Sunday, August 31, 2014

the subject is simply preaching

I wasn't slack in my speeches, he says, in parliament – you were sharp, I agree, you were the opposite of yourself as a poet, relaxation, sweetness, psht, you were impatient: “Preaching on the subject is simply preaching, whether the thing be worked up in the best infernal patterns and coloured with brimstone, or full of sympathies and sentiment and graceful mournings for what is holiest and loveliest in woman,” you said when you were talking about prostitution in 1859, but poetry is like a different species to you, you let it erase so much of you – it's a place to be beautiful, he says: it's the right outlet pipe or dwelling place for beauty and peace. I'm going to find someone who disagrees with that, I say (of course there are people who disagree, he says, but they didn't write my poems).

What about Dora Wilcox (1873 - 1953), in the same anthology as you?

Why Dora Wilcox? he asks – we were talking about nostalgia and I thought of her, I say. In London (1905).

When I look out on London's teeming streets,
On grim grey houses, and on leaden skies,
My courage fails me, and my heart grows sick,
And I remember that fair heritage
Barter'd by me for what your London gives.

Then she describes the past; she recalls details --

   Nor shall I hear again
The wind that rises at the dead of night
Suddenly, and sweeps inward from the sea,
Rustling the tussock

She grieves. Then she examines her grief.

Yet let me not lament that these things are
In that lov'd country I shall see no more;
All that has been is mine inviolate,
Lock'd in the secret book of memory.

Then she decides that there is another purpose for memory, it is not only there to make her “heart feel sick,” it is a point of access; she can use it. She gets her courage back. (“My courage fails me.”) She had a little focus, one person standing or sitting still, looking at the road and thinking, but now she has a large focus, going, finding, “walking unconstrained,” accompanied by sympathetic presences, though in London she is not accompanied by anyone, “speech seems but the babble of a crowd” in London.

… walking unconstrained
By ways familiar under Southern skies;
Nor unaccompanied; the dear dumb things
I lov'd once, have their immortality.
There too is all fulfilment of desire:
In this the valley of my Paradise
I find again lost ideals, dreams too fair
For lasting; there I meet once more mine own
Whom Death has stolen, or Life estranged from me, --
And thither, with the coming of the dark,
Thou comest, and the night is full of stars.

Your point? he says -- that she is using her poetry unpeacefully to pursue, like an eagle, and you are using yours to perpetuate a stasis or present moment with music and with soft opposites that cancel one another out more or less: the lovers then the “field of slain,” these two given such similar weight that neither one exists and they fray apart under the pressure of being the same thing; in her the “teeming” crowds are less important than a convolvulus, and the nightingale is not as beautiful as the bellbird. We can't all be Dora Wilcox, he says.

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