Arachne: A Literary Journal. No. 1
Outside among the talking criss-cross reeds
The night of rain; then from the south
The whisper softly growing that none heeds
At first, till it comes weaving with a giant's mouth;
Till through the pass the hissing torches stream
Under the steely arrows of the rain,
And cavalry and foot and sweating team
Check at the ford and then surge on again.
The heralds in the Gothic Saxon blue
Come spurring, and the levelled trumpets sing.
Then in the courtyard clamour: cracked bells ring
Like waterfalls, and the exultant host pours through
The shattered hall to claim its exiled king.
Prisoner or madman, yes, he must have been,
That figure at the peevish window-slit,
White-faced, his steinkirk twisted, doublet green,
And nightly with his popish candle lit.
Mewed in that cramping stone, what fan-shaped views
Were his for the haunting! As the gods gaze down
Upon old Zealand and perceive the dews
And mists of morning shining on the towns.
And halfway round a world, so he discerns
His galleon hasten to him under sails of lawn
And roughened rose. Whereat the sky-stream turns.
She draws away, she founders in the dawn.
That was the prelude. Silver snow
Like spangles sifted through the rhododendron leaves,
Chimed on the spider-webs, swept to and fro,
And blurred the lawn, the urns, the drooping eaves.
So after bitter exile he came home
And found it smashed, by Prussian gunfire overset.
One guest remained, an abbe or a gnome,
Who, cross-legged, rolled himself a cigarette
And shared with scampering mice a sugared violet.
All day he stood at Weeping Cross,
While with its shot-ripped flags and battered train,
In full retreat and stunned by loss,
The army came back through the freezing rain.
Behind, the rearguard seemed to melt and drown,
As the gunsmoke curdled through the pass.
The slamming volleys switched the wet leaves down,
And scythed the dead upon the reddened grass.
Have done! Let none hereafter heed this cry
For the apostolic chivalry of time long past;
This prayer of all that smote the marble sky
Is least, and yet the proudest, for it is the last.
Dispart the frost-white boughs, and lo!
The world of winter, mile on mile:
Wind-wavy seas of unplumbed snow,
Then endless peaks and one defile.
The high elect would fear to cross
Those wastes unconquerable, ideal;
There lies your path; count all as loss,
Cast armour by, lay down your steel:
For you shall walk the sheer gulf's brink,
Through glass-blue caves all brittle spars
And flaws. Thereafter you shall sink,
Snow-blind in slush, beneath the stars.
Clocktime like fansticks fell apart,
And every second hardened to an hour;
Event now timed to match the anguished heart
Rustled with pentecostal power.
The torches shed their glow in flakes and showers
On those in helmet spiked and cloak of jade
Who, bowed beneath the pall, the crown, the flowers,
Guarded by curirassiers with icy blade,
Stood in the vault upon the verge
Of Underworld where Guelph and Staufer live deposed;
And down from haunts of men came grief in winged surge,
And at the horizon a high portal closed.
The wind blew strongly like the voice of Fate
Through cheerless sunlight, and the black yawl strained
And creaked across the sullen slate
Of Zuider Zee. That night it rained.
The Hook of Holland drenched in diamonds lay
Far southward: but the exile coming home
Turns back to hours like golden tissues stacked away
And sees no more the sulky, weltering foam,
But only roses, or white honey in the comb.
Fire in the olive groves throughout the night,
And charred twigs crackling like the living coal;
The flame-splash spread across the wounded height;
Came flash on cannon flash and thunder-roll;
Then through the black smoke roared the bomber flight:
He crouched part-stricken in his shallow hole.
Strangely, at last he put his arms aside
And seemed to drift away. It was the rising tide
That heaped its star-shot depths upon a sunken town
Of brittle amber. There he thought to drown
Against a church haled over on its side,
So with torpid ghosts he laid him down;
But pain and breath were not so easily denied.
After The Dark
I am Harriet Bain, thirty years, sitting in a small green hospital waiting room, under a yellow lamp, waiting for a bed, for my child to be born. Telephones ring. Doctors go in and out carrying bags. The talk is casual, as if there were no struggle within the ochre pod of my coat.
Beside the little blue-cloaked, faded patron saint of the hospital a nurse stands. Her face is round-pink. I see her stout legs rose-shadow her white cotton stockings, but her reality is a greater fantasy than the faded saint. It is absurd to think unless of past time wedged, between pain, into so many flashes. And yet I am still not wholly possessed by this birth, by the terror I used to feel, thinking about such things before sleeping, lying in the small room near the macra-carpas a long time ago when I was Harriet Arkel.
A cross used to be in my mind, then, when I lived, a child, contained and sheltered in long corridors, polished, shadowed, and hung with tasselled curtains of velvet. The cross stayed until I left my encircling family, my grandmother Emmy Arkel, Lot and Agnes the aunts. For a while we had with us in the house a help called Lily Moloney, Lily, our Lily, dear Lily Moloney.
The cross hung silver on Lily Moloney's neck. I saw the cross first of all the night she answered our advertisement. When the front door swung open a star swam out from an island of cloud, and a young woman stepped past the wrought iron foot scraper onto the blue roses of the red hall carpet.
"Mrs. Arkel? I'm Lily Moloney,' she spoke out soft and quick. The cross pulsed with her talking for the neck was over full and her speech double fast. She wore a loose grey coat of fur and unbuttoned, the stuff of her dress beneath was of silk with tiny flowers. "Am I too late?" she asked.
I wanted her to be chosen. I wanted her youth for our sombre house where porcelains tinkled as you passed, where the fluted clock sat squatly on its yellow plush though the minutes had long ago ceased to tick.
She was not afraid of work she said. Her mother had seen to that and she'd come gladly, but would only stay nine months, no longer, as by Christmas Ted would be coming from the Coast to marry her.
"My fiance is a miner." And softly, "Ted Somers."
She won't be one to go gadding, flashed into my grandmother's eyes. She slid her lorgnette down its golden chain; held straighter her head with its two jet combs sunk into the snow of rolled hair. "I used to live near the mines myself, once, Lily."
How often I had heard her tell this, in many connections, a thousand dreary times, but as if it had taken all this time to be born, "I used to live near the mines myself" now fell with a new kind of beauty.
"Did you," cried Lily. She edged along the sofa, placing her hand on the scarlet arm of grandmother's chair.
"And is he a good man, Lily?" asked the old woman simply.
"O my Ted," the girl laughed out, looking up at a photograph of grandpa Arkel. Grandmother nodded at the photograph then shook her head and I saw Lily watching the old, pearl horse shoe rings in her ears. "I'd trust Ted anywhere, I would," she cried, brimful of pride.
Grandmother took up her darning egg and a long thread of black wool. "I read a chapter every morning, Lily, without fail, from my Bible."
"I go to Mass."
And so Lily Moloney came to us. And soon she belonged in our family, and we came to need her, not only for her work. We used up her vitality. The house, so long without passion, burned from her joy and Lily's Ted lived with us, a ghost of flame.
My small, mauve-lipped, childless aunt Agnes would cry from her corner behind half-drawn blinds. "Show me dear, please," and Lily would quickly slide up the blind. She page 6 would shake out the new bits of embroidery she'd made and spread them on Agnes's black serge lap. Then Agnes would trace round the devoted scalloped edges, feel with her waxy blue fingers the firm clusters of rose buds on doylies, say "Lovely" and smile on in the sunshine.
Friends said we'd found a gem. Even Aunt Lot with her knot of stern black hair, her prudent lips, her downright kindness, her demanding standards, even Lot's eyes smiled for Lily and praised the smooth piles of ironed linen. For every pretty face Aunt Lot prophesied calamity. When bad times came to beauty her voice softened with satisfaction. Lily had lively curls, and Lily had Ted, but Lily won her heart.
Lot was Presbyterian. Lily was Catholic. But each was a child of God, blindly devoted.
Lily went often to Mass. "Here you, Harriet," she would wake me with. "I've been to six o'clock Mass—all the way on my two feet. Up with you." All the way over three curving hills, along the priests' brick and ivy house; past the white Virgin Mary in the garden, its stone cloak bloomed green in its deep cave of leaves; and through the open doors of the Catholic Cathedral into that domed shade, while the bell went on pealing gathering up the district. What brought her back to us so renewed?
My grandmother's bible had a brass clasp. Inside on the shiny yellow lining was written sharply. Emmy Arkel "A Little Child shall lead them." It lay on a white fringed cover beside a golden watch that was kept in a satin lined bag, and between velvet framed pictures of Lot and Agnes and father. On the same white cover stood a drinking mug with gold words and pink roses, and a two winged locket with grey and auburn hair. Lily cared for each of these frail gods. Her hands moved among them like the caring hands of the blind. Before they had seemed old fashioned, slightly ridiculous, until Lily, touching them, brought each thing a fresh life.
One day grandmother knelt beside her ottoman. From her long stored hoard of linen, tucked away with mothballs and scented envelopes, she drew out a length of embroidered muslin which she opened up and hung over Lily's arm, so that I was amazed as the chest was full of untouchables. And I heard Aunt Lot say "Mother's giving away yards of that Indian muslin, that priceless muslin, to Lily."
"Lot, but Lot," Agnes whispered, gliding towards her sister over the green linoleum floor on her little, out of shape, black pointed shoes. Her cold hands were clasped to the purple front of her winter dress. "But Lot, mother knows best, I'm sure."
"Charity begins at home, Aggie. Well, Lily's a gem. No one shall say I complain. We must count our blessings."
"Lily's an exception, Lot dear, we've always said that."
I carved Ted out of the darkness and the mining lamp on his head shone too bright to tell his face. Lily's wedding lightened the repeating days. It hung in the air like a child's promised Christmas, but no one faced her departure although spring uncrinkled leaves on the flowering currants, hung a host of bright hearts on the lilac, and Mrs. Dale, the dressmaker, was booked for late November.
A fire had been lit in the spare bedroom's black-leaded grate. The purple was covered with a white drugget, the sewing machine dragged into the light, the long coarse curtains of white lace parted; and Mrs. Dale with the red frizzed hair and the chin mole and the slight lisp had new flannel for my school dress bunched in her arms.
"She's shot up like a stork. Leave plenty for hem please," grandmother demanded, drawing me into the circle.
Then behind Aunt Lot I saw Lily standing in the doorway. She still wore her hat and coat. Mrs. Dale hung the flannel over me. There was a little fan of pins between her lips, little red hairs freckled her large white hands. "Turn round, Harriet," she ordered. But solemn, very quietly into the flustered room Lily said "Ted's come, Mrs. Arkel. We've been to Mass."
Grandmother swayed, to the sewing machine, raised one hand to her head. "Lawk a mussy me, Lily, you're not going to leave us?"
"Tomorrow he wants us to marry and when his mind's made up it's got to be. Mrs. Arkel, you've been so good to me, dear Mrs. page 7 Arkel, I'll come back. I'll see you all afterwards."
Afterwards. But never again after the wedding would Lily Moloney belong with us.
She came to say goodbye, still in her long white gleaming wedding dress and holding the first white roses we had gathered from the garden. Ted Somers, a short man, was at her side, but all I remember is the oiled red wing of his hair shining above his dark clothes as he led Lily away, and that he moved very fast, too fast for us who were to lose her.
Grandmother stood on the steep front steps looking out across the lawn, the flowering currants, the camelias where the birds went exploring, the lilacs and the path between. Brides, coffins and babies; she had blessed them all, she often said, from these very steps. "Mind Lily, mind you come back. Don't forget an old woman and God bless you Lily Somers."
One day I came home from school through the dazzling garden. Light slanted through the net of curtains into the drawing room, looped the chair legs, slip down the aspidistra leaves that Aunt Lot was dusting. Her silk rag pressed up from base to point while Lot stared beyond me as if I were glass.
"What a fool she is, Agnes, to go back to him, to that God-forsaken hole on top of a mountain. They never see the sun and the washing is grey and mildew, she says, is on everything. With us she had plump cheeks, decent clothes "——
"Hush Lot, there's Harriet ——
"And that poor little thing's hair is Lint White," Lot went on, in her narrow track, but then, as I threw down my bag she brisked up. "There's someone in the kitchen you'd like to see, Harriet."
I went in. I knew.
"Lily," I cried, then I kept still and silent.
It was Lily sitting in the morris chair at the end of the kitchen table. Her grey old coat hung loose with a patchwork of shabby worn shapes. She sat with hunched shoulders so that now, more than ever before, the full neck protruded and the bright cross seemed the only living thing about her. How thin were her cheeks and drained of their rose. And clasped to her was that extra weight, that burden, her child—a baby that looked too white to live, its face a day moon, its tiny shoes dangling from the stalks of legs, its eyes so dull, its nose too sharp—and grandmother, looking at them both, kept nodding her head and smiling and shaking a rattle. Slowly Lily began to animate the baby.
"This is Lavinia, Harriet. Would you like to nurse her a while?" said Lily. But I wished then for my arms to vanish. I could not move from my place near the stove, from my shelter between the clean sheets hung there to air. Even the old excited voice I once knew had hardened. Was it for this I'd loved my dolls? Was it for this pale ugly child that Lily had so loved Ted. I could not, I would not, for any past, pretend to touch it with joy.
Grandmother stepped up and took the little creature, rolled in its shawl. Folding her lilac sleeves round Lily's child she pressed its "lint white" hair against her, let her fingers sink deep into the yielding Shetland wool, fingers where the broad ring now slipped loose and where the bone gleamed whitely beneath the shining skin. How she teased, nodded, sang, crooned; how close she held it loving, adoring, whispering, rocking, loving, rocking it in a fantastically passionate ecstacy, laughing, loving, until the tears streamed over her face.
"O you dear, dear little thing. I could keep you and love you all for myself," she cried. I had never-seen her so happy, so ageless, so possessed. But this pure act of old Emmy Arkel shocked my youth and forged around it a chinkless defence of fear and dislike that has hidden my heart these long years.
Light. Ringing a bell. Everything is over now. I have reached the morning. There is no more pain.
Beyond this sheet and that white rod and these light walls a bell is ringing, while I rise up from the empty dark. The nurse moves nearer to me. Flowers and enamel and polished surfaces prick my consciousness. The nurse has come close. Yes, it is morning and over me, smooth and flat, lies a quilt of thick white cotton raised in its centre with patterns. In the nurse's arms, out of the pale wool page 8 cocoon she holds, I see a new child with its ancient, sleeping features, with its dark little crown of new born hair.
"Let me look, nurse. Let me hold him." And as she gives him, this strange son cries his first moments into the cold, weak-sunned day and the twist of my buried past smooths itself into glory.
Grandmother Arkel and Lily Somers ——
O Lily Somers, bless your baby lost in time.
Anarchism In New Zealand
A fluidity absent from older societies has made New Zealand pecularly receptive to ideas of individual rights and doctrines about the equality and natural goodness of man, and the efficacy of his reason, the hangover from the last few centuries of European thought. When New Zealanders encountered poverty and starvation during the last depression, they were able without much spiritual conflict, to denounce such sufferings on an ethical basis and to demand that the dignity of man be established once and for all.
The Labour Party same into office, the guardians of the people, the preservers of the dignity of labour and of human liberty, the Pacifists, lauding truth and the wisdom of the common man. Internally the half truth that all men are equal spread as the levelling process continued. A nation inheriting the unco-operative independent frontier mind refused to acknowledge superiors within its ranks. The roadman demands to have his wages raised to equal that of the doctor's. The wage question is a subtle unanswerable one but is important because what occurs in the material world is also occurring in the intellectual. The roadman thinks he knows best. The pride of the roadman is little worse than the pride of the doctor. It is when those who think they know best impose their systems that disaster occurs.
The ordinary man now is demanding higher wages. The ethical impulse which swept the Labour Government into power, has been lost, transferred to a material one, and the Labour Party acquiesces because it is afraid of going out of office. It is the tool of the mass mind and the mass mind is still primarily materialistic. The country has beguiled itself with half-truths, and the majority of its citizens fails to recognise that they are half truths. What is the intellectual doing now that the party he has assisted is in power?
The intellectual has become an anarchist. He is aware of the half-truths and acknowledges the fact that the material solution is insufficient. He resents the hypocrisy of the government, and is especially disillusioned by the blindness and stupidity of the people in whom he once believed wisdom rested. He suspects democracy. He believes mankind is too stupid to solve its problems and predicts disaster. He withdraws from the community which he despises, shrugs his shoulders, cracks witticisms at them at morning tea. He accepts the material comforts that the party he once supported has given the country, and concerns himself with his own salvation. Man and society he has discarded.
New Zealand is full of anarchists in one form or another. The formation of anarchists in this country begins early, often before page 9 adolescence. The school is its breeding place. Here the honest child is confronted by peculiar standards of morality to which he can give no support, and is forced to acquiesce with his tongue in his cheek. At secondary school the confict becomes more acute. Here sport is raised above intellectual achievement The Old Boy who has represented New Zealand in cricket or football is feted, the scholar obtaining a doctorate at Cambridge ignored. Adolescents are alert and eager. They recognise early that the prevailing sentiments about loyalty to House, School, Empire, and Christianity are rightly suspect. Over-simplified and vulgar concepts about religion they accept as hypocrisy, and so the isolation is well established by the time the child leaves school. It is a fact that most intellectuals in New Zealand leave school with feelings of inferiority, which is an absurd state of affairs, and a very wasteful one.
The temporary junction of the anarchist and the rest of the community during the depression and the early years of the Labour Government has once more been severed. When the intellectuals come to terms with themselves and the community, much may be done. Until then they are in great danger because they acquiesce to constant levelling, a process assisted by the government; and are in danger of losing their own integrity and liberty of spirit. They are the ones who should be shaping the thought and policy of the country and they are as much responsible if not more so, for whatever happens to New Zealand. Meanwhile the search for some way of closing the rift continues.
The New Zealand intellectual admits the stupidity of the community and toys with the idea of a well-informed aristocracy, but remembering the oppression of the people under previous forms of aristocracy, and unable to find justification for such oppression, is forced to reject the idea. He also reconsiders the Platonic guardian state, but owing to his reluctance to interfere with the liberty of man, and his belief that absolute truth does not exist, he finds totalitarian forms of government unacceptable.
A possible solution suggests itself if we recognise that man's virtue does not lie in the intellectual field. We cannot expect things of him. We should not expect him to be wise or reasonable or good or evil. He is a form striving for expression and he gets bogged on the way. The evil is usually bound up with his struggles to free himself. He is forever tying himself to false gods. Occasionally in his freedom, the goodness, or integrity, or perfection of form, is extraordinary clear. What we can do is to see that he has the freedom to reach this state of grace. Now that the material obstacles have been removed, he is faced with a great many less tangible ones. His chief weapon against these is his honesty which must be encouraged above all else. Never must anyone attempt to possess him. He must be left free. In a wider metaphysical sense, man is an image of the truth, and this is why his complete spiritual development is important. A doctrine of non-possession would be peculiarly well suited to a country which will not admit superiors.
Camus wrote Le Mythe de Sisyphe from which the following essay is taken at about the same time as his novel L'Etranger (The Outsider), well-known to English readers. Outsider told the story of the man condemned to death; Le Mythe de Sisyphe (never translated) the theory of the man condemned to death—his passionate regarding of the world, his revolt against the ordinary life, and his deepest freedom which is the freedom of hope. This is the actor, whose character is drawn in this essay. In a later play (also translated) Camus has shown Caligula who has power over the lives of millions and considered their life and death a matter of complete indifference.' Caligula is in a way the apotheosis of the Actor.
* * *
'The play's the thing wherein I catch the conscience of the King,' so speaks Hamlet. Catch is the right word. For conscience moves fast or withdraws. It must be caught in full flight—at that barely noticeable spot where it looks at itself with a hunted glance. The average man does not like slowness. Everything makes him hurry. At the same time nothing interests him so much as his own person, and especially his possible destiny. Hence his taste for the theatre, for the play, where so many destinies are suggested to him of which he takes in the poetry without suffering the bitterness. There at any rate we find unconscious man and he is always pressing on towards some hope. The absurd man begins where this other man ends, where ceasing to admire the game, the spirit wishes to enter into it. To penetrate into all these lives, to experience them in their diversity—that indeed is truly to act them. I do not say that the generality of actors answer this call, nor that they are absurd men, but that their destinies are absurd destinies which mig htseduce and attract a penetrating spirit. It is necessary to suppose this so as not to misunderstand what follows.
The actor reigns in the transitory world. By common consent his is the most ephemeral of glories. At any rate we can say so in conversation; but all glories are ephemeral. From the viewpoint of Sirius, the works of Goethe will be dust in a thousand years' time and his work forgotten. Some archaeologists will perhaps be looking for monuments of our era. This idea has always been instructive. If carefully considered it reduces our agitations to the profound nobility which is found in indifference. Most of all, it directs our pre-occupations towards what is most certain, that is to say, towards the immediate. The least capricious of glories is that which is lived.
The actor, then, has chosen a countless glory, the one that crowns and is experienced. It is he who draws the best conclusion from the fact that we are doomed to die one day. An actor either has success or not. A writer retains hope even if neglected. He supposes his work will bear witness of what he has been. The actor, at best, will leave us a photograph, but nothing of what he was, his gestures and his silences, his short breathing and his love sigh will come down to us. For him to be unknown is not to act and not to act is to die a hundred times with all the beings he might have animated or revived.
* * *
Yet, is it astonishing to find a transient glory founded on the most ephemeral creations? The actor has three hours to be Iago or Alceste, Phedre of Gloucester. In that brief span he makes them spring to life and die, on fifty square meters of stage. No better or more persistent example of absurdity was ever found. Splendid lives, and those unique complete destinies growing and ending between walls and for a few hours are the most re-vealing shortcut. Once off the stage, Sisig-mond is no longer anything. Two hours later he can be seen dining in town. It is perhaps then that life is a dream. But after Sisig-mond comes another. The hero suffering from uncertainty follows the one who clamours for revenge. In order thus to pass through spirits and centuries, in order to imitiate man as he can be and as he is, the actor approaches that other absurd character, the traveller. He is the traveller of time, and in the case of the best, the hunted traveller of souls. If there is any support for the ethics of quantity it lies in the singular phenomenon of the stage.
To what extent the actor profits from his characters is difficult to say. That, however, page 11 is not the question. The problem is only to know in how far he identifies himself with these irreplacable lives. It happens indeed that he carries them along with him, that there is a slight overflow from the time and space where they were born. They accompany the actor, he no longer separates himself very easily from what he has been. It happens that in taking up his glass the gesture of Hamlet raising his cup comes back to him. No, the distance separating him from the beings he brings to life is not so large. He then exemplifies, every month or every day, the valuable truth that there is no frontier between man's desired and real existence. He shows, by always pursuing better performance, in how far appearance creates reality. For his art is precisely that: to make the absolute pretence, to enter as deeply as possible into lives which are not his own. At the goal of his effort his vocation becomes clear, to try with all his heart to be either nobody at all or several people. He has been given narrower limits within which to create his character and he has greater need of talent. In three hours he will die in the shape that was his to-day. In three hours he has to experience and express an entire exceptional destiny. That is called losing oneself to find oneself again. In those three hours he goes to the end of the dead alley which the man in the stalls takes a lifetime to travel through.
* * *
As imitator of the transient he only studies and seeks perfection in appearances. It is dramatic convention that the heart cannot be expressed or made understood except through gestures and by the body—or by the voice which has as much body in it as soul. The rule of the art is that everything should be made big and translated into flesh. If we had to make love on the stage, or use the inimitable voice of the heart or gaze, as in real life, we would be speaking in a secret language. Here silences have to be heard. Love raises the tone and even remaining motionless becomes a spectacular thing. The body rules. It is not given to all to be 'theatrical' and that wrongly maligned word hides a whole system of esthetics and of ethics too.
One half of the life of man is spent in divining an implication, turning away and being silent. Here the actor is the intruder. He unweaves the spell from the subdued soul and the passions at last burst forth. They speak in every gesture, they only live in cries. Thus the actor composes his characters for the parade. He draws or sculpts them, wraps himself in their imagined shape and gives his blood to their shades. I refer to tragedy, naturally, where the actor has the opportunity to fulfil his entirely physical destiny. Shakespeare is an example. In his drama the body's rage leads the dance from the first movement. It explains everything. Without that rage, all would collapse. King Lear would never have his meeting with insanity if he had not made the savage gesture by which Cordelia is exiled and Edgar condemned. It is right that this tragedy should develop under the sign of madness. The souls are thrown to the devils and their saraband. No less than four fools, one by profession, another by choice and two through agony, four disordered bodies, four unspeakable forms of the same condition.
Even the range of the human body is insufficient. Mask and buskin, make-up which obscures the essentials of the face, or brings them out, the exaggerations or understatements of costume belong to a world which sacrifices all for appearance and is made only for the eye. By an absurd miracle the body again makes us understand. I would never understand Iago well unless I were to play his part. I may listen to him as much as I like, yet never grasp him except at the moment of seeing him. Consequently the actor has the absurd personality's monotony, the unique deadening silhouette both strange and familiar which he carries through all his heroes. Again, great drama encourages that unity of tone* There is the actor's contradiction: he is the same and yet so varied, so many souls taken up by a single body. This individual who wishes to reach and live everything, this vain effort and pointless persistency is the absurd contradiction itself.
Yet the eternal contradiction is united in him. He is where body and soul join and embrace, where the latter tired of its de page 12 feat returns to its most trusted ally. 'Bless'd are those', says Hamlet, 'whose blood and judgment are so well commingled That they are not a pipe for Fortunte's finger To sound what stop she please.'
* * *
Could the Church have failed to condemn such a pursuit in the actor. She rejected in that art the heretical multiplication of souls, the perversion of the emotions, the preposterous claim of a spirit refusing to live but one destiny and flinging itself into every excess. She proscribed in actors their taste for the present time and their Protean triumph, which both are negations of her teachings. Eternity is not a game. The madman who throws it away for a drama has lost his salvation. Between 'everywhere' and 'always' there can be no compromise. Hence this underestimated profession can provide a spiritual conflict disproportionately large. 'What matters,' says Nietzsche, 'is not everlasting life but everlasting liveliness.' Drama, indeed, lies entirely in this choice.
Adrienne Lecouvreur, on her deathbed, desired to be shriven and to communicate, but she refused to forswear her profession. She thereby lost the benefit of confession. What did this mean if not to take the side of her inward passion against God? And this woman in her death-struggle refusing in tears to renounce what she called her art showed a greatness she never reached before the footlights. To choose between heaven and a laughable loyalty, between preferring oneself to eternity and giving all to God is a secular tragedy in which we choose sides.
The actors of the period knew they were excommunicated. Entering the profession meant choosing Hell. And the Church recognised in them her worst enemies. Some literary gentlemen are indignant about it: 'What? Refuse Moliere the last rites?' But that was proper, especially for Moliere who died on the stage and ended with make-up on his face a life entirely dedicated to dissipation. For his benefit people argue that genius excuses all. But genius excuses nothing, for the very reason that it does not give in.
The actor, then, knew the promised retribution. But what sense could such vague threats have in comparison with the last punishment life itself had in store for him? It was the latter he had experienced in advance and accepted in its entirety. For the actor, as for the absurd man, a premature death is irreparable. Nothing can compensate for the number of shapes and centuries he would otherwise have passed through. But in all cases it is a question of dying. For the actor is no doubt everywhere, but time dogs him too and leaves his mark on him.
A little imagination is enough to feel then what the actor's destiny means. He shapes and puts together his characters in Time. He learns to master them in Time. The more different lives he has lived, the better he separates himself from them. The time comes when he must die to the stage and to the world. What he has lived stands before him. He sees clearly. He feels the pain and loss in this adventure. Now he can die. There are homes for old actors.
(Translation: E. Schwimmer.)
Diary Notes, 1946.
November 28. Calculated the wages. At the bank, a woman was collecting a large officer's pay in linen bags, which is unusual. From the back, she looked like one of the legendary secretaries, the ones who, in their offices, talk to you of the manager as if attempting to make you feel you should share in their worship of their exalted executive, but together with the executive, they, the confidants, are raised to some wanton exaltedness; this figure, so careful to make no mistake in this somewhat lowly commission entrusted to her because it yet requires confidence, behaves not always in this subordinate way; it is decorous just now, therefore it is assumed; however, it is not entirely true; the glamour of the skin, the well-shaped body, the luxury and sophistication not found at home, these things are true, and hence they are lifting each other above their stations, the secretary and the manager; and forgetting for a moment the facts behind all this, whatever the method: the acts of both are successful and become a reality. This reality may be found in the Man magazine, and it is a very considerable one: it is impossible to write of secretaries without this image in mind: the people of former ages went to the theatre and their heroes were the wings of legend, knights, ladies, etc., after whose image they feebly tried to build their lives; now the worshipped couple are businessman and secretary out of the Man magazine, and in spite of the diversity of humankind, there is a common tendency to relate one's life to this ideal. This ideal is the real hero of any epic of office-life, including its glamour, as a self-contained world. (It needs no connection with art or the theatre; it is self-contained.)
* * *
H. showed me a way to the city through his garden, one of these Wellington walks through a somewhat rocky unknown running into Willis Street; the vegetation was surprising, but not as rich as usual. The centre of Wellington has holes in it, in which thrives the unknown.
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November 29. The Nonesuch Blake contains marginalia to Poems, Vol. 1, by William Wordsworth. Quoting a preface, 'Yet, much as these pretended treasures of antiquity have been admired, they have not been wholly uninfluential upon the literature of the country . . . no Author in the least distinguished, has ventured formally to imitate them, except the Boy, Chatterton, on their first Appearance.' Blake comments: 'I believe both MacPherson and Chatterton, that what they say is ancient, is so.' And: 'I own myself an admirer of Ossian equally with any poet whatever, Rowley and Chatterton also.' Blake would not have been impressed with the scholarship of Rev. Skeat, even if it had been proved that Chatterton had coined every word in his vocabulary. Skeat's proofs are as solid as a wall; Blake looks right past every one of them. He does not reject the appearances of the matter, he does not even see them. In Rowley a poet's imagination has shaped the middle ages: using whatever words, writing at whatever time. To Blake, inaccuracies in 15th century dialects could hardly be disturbing, the words which revived the middle ages were there, naturally or out of a glossary, which did not matter, only two things matter: Blake 'believes' Chatterton, and 'owns (him) self an admirer.' Believing Chatterton means a surrender of the self to the heroes and legendary landscapes of Chatterton the poet; what Chatterton told was the death of Aella, the excution of Charles Bawdin, etc., apart from which he made some formal statement about poems by Rowley. But Blake makes the profound gesture of even believing this statement: he will own no difference between Rowley, a poet, and Rowley, a poet in the imagination of Chatterton, in whom he 'believes.' A Rowley created by Chatterton would have a more real existence in the universe, according to Blake, than a material man called Rowley writing poems many centuries ago. But when Blake speaks of 'believing' he means more than this acceptance of a spiritual disembodied Rowley. He means also that if he, as a man, would meet Chatterton, in whom he believes, and Chatterton, as a man, would state the poems were Rowley's, then Blake would not question it.
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If Chatterton refused to admit his authorship even to his closest friends, thoughts such as these were in his mind. Chatterton never found the ideal friend; if he had done so, this friend would not have questioned him; of this friendship only Blake would have been capable. Blake's reason for never questioning would be that he owned '(him) self an admirer.' All this at great length, not because Blake is at all obscure; he is entirely consistent; but because it is necessary to emphasise this attitude towards hoaxes, which is the one and only tenable attitude. Hoaxes concern little stories told about imaginative works: usually these stories introduce an unknown or classical author as the creator of the works; Chatterton's story was no more. Rev. Skeat can write a hundred pages concerning the truth of such a story; Blake's wisdom ignores it. Van Meegeren and Ern Malley hoaxes cannot delude such an attitude.
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A detail of scholarship substantiates Blake: Skeat held that Chatterton wrote the Rowley poems in modern language, then translated them into 'Rowleian dialect,' as he calls it. This fits the common concept of a fabrication and it is surprising how little evidence Skeat believes it requires. Skeat proves that Chatterton's knowledge of Anglo-Saxon was confined mainly to what may be found sub AA-AL in an Anglo-Saxon dictionary. It would seem to him that these words were used by Chat-terton merely as a help for a fabrication. We, after James Joyce, believe that these words held a fascination in themselves, were noted down by Chatterton for their fascination, and that he also conveyed this. If Skeat ingeniously proves Chatterton's preference for dictionaries and glossaries above texts, we believe that these words must have told him a story; in sounds and also spelling. I am very puzzled by this question: among the Old English or pseudo-Old English words Chat-terton uses many at the end of lines. They rhyme with modern or with other old words. How is it possible to write a poem in modern English first and then translate it so as to produce these rhymes and all the other obvious vocal effects in the poems? Do Chatterton's archaisms ever have forced meanings? How does one imagine Chatterton to follow this complicated procedure? Why could not lines including archaisms occur in Chatterton's mind entire? And why is no lack of spontaneity observable if every one of his sound structures was to a certain extent an act of fate? And, the strangest thing of all, how could Skeat ever have believed in this monstrosity? Because he found a few note-books?
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The apparent simplicity of this whole question bewilders me. Yet the story of Chatterton's translating from line to line passes from a conjecture of Skeat's into Chatterton legend It is forgotten that the suggestion was probably only produced through an excessive zeal of Skeat's to prove the propriety of modernising Chatterton's text, an idea which was his and for which nobody of course wants to deny him credit. It is better to accept Blake's attitude; and to see Chatterton's language as created instead of fabricated, of the same kind as Thompson's and Shenstone's Spenserian borrowings, though in a rather more fantastic and imaginative manner.
December 1. At night left the bus at the wrong stop and had to walk through what seems the cruellest part of Wellington: the concrete roads and viaducts and metal structures between Kaiwarra and Thorndon. One does not think of the terrible things that happen here; one knows that they are erected without any terrifying associations; but in other cities this awful crossing would be peopled with miseries, car accidents, suicides, killings, sinister thoughts involving crimes and sordid women; in Wellington the very absence means greater despair for whoever may be compelled, in reality, to walk that pavement. There is nothing there, nothing at all. The cars frighten; there is no reason why they should not point their headlights at you and run over you.
Some Held To Love By Hate
Pity drives some to madness, but not she
Whose madness, beyond pitiable, glares
Maddening from the crux of blind conceits
Taking time by the throat, demanding, sears
Love galled and helpless in her clutch.
But pity we who holds her, beyond calm
Or any expectation to be free
Since her erratic glance predicates harm;
Pinions to madness who would hold her sane.
I would not hold her, but may not relax
The bonds that hold my hands that held her hand
Believing, in brief innocence, love makes
Low high, and heaven nearer with a band
Sure as deliverance of the oppressed. It's clear
The oppressed suffer in innocence, and pity
Drives some to madness, while the fear
Of suffering loss of madness keeps some able
To suffer the lateral thorns of grief and thrive
Poised dangerously between the knives and murders
Such as her eyes prove, in whose fear I live.
Dear Doctor D'ath
No-one believes the diagnosis,
Heeds the doctor when he says
"There is a limit to your motions
And a restraint upon your days."
Others were told the same thing often
And lived to suffer aged disgrace,
Coddling the light with hands that soften,
Look life no longer in the face.
Others meet death, but not the one
Who day by day draws daily near
The moment when his will is done,
The time of his torpescent fear.
Others have not been brave about it,
Not ignored warnings, or resumed
The deeds their destinies propounded,
But idle, wasted, were consumed.
No-one believes the rare occasion
Hastens to claim with each brief act,
That the finale and the curtain
Falls on the disbelieved-in fact.
Or that what happens to another
Will in his instance same apply;
Buries his fear inside to smother,
Offers his life to make death lie.
Nor separation nor nearness
are, of us, other than we are
whose affections always meeting
not moved by distances grow
towards their entwining, share,
if an aerial path could show,
the terns' characters lighting
that brilliant summer air
when the flocks beat a shoal water
and none from its mate moves far,
but their flight winds up and through
to net the bright summer haze
in a beat of wings and a glance
confounding sense in the haze,
and the birds are lost in their dance,
dance and the birds become
one with the summer air.
What meaning, then, for distance,
for nearness or separation,
for together or apart?
When, from the risen morning
off-shore on some island, start
those interweavings of flight
they grow no closer together
nor further are when the night
softens their wing-beat, turns
them back to their nest, nation
on nation of sea birds homing,
and their cry the evening mourns,
confusing the light and the sound,
mingling a sense with a sense,
and light and cry and flock are wound
a lost bird threading its dance.
To E. Expostulating on an Arrangement of Shakespeare's Sonnets
Damn you, you have opened the door
And let the wind in;
The air is moving everywhere;
The curtain moves;
My papers rustle and are scattered about the room;
The window rattles,
The carpet's strewn with flowers,
The walls are freed and billow in and out;
The whole place is in motion, fluid, and disarranged
By this sudden rush of air,
And the pleasant smoke screen now
Is quite destroyed.
All this because my Shakespeare's Sonnets
Have been arranged by a logician.
* I am thinking of Moliere's Alceste. Everything is so simple, so obvious and so crude. Alceste against Philinte, Celimene against Elianthe, and the subject-matter lying entirely in the absurd result of carrying a character to its logical conclusion, and the verse itself, le mauvais vers, hardly scanned like the monotony of the character.