenoe, who introduced it from Brazil in 1914, resembles 
the 'Eureka' in most respects except for the lack of acidity. Another, called 
'Millsweet', apparently was introduced into California from Mexico and planted 
in a mission garden. It was reproduced at the old University of California 
Experiment Station at Pomona. Neither is of any commercial value.

>----- Original Message -----
>>From: Bruce Redwine
>>To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>>Cc: Bruce Redwine
>>Sent: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 1:28 PM
>>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 
>>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 
>>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 
>>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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