Sunday, March 09, 2008

Durrell on the poets

How shall we go about it? Keats the word drunk searched for resonance among vowel sounds which might give him an echo of his inner self. He sounded the empty coffin of his early death with patient knuckles, listening to the dull resonances given off by his certain immortality. Byron was offhand with English, treating it as a master to servant; but the language, being no lackey, grew up like tropic lianas between the cracks of his verse, almost strangling the man. He really lived, his life was truly imaginary; under the figment of the passional self, there is a mage, though he himself was not aware of the fact. Donne stopped upon the exposed nerve, jangling the whole cranium. Truth should make one wince, he thought. He hurts us, fearing his own facility; despite the pain of the stopping, his verse must be chewed to rags. Shakespeare makes all nature hang its head. Pope in an anguish of method, like a constipated child, sandpapers his surfaces to make them slippery for our feet. Great stylists are those who are least certain of their effects. The secret lack in their matter haunts them without knowing it! Eliot puts a cool chloroform pad upon the spirit too tightly braced by the information it has gathered. His honesty of measure and resolute bravery to return to the headsman’s axe is a challenge to us all: but where is the smile? He induces awkward sprains when we are trying to dance! He has choosen greyness rather than light, and he shares his portion with Rembrandt. Blake and Whitman are awkward brown paper parcels full of vessels borrowed from the temple which tumble all over the place when the string breaks. Longfellow heralds the age of invention, for he first thought out the mechanical piano, you pedal, it recites. Lawrence was a limb of the genuine oak-tree, with the needed girth and span. Why did he show them that it mattered, and so make himself vulnerable to their arrows? Auden also always talks. He has manumitted the colloquial…

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