Friday, 13 March 2009

Plugged into Miles

Listening, that is to say, to the sound track of Lift to the Scaffold, even as I write this. Film clip above. Jeanne Moreau stalks around the street, caressing cars, generally swathed in gloom. Louis Malle's first film in 1958.

Read the first of the three Bloodaxe Lectures to C, and it comes in precisely at forty minutes. On the other hand I was reading a little fast, so might cut a bit from the new beginning. Tomorrow I'll read lectures 2 and 3, which are longer. Earlier, concluding an interview over email with a magazine. To be published some time in the next month or so.

In the meantime start planning the keynote lecture I am to give at the BASEES conference in Cambridge the week after returning from Newcastle. It's about Hungary in 1989, with a bit of before and then some after, with poetry thrown in. Who would have thought I had so much to say? Not sure I have. We shall see.

Today's walk slightly curtailed by promise (unfulfilled) of rain. The little nature reserve, Toll's Meadow, is practically marsh. The water table must be high. Everything tinged with steely grey. On the way back I ask C: Do you like people? I mean people in the street, as you pass them? I ask myself this sometimes, as my own feelings fluctuate between a kind of sympathetic affection (almost lurv) and sharp recoil. She finds it impossible to say, of course. How could it be possible? Brodsky didn't like the look of human beings. I don't suppose Derek Mahon is keen either. A little misanthropy in a cold climate: St Petersburg, Belfast.

Budapest is hot in the summer, freezing in the winter. Room for extremes there.

I suppose it is possible to be warm and cool at the same time. A summery chill. A wintery warmth.

What's that Larkin poem?

The Card-Players

Jan van Hogspeuw staggers to the door
And pisses at the dark. Outside, the rain
Courses in cart-ruts down the deep mud lane.
Inside, Dirk Dogstoerd pours himself some more,
And holds a cinder to his clay with tongs,
Belching out smoke. Old Prijck snores with the gale,
His skull face firelit; someone behind drinks ale,
And opens mussels, and croaks scraps of songs
Toward the ham hung rafters about love.
Dirk deals the cards. Wet century-wide trees
Clash in surrounding starlessness above
This lamplit cave, where Jan turns back and farts,
Gobs at the grate, and hits the queen of hearts.

Rain, wind and fire! The secret, bestial place!

Ah yes, the grate. The secret, bestial place.


puthwuth said...

How odd that you should make the same mistake as I did once with this poem, in print -- it's 'peace', not 'place'. Though I think I prefer 'place'.

George S said...

Yes! You are right. And I actually wrote 'peace' the first time, then thought it couldn't be right and changed it to 'place' even though it no longer rhymed with 'trees'.

But trees / peace is not a good rhyme, not by the standards of perfect rhyme elsewhere in the poem, so one doesn't really miss it.

And 'place' seems much better, both in sound and meaning.

Perhaps we should offer to re-edit Larkin and improve him.

Incidentally, very nice Morden Towers photo of Mahon at your place. Or should that be 'peace'?

cabinlife said...

Oh come on! 'Peace' is wonderful! Place makes far too much sense. It offers no colour or contrast; it closes, rather than opens, another door, and does send one back into the body of the poem: all those sounds, smells, rough textures (croaking hammy songs, lashing rain, farts...) which are at once the apotheosis of 'secret, bestial peace' (whereas we already know the 'place' is secret and bestial). 'Peace' is both surprising and absolutely right and gorgeously lifts the poem to another level.

Mark Granier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Granier said...

Samantha is me (Mark Granier). I forgot to check whether my wife had logged out of gmail.

George S said...

Samantha-Mark, Beg to disagree. The sound is wrong. 'Peace' fades out. 'Place' plucks, and the line needs a more solid noise at the end. Hence my always wanting to say 'place'.

Not even sure 'peace' does much for meaning, Staggering, belching, croaking, pissing, farting, gobbing and hitting are all active. Few of those people are in any kind of peace. Beasts don't do all that when at peace. Pissing and farting, possibly. The rest, no.

'Place' on the other hand rings deep, both aurally and in terms of location. It is like being struck in the solar plexus. Another 'pl' there. It's a gut affair, about all that gut implies.

I suspect we are not going to agree. I really suspect we're not. My entire gut-system wants 'place' and guts are not agreeable or disagreeable with. They just are.

Mark Granier said...

"Not even sure 'peace' does much for meaning, Staggering, belching, croaking, pissing, farting, gobbing and hitting are all active. Few of those people are in any kind of peace. Beasts don't do all that when at peace. Pissing and farting, possibly. The rest, no."

I assume what Larkin is attempting here is a poetic rendering of the atmosphere captured in certain paintings by the Dutch masters (and possibly Hogarth), an amalgam of several paintings/impressions. Of course beasts don't play cards or stagger drunkenly. But the very thickness of the atmosphere Larkin creates is, to my mind, redolent of a barn, somewhere where beasts are at rest, and the farts, snores, pissing etc. (and indeed 'cart-ruts') contribute to this. People often castigate bad (human) behaviour as being 'animal', which to my mind is a gross insult to animals. I think Larkin had a good deal of proper affection for animals, which are removed from the world of human consciousness, deep in their evolutionary groove which does not permit introspection. Humans, when slightly (peacefully) drunk, more thoroughly in the realm of the senses, have something in common with beasts at rest. They are secure in their sensual barn. So it seems to me anyway.

But no, we are not going to agree, though that doesn't matter at all. Our guts differ, that's all. And I am at peace with that.

Gwil W said...

I beg to differ. I think it must be peace because he's talking about the grate where Hogspeuw goes to piss, (we commonly say something is a peace of piss, don't we?)
and now it's the narrator's turn to go for one...
I think you're thinking of the Pub of the Undead George.

Gwil W said...

sorry I meant piece of piss - but the same sound is what I'm getting at - the sound of relief, of the jet into the grate