[ilds] "Aphrodite"

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sat Jun 18 13:43:12 PDT 2016


My thanks to Ken Gammage for bringing this poem to our attention.  In term of Durrell’s development, “Aphrodite” has obvious relevance to The Revolt of Aphrodite.  I go along with the idea of war as recurring motif (war in history and war between the sexes).  A few comments.

1.  This version is from Brigham’s edition of Lawrence Durrell:  Collected Poems:  1931-1974 (Faber 1980).  The poem was first published in 1961and later collected in Durrell’s Selected Poems:  1935-1963 (Faber 1964).  Durrell again reprinted it in The Ikons and Other Poems (Dutton 1967), where it holds a prominent position as the second of thirty-two selections.  “Io” also appears in Ikons (cf. Io with Iolanthe in Revolt).   The version of “Aphrodite” in Ikons sets off the last two lines in the fashion of a sonnet’s resolution couplet.

2.  I take the poem as a truncated sonnet (twelve lines instead of fourteen) but without distinct quatrains.  Sonnets (particularly Petrarch’s and Shakespeare’s) are typically about love, although they need not be.  Aphrodite, like her Roman counterpart Venus, is the goddess of love.

3.  We have Aphrodite rising on her “great wave of nacre,” but Durrell’s Aphrodite is obviously not Botticelli’s Venus on the half-shell rising from the sea in The Birth of Venus.  She’s more like some scarred warrior, some “bitter, simmering prophet.” I don’t think Durrell distinguished between “prophet” and “prophetess” (he wasn’t always a sexist?),  but this can be researched and shown otherwise.  Why “panic” in her eyes?  Panic is derived from the god Pan, who is associated with instilling fear.  Perhaps Durrell intends that Aphrodite creates terror in all who behold her.  I think this fits Durrell.

4.  The last two lines serve to “resolve” the meaning:  “of man’s own wish” v. “on man’s own wish.”  The wish v. the fact, beauty v. terror.  So we have Durrell’s nonce usage—“petrifact.”  (Thanks to Ken for digging this up.)  Apparently this is the first use of the word in English.  Petrifact is a backformation of petrifaction, which the OED has going back to 1611 (which is well within Durrell’s readings in Renaissance English).  Since petrifact also appears in Monsieur—there seems to be a linkage in Durrell’s thought.  Yes, good point, Ken, Durrell’s Aphrodite is like a piece of statuary, hard and cold and beaten up, a Marine Venus of his own making, his own invention (as is clear in Reflections on a Marine Venus.)

Bruce



> On Jun 18, 2016, at 12:07 PM, Kennedy Gammage <gammage.kennedy at gmail.com> wrote:
> 
> Hoping it’s OK to quote these 12 lines, relating the poem to her _Revolt_
> 
> “Aphrodite”
> 
> Not from some silent sea she rose
> In her great wave of nacre
> But from such a one—O sea
> Scourged with iron cables!  O sea,
> Boiling with salt froths to curds,
> Carded like wool on the moon’s spindles,
> Time-scarred, bitter, simmering prophet.
> On some such night of storm and labour
> Was hoisted trembling into our history—
> Wide with panic the great eyes staring …
> Of man’s own wish this speaking loveliness,
> On man’s own wish this deathless petrifact.
> 
> 1964/1961
> 
> Some thoughts: My first take registered that the sea was violent: scourged, boiling, carded – without taking into account the transition between the sea and Aphrodite. So I’m wondering about carded but now I think that line 7 “time-scarred” refers to the goddess. But then – why does Durrell say “prophet” instead of “prophetess,” which one might expect from him.  And as a goddess, why does she panic? Maybe by comparison it’s nasty and violent here where we live! 
> 
> Anyway, she seems to live on via our wishes, either as speaking loveliness or as a deathless petrifact – maybe a Marine Venus hauled out of that scourged and boiling sea.
> 
> In relation to the _Revolt_ my initial thought is that Tunc and Nunquam deliberately ignore WWII while focusing on internal wars, violence and madness.
> 
> Also, strange coincidence: when I Googled petrifact the example was from Durrell: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/petrifact <https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/petrifact> Unless I am mistaken the scene they capture from Monsieur with the petrified forest is when they are riding their horses to the beach after Macabru.
> 
> When Bruce said these books are hard to read – I agree, mainly because they are a huge slog through extended pages-long character monologues! All the characters are Durrell, and he has a lot to say.
> 
> I really think the Revolt is a 60s-era way-station between the Quartet and the Quintet – both of which were focused on World War II. 
> 
> Thanks very much – Ken
> 
> P.S. Aphrodite was the patron saint of prostitutes – so that bit fits nicely! 
> 
> 

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