Sunday, December 23, 2018

"He looked far above the horizon" Samuel Beckett - photos

“About thirty years ago, the beaches and streets of Tangier were haunted by an automaton. It was nothing but skin and bones, and I often lost sight of it, blinded by the sun. Its silhouette of a marsh-bird vanished in the middle of the crowd of Moroccans in djellabahs and indifferent tourists. Like me they ignored the fact that this skinny man was the great writer Samuel Beckett. His path seemed to follow the movement of a pendulum, adjusted to his own rhythm, his heels touching the ground long before his weight followed, the body leaning backwards. He looked far above the horizon, his ocean blue eyes hidden by big sunglasses, and tried to orientate himself. It troubled me so much not to be able to capture the real dimension of this figure that I often forgot to put a film into my camera.
As our paths kept crossing we finally met. So I abandoned the camera and stopped taking pictures. With his dark voice, he told me of the twenty seven books he couldn’t find a publisher for, of his wife Suzanne, of his friendship with Joyce, of his family in Ireland. He imagined how his mother would have been surprised by him getting the Nobel Prize, if ever she had known; he advised me to read “to learn how the others do it”. But I wanted to retain this attitude and his face, so I had to step away, to leave the treasure of his words, his opinions, and get back to the place that suits the photographer best: the one behind the lens.”

François-Marie Banier, Beckett

Photography by François-Marie Banier
Samuel Beckett died on 22 December 1989

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

ад, в котором мы живем каждый день/ the inferno where we live every day

Ад живых — это не что-то, что наступит, если такое и существует, то оно уже здесь; ад, в котором мы живем каждый день, который мы делаем, находясь вместе. Есть два способа не страдать от него. Первый многим дается легко: принять ад и стать его частью до такой степени, чтобы уже его больше и не видеть. Второй — рискованный и требует постоянных бдительности и изучения: искать и уметь распознавать — кто и что посреди этого ада, адом не является, и делать так, чтобы они продолжались, и создавать для них место.

Итало Кальвино (1923-1985), «Невидимые города» (1972)

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Nabokov on poshlost': "corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations..."

“Poshlust,” or in a better transliteration poshlost, has many nuances, and evidently I have not described them clearly enough in my little book on Gogol, if you think one can ask anybody if he is tempted by poshlost.

Corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus profundities, crude, moronic, and dishonest pseudo-literature—these are obvious examples.

Now, if we want to pin down poshlost in contemporary writing, we must look for it in Freudian symbolism, moth-eaten mythologies, social comment, humanistic messages, political allegories, overconcern with class or race, and the journalistic generalities we all know.

Poshlost speaks in such concepts as “America is no better than Russia” or “We all share in Germany’s guilt.” The flowers of poshlost bloom in such phrases and terms as “the moment of truth,” “charisma,” “existential” (used seriously), “dialogue” (as applied to political talks between nations), and “vocabulary” (as applied to a dauber).

Listing in one breath Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Vietnam is seditious poshlost. Belonging to a very select club (which sports one Jewish name—that of the treasurer) is genteel poshlost. Hack reviews are frequently poshlost, but it also lurks in certain highbrow essays. Poshlost calls Mr. Blank a great poet and Mr. Bluff a great novelist.

One of poshlost’s favorite breeding places has always been the Art Exhibition; there it is produced by so-called sculptors working with the tools of wreckers, building crankshaft cretins of stainless steel, Zen stereos, polystyrene stinkbirds, objects trouvés in latrines, cannonballs, canned balls. There we admire the gabinetti wall patterns of so-called abstract artists, Freudian surrealism, roric smudges, and Rorschach blots—all of it as corny in its own right as the academic “September Morns” and “Florentine Flowergirls” of half a century ago. The list is long, and, of course, everybody has his bête noire, his black pet, in the series. Mine is that airline ad: the snack served by an obsequious wench to a young couple—she eyeing ecstatically the cucumber canapé, he admiring wistfully the hostess. And, of course, Death in Venice. You see the range.”


Vladimir Nabokov proposed rendering the Russian word пошлость as it is, transliterated but untranslated: "poshlost". Fifty years on, Wikipedia did just that: it has an English article on Poshlost, which says that "poshlost" has to do with triviality, vulgarity, a lack of spirituality, and even sexual promiscuity.

It is very difficult to capture the meaning of this word accurately and fully. Russia's most popular dictionary by Ozhegov defines the derived adjective пошлый ("poshliy") as "morally base, tasteless, and crass." The classical 19th century dictionary by Vladimir Dal had two definitions of it: an old, originally neutral one ("long-standing, anachronistic, age-old; ancient, old-time, time-honored") and a new one, already with negative connotations ("trite, common, outmoded; indecent, considered rude, common, base, ignoble, coarse; vulgar, trivial").

According to Nabokov, "poshlost is not only the obviously trashy but also the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive. By describing something as 'poshlost', we pass not only an aesthetic but also a moral judgment. Everything that is true, honest, beautiful cannot be described as poshlost."


Monday, November 12, 2018

Arthur Koestler - Man As Mistake

Артур Кестлер (Arthur Koestler, 5 Sep 1905 - 3 Mar 1983; a Hungarian-British author and journalist. In 1976 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and in 1979 with terminal leukaemia. In 1983 he and his wife committed suicide at their home in London.)

В нашумевшем эссе «Человек — ошибка эволюции» (1969), ссылаясь на психологические исследования доктора Мак-Лина, полагал, что «природа наделила человека тремя мозгами, которые, несмотря на полнейшее несходство, должны совместно функционировать и быть в постоянном контакте друг с другом. Древнейший из этих мозгов по сути своей — мозг пресмыкающегося. Второй достался ему от млекопитающих, а третий — достижение высших млекопитающих, именно он сделал человека человеком».

Далее Кестлер пишет: «Мозг пресмыкающегося и мозг простейшего млекопитающего образуют так называемую вегетативную нервную систему, которую мы будем называть старым мозгом, в противоположность неокортексу — чисто человеческому «мыслительному аппарату», куда входят участки, ведающие языком (речью), а также абстрактным и символическим мышлением… Неокортекс человекообразных развился в последние полмиллиона лет, начиная с середины четвертичного периода, он развился со скоростью взрыва, насколько нам известно, беспримерного в истории эволюции. Однако взрывы не ведут к гармоническим последствиям». Результатом этого явилось то, что новые участки мозга не сжились как следует с другими, более старыми, и такой эволюционный промах создал широкий простор для всевозможных конфликтов. Кестлер утверждал, что эволюция схалтурила, «недовинтив какие-то гайки между неокортексом и мозжечком».

В результате нашему биологическому виду вполне присуща своего рода шизофрения, которая и порождает в существенной степени противоречия между животным (инстинктивным) и человеческим (разумным). Этой дихотомии мы, во многом, обязаны несоответствием между нашим эмоциональным и интеллектуальным поведением.

* * *
The Ghost in the Machine is a 1967 book about philosophical psychology by Arthur Koestler. The title is a phrase (see ghost in the machine) coined by the Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle to describe the Cartesian dualist account of the mind–body relationship.
Man As Mistake - By Robert Jay Lifton (source)
April 7, 1968

It is easy these days — this century — to defend the idea that something ails man. His extraordinary impulse to make war upon his own species in the name of his sanctified idols has reached grotesque proportions. Nor does he seem to be improving.

To the contrary, consider an up-to-the-minute example of something approaching collective madness. The most powerful nation in the world intervenes in a civil war (following upon an anticolonial one) in a small, faraway country and saturates that country with its destructive firepower and indiscriminate killing; is profoundly resented by virtually all factions there as well as by the rest of the world, and finds itself stymied both politically as militarily. It stations 5,000 men at a small outpost in an exposed valley surrounded by hostile forces of many times that number and insists (against prevailing objective military judgment) that the outpost can be defended; and to buttress that assumption, considers escalating the war still further, and even the use of tactical versions of man's ultimate weapons, though such measures could well result in general holocaust in which most or all of mankind would be annihilated. Yes, something ails man, but what is it?

In search of an answer Arthur Koestler — known principally for his novels but concerned in recent years with science and psychology ("The Sleepwalkers" and "Act of Creation") — posits "some built-in error or deficiency," or, more vividly, "a screw loose in the human mind." He takes us on a long journey through psychology and evolution to conclude: man's difficulty is his proneness to delusion; he suffers from "an endemic form of paranoia" which dominates his entire history and which is "built into the wiring circuits of the human brain."

This is so, Koestler goes on to tell us, because Homo sapiens is a "biological freak, the result of some remarkable mistake in the evolutionary process." The mistake resulted from the speed with which the hominid evolved (the whole thing took only half a million years), or from what is known as "explosive evolution." Koestler follows the neurophysiologist Paul MacLean in stressing the "unseemly haste" with which the specifically human areas of the brain were superimposed upon the phylogenetically older structures, resulting in "insufficient coordination" between older (emotional) and newer (intellectual) functions.

Koestler cites MacLean's theory of the "three brains" coexisting within the human skull: the oldest being basically reptilian, the next inherited from the lower mammals, and the third peculiarly human. The difficulty according to this theory is that each functions more or less autonomously. This means that man, in effect, sees the world through two television screens: one old and wired into brain areas responsible for "animal" feelings and functions, such as sex, hunger, fear and aggression; the other new and connected with brain areas attuned to the more "human" achievement of reason. The more crude screen — "the crocodile and horse we carry in our skulls"- insists upon supplying its own picture, upon "making up its own mind," and thereby undermines the more elevated images of the other screen. The result is a form of schizophysiology," an antagonistic split in function which is "built into our species." It is always the crude (animal) screen, detached from and inadequately coordinated with the nobler (human) one, which leads man to delusion and mass murder.

The thesis has an everything-falling-into-place aura, as it accounts for things that do not fall into place; it may therefore appeal to those who still believe, or wish to believe, that all truths, scientific or otherwise, are simple ones. But as an explanation for "modern man's predicament" and his "urge to self-destruction," I find this arbitrary dichotomy of the bad old brain and the good new one a misrepresentation of the way man's brain and mind work, and a neurological retreat from his psychology and history.

The shortcomings of the theory become painfully clear when it is applied to man's most difficult dilemmas. For instance, concerning man's uniqueness in knowing that he must die, Koestler claims that "the discovery [of death] originates in the new brain, the refusal [to accept death] in the old."
This all-important refusal is responsible for the witches, ghosts, ancestral spirits and gods which inhabit the human mind, and also for "comforting promises of eternal survival." And the cause of it all, Koestler believes, is "instinct," which "takes existence implicitly for granted, and defends it against threats in anger and fear; but it cannot conceive of its change into non-existence."
Yet one could just as well argue the other way around. The human infant possesses an innate (or "instinctual") sense of connection and a tendency known as "attachment behavior" toward other human beings. This innate tendency later finds expression in various relationships of blood, sexual love and friendship, as well as in more symbolic ties to various social groups and to past and future generations.

Maintaining this "instinctual" sense of connection greatly enhances man's always limited capacity to accept his own death, because he "survives himself through his attachments." On the other hand, man's "acquired" and ostensibly higher achievement of reason can greatly contribute to his refusal to accept death. For man's increasing knowledge of natural and human phenomenon has been accompanied by a trend toward individuation, and this in turn has weakened his sense of connection and presented him with the unacceptable prospect of death as total distinction.

The point is that our present understanding of man no longer permits us to posit a simple dichotomy of "instinct" (and "faith") versus "reason"; and the error is compounded by extending the dichotomy into such discrete anatomical and physiological assumptions about the brain. The dichotomy can be transcended by the kind of unitary approach which many writers have recently emphasized (including Lancelot Law Whyte whom Koestler quotes in other contexts). One must then consider the symbols and forms man requires in order to make sense of his world and act upon it — and the way in which these combine various elements of emotion (or "faith") and "reason" (or "logic"). As Susanne Langer has emphasized, man's lifelong mental task is one of continuous "transformation" of the "data" reaching him from within and without. And this "symbol-making function is one of man's primary activities, like eating, looking, or moving about... the fundamental process of his mind."

From this standpoint man's quest for "eternal survival" can be seen as symbolically realized by artistic and other cultural "works" he transmits to future generations, as well as by his simple biological continuity in families and nations. The quest is most likely to take dangerous forms during periods of historical upheaval when this symbolic community is impaired. At such times members of one group may feel compelled to reaffirm this immortality by murdering members of another.

Indeed the example of "collective madness" I mentioned before — the American stand at Khesanh — is, among other things, a product of distorted symbolization. Adrift in a revolutionary period of rapid historical changes and threatened nuclear apocalypse, we find old symbols (of family, religion or "American individualism") increasingly irrelevant, and authentic new ones extremely difficult to find.

Terrified by an image of the "death" of our culture (of "the American way of life") we grasp at false symbols. Khesanh thus becomes "a symbol of American determination to defend democracy" against "Communist expansion," even though the militaristic regime we defend has no popular support, and our adversary fights on his own soil and, quite understandably, sees us as the outside invader. The source of such tragedy and evil is not "the crocodile and the horse we carry around in our skulls"; rather it is the way in which this kind of distorted symbolism allies itself with the psychological potential for aggression, and above all with our murderous technology.

Throughout his elaborate re-examination of psychological theory, Koestler nowhere mentions recent work most relevant to man's predicament- that dealing with his present symbolic struggles, and with the general interplay of mind and history. Nor does Koestler stop to examine the possible limitations of MacLean's "three brains" theory, at least for the purposes he assigns it; or to consider alternative neurophysiological views. Jose Delgado, for instance, holds that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the anatomy and physiology of the brain, and that our problem lies in the cultural and educational patterns to which the brain is submitted. There are flashes of brilliance in Koestler's ambitious explorations, especially in his general ordering of evolution and in his compelling description of some of the radical new features of the post-Hiroshima world. But the book's erratic combination of unfocused and over-focused argument eventually renders it tedious.

Its ending is worse than that — an anticlimactic suggestion of a biochemical cure for man's deficiencies, so cursorily and simplistically stated as to make one wonder whether the author really believes in it. The issue he raises, that of chemical interference with man's genetic processes, is one which must be seriously confronted- but not by embracing it uncritically as a medical cure for the whole of human history. Earlier in the book Koestler angrily denounces remnants of the 19th-century mechanistic fallacies for their tendency to eliminate man, only to end up with a "chemistic" fallacy of his own which is more characteristic of the 20th century. But man remains our problem, whatever we put into him, and however shaky his future as a species.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Death is always the same...

"Death is always the same,
but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The planet will be here, and we'll be gone. George Carlin quotes

I am a personal optimist but a skeptic about all else. What may sound to some like anger is really nothing more than sympathetic contempt. I view my species with a combination of wonder and pity, and I root for its destruction. And please don't confuse my point of view with cynicism; the real cynics are the ones who tell you everything's gonna be all right.

Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.

• I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It's so fuckin' heroic.

• I don't like ass kissers, flag wavers or team players. I like people who buck the system. Individualists. I often warn people: "Somewhere along the way, someone is going to tell you, 'There is no "I" in team.' What you should tell them is, 'Maybe not. But there is an "I" in independence, individuality and integrity.'" Avoid teams at all cost. Keep your circle small. Never join a group that has a name. If they say, "We're the So-and-Sos," take a walk. And if, somehow, you must join, if it's unavoidable, such as a union or a trade association, go ahead and join. But don't participate; it will be your death. And if they tell you you're not a team player, congratulate them on being observant.

• The decay and disintegration of this culture is astonishingly amusing if you are emotionally detached from it. I have always viewed it from a safe distance, knowing I don't belong; it doesn't include me, and it never has. No matter how you care to define it, I do not identify with the local group. Planet, species, race, nation, state, religion, party, union, club, association, neighborhood improvement committee; I have no interest in any of it. I love and treasure individuals as I meet them, I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to.
The larger the group, the more toxic, the more of your beauty as an individual you have to surrender for the sake of group thought. And when you suspend your individual beauty you also give up a lot of your humanity. You will do things in the name of a group that you would never do on your own. Injuring, hurting, killing, drinking are all part of it, because you've lost your identity, because you now owe your allegiance to this thing that's bigger than you are and that controls you.

• Here’s another question I have. How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette? Are we so much better than chickens all of a sudden?

• People who see life as anything more than pure entertainment are missing the point.

• It's important in life if you don't give a shit. It can help you a lot. [// Warhol’s “So what?”]

• Life is not measured by the breathes you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.

• I think the warning labels on alcoholic beverages are too bland. They should be more vivid. Here is one I would suggest: "Alcohol will turn you into the same asshole your father was”.
Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.

• When I ask how old your toddler is, I don't need to hear '27 months.' 'He's two' will do just fine. He's not a cheese. And I didn't really care in the first place.

• We're so self-important. So arrogant. Everybody's going to save something now. Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save the snails. And the supreme arrogance? Save the planet! Are these people kidding? Save the planet? We don't even know how to take care of ourselves; we haven't learned how to care for one another. We're gonna save the fuckin' planet? . . . And, by the way, there's nothing wrong with the planet in the first place. The planet is fine. The people are fucked! Compared with the people, the planet is doin' great. It's been here over four billion years . . . The planet isn't goin' anywhere, folks. We are! We're goin' away. Pack your shit, we're goin' away. And we won't leave much of a trace. Thank God for that. Nothing left. Maybe a little Styrofoam. The planet will be here, and we'll be gone. Another failed mutation; another closed-end biological mistake.

• Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,
For strip-mined mountain's majesty above the asphalt plain.
America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,
And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.

• Some national parks have long waiting lists for camping reservations. When you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is wrong.

• When you're born into this world, you're given a ticket to the freak show. If you're born in America you get a front row seat.

• There's no present. There's only the immediate future and the recent past.

• If no one knows when a person is going to die, how can we say he died prematurely?

• The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What’s that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating …and you finish off as an orgasm.

• Religion is like a pair of shoes... Find one that fits for you, but don't make me wear your shoes.

• Tell people there's an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.

• People say, 'I'm going to sleep now,' as if it were nothing. But it's really a bizarre activity. 'For the next several hours, while the sun is gone, I'm going to become unconscious, temporarily losing command over everything I know and understand. When the sun returns, I will resume my life.'
If you didn't know what sleep was, and you had only seen it in a science fiction movie, you would think it was weird and tell all your friends about the movie you'd seen.
"They had these people, you know? And they would walk around all day and be OK? And then, once a day, usually after dark, they would lie down on these special platforms and become unconscious. They would stop functioning almost completely, except deep in their minds they would have adventures and experiences that were completely impossible in real life. As they lay there, completely vulnerable to their enemies, their only movements were to occasionally shift from one position to another; or, if one of the 'mind adventures' got too real, they would sit up and scream and be glad they weren't unconscious anymore. Then they would drink a lot of coffee."
So, next time you see someone sleeping, make believe you're in a science fiction movie. And whisper, 'The creature is regenerating itself'.

• I don't have to tell you (it goes without saying) there are some things better left unsaid. I think that speaks for itself. The less said about it the better.

sources: 1, 2; 3

Monday, October 15, 2018

the prospect of life, or what’s left of it.../Larkin - letters to Monica (1971-1982)

17 January 1971
Beechwood House, Set 3, Iffley Turn, Oxford

[...] No letter from you yesterday, but that’s all right, you sent me one in the middle of last week. In any case the post is so absolutely rotten that the old rules hardly apply. [A postal strike ran for much of Jan., all of Feb. & into March 1971] It is a grim prospect. On a day like this — I mean a Sunday: the weather looks dreary as can be — I want to get in the car and come to see you: why don’t I? Well, I suppose it’s the prospect of driving back in the dark, motorway madmen & so on, tiredness — and perhaps you wd be surprised to see me, though as I say one of the most lovely things about you is that you never make me feel unwelcome — and then of course I ought to get on with my so-called work, about wch I am worried. But I do miss you. Don’t be surprised if any Sunday I turn up — don’t order your life to expect this, of course, because I can go to see my Mother if you are out. Of course I want to see her too, in a funny kind of way: well, in quite a reasonable way, I suppose. After not going home for her 85th birthday in order to do my jazz piece you’ll see the bastards didn’t print it.

14 April 1971
21 York Road, Loughborough, Leics.

Little Easter poem - ought to be dedicated to D. Holbrook [enclosure – This Be The Verse]*

*Same version as sent to Thwaite on the same day; evidently written from ‘home’, Loughborough. See Selected Letters, p.437.

18 April 1971
32 Pearson Park, Hull

Dearest bun,
[...] Talking of pwetry, as Kingsley used to call it, I suggest

They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
I think this is better. Or do you think

They foist on you the faults etc?

That might be better. Causons, causons, mon bon. ‘Foist’ is faintly farcical, wch is good — better than ‘fill’. Shall it be foist? (The last shall be foist.) No: there is then too much emphasis on the two yous. [...]
Oh, in the paperb. TWW ‘litany’ has been replaced by ‘liturgy’. [in “Water”] I rather wish I hadn’t listened to you on this: it seems to wreck the whole verse, it’s so heavy, as opposed to the dancingness of litany — liturgy anticipates images in the next line, too, the g sound. I don’t think the meaning is sufficient gain, as no one knows what either word means anyway. [...] (see also in Monica's letter)

15 May 1971
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[…] This afternoon I finally went to see the Elwells [Fred Elwell, RA (1870-1958), Beverley painter.] in Beverley Art Gallery, & very nice they are too. There are one or two of the old Beverley Arms kitchen (you remember the one that used to hang there). Also on show was an exhibition by ‘Friends of the Minster’, which I looked round at a brisk trot — the oils were foul (why can’t amateurs have a sense of harmony?), the w/colours better. Just as I was bounding out I saw a drab little picture high up — oils — it didn’t look bad. A label on the back said ‘Jenny’s Shop 1950’, ‘Lilian Walton, £2’ in a clear old fashioned hand. I went down to the Libary — hesitated — shied — cleared out — then in porch saw that this was the last day — so went back & bought it. Cluttering myself up with junk. But it seemed so humble & modest — and so much better than the others, wch were much more expensive, that I fell. A very drab, Hully picture. [...]

3 June 1971
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] It’s bloody cold here — fine, but cold. Am trying to write an ethereal little song, [‘Cut Grass’] nothing like “This be the verse” or “Vers de sc.”, about the time of year. [...]

13 June 1971
32 Pearson Park, Hull

Dearest bun,
[…] The day was all right, in the context of being a nuisance: handed out bags of money to incompetent tarts and turds*. [...]

[*The Gregory Awards, for which L. was a judge. They are given to poets under the age of thirty. The 1971 award-winners were Martin Booth, Florence Bull, John Pook, D. M. Warman and John Welch.]

15 July 1971
Puke’s Head Hotel, King’s Lynn, Norfolk

Dearest bun,
God — why do I always get this stupendous heat when Mother & I go away? It’s murder. We set off about 11.30, & had lunch at Stamford; rested, then carried on through Thornley & Wisbech, arriving about 4.30. First impressions, as usual, were rather depressing, but I feel more restored now. Bad things: fearful heat (some of the hotel heating actually seems to be on); dull shoddy town, makes Loughborough seem like Washington DC; nowhere to sit in boiling hotel except the compulsory morons’ twilight of the TV lounge, the heated nightmare of the public drinking lounge, or your own room; bedrooms overlook the ballroom, Christ (hope they don’t have many balls); no morning tea (do it yourself), no shoe cleaning (ditto); both bars still shut at 6.15 — Christ!! […] Still, apart from a new inhumanity (our passage is like part of a model prison), it doesn’t seem too noisy (sharp noises-off instantly commence): dinner wasn’t too bad (melon, cold salmon, lemon water ice); the town is very quaint in parts (fine sunset up the Ouse, very wide sky — sun appears to set in the north-east, very odd) — can’t think of anything else at present. [...]

The three Norfolk towns I’ve seen so far — K’s L, Thetford & Ely — have been exactly alike, nice stone towns ruined by main street developments. Really awful, like a Betj. poem. […]

I feel depressed anyway — the prospect of life, or what’s left of it, stretches before me (to use my favourite quotation) like an infinitely tiring staircase. One learns nothing and forgets nothing, like the Bourbons. It’s ghastly. I wish I could forget things. Or, if I’ve got to remember them, I wish I could remember pleasant things as well as unpleasant things. I suppose pleasant things make no impression. [...]

20 July 1971
The Duke’s Head, King’s Lynn, N’fk

[...] I sent “Cut grass” to “The Listener”: they seem to like it. I wish someone good would set it to music - that shows it’s no good, of course.*

*I sing it to a sort of whine made up by myself, minor changing to major at ‘Of young-leafed June’, v. voluptuous. [...]

1 August 1971
32 Pearson Park, Hull HU 5 2TD

Dearest bun,
I had a go at my neck last night, trying to roll it between my palms like a cigar, & it seems to have done it good. The action was prompted more by exasperation than therapeutic knowhow, but the pain has subsided. The clicks are still there.
Weight is nearer 15 st [95 kg] this morning — bad, bad! Yesterday I was, honestly, nearer 14 1/2st [92 kg] than 15 st, a most marvellous thing. But now all is faded. I dreamed of food last night, a rare thing for me — dreamed I was at a special lunch at All Souls, where the food was much better than it ever is in reality. [...]

Enclosed is “Cut Grass” — I expect it still ‘lacks impact’. Its trouble is that it’s ‘music’, i.e. pointless crap. About line 6 I hear a kind of wonderful Elgar river-music take over, for wch the words are just an excuse. Dr Pussy could set it, but I daren’t ask him. Do you see what I mean? There’s a point at wch the logical sense of the poem ceases to be added to, and it continues only as a succession of images. I like it all right, but for once I’m not a good judge. [...]

26 September 1971
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] Perhaps one source of malaise is my non-writing: I feel very much that my twenty or so poems aren’t very good, & need good ones, all of T.W.W. standing, to buck them up, only I can’t get around to writing them somehow. I don’t really want to write about myself, and everything else seems hardly worth bothering about. I mean I can’t write poems about Brenda, or Newlove’s food. As you know, every writer has a book he wants to rewrite (Dylan Thomas said his was Pilgrim's Progress): mine is The Seasons*. Can’t do it, though. Moan, moan, moan. Still, there’s always drink. Perhaps I ought to have some, till I’ve drunk myself ‘cheerful and loving-like’ [From Shaw’s Pygmalion.].

[*James Thomson’s long topographical poem (1730) was not itself a source of L.’s envy; but several times he asserted that he would like to write a long poem on the seasons. There are some drafts in his poetry notebooks, and one might note such pieces (not published until the 1988 ‘Collected Poems’) as ‘Autumn’, ‘And now the leaves suddenly lose strength’ and ‘A slight relax of air where cold was’].

21 November 1971
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] Did I tell you about my discovery in Larkin studies? I was rereading ‘The Wind in the Willows’, & found within a few pages of each other ‘long coats’ and ‘running’ and ‘over the fields’.* Isn’t that odd? It’s where Toad crashes the car & is chased. I’m sure I got the words from there — hiding places thirty years deep, at least. But perhaps I’ve told you before — perhaps I’ve realised it before. Brain going. Pox got. [...]

*See ‘Days’, last four lines. In ‘The Wind in the Willows’, ‘long coats’, ‘running’, ‘pounding across fields’ all appear in Chapter X, ‘The Further Adventures of Toad’.

5 December 1971
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[…] The war films tended to leave me feeling as isolated as the war itself did — d’you think people really felt as they were supposed to? all these parades of landgirls & factory workers (cf the Coventry tool shop agreement — how my father would have hooted): I don’t know. They hardly seemed to have the unforced touch of Kitchener’s army. It seemed a civil service war, a trade union war. I don’t know.

20 December 1971
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] I suppose I shall take “Dombey & Son” home to read — might even finish it there, I suppose. What a dreary-sad book it is, as if he was deeply depressed by things. I can’t say I'm grasping it — Punch and the Patriarch and William and Frederick waltz round in my fuddled brain. What’s he on about? What’s he on about? So far it’s readable. I had thought of taking home Browning — the thought of him appeals to me at present — but it’s a bloody great fat book, and poetry... (Don’t forget me on Christmas Eve, reading that snatch of depressed verse.*) I don’t like reading poetry as such. Another Gavin Ewart turned up today: one poem, “The Select Party”, starts ‘Hands that wiped arses Are holding glasses’. He’s a mad sod & no error. Still, I feel I might like some Browning just now — he might fit the mood of my more recent verses. [...]
*‘Home Is So Sad’, broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 24 December 1971.
[13 December 1958. From The Whitsun Weddings]

20 January 1972
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] It’s been rather a strenuous day with a visit from four Reading people, VC & 3 others, and having to show them round. Although it all went quite well it is a strain, talking all the time, and trying to hear what they say. One of them told me that the tomb in Chichester Cathedral now has a brass plate on it saying I wrote a poem about it! Think of our going there, & now a brass plate. I can’t really think why we went. Winchester I remember, but Chichester has rather vanished — I suppose I thought it wd be a pretty town. We went to a yachting place, didn’t we — Bosham, the map tells me.
[...] The Starvation Stakes proceed, but I’m not gaining any ground. I suppose I’m really a stone lighter than when I left Oxford — I didn’t make a note then, but I do find an entry celebrating the return to 15st. so I must have been more than that. [...]

23 January 1972
21 York Road, Loughborough

Dearest bun,
I don’t like your not having a letter on Monday just because I’ve seen you so briefly! Though what there is to say in such circumstances I don’t know. I’ve bought papers and looked at most of them without finding anything of interest: what a waste of money they are.
I’ve been wondering what on earth there is to say about my poems — only to help you, of course, not from self regard. [Monica had been invited to run a course on L.’s poems.] Some people say a favourite theme is the contrast between the ideal & the real, wch I expect is true enough. But there are other subjects. I don’t think I have the humanity of either Hardy or Betjeman, but I have the usual poetic appreciation of pretty things or striking situations. I am always trying to ‘preserve’ things by getting other people to read what I have written, and feel what I felt.

Still, balls to that. I was amused by The Thoughts of Chairman Bun. Some were quite poetic. Darling, I wish I were some use to you. The daffodils have opened wide now. What a nice day it looks! The lamb is cooking away busily. If I had a pair of hex-ray eyes I’d know if it was done!
Love, my dear

30 July 1972
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] Things aren’t very cheering. I think continually of age & death, and how we must help each other, but I do nothing for you. [...]

9 August 1972 [L.’s 50th BD]
32 Pearson Park, Hull

I am just playing the medieval record, wch I have saved till last. So far it’s not like the Christmas one, & not as good, but quite nice [...]
Well, I have had some good cards - heard from the choir kittens & the warrens (their number seems to be growing - there is talk of parsnip. _ wine now), and of course Dr. P. No club. I had a card from a complete stranger enclosing a limerick:

There was a young [thanks] fellow of Hull
Who found life distressingly dull
He sat on the quay
And stared out to sea
Crying ‘O for the wings of a gull!’

Not bad. Letters — or notes — from BJ, Brett (‘welcome to the over-50s club’), Mother, the aunt, greetings telegrams from Charles [L.'s editor at Faber ] & a local mad bint, cards from the usual.
I had a curious evening last night, writing to my solicitor to try to get my will moving, and listening to your records & reading the holiday diaries. It’ll be funny to be at Torridon ‘married’ & with a big car — shall we get put by the window, as we didn’t last time? The packed lunches were vile, I hope you remember. Worse than Altnach. Lots of midges too. But there was the black rabbit.

The music is cheering up.[...]

13 August 1972
32 Pearson Park, Hull

Dearest bun,
Sunday moaning ... no, not really. Up fairly early, & brekkered & dressed & bed made by 9.50 a.m. I find I can’t stay in bed to any advantage after about 7.30 — seems too hot. There are plenty of things to do, anyway - hairbrushes to wash, and night-scented socks.

I feel almost bound to drink gin as I have got 2 lemons — all the little shops took a delight in telling me they hadn’t got any, but the shop at the end of Princes Avenue had a whole basketful. God knows what they charged for them — didn’t listen. Ought to give up drink though. It just wrecks my evenings. Wake up with the record player revolving in placid silence.

I had a drive round yesterday, Pevsner in hand, Test on car radio, lovely weather. Didn’t go anywhere special — Bielby, Pocklington, Huggate, and so on. At least half the churches were locked. Pevsner says the best house in Pocklington is the Ritz Cinema — and when you look at it, it is! The ugliness is astounding. Wally’s Fish Fry jammed into 200 yr old cottage fronts. Then I looked at rather a pretty Victorian cemetery in Beverley. Quite a Larkin afternoon, in fact. The Test wasn’t very cheering, but I reckon England had it coming to them for that Leeds pitch. In the evening I had chops & peach, & took down bedroom curtains, & fell into drunken stupor. [...]

26 October 1972
32 Pearson Park, Hull

О what a week — not for nastiness, that is a low’ring buggerlie great cloud in the distance, but sheer work, going back every night to wrestle with this literature course. And on returning at 10 or 10.15 to have to do this Hardy anthology, or write urgent letters, or read piss for the Poetry Book Society. Just occasionally I fall insensible from drink. [...]

This letter is really weak with fatigue. I would have telephoned, but a letter is more lasting, & I hope to have one from you. You are a brilliant letter writer. [...]
I’ve had my Red Hand tie cleaned: it looks fine.
О bun! Bun of property! [Monica had moved into a new flat in Knighton Park Road] I think of you, so warm & safe & luxurious, & am greatly sad & glad & envious. [...]

12 October 1982
105 Newland Park, Hull

Dearest bun,
I have been keeping this for you, perhaps for Christmas, but here it is now. [The postcard sent by L. showed a reproduction of The Kitchen at Christ Church by Ackerman (1813)] It looks all right for roast meat & so on, but how about vegetables, and souffles (is that how you spell it?)? Anyway the sheer heat wd drive you back. Think of making toast.
Am naturally very worried about your face & wound. [Monica had fallen downstairs at the Haydon Bridge cottage] Do get doctor: think of all you’ve paid in tax for him. This is the sort of thing he can treat. Think of boxers — they are v. worried abt eyebrows.
Dreary day in London & back. Stupid meeting at wch I spoke once — what a waste of time & money. [...]
Foggy journey down — late of course. Couldn’t do ‘Times’ crossword. Slept a bit.
Darling, I am so worried about you. Why not ask Mrs Willis to help? You could ring her, & leave door open. We shall talk before you get this. Rest, but eat, and tell doctor. All love

13 October 1982
105 Newland Park, Hull
Dearest bun,
The hospital rang up at nearly six today, so I knew you were safe, but oh dear, how nastily you must have been hurt, and what pain and distress it must have caused. Poor bun! And what a shock to be swept out of daily life into Hexham General. I rang them tonight about 8. The line, Geordie accent & my deafness made it difficult, but I gathered I might have spoken to you if something or other. As it was, I sent love. I will come & see you on Sunday (2-4). [...] The nurse said they expected you would be in ‘over the weekend’, but no doubt stitches take some time to heal. And you will be looked after, wch will save trouble. But I am awfully sorry that such trouble should befall you.

Those stairs are a menace. I have to come down them like a pregnant giraffe.
I remember Hexham General is good for something, so hope it is good for everything. What is the food like? Are you ‘allowed up’? Can you hear the Archers? Or is it all telly? I do hope you can rest, and get a night’s sleep.
I sent you a card-in-envelope to HB, but it will be waiting there. I had a stupid day on Tuesday — meeting over by two — no need to hold it in morning — I spoke once — good lunch though — steak onion & mushroom stew (pie filling?), baked potato & cabbage. Cheese, fruit. And ten botts. of wine between twelve.

[...] Dear bun, I know how utterly alien hospitals are, but I hope this one is kind and friendly, and that you don’t feel too shaken. Can you get a paper? And a pencil for the crossword? [drawing] Think if you would like to come here to convalesce when you ‘come out’. I could fetch you away. [...]
My dear, I think of you all the time, but will see you on Sunday. Much, much love. Philip

Philip Larkin - Letters to Monica

Philip Larkin and Monica Jones at the memorial service for John Betjeman at Westminster Abbey, June 1984.
They eventually moved in together in 1980s when Monica's health deteriorated

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

It was a day among days.../ Larkin - letters to Monica (1969-1970)

19 February 1969
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[…] Bluebell, the bassett (?) hound, is more of an obsession also than ever – really quite absurd. I don’t like dogs.

8 June 1969
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] I did wish you were here yesterday. After dreary & not very successful shopping, I went to Hessle but found no ponce, so got real cheese at Field’s, and motored aimlessly on till I remembered my 14 yr old desire to go to Yokefleet. It was a brilliant day, so I looked at the map & made for the territory in question. Broadly speaking it’s the land lying between the main road Hull-Goole and the river an absolute dead end. Well, I turned down rather late, at Balkholme; went through Kiplin & then down to Saltmarshe; then back & along to Laxton, Yokefleet, Blacktoft and Faxfleet, & then up to the main road again, and wonderful it was. Very quiet: lanes all lined shoulder high with cowparsley; huge trees in their first full freshness; & the villages - hardly more than collections of houses - made Clunbury & Clun seem like Manhattan. No inns - or hardly any - a church or two: I went into Blacktoft, but it was nicer outside than in. It had a queer deserted church hall (?) by its gate (Erected 1851, Extended 1873) wch looked completely overgrown and neglected, but inside I could see trestle tables laid for tea, as if for some outing that never came. Some nice houses, some nasty ones: plenty of farms, & yard dogs who would have liked to get at me. The river mostly invisible, behind high banks, but sometimes a gliding ship appeared (the cottage walls all have flood-marks): Blacktoft is where Ouse & Trent join to form the Humber. O, it was beautiful! And always the rare white of early summer: may, hawthorn, chestnut candles, cowparsley, nettle-flowers, so soon lost (I expect they go on till autumn really), so exciting, so sunny marvellous. I drove slowly home, arriving about six. If only I’d had ... my camera! It was a day among days: I’m sure it’ll never be so fine again.

13 July I969
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] I’m glad you liked Belfast. I felt overwhelmingly at Easter that, although nowhere is really ‘home’ to me, Belfast probably means more to me, packs a stronger emotional punch, than anywhere else, even Oxford. That was why I planned a longer stay. I didn’t feel it quite as strongly as at Easter, but I did feel it. [...]

11 October 1969
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[…] I wrote to ‘my MP’ last week calling on him to speak and vote against the Ministry of Ag’s proposed Codes of Practice for the keeping of food animals: fat lot of good it’ll do, but still. Why don’t you write to yours? It’s to be debated on Wednesday.

3 December 1969
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[...] ‘Looking for something else’, which is the only way I find anything, I found the poem about our Alnmouth holiday,* & enclose a copy — it isn’t a good poem, far from it, hence it’s never been published. I expect you remember where it all was — different places, of course. [...]
*L.’s typescript of ‘Holiday’ attached.

22 March 1970
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[…] Coming out, I found a marvellous farmyard scene — dutch barn, haystack made up of rectangular blocks now reduced to an end only -on the blocks sitting seven cats — five black — green eyes — yellow straw — all staring at me — all at different levels — pure Eden Box — the most natural picture I’ve ever seen —
Much love

7 June 1970
32 Pearson Park, Hull

On Thursday I tackled Wood & told him I was going to propose Brenda for Acting Librarian. [...] Power slips from Larkin’s hands. I’ve seen it happen before. Once you start not understanding things ... I don’t understand the new ordering system. I don’t understand the tape typewriters. It will grow...

Philip Larkin - Letters to Monica

Friday, October 05, 2018

it’s absurd to complain about what one has chosen to do or be/ Larkin - letters to Monica (1967-68)

29 March 1967
Dublin [L. was at a librarians’ conference in Dublin.]

Dublin is fascinating in its horribleness — I can look at it for hours: sat looking out of the window of some law library watching the nuns & begging children & broken fanlights. Meantime K. Humphreys found a backless 1st ed of “Endymion” on the open shelves. Dublin!

23 April 1967
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] I seem to have spent a rather fruitless week, spending the evenings sleeping or staring at an incomplete & v. modest poem. ['The Trees'] On Friday I ‘got drunk’ — this is perhaps a theatrical way of saying I had two gins before supper instead of one - still, you know my gins! Now is the woodcock near the gin: they often quote that at the club, much to the annoyance of Sir Jeremy (Jemmy) Woodcock. I think it is funny the way my idea of happiness is to be listening, part-drunk, to jazz ... I mean, compared with other people’s ideas: am I just an old dérèglement — boy after all, a Hart Crane?
The poem is four lines wch I thought all right, then four more lines wch are less good; now I really want four more about as good as the combined best of Wordsworth & Omar Khayyam to sort of lift the thing up to a finish.

3 June 1967
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] I celebrated TH’s [Hardy] birthday by finishing my sixteen year old’s poem about spring etc. Well, completing a draft*. It runs:

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said,
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

The faint reclothing of midair
That thickens into restless towers
Creates a different world from ours
Up to the edge of winter. There

A summer is a separate thing
That makes no reference to the past,
And may not even be the last,
And mocks our lack of blossoming.

PAL (VI mod), eh? First verse all right, the rest crap, especially the last line. What do you think of it?

[*Stanzas 2 and 3 are quite different from what appears to be the final version of ‘The Trees’, dated 2 June 1967 in Notebook 7]

27 August 1967
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] Evening I feel rather upset tonight, after ringing you up & finding you so down. You sound so drunk on the telephone, it makes me wonder how much you’ve been drinking, knowing how you can outdrink me — not that I am grumbling about this, of course, only if it’s in sadness, & if the sadness is my fault, of course I am upset. Perhaps I seem to shrink back a little — not through unfriendliness, of course, through embarrassment. I feel: ‘He drove her to drink.’ I don’t know what to say.

Later — Just as I wrote that you rang. Now I have been drinking, and feel happier, because you called & because of the gin I suppose. Thank you for calling.

Monday Another dull morning, & the sensation of being on my own is most unfamiliar. It makes me wonder how I should get on if I had enough money not to work. I suppose one would have to make up a timetable & obey it, or else one would ‘go to seed'. I have felt rather seedy this morning […]

7 September 1967
21 York Road, Loughborough, Leics.

Dearest bun,
God, this is being a week. National Rage, Irritation, Boredom & Depression Week. Give generously. I’m all these things. Home, home, hideous home. Well, you know all these things. No point in going on about it. [...]
Pause while I pour out a second Guinness. Aawwgh ... [...]

Had a form from ‘Who’s Who in America’ yesterday — big deal. Expect everyone else has been in for years. Have filled up the form, describing myself as University Librarian’ — as long as I get four times as much money for this role as for ‘author’, ‘writer’, ‘poet’ I shall go on doing so.

22 October 1967
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] I look at the world rather bleakly today — this trip to Edinburgh means I must clear things up, wch I must do anyway, so I was in the Library last night and shall be again tonight. And there are the usual household things to do. The day didn’t get off to a very good start by my reading some stories by ‘Flannery O’Connor’ in the bath — horribly depressing American South things. I felt pretty depressed anyway, age, death, ingratitude, failure, all the usual things. Sometimes I think ‘I wish I could tell Monica all this’, but what’s the use. You can look out of your life like a train & see what you’re heading for, but you can’t stop the train. [...]

28 October 1967
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] Digging out my 1953 audiogram led me to reread my diaries from then to ‘the crack up’ in 1961, a curious experience: they’re very much what GSF [George Fraser] wd call a ‘persona’ and an unpleasant one at that, but there does seem a noticeable sense of strain. I really ought to burn them: there’s very little good in them […]

31 October 1967
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[…] You know Mrs Cornford’s poem for All Souls Eve?*

I dreamed my love came back to me
Under the November tree
Shadowless and dim
He put his hand upon my shoulder,
He did not think me strange, or older,
Nor I him.

I hope you like it — I do, & always think of you when I think it to myself, which is often.
[*Frances Comford, ‘All Souls Night’, included by L. in OBTCEV.]

12 November 1967
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] I enclose 3 more Bellingham pictures*. I love the one of the wrestlers — it absolutely has the scene as it was, the odd ritualistic stance & garb of the wrestlers, & the rural crowd in a circle. What a lovely day it was! It will stay in my mind for ever, it was lovely.

[*L. and Monica had been to the Bellingham Show in Northumberland, which they often visited when staying at Monica’s cottage in Haydon Bridge. This is the scene evoked in ‘Show Saturday’ (completed 3 December 1973).]

23 November 1967
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[…] I gave my record recital at the Anglican Chaplaincy last night. […] I feel I should do more for them, but when I talk to students I feel entirely devoid of desire to educate or make contact. I quite like listening to them, & looking at their legs in the case of the girls, but can’t always hear what they say, & certainly don’t as a rule know enough to reply.
Friday. Oh dear. I don’t seem to be able to write you the interesting sort of letter I should like to — if I lived in the golden age of English letter writing, and had nothing to do but snuff the candles, draw the curtains, and lodge the kettle on the fire, I’m sure I could do much better. ‘Past Turvey’s Mill on my walk, dyd see a Hare,’ etc. A pity we can’t live in our imaginations! My kitchen wireless has gone wrong, so I eat my meals in silence — having heard the Archers in the sitting room. All being well, I shall see you next weekend.

10 January 1968
32 Pearson Park, Hull

God! I ring up my mother on her 82nd birthday, & in 10 mins am cursing and screaming at her. In retrospect it seems incredible. In fact it is my constant & immediate reaction to her in any circumstances. The call goes on for 55 mins at a cost of £2.5.10d. Long telephone calls are always unhappy.
The particular point at issue was that I thought she was suggesting that in the event of A. Nellie’s death I should immediately drop everything at Hull (familiar pattern), drive to Loughborough, take her to the funeral, take her back to Loughborough, & return to Hull, all because she ‘wouldn’t dream of asking’ Kitty to take her. In fact she says she wasn’t saying this, but I don’t know. I know my bloody family. However, it was an extremely unhappy call, & I feel fed up. Visions of years in America, jobs in Australia, swim before my eyes. Isn’t it all hell? Everyone should be forcibly transplanted to another continent from their family at the age of three. [...]

14 January 1968
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] I don’t feel too cheerful still: I didn’t hear from you yesterday, wch always depresses me, & I haven’t got over my extraordinary behaviour on Wednesday. (Of course I’m not grumbling about not hearing, but it always affects the weekend general colour.) It seems incredible that I can’t exercise patience with my mother, but in talking to her I almost immediately start to feel irritated & angry, wanting to attack her. I never feel this with anybody else, really. I suppose it’s a textbook case of something or other, but it isn’t going to help in the years to come. Perhaps it isn’t a textbook case, just the natural reaction of a supremely selfish person threatened with having to do something for somebody. It’s all very depressing:
I could pretend it was worth while being the kind of person I am if only I justified it in some way. God. Life doesn’t bear thinking about. I met Thompson when his things were moving in, & said my usual piece ending ‘I’ve been here since 1956’. I can already catch the note of pride in my voice common to silly old sods who’re proud of having done or been one thing for ages — you find it in the D. Telegraph correspondence columns sometimes. Shall I end up like Despard-Smith in The Masters, [С. P. Snow, The Masters (I951)] boozing alone & saying ‘I’ve had a disappointing life’? Hell. Of course it’s absurd to complain about what one has chosen to do or be, but all the same it seems increasingly frightening. Yes, frightening. That’s the word. [...]

21 January 1968
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] Oh, darling, I wish you were here & we could gossip & booze & back bite, & be cheerful: and talk about great writers such as me and B. Potter & Shakespeare. I’m reading "Corridors of Power" [С. P. Snow, Corridors of Power (1963)]. I never get any new books, & haven’t the brain power to read Thickens & Dollope & Trackeray & Iris M., so I have to reread my old Penguins. It’s terribly dull, & yet readable, whereas Dickens is fascinating, & yet unreadable. It’s just a question of the number of words on a page, or something. I wonder if old CPS thought he was writing the great political novel. All he does is tell you what ninth-rate faceless craps run the country — at least, if they are anything like he says. [...]

7 February 1968
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[…] Dearest bun, I’m sorry I haven’t time to write longer & more considered letters these days, but you are always in my mind. I was amused to see the two pigeons that live on the roof opposite my bathroom sitting together, very cosily, the one nibbling at the other in an affectionate way; and thought of my poem on pigeons, and how you told me about birds choosing their mates on 14 Feby, and all sorts of things — the Ver poem again, for instance. [...]

3 March 1968
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[…] But isn’t it an angry time — how easily one gets cross, how when left to oneself irritation begins to ferment like some neglected juice! I can feel my mind digging up years-old slights and getting furious over them. Only drink releases me from this bondage. I’m not the sort that gets angry when drunk. [...]

30 June 1968
32 Pearson Park, Hull

This is a funny Sunday — lovely day — so that I went out into the country to write my letters, but was attacked by hay fever & had to give up & return to the flat & take stuff & Antistin & gin & rest in a cool dark room ... then have lunch. God, it’s hell - you know happiness for me is a cloudless summer day
[…] God. Hay fever & drink. Still can’t quite taste gin, but am certainly feeling drunk. How did you think the poems looked? [‘Posterity’ and ‘Sad Steps’ in the New Statesman, 28 June 1968.] I like them drunk, prefer “Posterity” sober. It must be the title. It gets in Yanks, Yids, wives, kids, Coca Cola, Protest, & the Theatre — pretty good list of hates, eh?

I long to write a political poem — the withdrawal of troops east of Suez started me, now I see someone boasting that in a few years’ time we shall be spending ‘more on Education than “Defence”’ — this shocks me to the core, [See L.’s poem ‘Homage to a Government’, completed 10 January 1969 which concentrates these sentiments.] & I seriously feel that within our lifetime we shall see England under the heel of the conqueror — or what used to be England, but is now a bunch of bearded layabout traitors & National Assistant ‘Black Englishmen’ — if I had the courage I wd emigrate — terrible — […]

4 August 1968
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[…] I’m not so confident about telling the truth as you: not so sure I can, not so sure I want to. I cling to pretence like the bathing steps at the deep end. Most of the time I don’t want to be bothered, like knowing the medical statistics about lung cancer for my age group. You see this all right, but, I think, interpret it as deliberate and hostile deceit. It doesn’t seem like that to me, more like making life livable. Of course I don’t defend this for a minute, or expect you to give more than a snort, but at least I claim credit for trying to be nice. There’s nothing more excoriating than the reverse, as I’ve learnt.
Anyway, I’m awfully sorry that I’ve caused you unhappiness, however unintentionally; I can imagine how easy it is to become dominated by painful thoughts, but, you know, most of them are imaginary, and not worth bothering about.

14 August 1968
32 Pearson Park, Hull

My dear rabbit,
A dark chilly evening after a sunless wet day. I have the fire on, wch makes it seem like autumn, and have had a spaghetti supper. It’s been a pleasant enough day, mostly work: Betty left at midday, leaving me ex BBC false-eyelashed blonde Judith, her stand-in to whom she seems to have taken a fancy. Alan Park [one of the architects to the Library] called me out for a hideous pub lunch — well, it wasn’t hideous, but the sandwiches were damp wool bread. I drank 1/2 pint. Afternoon spent with ma little concrete dove, [Brenda Moon, L.'s about-to-be deputy] ma steel snowdrop, planning the Library for the next ten years.

I’m sorry I sent you such a (your telephone call) irritable letter from home, hardly worth reading. I wish I could avoid being so cross and irritable at home. I wish I knew what caused it. It’s probably a stock psychological trait. Sometimes I wonder if I’m fond of my mother at all. Away from her I know that she’s old, and hates living alone, and keeps on with it largely for my benefit; that she’s extremely kind and considerate and conscientious; that she never thinks badly of anyone or says anything malicious about them; that she is my mother, after all, & it’s my duty, yes, mah dooty, to look after her if she can’t look after herself. But once let me get home and I become snappy, ungrateful, ungracious, wounding, inconsiderate & even abusive, longing only to get away, muttering obscenities because I know she can’t hear them, refusing to speak clearly so that she can hear, refusing to make conversation or evince any interest in her ‘news’ or the things she says. All these traits are manifestations of a physical discomfort associated with intense irritation, and one caused by her: if I go upstairs to shave or do something in my room, I find in 5 minutes I am humming cheerfully and full of creative thoughts. How does one explain it? I suppose she arouses in me strong alarm & hostility because she makes me feel guilty for not looking after her. Sometimes I think she, and my being at home, represent to me my own failure as a human bean, to ‘assume adult responsibilities’ and all that, wch makes me guilty — and angry — in a different way. Or is it just that I resent the slightest demand on my unselfishness? There must be something in it to explain the violence of my feelings: it’s not just being irritated with an old person, though of course she is irritating and boring, though not, probably, as much as countless other parents. And anyway, hasn’t one a right to be boring at 80? And if I’m so clever & superior & a jewel in the crown of my age, can’t I put up with it?
I don’t suppose you know the answer to all this any more than I do: perhaps there are more pathological explanations that I haven t mentioned, that really my anger is a fight for emotional freedom against its enemy — you know all that. […]

27 November 1968
32 Pearson Park, Hull

Dearest bun,
Morning, noon & bloody night,
Seven sodding days a week,
I slave at filthy work, that might
Be done by any book-drunk freak.
This goes on till I kick the bucket:
Nice to be a pawet, уa knaw, an express ya feelins. Eh? The last line should be screamed in a paroxysm of rage.

Philip Larkin - Letters to Monica

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

маленький сад, огород да шесть покалеченных тварей/ Yuriy Nagibin - Berendeev Forest, quotes

Павел Алексеевич был офортистом и участвовал в выставках маленькими пейзажными работами. Чаще всего то были сельские пейзажи, изредка городские; особенно удавались ему ленинградские виды: лев на набережной, старинный фонарь под аркой, заснеженная ветвь, перекинувшаяся через узорчатую решетку. Этими работами он был обязан своей цепкой, сильной памяти, поскольку в Ленинграде бывал лишь в юности, до войны.
С годами, накапливая мастерство, обретая маститость в малоприметном и безвыгодном деле, Павел Алексеевич не ширил, а все сужал свои возможности. Если раньше его хватало на цветущий яблоневый сад, или березовую рощу, или косогор под небом в перистых облаках, то сейчас он с великим тщанием, близким муке, выжимал из себя снегиря на ветке, зайца, притаившегося под кустом, пьющую из лужи трясогузку.
Все это было прелестно и, наверное, требовало большого мастерства, но Нину угнетало изощряющееся в мелочах и самоизмельчившееся искусство мужа. «Надо же — снегирь! — нарочито поражалась она. — С чего ты так расщедрился, Павел? Неужели недостаточно хвостика или просто перышка?» — «А что ты думаешь? — Конечно, он притворялся, будто не замечает иронии. — Ничего больше и не нужно. Но перышко, просто перышко — это так трудно! Мне не потянуть». — «Мужайся, — холодно советовала она, — время еще есть». Он безнадежно махал рукой: «Да тут целой жизни не хватит». Нину больше устраивали смешные книжки про зверей, которые он делал для детских издательств.

У вдовы артиллерийского генерала был приобретен участок, гараж с двухкомнатной пристройкой, дощатый домик уборной и фундамент так и не построенного дома. На этом фундаменте Павел Алексеевич собственными руками поставил щитовое здание-мастерскую с широченными окнами и камином — березовые поленья едва не уносились в дымоход от мощной тяги, — тепло держалось даже в крещенские морозы, несмотря на обилие стекла.

Казалось, вся основательная личность Павла Алексеевича, спокойного, неторопливого крепыша с ровным, самоуглубленным характером, воспитанного в духе строгой дисциплины, отвергает не только причуды, но и всякое уклонение от нормы, на самом же деле он был набит чудачествами. Он ненавидел толпу, в том числе безопасно гомозящуюся у театрального подъезда, не терпел задернутых штор, излишней укромности, не мог высидеть даже короткого собрания, чем очень вредил себе, и никогда не ездил в поезде. С годами эти странности обрели неумолимую силу маний, одновременно и нем нарастало отвращение к перемене мест, усиливалась тяга к уединению, к свободе от всяких внешних обязательств.

Конечно, были окрестности с лесом, речкой, лугами. Но лес так загаживали приезжающие из Москвы любители природы, что хотелось плакать от горя и бессилия. Не лень людям тащиться автобусом за сорок пять километров и еще три в сторону пешком топать, чтобы развести неопрятный костер, налить рожи водкой, обломать деревья и нашвырять вокруг черного кострища консервных банок, яичной скорлупы, пустых бутылок, окурков, полиэтиленовых мешков и грязных газет. А речку который год терзала дночерпалка, углубляющая илистое дно. Луга же забрали проволокой, и там паслись коровы с недавно созданной молочной фермы.
Он так изощрился и утончился в своем ремесле, что ему не нужны стали новые пейзажи, — веточка, а в ней синица, фанерка с кормом в развилке жимолости и пара снегирей, он с красной грудкой, она с опаловой, — и ему хватало работы чуть не на целый месяц: превращать в крошечные офорты жадные карандашные наброски.
Кроме того, дачный мирок требовал постоянной и неустанной заботы. Павел Алексеевич все время что-то мастерил, строгал, пилил, приколачивал. Он пристроил к мастерской террасу, застеклил, отеплил и развел что-то вроде зимнего сада. Поставил и оборудовал финскую баню. Они обзавелись водопроводом и канализацией (тут пригодился опыт Нины — инженера-сантехника), баллонным газом. Скворечники, кормушки для птиц, слетавшихся сюда из лесов с наступлением зимних холодов, тоже требовали труда и времени. И был еще огородишко, и яблони, и кусты смородины, малины и крыжовника, и маленькая теплица, где круглый год рос лук, и самое удивительное, что заботы не уменьшались.

...сейчас все чаще она чувствовала усталость, не прямую усталость от долгой тряски и духоты, а усталость, предваряющую даже малое путешествие. Она становилась тяжела на подъем, что неудивительно на рубеже сорока. Уже ничего не давалось даром, каждый поступок, каждый жест требовал насилия над собой.
Из этого вовсе не следует, что Нина тяготилась загородным жильем. Она полюбила и сад, и огород, и сезонную обязательность древних хлопот: вскапывать, сажать, полоть, окучивать, поливать, собирать, сжигать сладкий осенний мусор; нравилось зависеть от того, что происходит в серьезном, вечном мире природы: от солнца, дождя, снега и ветра.
Много забот доставляли ей животные. Они все были калеками. Нина давно, всегда мечтала о собаке, но достался ей не литой и пружинный королевский эрдель, не сухой красавец доберман, будто вырезанный из черной бумаги неотрывным движением ножниц, не шнуровой золотоглазый пудель, а рыжий дворник с расплющенным задом — щеночком его придавила снегоочистительная машина; он ходил с видимым усилием, по-балетному ставя задние тесно приплюснутые одна к другой лапы, а на бегу, отталкиваясь ими враз, развивал ракетную скорость. А потом рыжик обзавелся тоже хромоногой и тоже рыжей, низкорослой и длинной, похожей на лисицу подругой. Вскоре появился одноглазый кот в изношенной, драной, некогда плотно-пушистой сибирской шубе.
Устройство зверьевого инвалидного дома никогда не входило в намерения Нины, она даже немного брезговала больными и увечными животными, пока не появился первый калечка. Ныне в стаде ходили шесть уродов: четыре пса и две кошки. И уже нельзя было взять здорового зверя, это сразу подчеркнуло бы неполноценность остальных.
Инвалиды жили мирно и даже заботились друг о друге. Если запирали на ночь калитку и кто-то оказывался на улице, остальные подымали громкий крик, требуя впустить шлендру. Однажды зимой на помойке обнаружили ворона с перебитым крылом. Звери не тронули товарища по несчастью, позволили ему кормиться и обогреваться в ящике с теплыми отбросами. Эти больные звери, требовавшие много любви и внимания, еще сильнее привязали Нину к загородной жизни.
И были книги, хорошие книги, и тихие, свободные часы для чтения.

...когда у Павла Алексеевича начался долгий «воробьиный период», — убедившись, что нет в Подмосковье птицы живее, красивей, разнообразнее повадкой, интересней характером, нежели воробей, он целиком переключился на воробьиные портреты, — Нина поймала себя на том, что все время отыскивает взглядом воробьев и, будто райской птичке, радуется крылатому хулигану.

...инерцию возрастной огрузлости, тяготеющей к покою...

...превратили некогда соединившее их сильное чувство в привычку, в ту заботливую снисходительную дружбу-жалость, которой увенчиваются долголетние счастливые браки, ибо несчастливые браки быстро превращаются в тягостную обузу, сплошной обман или заговор против окружающего мира.

...оказывается, счастье — это пожилой, тучный, седой мужчина, рисующий мелкие подробности жизни, пристройка к гаражу, маленький сад, огород да шесть покалеченных тварей.

Человек справедливый и добросовестный, она попыталась понять природу этого странного чувства, нет, «чувство» звучит слишком громко, — некоторого душевного смещения в сторону от обычного курса.

Нина полагала, что от них требуется лишь одно: не дать подохнуть с голоду собакам и кошкам. Зная крестьянскую скупость на кусок домашним животным: кошек вообще не кормят, а собаке кидают кость, только если она сторожевая, Нина на большее не рассчитывала, но разоравшимся, лоснящимся нахлебникам полезно посидеть на диете.

Расставание оказалось мучительным. Бедное стадо пришло в неописуемое отчаяние. Две собаки и кошка заговорили человеческими голосами. «Ай-яй-яй!» — пронзительно причитала кривоглазая полосатая Тигра, «Ох ты, ах ты!» — басовито вторили ей Рыжик и Лисичка. Они набились в гараж, лезли под колеса машины, и ни упрашивания Павла Алексеевича, ни грозный рык Сергунова не могли прогнать их оттуда. Тогда сделали вид, что отъезд отменяется. Звери поверили и наперегонки посыпали из гаража, но, обнаружив обман, разразились такими криками, воплями и стонами, что Нина расплакалась.

Нина утирала слезы и, вызывая в памяти лица покинутых, прощалась с каждым отдельно. Ей хотелось подключить мужа к своему горю, но слова обеззвучивались в оглушительном реве мотора. Тогда она разозлилась: неужели нельзя сменить этот ревущий примус на новую машину — и, укрепив душу злостью, начала успокаиваться.

Тон задавали дочерна загорелые, полуголые, самоуверенные, крикливые люди, еще не растратившие курортный фарс и эдакую победительную развязность. На них с завистью поглядывали тянущие на юг бледнолицые братья. Преобладала молодость, но попадались и бедовые старики в шортах, делавшие вид, что им сам черт не брат, — чем-то жалким веяло от их натужного молодечества.

...все нарастало в душе, освобождающейся по мере отдаления от Москвы от связи с покинутым. Это чувство вобрало в себя все, что насылала дорога: древние юродские названия селений (один Выдропужск чего стоил!), заставлявшие предполагать здесь какую-то гибло-разудалую и скоморошью жизнь, костерки обочь дороги, за кюветом, и расположившихся вокруг людей с дневным отсветом огня на рубашках и лицах, как у суриковских старцев...

Праздник потому и праздник, что приходит и уходит, вспыхивает, разливается огнями и угасает. Иначе он никакой не праздник, а более или менее приятная обыденность. Нескончаемый праздник печален, как на картинках Ватто. Беспечные, обреченные на вечное веселье, вечный карнавал люди погружены в сиренево-золотистую печаль… Покой, доверие, доброта друг к другу, достоинство каждого прожитого часа, не омраченного ни хитростью, ни скрытностью, ни задней мыслью, обладают куда большей ценностью, чем остротца разнообразия, опасных поворотов, тайных замираний.

Не превращай бог весть в кого усталых людей, торопящихся использовать свой отпуск, и других, со скукой возвращающихся в рутину службы, очередей, домашних забот и неурядиц. Не воображай, что кружится, звеня, расписная, вихревая, пряничная карусель и лишь тебе, бедной, недостало деревянной лакированной лошадки. Ты просто с жиру бесишься. Да, да, ты распустилась в тишине и нежности любящего человека и бесишься с жиру. О, какое мерзкое выражение! Его наверняка нет ни в одном другом языке. Оно порождено древним русским рабством.

Казалось, щетки расчистили не только лобовое стекло, но и окружающий мир, — промытая солнечная синь объяла их со всех сторон. Глянцевело шоссе, глянцевели поля, деревья, травы — отсюда пришел крепкий августовский дождик, который она приняла за безнадежную осеннюю течь. Нина опустила стекло, и в машину ворвался напоенный запахами земли воздух. Лето продолжалось, и сейчас, после дождя, оно было особенно зеленым, свежим, сочным.
Как все хорошеет вокруг, каким живым и насыщенным становится немудреный среднерусский пейзаж, когда тарелочная площина сменяется крутогорами, холмами, горушками. Шоссе то забирает ввысь, то падает в глубокий провал. И когда ты на гребне, зеленый ивняк в котловине, поймавший листьями ветер, кажется пенящимся потоком. Вдалеке цепочкой выстроились сосны над зеркальным высверком то ли реки, то ли озера, то ли канала — не решишь на таком расстоянии; водяная гладь отблескивает в тонкое облако испарений, которое перерезало стволы деревьев, предоставив кронам свободно висеть в воздухе.

За высокой обрывистой насыпью густо цвел кипрей, лес был еловый, темный, забитый валежником прямо от опушки, настоящий девственный лес. Такой лес стоит спокон веку и сам себя восстанавливает, выращивая новые деревья взамен умерших, преспокойно обходится без той «умной» опеки человека, из-за которой леса вокруг Москвы уподобились расползшемуся шелку. О эти бедные леса — сквозные, иссеченные широкими, неровными просеками в рваных тракторных следах, с пустырьками вырубок, куда свозят для первичной обработки поваленные ради «санитарных» целей деревья, молчаливые редняки без птиц и зверья, распуганных электропилами, тягачами, грузовиками и кострами лесоповальщиков. И как хорош этот серьезный, угрюмый, нетронутый русский лес!

...просто чувствуя рядом с собой крупную фигуру мужа, занимающегося сбором грибов с обычной для него самоотдачей, она исполнялась к нему доверия, нежности, какой-то щемящей родности. И, пугаясь этой неоправданной взвинченности чувства, естественной лишь перед разлукой, она уверяла себя, что ничего не стоит без Павла Алексеевича; и весь накрут, все сложные психологические игры она может позволить себе только потому, что есть он. И кому она нужна — несамостоятельная, не знавшая ответственности, никчемная стареющая женщина?..

...с бугра, закогченного узловатыми корнями трех сросшихся сосен...

Подбежала беленькая собачонка, розовая кожа просвечивала сквозь редкую шерсть, и стала бить хвостом по стойке крыльца, прося подачку. Эту собаку она видела впервые, к ней прибегали кормиться две другие, похожие на шпицев, с кисточками на ушах и репьевыми колтунами в хвостах. Она протянула руку, чтобы погладить собачонку, и та сразу повалилась кверху голым щенячьим брюшком, по которому сновали черные блохи. Нина кинула ей кусок хлеба, собачонка подхватила его на лету, и вовремя — во весь опор, с огромным лаем поспешали штатные нахлебники. Поджав хвост и кося черным полным глазом, щенок затрусил прочь, но, верно, знал, что его не станут преследовать, и отбежал совсем недалеко. Он не собирался оставлять хлебные места, справедливо полагая, что там, где кормятся двое, хватит и третьему. Маленькое существо уже накопило жизненный опыт.
Павел Алексеевич уже понял, что говорит со своими противниками на разных языках. Оба ученых мужа исповедовали нехитрую и весьма почтенную возрастом веру в разумность, непреложность и ценность всего, что создано безответственным разумом и ловкими руками человека. Не надо думать о существе и цели открытия, надо доводить его до высшей кондиции.
«Зачем же создавать фетиши? — сказал Павел Алексеевич. — Если нет этической основы, грош всему цена».
Ему объяснили, что в век сверхзвуковых и космических скоростей, полетов на Луну и обратно надо уметь мыслить по-современному.
— Старая песня! Когда Льву Толстому надоедали с полетами Уточкина, он говорил: «Лучше хорошо жить на земле, чем плохо летать в небе». Замечательная мысль!
— Ну, знаете! — пренебрежительно усмехнулся Борис Петрович. — Зря вы потревожили старика. Люди-то научились летать, и весьма неплохо.
— Да нет же, плохо, уверяю вас. Самолеты разбиваются, их угоняют. Человеческая трагедия населила воздух. Да и вообще, хваленая техническая наука со всеми ошеломляющими открытиями не дала человеку ни на грош счастья, не утешила в печали, горе и одиночестве, не сделала его добрее и лучше. Но все это делало и продолжает делать заруганное вами искусство.

Хотя хватило бы такта и снисходительности (о понимании говорить не приходится) у самовлюбленного дурака, которого избрала Нинина смута. А то ведь натопчет, нагваздает в чужой незащищенной душе — не отмыть.

Нину удивило, что приключение, такое значительное для них, не произвело на Никиту и Варю никакого впечатления. А ведь Никита, как никто другой, мог бы представить себе, что там происходило. Но Никите, поди, раз и навсегда было велено забыть о некоторых обстоятельствах, связанных с Павлом Алексеевичем, и, человек на редкость исполнительный и преданный, он забыл так крепко, что вроде и сейчас не вспомнил. Люди вообще умеют стойко переносить чужие неприятности, а если неприятность к тому же не состоялась, то смешно требовать от них повышенного внимания.

Юрий Нагибин «Берендеев лес»

Иллюстрации – Станислав Михайлович Никиреев (1932-2007)

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