From this week's correspondence:
One friend sent me a note about the first day of spring in central Maine:
I had an ice cream cone in Newport before coming home.
Everyone was out. The weary old interstate stop felt like a festival.
The young guys with loud mufflers and sunglasses smoking cigarettes
with their arms hanging out the windows. The dirty snow, the pot holes,
all of it beautiful in the light of spring.
We survived . . . again.
Another friend sent me this quotation in response to Fulke Greville's poem about Sir Philip Sidney, which I posted earlier this week. (Zutphen is the battle where Sidney was killed.)
You might say that Greville was a Sidneuis Dimidiatus, or half-Sydney. That half, living on through the long years after Zutphen by itself, would easily become the Greville of the Treaties, the man who said, "I know the world and believe in God." But the commonplace words are in his mouth terrible: for they primarily mean the perpetual consciousness of an absolute gulf between the two, the incurable "oddes between the earth and skie."A third friend sent me this note about my poem "Last Game" (in How the Crimes Happened).
--C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century
I think I'm going to read it to my class to show them what parenting can feel like. They're 14, so they won't get it, but we're in the middle of reading Frankenstein, and the creature is just at the point where he's asking Victor to act even the slightest bit like a father (let alone like a god, whom he perhaps resembles a bit more closely . . . but that's my cynical side speaking). And 14 though they are, I'm sure that they won't be able to escape noticing the gap between the Harmony parents' instinct to "circle the wagons" and Victor's urge to flee. Thanks for that poem, and for your news from the north posts, and all that.
"The young guys with loud mufflers and sunglasses smoking cigarettes / with their arms hanging out the windows." "The incurable 'oddes between the earth and skie.'" The creature and Victor. "They're 14, so they won't get it." Such a glorious elegy in this richness--so many characters, readers, celebrants, and mourners: and all from two short emails and a quick Facebook message.
Yesterday evening, after dinner, I sat on the couch with the New York Review of Books and read Leo Carey's review of The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal, the grandmother of Edmund de Waal, who wrote The Hare with Amber Eyes, "a best-selling history of his Jewish banking family, and of the art they collected and lost to the Nazis." Like her grandson, Elisabeth was also a writer, a novelist with two books that were never published during her lifetime. One of them, The Exiles Return, has now been released; and while Carey writes sensitively about it, he concludes, regretfully, that it is severely flawed, not merely through "technical incompetence" but because of "a deeper confusion": for instance, among other struggles, she "cannot decide which viewpoint to inhabit."
I have not read the actual novel, only its review, so I have no way of knowing whether or not Carey's conclusions are accurate. But he does quote de Waal's own heartrending words about her failure as a writer:
I have always written, all my life, and have always striven to do so, and have always faltered on the way and hardly ever succeeded in getting published. . . . But I think I write in a rarefied atmosphere. I lack the common touch, it is all too finely distilled. I deal in essences the taste of which is too subtle to register on the tongue. It is the quintessence of experiences, not the experiences themselves.
I cannot decide whether her words are arrogant or blind or clear-eyed or humble. But no matter how I read the statement, they are extraordinarily sad.