north of oxford essay

Dylan Thomas in Winter

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By Byron Beynon
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Dylan Thomas had a healthy nostalgia for childhood, the winter months, Christmas and the New Year, conjuring up feelings and memories within stories, poems and reminiscences of time past, using language of a familiar season when thoughts were cast back to more innocent times.
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“Memories of Christmas” was reissued, enlarged, and sold to Harper’s Bazaar for 300 dollars under the title “A Child’s Memories of Christmas in Wales”. He also made a recording of it.  It begins with:
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“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years, around the sea-town corner now, and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
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He leaves his house in Cwmdonkin Drive and walks down the festive hill facing the bay as:
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“All the Christmases roll down the hill towards the Welsh-speaking sea, like a snowball growing whiter and bigger and rounder, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street;”
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He later returns to the comfort of his home “and the fire in the front room, and bang go the crackers, and holy, holy, holy, ring the bells, and the glass bells shaking on the tree…”
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In a letter from Laugharne in December 1939 he wrote to his friend and fellow poet Vernon Watkins; it opens with a reply “What do I want for Christmas? Oh, that’s nice.  I want a war-escaper – a sort of ladder, I think, attached to a balloon ….. could I perhaps have the New Yorker Annual (published by Hamish Hamilton…) which is all funny drawings, half a game, half a book? I should like that very much indeed …. But there will be Christmas Eve for us, and we’ll smoke your ridiculous cigarettes and buy bathfuls of Cointreau, bitter, biddy, or ink.  For you this Christmas a record: which?”
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The writer and commentator, John Ackerman, noted in his book “Welsh Dylan” that “Thomas had anticipated this presentation of the natural world in the poems of childhood, and also in “A Winter’s Tale”, which is an expansive and lyrical evocation of country life in winter:” The opening 10 lines sing through the winter air:
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“It is a winter’s tale
That the snow blind twilight ferries over the lakes
And floating fields from the farm in the cup of the vales,
Gliding windless through the hand folded flakes,
The pale breath of cattle at the stealthy sail,
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And the stars falling cold,
And the smell of hay in the snow, and the far owl
Warning among the folds, and the frozen hold
Flocked with the sheep white smoke of the farm house cowl
In the river wended vales where the tale was told.
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Dylan sent the completed poem to the American anthologist Oscar Williams in New York saying: “The longish one, I’m glad to say, has taken a great deal of time & trouble”. It was eventually published in Poetry (Chicago) in July 1945.
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Back in Swansea, after much of the town he loved had been destroyed during the war he recalls in Return Journey: “It was a cold white day in High Street, and nothing to stop the wind slicing up from the docks, for where the squat and tall shops had shielded the town from the sea lay their blitzed flat graves marbled with snow and headstoned with fences.  Dogs, delicate as cats on water, as though they had gloves on their paws, padded over the vanished buildings.”
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And again, from the same piece, the excellent “staring through the glass of the hotel door at the snowflakes sailing down the sky, like Siberian confetti.”
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In “The Followers” he is again in Swansea, prose full of detail and vivid as a painting: “It was six o’clock on a winter’s evening.  Thin, dingy rain spat and drizzled past the lighted street lamps.  The pavements shone long and yellow.  In squeaking goloshes, with mackintosh collar up and bowlers and trilbies weeping, youngish men from the offices bundled home against the thistly wind…”
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And finally, as the old year becomes history and a new year approaches Dylan writes: “Of what is coming in the New Year I know nothing, except that all that is certain will come like thunderclaps or like comets in the shape of four-leaved clovers, and all that is unforeseen will appear with the certainty of the sun who every morning shakes a leg in the sky’” (from The Crumbs of One Man’s Year)
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Byron Beynon lives and writes in Swansea, Wales

 

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Montpellier – Echoes from a French city

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by Byron Beynon

Montpellier is where Paul Gaugin brought Vincent van Gogh in an attempt to cheer-up the fading spirits of the Dutchman. Late in 1888 both men travelled by train from Arles to spend the day in this southern French city, they came especially to see the works of Gustave Courbet and Eugene Delacroix inside the Musée Fabre. Vincent would soon write a letter to his brother Theo about the visit in the second half of December 1888.

“Gaugin and I went yesterday to Montpellier to see the museum there and especially the Brias room. There are a lot of portraits of Brias, by Delacroix, Ricard, Courbet, Cabanel, Couture, Verdier, Tassaert, and others. Then there are pictures by Delacroix, Courbet, Giotto, Paul Potter,

Botticelli, Th. Rousseau, very fine. Brias was a benefactor of artists, I shall say no more to you than that. In the portrait by Delacroix he is a gentleman with red beard and hair, confoundedly like you or me…..” In the same letter he goes on to say that “ Gaugin and I talked a lot about Delacroix, Rembrandt etc. Our arguments are terribly electric, we come out of them sometimes with our heads as exhausted as an electric battery after it has run down.”

Alfred Bruyas was indeed a benefactor of the arts and friend to artists, and his narcissism for having dozens of portraits of himself commissioned was defended by Vincent. After the trip, tensions grew between the two artists.

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          Today visitors still enter the gallery, which houses paintings, drawings, sculptures, video library, and a fine selection of books and magazines. The building is settled near a wide esplanade with plane trees  and fountains, in the heart of the city. During the seventeenth century it was a Jesuit college, then a mansion before being enlarged when Francois Xavier Fabre (1766-1837), a former pupil of David, donated in 1825 his collection of paintings to his native city, and by doing so gave his name to this tall, wise building. Inside there are paintings by Rubens, Berthe Morisot, and Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), who was born into an affluent Montpellier family of wine-growers, but who was tragically killed in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. He began a career in medicine before turning to painting. He was, by all accounts, very well liked. He helped his impoverished artists friends, and in 1868 Bazille moved to a studio in Paris which he shared with Renoir.

Sadly he was killed during an attack on Beaune-la-Rolande. His father made the journey there to find the body of his son. For ten days he dug in the snow-covered battleground, eventually he found the body and hauled it back to Montpellier himself, on a peasant’s cart.

Portrait of Baudelaire (1)

         You can also see the portrait of CharlesBaudelaire painted in 1847 by Courbet, the poet with his black hair cut short, smokes a pipe, concentrating his mind on the pages of a book which rests on a table.

My first visit to France’s seventh largest city was in 1991, the following year I lived there for six months. I arrived by train, on the ultra-rapid TGV, to one of the country’s oldest protected stations,built in 1844. With a cosmopolitan population of over 270,000, a healthy mix of European youth, North African, American (there is an American library), many are students studying at the university, and the faculty of medicine, the oldest stillopen in the world. A papal bull, dated 26th of October 1289, announced the creation of the University of Montpellier, together with the medical, law, and arts faculties. Here the old, historical areas, with their narrow, shaded, antique streets exist in relative harmony with modern developments despite the angry graffiti and polluting traffic.

Since the 1960s which saw an increase in population, the council, led by Georges Freche decided to create a new neighbourhood called l’Antigone, a living area to provide accommodation and housing with relatively low rents for the people, it was the task of the Catalan architect, Ricardo Bofill, to extend this area of the city. Close by is the Polygone, a shopping centre with cafés, restaurants, and a plethora of shops.

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         One view of the city can be taken from the top of the Corum, a complex used for conventions and opera. To the north you can see the cathedral of St.Pierre, its twin, cylindrical towers stand like rockets about to be launched, also the orange-tiled roofs of the old quarter where on summer evenings, a young medical student named Felix Platter used to sit, playing his lute. He once wrote in his diary “I can see the town, spread out, as far as the sea, which I can sometimes hear in the wind”. If the Corum offered me a good view , the most popular meeting place for locals and visitors alike is the Place de la Comédie, with its fountain of the Three Graces. The three smiling girls embrace, gazing at people of all ages, passing by with their thoughts and with purpose.

Montpellier was first mentioned as far back as 985. By the year 1204 the crown of Aragon belonged to the city, eventually it was bought back by the French. It has witnessed the coming of Arab and Jewish scholars, a garrison, the French Revolution, the wine industry, a university, trams, underground parking and the new technology, pharmaceutical and research laboratories.

To get away from the centre I used to walk to the Peyrou with its eighteenth-century water tower, and the St.Clement aquaduct, the Arceaux, which brought water to the city. The cool air is reviving along with the panoramic views of the Mediterranean sea to the south and the mountains of the Pic Saint Loup to the north.

Nearby is the statue of Louis XIV, the Sun King, made of bronze it almost sank in Bordeaux harbour before arriving in Montpellier in 1718. There is also a botanical garden within easy walking distance from the Peyrou, created during the reign of Henry IV in 1593, with its exotic, ancient trees and plants. It is an oasis of green in the city. The poet Paul Valéry who had married the niece of the painter Berthe Morisot, enjoyed the peace here and wrote “we are going where you would go, if you were here, to the ancient garden where……all those people who meditate, worry or who talk to themselves go, as water goes to a river, and of course they meet up.”

In these gardens, one October afternoon, I met some students from the Netherlands. They were visiting Montpellier for a couple of weeks in order to improve their French, and were also doing a survey, asking questions about their homeland, the first question they asked me was to name at least one Dutch artist! “Vincent van Gogh “ I answered, “who came here by train with his friend and brother-in-art Paul Gaugin.”

 Sources and books for further reading

The Letters of van Gogh  edited by Mark Roskill (Fontana edition 1979)

The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe (Chatto&Windus 2006)

Impressionism by Tamsin Pickeral (Flame Tree Publishing 2007)

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bryon

Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales. Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions). His selected poems appeared in 2018 (Bilingual: English/Romanian – published by Bibliotecha Universalis/Collectiile/ Revistei “Orizont Literar Contemporan”, translations by Dr Monica Manolachi, University of Bucharest)

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“The Welsh Poppy Flame of the Sun” A Tribute to Raymond Garlick (1926-2011)

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By Byron Beynon

Raymond Garlick, who died in Cardiff on 19 March 2011, was an important and influential figure in support of Wales and Welsh writing in English. He had significant achievements as a poet, editor, critic, political campaigner and teacher. The last time I spoke to him was in March 2010 when he telephoned me about an article I had written on the letters he had received from the Nobel Prize nominated poet R. S. Thomas. Garlick had introduced me to the works of Thomas when he tutored me at Trinity College, Carmarthen. It was there that he also led me to discover David Jones, Idris Davies, Glyn Jones, Dylan Thomas, Alun Lewis, John Ormond and Leslie Norris. As a teenager, listening to him speak about these writers was an inspirational and illuminating experience. I will miss the conversations and meetings we went on to have over the years at his flat off College Road (along with some meetings in London, Cardiff and Swansea), as well as receiving his letters and cards. His beautiful italic handwriting was a fine aesthetic experience. Even R.S. Thomas, in his letters to Raymond, noted, ‘I hold your calligraphy up to Gwydion as an example’.

Garlick had fascinating recollections of other writers. He met Dylan Thomas a month or so before his death in 1953 and described him to me as gentle, modest, humble, a dedicated poet. He also spoke of Roy Campbell’s poetry as having a stronger influence on his own apprentice efforts than anybody else’s. Garlick was impressed by Campbell’s exact craftsmanship, his striking imagery, the almost crystalline quality of his verse.

RG - Cross

It was because of Campbell’s poem, ‘Horses on the Camargue’, that Garlick went there himself. The emblem on the front of three of his books is the Croix de Camargue . Made of wrought iron, the original rises from a block of stone and stands in the village of Saintes Maries de la Mer by the church where the gypsies made their annual pilgrimage. It looks towards Africa, and it struck Garlick as being a symbol of Europe, together with the many other symbols that one can work out from its shape, the crossed trident and the anchor.

Garlick was conscious of how fortunate he had been to know two major writers, R. S. Thomas and John Cowper Powys, and to have been enriched by their friendship. He was aware of the strange coincidence that a book by each of them, The Stones of the Field and Obstinate Cymric, was published a short distance from where he lived in Carmarthen, at Keidrych Rhys’s Druid Press, and added that not every town sees the launch of a book by two great writers.

Collected Poems - RG

Garlick was fascinated by the shape and appearance of letters, words (examples of his shaped poems include ‘Marwnad’, ‘Capitals’ and ‘Vowels’) handwriting, carved and engraved inscriptions, samplers and alphabets. It came as no surprise, therefore, that on the cover of his Collected Poems  was an alphabet by Eric Gill, carved by Lawrence Cribb. He thought The Engravings of Eric Gill, by Christopher Skelton, a marvellous book, and believed the fundamental mystery was that certain shapes can convey sounds, meanings and nuances of feeling. He found them beautiful as shapes, as well as carved, engraved, penned or painted letters.

As a child growing up in north-west London Garlick spent holiday visits at his grandparents’ house in Deganwy. It was there that a sense of place and freedom was awakened in him, which eventually brought about a commitment towards Wales. London suburbia was not for him.

By the 1940s he had met Brenda Chamberlain, the first painter he had ever known. He was a student at Bangor at the time, and he rented from her the studio half of Ty’r Mynydd, the cottage where she had lived with John Petts. In 1949, still only twenty-three, with no Arts Council funding, he became one of the founding editors of Dock Leaves (later renamed the Anglo-Welsh Review). The 1960s saw him teaching in the Netherlands. Again, the experience brought a new dimension to his poetry; it also brought further opportunities to travel in Europe. By 1967 he decided the time was right to return to Wales and he eventually became Principal Lecturer in Welsh Studies at Trinity College, Carmarthen.

I recall his enjoyment at seeing a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition in London during the 1980s. He had known many of the pictures from reproductions going back to childhood and had seen many of them at the Tate on previous visits. But to him it was magnificent to see them en masse. He wrote to me at the time, ‘I like so many of them because they are essentially literary and have their point of departure in a poem. Many of them too display wonderful technical skill, and a breathtaking sense of colour’. He thought the same two things characterised the Gwen John film shown on BBC2 in 1984 – beautiful landscape shots, posed like paintings, and interiors like Dutch still-life painting.

On the walls of his apartment, two works by Gordon Stuart gave him, he told me, huge pleasure every day. The Bishop’s Palace, St. David’s and a wonderful blue Llansteffan Headland. He also thought highly of Gordon’s portrait of him, made during the Year of Literature, held in Swansea in 1995 (Fig.3). In his poem, St. David’s by Gordon Stuart, Garlick writes: ‘Towers, gables, clerestories swim/In washes of Arthurian light/No rain can dull, no winter dim.’
It is worth quoting a few more lines from his poetry where his eye sharpens into focus:
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The hat, I think, fixes
In truth’s relief
An unprepared heart
In the ambush of grief.
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–        from ‘Picasso’s Femme Qui Pleure
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Done for my grandfather, the first
Painting I knew …
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                     –        from ‘A Still Life by Barbaro’
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The high corn like a golden fleece
For Van Gogh to eternalise.
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            – from ‘Hiraeth’
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Above the shimmering Turner-scape …
As we draw
Near to the buoyant palaces,
We see what Canaletto saw.
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            – from ‘Venetian Entry’
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He had a childhood memory of entering the beauty of an art room at school and wrote:
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Dazed by the beauty, For the first time …
Sit down
said the voice, Except
That boy with the grin
On his face. You put
Your hands on your head,
To-day, I know, of course. It just did not occur
To him that school might be a place one could be happy in.
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              –        from ‘The Art Lesson’
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Reading through his poems gives one a sense of pleasure; the elegance of form, the style and structure are all there – richly shaped and tuned words, skilfully conducted. A man of elegant qualities and skills, Garlick played a central role in the advancement of Welsh literature in English.

Delphic Vogage - RG

It was a privilege to have met him and, like many others, I was fortunate to have known him. I will let Raymond have the final words, from his fine poem, Traeth LLansteffan, which the artist Jonah Jones illustrated for the cover of The Delphic Voyage :
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Walking along the washed
skin of the world, under the high
ocean of the evening
heavens, only the insistent sigh
of the respiring
sea to be heard. The scoured rocks dry,
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sculptured and matt, ice-blue
and Tyrian, acid as inks.
The promontory
silhouetted, bulks like a sphinx
over the orient Tywi,
and the sun sinks.
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Bibliography
Raymond Garlick
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Poetry:
A Sense of Europe (Gomer Press, 1968)
A Sense of Time (Gomer Press, 1972)
Incense (Gomer Press, 1976)
Collected Poems 1946-86 (Gomer Press, 1987)
Travel Notes (Gomer Press, 1992)
The Delphic Voyage and other poems (Carreg Gwalch Cyf, 2003)
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Literary Criticism:
An Introduction to Anglo-Welsh Literature (University of Wales Press, 1970)
Ed. with Roland Mathias, Anglo-Welsh Poetry 1480-1980 (Seren,1984)
Raymond Garlick by Don Dale-Jones in the Writers of Wales series (University of Wales Press, 1996)
R.S. Thomas – Letters to Raymond Garlick 1951-1999 (Gomer Press, 2009)
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“Byron Beynon lives in West Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including Agenda, London Magazine, Plainsongs, Chiron Review, Poetry Wales, Cyphers and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets).  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press), The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions). His selected poems appeared in 2018 (Bilingual: English/Romanian – published by Bibliotecha Universalis/Collectiile/ Revistei “Orizont Literar Contemporan”, translations by Dr Monica Manolachi, University of Bucharest).”
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Sleep By Peter Warzel

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4:00 AM rising. My sleep is ravaged by hummingbirds. I hear the buzz first, the whirr. I know it is a dream but it is a call also to wake to industriousness. I fight it. I am pissed at being awake and my bed becomes a battlefield. I reach to touch the dog in the dark knowing D. is not there but find that Padmé is missing too. Three books are in their place, always three at a time.
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Books as literal bed partners began in Europe years ago, in Budapest. I could not sleep so kept CNN International turned on the television at low volume hoping white noise and flickering light would mesmerize me. They did not help so I read one of the twenty or so books I would read on these two-week trips. I placed the book on the bed next to me to fill the space and slept, eventually. I have been married thirty-nine years total with two wives and most likely have slept alone thirteen of that count. Bedded alone maybe better said as sleep is elusive and increasingly so.
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When awake at two or three AM you begin to inventory the night. Santa Fe is a peculiarly quiet city, the continual hum of the grand cities absent. Silence is startling at any time so even the whirr of wings will wake you.
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I will not make coffee until four AM on the chance that I will grow tired and find sleep again. “I have lost too much sleep/I’m gonna find it…” Shawn Colvin’s song on a maddening loop. Crepuscular music.
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This morning I was set to rise early to fish in the Valles Caldera with my fellow exile Michael Brown. Not this early. My task was set for 6:00 AM when I would drive to the Burrito Spot for two breakfast burritos for our hour drive, Michael meeting me back at the apartment at 6:45. The Spot’s two shops on Cerrillos Road were the only ones offering breakfast burritos that early according to their web site and no, they were not open as advertised, though the neon sign in the window of the closest said open.
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Sometimes I wake simply because sleep is completed, sometimes because of the Clangs. A long gone friend described the Clangs as the panic of that cold ball of shit working its way slowly towards your heart. The Clangs get me more often these days before dawn.
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Then what? I leave the lights out and maneuver in the dark so not to disturb Alex and Svenja across our courtyard. I usually do not turn on the radio either until about six-thirty not wanting to disrupt the remedial properties of silence. I never read due to my black-out but sometimes write by the clean light of the Mac screen, notebook laid across the keyboard in my lap. I do read newspapers online and trip across the world lightly through the NYT, The London Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, sometimes The Santa Fe New Mexican, though that is a hometown paper, a comfort and nuisance like weekly papers in small town America, though daily. The Taos News is a weekly and locals there subscribe to it for fire starter.
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Rarely do I start a fire this early and certainly not until November but when the cold creeps in beneath the doors the hiss and pop is comforting as I plan the day already started.
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Suddenly the day is deep on. Sometimes three, four hours into it before I need to ready for work and decide if it is a formal day – starched shirt and jeans – or informal – washed shirt, jeans, white Chuck Taylors. I adjust my calendar for things I can and cannot do, jot meandering thoughts like these in my notebook, knock off emails to staff and Board Directors, and think about the Denver house not yet rising and perhaps think about the conversation with D. last evening and whether I should be concerned about her or not today. At times there is a decided instability in her words, each one not connecting to the next, edgy, ready to run away on a frenzied walk-about. I wonder whether the voice and the reality are the same or if this distance is the cause and concern, the catalyst of my disquiet. She is in charge of her own kingdom and I can only listen to dispatches from the chancellor.
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When I walk out into the yard for air the night sky is ripe with stars, we turning beneath at a fast clip, and then later a linear line of orange-fired clouds outline the mountains up Canyon Road. Coyotes talk some mornings before the sun, most likely near the School for Advanced Research due east of here or in the river bed, the trickle that halves downtown from the Barrio de Analco.
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This morning my hummingbird is feeding voraciously as if autumn is coming on hard. I rarely see it, he, singular, en route from north to south through the neighborhood feeders and flowers mapped by instinctual energy efficiency. 5:00 AM, it feeds while I watch, flits up into a seeping pine tree and hovers then sits a limb, waiting for me to leave and go inside. When I do it goes to the feeder again, juicy with Perky-Pet Instant Nectar and I see the white bars on its fanned-out tail as it hovers. This is a real look at my visitor and I pull the bird book from the window shelf – blue throated hummingbird, male. There is one green dot on the map in the book over Santa Fe. That is my boy.
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A gift for not sleeping today. A naming. The words complete this live thing at my kitchen window – language has defined the morning. “And to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.”*
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     * Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe.
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peter
Peter Warzel has published poetry, fiction, essays, and non-fiction articles in newspapers, literary journals, and national magazines including Pilgrimage, Zone3, the Roanoke Review, Grays Sporting Journal, Cowboys and Indians Magazine, and New Mexico Magazine. I live in Denver and the place of exile – Santa Fe – and everywhere in-between.
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Through the Window by Tom Block

bee

I don’t know if it’s a bee or a hornet.  Not being well-versed in the apiary sciences, I mean.  Of course, the perspective might be all fucked-up (as it so often is these days) and it might be a far-off airplane or even a UFO.  UFO’s are back in vogue, after all — the Chilean air force, the pilot over Wales (United Airlines, I think), the new sitcom about Roswell.

No.  I think it’s a bee definitely — or it’s safest to think so, at least.  The one about the thread, right?  Where the guy pulls at a small, loose thread on his coat and by the end of the story the whole world has unraveled.

And bees pollinate.  They bring life.  Weaving drunkenly from stamen to pistil, flower to flower, spreading the life-giving force, their time here spent as angels of creation, floating on the breeze.

They don’t think.

They don’t have to.

I read about a woman once who became paralyzed it might have been Guillain-Barre and she had to consciously re-learn how to walk.  That is to say, she had to coach herself: “Left foot up, swing, down; right foot up, swing, down.”  She asserted that she felt like a robot.  Can you imagine?

But: see.  Not so for the humble bee.  It simply follows the dictates of God like the wind or a stream or a mystic.

One time I thought that I was going to fly, too.

It lasted a long, long time — the time I thought that I was going to fly.  It’s what kept me going, really, day after day after day after day.  The thought — no belief — that I was going to fly someday, like a bee or an airplane or a UFO, even.

But then I realized that I wasn’t going to fly.  And I came to understand how foolish I had been ever believing so in the first place.

Now, I walk with great precision: Left foot up, swing, down.  Right foot up, swing, down.  It’s better.  More grounded.

And out the window, I notice the bee or whatever it was is gone.

Or perhaps it was never actually there.

White Picket Fence by Tom Block

tom

It sits quietly in my closet the third closet the one I don’t really use coiled into itself clasped tightly.  Perfect for the house of a cat or small dog.  It served a short purpose on a small stage in a filthy corner of the City one time a long time ago — suburban suffocation and impassable boundaries and whatnot — but like my old soccer cleats (which I also still have for some reason) there it sits coiled like a calcified snake, waiting.

I remain certain.

Certain that it will someday uncoil again come back to life and reattach itself to a small dance presentation which balloons like a frog’s bellows to become a large dance production spilling out beyond the confines of the little picket fence patiently waiting in the closet that I almost never use.

(Dust seeping.  Time creeping.  Forget.)

There are extra pillows and blankets in there, as well (wrapped tight in plastic) for the guests who almost never come and pile upon pile of bubble wrap waiting patiently to wrap paintings which are sold or given away or sent to an exhibit.  They never go anywhere — they sit stolidly on the walls their impastoed crevices capturing the falling motes and the bubble wrap unmoved waits on the shelf dowager above the floor where the little picket fence sits corkscrew.

I can’t place it.

This happens: things arrive with great purpose and some fanfare and suddenly they are   but another piece of dusty infrastructure undergirding a life which is not uncoiling as it was certainly meant to.

I went out last night — without my picket fence — and time slowed almost to a standstill and I moved syrup through the East Village evening and entered an empty North African restaurant and sat at the blue-tiled bar all alone in the careening interior empty tables hopefully set and waiting and I listened and reflected and listened and sat and then I asked the bartender how long the song had been playing — it was by the French producer St. Germain.

I was certain that he and the empty restaurant and the world had joined my wave and that he would say “seventeen hours” or “forever and forever,” but he looked into his phone and said: “seven minutes and twenty four seconds.”

I nodded, as if I understood.

See, this is why we need picket fences: small or large or simply metaphorical.  To contain the endless possibilities which might take us too far away, beyond the point of no return.  The picket fence — dumb, solid, familiar —tells us what is “ours” and what isn’t; what is “here” and what is there.

Without the picket fence?

Well — a tiny grain of pepper in the vast stew of existence.

(New Jersey.  A state filled with picket fences which is itself a picket fence.

A place so mundane so absolutely solid that it becomes a container to hold the necessary — and properly exclude the unnecessary.

A garden state enclosed and encompassing.

A place where biographies are written which move with certainty from birth though life to death.

A mystical metaphor hiding buried within an innocuous land mass

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Tom Block is an author/artist who can be found at www.tomblock.com Tom is the founding producer of the International Human Rights Art Festival. www.ihraf.org

The Poet Idris Davies (1905 – 1953)

Idris Davies memorial

Memorial to Poet Idris Davies

id dav

An introduction to his life and work by Byron Beynon

Travel north-eastwards from Swansea, along the A465, away from Dylan’s “ugly, lovely town”, on through the watchful Vale of Neath, by-pass the lyrical place names of Glynneath, Hirwaun, Cefn-coed-y-cymmer, and Merthyr Tydfil, continue until you turn onto the A469, follow it to the small town of Rhymney. Founded during the nineteenth century on iron and coal, it was by the early 1900s employing thousands of workers in the town’s collieries. It was there in 1905 the poet Idris Davies was born, and by the time he died in 1953 his poetry was respected and read by some of the most influential and distinguished poets of the twentieth century.

TS Eliot published Davies at Faber& Faber, writing about his work he noted “that they are the best poetic document I know about a particular epoch in a particular place, and I think that they really have a claim to permanence…….   There is great integrity, I think, about his work, and his subject-matter is something that he knew from A to Z. If all poets knew their proper material as he did, there would be less futile verse in the world.”

WB Yeats, writing to Vernon Watkins in March 1938 wanted Davies’ poem “William Morris” set to music. He had read the poem in the magazine “Wales” during the autumn of 1937, and went on to say “If I were a millionaire I would pay somebody to set it to music and whenever I was visited by any person who knew Morris I would pay somebody to sing it to us.”

In January 1946, Dylan Thomas, in a radio broadcast on the BBC Eastern Service, and produced by John Arlott, read Davies’ poem “The Bells of Rhymney”, in a programme  entitled “Welsh Poets”. Many years later the iconic American folk-singer Pete Seeger  would set this poem to music, it was also recorded by the 1960s’ group The Byrds, by Judy Collins, The Alarm, and many others.

By 1973, Philip Larkin, as editor of “The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Verse”   included two of Davies’ poems, “The Lay Preacher Ponders” and “High Summer on the Mountains” in the anthology. Since the early 1970s Gomer Press has brought out several editions of Idris Davies’ Collected Poems, keeping his work alive and available to the discerning reader. It is easy to understand why, the work is humane, dramatic, lyrical, sophisticated with a deceptive strength and a clear sense of rhythm.

In a robust introduction to the 2003 edition, Jim Perrin claimed that Davies is “ the most significant and original Welsh poet to have written in English during the twentieth  century”. Perrin considers Davies’ two long poems “Gwalia Deserta” and “The Angry Summer” as being “among the most considerable achievements in Anglo-Welsh poetry, and fully worthy of inclusion alongside other great twentieth century long poems from marginalised cultures: Patrick Kavanagh’s “The Great Hunger”, Hugh MacDiarmid’s “A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle”, Sorley MacLean’s The Cuillin”. “

Davies had left school at 14, worked first as a miner and was introduced to the poems of Shelley by a fellow-worker named Eddie Balman. He became acutely aware of social and political issues: “But the greatest of our battles/we lost in’26/ Through treachery and lying,/And Baldwin’s box of tricks./ I began to read from Shelley/ In afternoons in May,/ And to muse upon the misery/ Of unemployment pay.” (from his poem I was Born in Rhymney). 1926 was a crucial year for Davies, the year of the General Strike and the Great Coal Strike, a long period in the mining villages of South Wales of privation and suffering. He later wrote “Do you remember 1926? That summer of soups and speeches,/ The sunlight on the idle wheels and the deserted crossings,/ And the laughter and the cursing in the moonlit streets?” (from Gwalia Deserta).

He eventually escaped the mines and attended Loughborough College and the University of Nottingham, and by the end of 1932 had qualified as a teacher. He would teach in London for several years. In 1940 he lodged at 28 Haselmere Road, Crouch End, teaching at Hoxton. He kept a diary and wrote about the blitz- “Sept, 8. Sunday  11.45am ……. perhaps one of the worst nights London has ever known. About 500 Nazi planes bombed London’s dockland in the Eastern area, doing considerable damage and killing about 400 people, and injuring many more. A big fire blazed along the river for hours and the London sky was wonderfully lit-up.”The next day he wrote “I travelled by tube this morning……I have seen a good deal of damage today, most of it round Old Street Station. There’s a big crater in the street, and the Maternity Hospital at the corner was hit….Hoxton has suffered severely from the raids of the last three nights. Crouch End, so far, has escaped any severe damage,”

The writer Glyn Jones, a friend of Davies, wrote an essay about him in 1968, stating that “ He became a great lover of London, of Hampstead Heath, of Epping Forest and especially of the Charing Cross area with its second-hand bookshops. And he got to know many Welshmen then living in the capital, including Aneirin Talfan Davies, Keidrych Rhys and Dylan Thomas, whom he used to meet on Friday evenings.” Welsh writers frequented Griff’s Bookshop in Cecil Court, and in the early forties and early fifties it was kept by a man named William Griffith, who kept a representative stock of Welsh and Anglo-Welsh publications.

In 1938 Dent published his volume “Gwalia Deserta”, the first of four published volumes (the next three would be published by Eliot at Faber). During the period 1939-1945, he was evacuated several times with schools from London to Northamptonshire,   Hertfordshire, and to Wales. It was during this time that he wrote “The Angry Summer”, a poem of 1926, expressing his feelings for his people and what they had endured. This long poem of 50 sections, along with”Gwalia Deserta” (36 sections), and his autobiographical poem “I was Born in Rhymney” plus several shorter poems such as “Waun Fair”, “Capel Calvin”, “Rhymney”, “London Welsh”, “Midnight”, “Hywel and Blodwen”, do I believe have that claim to permanence which Eliot noted.

By the early 1950’s he became seriously ill with cancer, and just a month before his death his Selected Poems was published by Eliot in March 1953. Eliot had already published Davies’ “The Angry Summer” (1943), and “Tonypandy and other poems” (1945). Idris Davies died at his mother’s house in Victoria Road, Rhymney in April 1953. Today there are no mines to employ the workers, time has brought many changes, but Davies’ “poetic document” remains. There is a plaque on the house in his memory, and opposite there’s the library which also remembers him with a plaque,and a display of some of his books, pens, photographs and the family Bible. Here then was a poet who had compassion for the plight of the people he had been brought up with, a poet to echo Eliot, who knew his subject matter.

In late 2016 Faber & Faber published “The Map and the Clock: A Laureate’s Choice of Poetry of Britain and Ireland” edited by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke, which includes two of Idris Davies’ poems “The Bells of Rhymney” (poem xv from Gwalia Deserta) and “Mrs Evans fach” (poem 7 from The Angry Summer). His poetry is direct, it sings, and continues to be read and appreciated into the 21st century.

For further reading and sources on Idris Davies:

The Complete Poems of Idris Davies edited by Dafydd Johnston (University of Wales Press 1994)

Collected Poems   (Gomer 2003)

The Dragon Has Two Tongues essays by Glyn Jones  (Dent 1968)

Idris Davies of Rhymney a personal memoir by Islwyn Jenkins (Gomer 1986)

Poetry Wales – Idris Davies Special Issue (1981)

 

Byron Beynon 2014

Byron Beynon lives in West Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, Third Wednesday, Poetry Ireland, Chiron Review, London Magazine, Crannog and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets). A former co-editor of Roundyhouse poetry magazine.  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press), Nocturne In Blue (Lapwing Publications) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions)

The growth of a poet – John Keats (1795 – 1821): A brief introduction to his life and work

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From Keats House

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by Byron Beynon

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The imperial Tiber flowed through a city haunted by history. A fresh veil of Roman air covered the face of the river which continued to run its antique course. No birds sang in the darkness of the early hours of a February morning; daylight had yet to appear as a small group of silent figures stood outside a house to the right of the Spanish Steps. The only sound was that of the boat-shaped fountain as it bubbled, a cool witness in the eternal city to the final journey of a young man no longer a living citizen of the world.

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The young man who had died of tuberculosis (previously known as consumption) at the age of just twenty-five and whose body was taken to Rome’s protestant cemetery for burial was the poet John Keats, the youngest of the great Romantics and the first of them to die.

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Just three years earlier in 1818 Keats had published (with Taylor and Hessey) his second book of poems entitled Enydmion with its now famous opening ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever’.  Robert Gittings saw Enydmion as an exploration into self-knowledge for Keats and which represented an essential stage of his growth to maturity. Andrew Motion (in his biography of Keats) also argued that the poet was promoting beauty not as an escape but as a medicine.

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Keats’ first collection entitled POEMS (published by C. & J. Ollier) had appeared in March 1817. It contained thirty one poems, sonnets and epistles, including the skilful and subtle sonnet ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’ and ‘On the Grasshopper and Cricket’ with its confident opening line “The poetry of earth is never dead” but the book made little impression, and was largely ignored by reviewers.

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At this time Keats made several valued friendships among painters, poets and editors such as B. R. Haydon, John Hamilton Reynolds, Shelley and Leigh Hunt. Keats’ first published poem ‘O Solitude!’ appeared in Hunt’s The Examiner in May 1816.

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The poet and novelist Thomas Hardy particularly enjoyed hearing an anecdote told to him by a Mrs Procter who when she was a young woman had been visited by Hunt. He had been accompanied by ‘a youth whom nobody noticed much’ and who remained in the background, Hunt casually introducing him as ‘Mr Keats’. Mrs Procter had during her long life met several writers including Wordsworth, Coleridge, De Quincey, Cooper, Longfellow, Thackeray, Dickens and Charlotte Bronte.

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With the publication of his first book Keats became a dedicated poet. He worked for several months (between April and November 1817) on his second book; the epic, 4,000 lines long, Endymion. It was an important stage in his development, an apprenticeship essential to his growth as a poet and although flawed in parts, the disciplined effort seems to have brought Keats to the verge of his early artistic maturity. During the months he worked on the long poem he stayed on the Isle of Wight and at Margate, Oxford and London. Six months after he began Endymion at Carisbrooke he completed it at Burford Bridge in Surrey on 28 November 1818. A month before completing the poem he had written to his friend Benjamin Bailey about the epic he had nearly completed – ‘it will be a test, a trial of my Powers of Imagination and chiefly of my invention which is a rare thing indeed – by which I must make 4,000 Lines of one bare circumstance and fill them with Poetry’.  Bailey had invited Keats to Oxford where the poet spent most of September at Magdalen Hall and where he wrote the third book of Endymion.

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POEMS largely had been ignored by the critics and the reviewers seemed provoked that Keats dared to publish another volume. They attacked both his personality and work with spite and venom, notably in Blackwood’s magazine and The Quarterly Review. Blackwood’s tore it apart by saying ‘Endymion is not a Greek shepherd, loved by a Grecian goddess; he is merely a young Cockney rhymester, dreaming a phantasic dream at the full of the moon’.  Nevertheless as R. S. White pointed out in his book John Keats – A Literary Life ‘it was clear that Keats had been fully accepted now in a network of writers and artists, consolidating a year in which he had published his first volume of poems and had written his second which already had a publisher’s agreement. As a professional poet, he was on his way, and he no longer considered medicine a serious option except in panicky moments of financial difficulty.’

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Keats had been born in the parish of Moorfields, London on the 31October 1795, the son of Thomas Keats and Frances Jennings. Keats and his younger brothers George (who later emigrated to America) and Tom received a sound and enlightened education at John Clarke’s school at Enfield. His father was the manager of a livery stable who died as a result of an accident when Keats was only nine. His mother remarried and Keats, along with his brothers and sister Fanny, went to live with her parents in Enfield, later moving to Edmonton which were both rural areas at that time. A few years later, in 1810, his mother died of consumption. Her death affected him deeply, and ‘he gave way to such impassioned and prolonged grief … as awakened the liveliest pity and sympathy in all who saw him’.  He was then at the age of fifteen apprenticed to a surgeon, and he later studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital. He passed his medical exams in 1816, however he never practised his profession. He had already begun to write poetry and his public poetry life spanned barely five years but the legacy of those few years is an astonishingly rich one.

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Following publication of Endymion Keats went on a walking tour between June and August with his friend Charles Armitage Brown to the Lake District, Scotland and Ulster. It was during this tour that he wrote several new poems including ‘On Visiting the Tomb of Burns’, ‘To Ailsa Rock’, and ‘On Visiting Staffa’. He also climbed Ben Nevis but unfortunately was forced to break off his tour because of a severe chill and sore throat.  On his return to London he found that his younger brother Tom was seriously ill. He nursed Tom devotedly through the last stages of consumption until Tom’s death at the end of 1818. During these intense years Keats also wrote a series of wonderful letters on poetry, many to his brothers and to his sister, which contain his most influential ideas. After Tom’s death, Keats moved in December 1818 to his friend Charles Brown’s house, Wentworth Place, on the edge of Hampstead Heath.

His neighbour at Wentworth Place was eigtheen-year-old Fanny Brawne, five years younger than the poet. Keats became enthralled by her, expressing his passion in many poems and letters. During 1818 and 1819 Keats entered his ‘Great Years’ when he produced one masterpiece after another including ‘Hyperion’, ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, all his great odes (including ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, ‘Ode on Melancholy’, ‘Ode to Psyche’, ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’) and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, ‘Lamia’ and ‘To Autumn’. All (except the ballad ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’) were published in his third and final book of poems in July 1820 under the title Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes and Other Poems.

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During the winter of 1819 and 1820 Keats was ‘rather unwell’ and in February 1820 began to cough arterial blood. As a medical student he recognised immediately that this was his ‘death warrant’. The blow could not have been crueller because he had recently produced several of his greatest works and had also become engaged to Fanny Brawne. It was among the Brawne family that he spent his last weeks in England. By September 1820 Keats’ condition was desperately serious, and his friends believed that only the southern climate of Europe might cure him. A friend, the young painter Joseph Severn, sailed with him to Italy, first to Naples and then overland to Rome, where the two men took rooms on the Piazza di Spagna, near the Spanish Steps. Keats wrote no more poetry and after terrible suffering he died on the 23 February 1821. Those who attended the funeral at the Protestant Cemetery on the early morning of Monday, 26 February were Joseph Severn, The Rev. Mr Wolff the English chaplain at Rome who also conducted the service, two young English architects Henry Parke and Ambrose Poynter. Also, the artists William Ewing and Richard Westmacott, Dr Clark and Dr Luby.  As the biographer Richard Holmes noted ‘Listening to the plashing Bernini fountain in the piazza below his window, Keats framed his own epitaph “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” His poetry has flowed out to generations of readers ever since’.

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For further reading and sources on John Keats:

John Keats: The Complete Poems edited by John Barnard, Penguin Books 2006

Letters of John Keats: A selection edited by Robert Gittings, Oxford U.P. 1986

John Keats by Robert Gittings, Penguin Books 1979

John Keats by Nicholas Roe Yale, University Press 2012

Keats by Andrew Motion, Faber & Faber 1997

John Keats: A Literary Life by R. S. White. Palgrave/MacMillan 2012

The Romantic Poets and Their Circle by Richard Holmes, NPG Publications 2005

Thomas Hardy: Half A Londoner by Mark Ford, Harvard University Press 2016

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Byron Beynon lives in Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including Poetry Ireland Review, Agenda, Plainsongs, North of Oxford, Poetry Pacific, London Magazine and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets). Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press), Human Shores (Lapwing Publications) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions)

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A Look Back- Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

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By Ray Greenblatt
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Early in his career Aldous Huxley was a comic author in the tradition of Thomas Love Peacock and Ronald Firbank; a contemporary of Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell and even P. G. Wodehouse. He was part of a well-to-do famous family: his father Leonard Huxley was a teacher, his grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley was a scientist. His mother Julia Arnold Huxley was the headmistress of a girl’s school and the sister of the author Mrs. Humphrey Ward; also on his mother’s side Matthew Arnold was a renowned poet. Huxley displayed a flare for wit, irony, bombast, bon mot, and psychological probing of character. However, he did more than most satirists: he philosophically explored the questions  of twentieth century life and found them eternal.
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In this second novel Antic Hay written in 1923, Huxley employs many writing devices: sometimes he inserts a poem, musical lyrics or a short lecture on architecture, e.g. Yet, everything in this book is wrapped in comedy, whether it runs from light to just plain silly to mordant. I see his two major literary contributions to be description of character but especially philosophy of life including social mores as well as scientific speculation.
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                                                                I – IMAGERY
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Huxley is skillful at describing a scene. First a road: “Polished by the wheels and shining like an old and precious bronze, the road stretched before them, reflecting the lamps. It had the inviting air of a road which goes on for ever.” (235) Night: “Once more the wind blew; darkness came down and the gas lamps round the square lit up the outer leaves of the plane trees, touched the privet bushes inside the railings with an emerald light; behind them was impenetrable night; instead of shorn grass and bedded geraniums was mystery, there were endless depths.” (13) Stained glass in a church: “The vast window opposite, all blue and jaundiced and bloody with nineteenth century glass.” (1) And a house: “Gumbril senior occupied a tall, narrow-shouldered and rachitic house in a little obscure square not far from Paddington.” (12)
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However, he excels at bringing characters to life—no matter how absurd they might be—making each actor in this comedy distinct. Even many of their names could be taken symbolically to reveal their nature. Let us begin with Theodore Gumbril junior, our anti-hero, because he is as lost at the end of the novel as he was at the beginning. He shows flashes of wit, but at heart he is a “glum” young man, on his way to nowhere perhaps by “tumbrel,”  thus his name.
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Here is Gumbril in a library: “He had been utterly incapable of thinking of any other book, among the two or three hundred thousand on the shelves, that he wanted to read.” (183) He momentarily thinks that he has found an aid to motivation: “The beard now supplied the deficiencies in the stylobate, and planted now on a firm basement of will, the order of the senses, the aerial attic of ideas reared themselves with  more classical harmoniousness of proportion.” (88)
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Mercaptan is a mediocre journalist at best, in love with his own prose and opinions; his scientific name means “a chemical compound with a disagreeable odor.” “Like movable raisins in the suet of his snouty face, Mr. Mercaptan’s brown little eyes rolled amorous avowals.” (201) Another man happy in his ignorance is a scientist who studies kidneys; “Shearwater” certainly suggests that biological process. His fate is to fall in love: “He was silent. Spectrally, like a dim haunting ghost, he had hung about  her; dumbly, dumbly imploring, appealing.” (63)
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Casimir Lypiatt is a dreadful painter, which everyone knows except him,  who roars about his greatness; “Casimir” is Slavic for “destroying the peace.” “Even the forehead was ruined when he laughed. Foreheads are generally the human part of people’s faces. Let the nose twitch and the mouth grin and the eyes twinkle monkeyishly as you like; the forehead can still be calm and serene, the forehead still  knows how to be human. But when Casimir laughed, his forehead joined in the general distorting grimace.” (69) Likewise, Coleman (“cold man”) is a total cynic about life including seduction:  “What an intoxication, he said,  looking up to the ceiling like a chicken that has taken a sip of water; he smacked his lips.” (218)
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As secondary characters, Bojanus is a simple tailor with many opinions about life: “He cocked his head on one side, and the fine waxed end of his moustache was like a pointer aimed up at some remote star.” (83) And yet, his name scientifically translates as “the excretory organ of a mollusk.” Boldero is a capitalistic investor, “bold” to make a profit. “He was like a caterpillar: he ate all that was put before him, he consumed a hundred times his own mental weight every day. Other people’s ideas, other people’s knowledge—they were his food. He devoured them and they were at once his own.” (109)
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Since they are the cynosure for most of the male characters, I have saved for last two ladies of quite different disposition. Myra Viveash is the siren who lures men to her. Indeed, “Myra” in Greek means “extraordinary” and Viveash sounds ironically similar to “vivacious.” However beautiful and enticing a woman, her soul is hollow supposedly due to the loss of her great love in the Great War. “At seven o’clock Mrs. Viveash woke up. She shook her head to feel if the pain were still rolling about loose inside her skull.” (224) And “slowly, walking along her private knife-edge between her personal abysses.” (151)  In startling contrast is Rosie who peers through rose-colored lenses at life: “She looked at him sideways, then closed down the magnolia petals, and smiled. This was going to be the real thing—one of those long, those interminable, or at any rate indefinitely  renewable conversations about love; witty, subtle, penetrating and bold, like the conversations in books, like the conversations across the tea table between brilliant young poets and ladies of quality,  grown fastidious through an excessive experience, fastidious, and a little weary, but still, in their subtle way, insatiably curious.” (95) Conversely Rosie’s husband thinks of her: “She seemed to have been improving lately. And tonight, she had been a model of non-existence.” (107)
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                                                            II – PHILOSOPHY
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Unlike most comic writers who go for the immediate gag, Aldous Huxley is more far-reaching. The observations about life in his characters ‘  thoughts and mouths are stimulating and for the most part true. Since the novel opens in a school, let us begin with ideas of education. About students: “They were two ugly, stupid-looking louts, who ought to have been apprenticed years ago to some useful trade. Instead of which they were wasting their own and their teachers’ and their more intelligent comrades’ time in trying, quite vainly, to acquire an elegant literary education.” (3) The teachers: “You weren’t sufficiently interested in anything to want to devote yourself to it. That was why you sought the last refuge of feeble minds with classical educations, you became a schoolmaster.” (14) “Until all teachers are geniuses and enthusiasts, nobody will learn anything, except what they teach themselves.” (15) The administrators: “For the Headmaster was as fierce as he was capricious. He was for ever discovering something new. Two terms ago it had been singeing; after the hair-cut and before the shampoo, there must be singeing.” (7)
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An appreciation of the Arts is strong in this novel: “The Chinese statues looked out from the niche; the Maillols passionately meditated, slept and were more than alive. The Goyas hung on the walls, there was a Boucher in the bathroom; and when he entered with his guests, what a Piazzetta exploded about the dining-room mantelpiece!” (9) About classical music: “How pure the passion, how unaffected, clear and without clot or pretension the unhappiness of that slow movement which followed! Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Pure and unsullied; pure and unmixed, unadulterated. Not passionate, thank God; only sensual and sentimental.” (144) Even jazz, a relatively new musical form at that time, is touched upon: “At each recurrence of the refrain the four negroes of the orchestra, or at least the three of them who played with their hands alone—for the saxophonist always blew at this point with a redoubled sweetness, enriching the passage with a warbling contrapuntal soliloquy that fairly wrung the entrails and transported the pierced heart—broke into melancholy and drawling song.” (162)
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Architecture, too, is stressed as a Fine Art: “Knowing by a century of experience how beautiful, how graceful, how soothing to the mind is an ordered piece of town-planning, we pull down almost the only specimen of it we possess and put up in its place a chaos of Portland stone that is an offence against civilization.” (130) Architecture to some can be seen as even superior to music: “Architecture is a more difficult and intellectual art than music. Music—that’s just a faculty you’re born with, as you might be born with a snub nose. But the sense of plastic beauty—though that’s, of course, also an inborn faculty—is something that has to be developed and intellectually ripened. It’s an affair of the mind; experience and thought have to draw it out.” (128)
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Religion and its concomitant ethics is examined from many angles. “God is a sense of warmth about the heart, God as exultation, God as tears in the eyes, God as a rush of power or thought—that was all right. But God as truth, God as 2+2=4—that wasn’t so clearly all right. Was there any chance of their being the same? Were there bridges to join the two worlds.” (1) “Good; good? It was a word people only used nowadays with a kind of deprecating humourousness. Good. Beyond good and evil? We are all that nowadays. Or merely below them , like earwigs?” (2) “When the future and the past are abolished, when it is only the present instant, whether enchanted or unenchanted, that counts, when there are no causes or motives, no future consequences to be considered, how can there be responsibility.” (156) Coleman cynically reasons: “It’s only when you believe in God, and especially in hell, that you can really begin enjoying life. For instance, when in a few moments you surrender yourself to the importunities of my bloody beard, how prodigiously much more you’d enjoy it if you could believe you were committing the sin against the Holy Ghost.” (217)
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Under the heading of science, Gumbril wants to advertise the pneumatic trousers he has invented: “All we have to do is talk about the great nerve centres of the spine; the shocks they get when you sit down too hard; the wearing exhaustion to which long-protracted sitting on unpadded seats subjects them. We’ll have to talk very scientifically about the great lumbar ganglia.” (114) In the laboratory: “The animals devoted to the service of physiology were woken by the sudden opening of the door, the sudden irruption of light. The albino she-rabbits lollopped out and shook their ears and pointed their tremulous noses toward the door. The cock into which Shearwater had engrafted an ovary came out, not knowing whether to crow or cluck.” (246) Huxley even considers the possibility of ESP: “I let my telepathic faculty lie idle, preferring to employ an elaborate and cumbrous arrangement of symbols in order to make my thoughts known to you through your senses . . . If we knew a good method of educating and drawing out the latent faculty, most of us could make ourselves moderately efficient telepaths . . . By the twenty-first century I believe we shall all be telepaths.” (238)
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What do politicians look like? “Some wear orchids and eyeglasses, like Joe Chamberlain. Some let their ‘air grow, like Lloyd George. Some wear curious ‘ats, like Winston Churchill. Some put on black shirts, like this Mussolini, and some put on red ones, like Garibaldi. Some turn up their moustaches, like the German Emperor. Some turn them down, like Clemenceau.” (85) “Political liberty’s a swindle because a man doesn’t spend his time being political. He spends it sleeping, eating, amusing himself a little and working—mostly working.” (28) Politics dovetails with sociology: “Had one a right to be contented and well-fed, had one a right to one’s education and good taste, a right to knowledge and conversation and the leisurely complexities of love?” (63) “Cinema, newspapers, magazines, gramophones, football matches, wireless telephones—take them or leave them, if you want to amuse yourself.” (29)
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This leads us to Huxley’s humorous views of love through his varied characters. “Whether one can be in love with more than one person at a time, whether love can exist without jealousy, whether pity, affection, desire can in any way replace the full and genuine passion—how often he had to thrash out these dreary questions!” (96) On the other hand, an ideal view of love would be: “She would be waiting for him, expecting him; and they would walk through the twiddly lanes—or perhaps there would be a governess cart for hire, with a fat pony like a tub on legs to pull it—they would look for flowers in the woods and perhaps he would still remember what sort of noise a whitethroat makes.” (154)
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And from love to some general views of mankind: “If you will have sanitary conditions that don’t allow plagues to flourish properly. If you will tell mothers how to bring up their children, instead of allowing nature to kill them off in her natural way. If you will import unlimited supplies of corn and meat.  What can you expect? Of course the numbers go up.” (185) From the masses to the individual: “Every one’s a walking farce and a walking tragedy at the same time. The man who slips on a banana-skin and fractures his skull describes  against the sky, as he falls, the most richly comical arabesque.” (208) And finally what does time do to us: “Grief doesn’t kill, love doesn’t kill; but time kills everything, kills desire, kills sorrow, kills in the end the mind that feels them; wrinkles and softens the body while it still lives, rots it like a medlar, kills it too at last.” (152)
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I do not agree with the last statement above; only Mrs. Viveash would be so negative. Two passages, it seems to me, contain a subtle meaning and beauty we can adopt. One has to do with silence: “All the regular, habitual, daily part of you would die. There would be an end of bandstands and whizzing factories , and one would have to begin living arduously in the quiet, arduously in some strange un-heard-of manner.” (141) This connects with a magic time that Gumbril senior  experiences: “They sat and chattered till the sun went down and twilight was past,  with intervals every now and then of silence that fell suddenly and inexplicably on all the birds at once, lasted through a few seconds of thrilling suspense, to end as suddenly and senselessly in an outburst of the same loud and simultaneous conversation.” (13) Serenity in nature is what Huxley seems to be inferring in order to find fulfillment.
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As the years go on, Aldous Huxley’s novels darken into Brave New World, and his favored genre alters into non-fiction as in Science, Liberty and Peace and The Doors of Perception, in which he experiments with hallucinogenic drugs.  With weakening eyesight and multiple operations, he was to die at a relatively young age of 69. Yet, we have seen him at his most youthful and frothiest. No matter how much he changed, the early comedies will remain scintillating additions to the flow of humorous literature.
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You can find the book here: Antic Hay
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Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society.His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.
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