I’m listening to Rachmaninoff’s concertos and re-reading The Birds Fall Down by Rebecca West, chiefly for the character of Kamensky. I was quite a West fan at university; read most of her works, as well as her correspondence with H.G. Wells, and adopted the pseudonym, ‘Cicily Fairfield’ in one or two clubs. So witty, I know.
When I first read Birds, I was ecstatic. I love the faded European grandeur, the characters with their all-too-human foibles and opinions, their plot twists… I immediately trotted upstairs and thrust my copy into the hands of my hapless housemate. At the time, I thought that the promptness of his reading meant that he loved the book as much as I did (his review was positive, if not exactly glowing). Looking back, I realise he must have loved me more than he loved the book. To have ploughed his way through 400 pages of long-winded, dense discussions of Russian politics shows no small devotion.
Might book recommendations be a good gauge of interest? I’m thinking of Mr. Martin and Harriet in Emma, and the zeal with which I’ve sometimes devoured books in order to gain a conversational advantage. :)
The cherry blossoms have shed their petals. ‘Petal’ is such a new word, and cherry blossoms seem so new every year. Every year the Housman poem goes through my mind…
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
…And every year this poem reminds me of Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love…
Chamberlain: Alfred Housman? – I know him!
Harris: I think he stayed with the wrong people in Shropshire. I never read such a book for telling you you’re better off dead.
Chamberlain: That’s him!
Harris: No one gets off; if you’re not shot, hanged or stabbed, you kill yourself. Life’s a curse, love’s a blight, God’s a blaggard, cherry blossom is quite nice.
Wilde: My dear fellow, a hundred francs would have done just as well. Better a fallen rocket than never a burst of light. Dante reserved a place in his Inferno for those who wilfully live in sadness – sullen in the sweet air, he says. Your ‘honour’ is all shame and timidity and compliance. Pure of stain! But the artist is the secret criminal in our midst. He is the agent of progress against authority. You are right to be a scholar. A scholar is all scruple, an artist is none. The artist must lie, cheat, deceive, be untrue to nature and contemptuous of history. I made my life into my art and it was an unqualified success. The blaze of my immolation threw its light into every corner of the land where uncounted young men sat each in his own darkness. What would I have done in Megara!? – think what I would have missed! I awoke the imagination of the century. I banged Ruskin’s and Pater’s heads together, and from the moral severity of one and the aesthetic soul of the other I made art a philosophy that can look the twentieth century in the eye. I had genius, brilliancy, daring, I took charge of my own myth. I dipped my staff into the comb of wild honey. I tasted forbidden sweetness and drank the stolen waters. I lived at the turning point of the world where everything was waking up new – the New Drama, the New Novel, New Journalism, New Hedonism, New Paganism, even the New Woman. Where were you when all this was happening?
AEH: At home.
I, like Housman, am at home. Where are you?