Dear readers and friends,
My friend, Martin, remembering this is the anniversary of Jim’s death wrote me tonight about reading Auden, especially “The Sea and the Mirror.” So I took down from its shelf W.H.Auden: Collected Poems — it was once Jim’s book, one of those he would return to read. I went to where Prospero speaks to Ariel and thought this closest to my condition:
Now our partnership is dissolved, I feel so peculiar:
As if I had been on a drunk since I was born
And suddenly now, and for the first time, am cold sober,
With all my unanswered wishes and unwashed days
Stacked up all around my life; as if through the ages I had dreamed
About some tremendous journey I was taking,
Sketching imaginary landscapes, chasms and cities,
Cold walls, hot spaces, wild mouths, defeated backs,
Jotting down fictional notes on secrets overheard
In theatres and privies, banks and mountain inns,
And now, in my oId age, I wake, and this journey really exists,
And I have actually to take it, inch by inch,
Alone and on foot, without a cent in my pocket,
Through a universe where time is not foreshortened,
No animals talk, and there is neither floating nor flying.
When I am safely home, oceans away in Milan, and
Realise once and for all I shall never see you again,
Over there, maybe, it won’t seem quite so dreadful
Not to be interesting any more, but an old man
Just like other old men, with eyes that water
Easily in the wind, and a head that nods in the sunshine,
Forgetful, maladroit, a little grubby,
And to like it. When the servants settle me into a chair
In some well-sheltered corner of the garden,
And arrange my muffler and rugs, shall I ever be able
To stop myself from telling them what I am doing,
Sailing alone, out over seventy thousand fathoms -?
Yet if I speak, I shall sink without a sound
Into unmeaning abysses. Can I learn to suffer
Without saying something ironic or funny
On suffering? I never suspected the way of truth
Was a way of silence where affectionate chat
Is but a robbers’ ambush and even good music
In shocking taste; and you, of course, never told me.
If I peg away at it honestly every moment,
And have luck, perhaps by the time death pounces
His stumping question, I shall just be getting to know
The difference between moonshine and daylight…
I see you starting to fidget. I forget. To you
That doesn’t matter. My dear, here comes Gonzalo
With a solemn face to fetch me. O Ariel, Ariel.
How I shall miss you. Enjoy your element. Good-bye.
In my house during renovation of kitchen, Ian pussycat this evening — does not like to kept in the back half of the house so staring at closed door (cats don’t like closed doors either)
My own feebler effort as I watched:
How does it feel
half a person?
Hard to describe.
up half our space.
I stand there
an alert silence.
him, there, unseen.
But people disappear,
all the time,
The thread is to know how
find what is lost.
“Where did you go,
I once said to him,
He replied solemnly
“I did not, I
all the time.”
I am the one
all the time.
As you know, I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the Maud English translation, with the Elisabeth Guertik French translation (La Guerre et la Paix) tucked in just below, and listening to David Case reading aloud Constance Garnett’s translation.
This is an extraordinarily good book: I can see falling back into it endlessly. Among so many other themes, kinds of scenes, characters, arguments about what is history, how large events happen, Tolstoy understands and records death, how the dying die, and how those of us left are split through the soul: in Tolstoy’s description of how Andrey went through the process of dying (Book 3, Part 3, Chapter 32), he seemed to me to capture in words how the person inwardly feels and outwardly behaves. Tolstoy has explained to me what I saw in Jim – but physiological, psychological, mental changes, what I saw in his eyes, the lack of affect,e.g., “his attention was suddenly carried into another world, a world of reality and delirium in which something particular was happening.” Natasha’s grief, “where it is a beloved and intimate human being that is dying, besides this horror at the extinction of life there is a severance, which like a physical wound is sometimes fatal and sometimes heals, but always aches and shrinks at any external irritating touch” (Book 4, Part 4, Chapter 1).
I now know why all 4 films of War and Peace I’ve watched thus far (1955 Vidor; 1966 Bondarchuk; 1972 BBC Pulman; 2016 Davies) felt they must dramatize some of this – though to my mind Davies’s dwelling and Norton’s acting comes closest, there’s nothing comes near Tolstoy and his three translators’ words.