Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A discovery: Midway through Hilary Spurling's biography of the novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett, I began to run across scraps of poems by a woman named Melicent Jourdain. Known as Milly, she was the youngest sister of Ivy's companion, Margaret Jourdain. Both were also siblings of the mathematician Philip Jourdain. Like Philip, Milly was crippled and eventually killed, at age 44 (oddly enough, my own age at the moment), by Friedrich's ataxia, a hereditary form of multiple sclerosis characterized by childhood onset and rapid progress.

On the Internet, I found one copy of Milly's poems available, which I have ordered: a first edition, published in 1924 and titled Unfulfilment, under the pen name "Joan Arden." For this first edition (by which the seller means "only edition"), said to be in excellent condition, I am paying a mere 30 dollars. Apparently there is not a run on this book.

From the bits and pieces quoted in Spurling's biography, I can only say that Milly may be a quiet poet, but her eye and the purity of her diction are notable, as this tiny excerpt shows:

O only once to loose my hold, and slip
Down the familiar bank, and feel the chill
Of water lapping round my feet, and hear
The sounds of distant music in the wind.

I expect to be disappointed by her book, yet I'm hopeful also. Something about those lines moves me, rather as John Clare can move me, almost in spite of myself.

Really: look at this stanza . . . what could be more beautiful?

And still I see how clearly shines the light
On winter branches, and how the dripping rain
Deepens the colour on the hills, and how
To draw those horses plodding up the lane.

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