Showing posts from September, 2010

John Clare

Finally reading Jonathan Bate's monumental biography of John Clare that is beautifully written and sets the 'peasant' poet in a richly detailed environment both natural and social.

One thing to emerge is the difference between merit immediately perceived and merit accumulated. Bate's describes a number of writers who enjoyed the flare of immediate popularity, only to fade, poets that captured the attention of the public whilst Coleridge and Wordsworth languished in the by ways, but of whom only the most specialist of scholars would now have heard (or indeed would pay any attention to: justified or no). It reminds me of Aesop's fable of the hare and the tortoise: acclaim is a fickle god.

Equally, I am struck about how the shaping of genius does not rely on genius, Clare's own reading (and reflection) was anchored in a diversity of texts, most of which have faded of view, and many of which were technical volumes concerning a host of subjects - from mathematics t…

Just Weil

In between humble supplications with my begging bowl in Zurich and Geneva, I read the introduction to the Penguin anthology of Simone Weil and the first essay, 'Human Personality'.

She was a living paradox. A secular Jew who was deeply sceptical of any and all collective identities, especially this one. An atheist until one day she was 'seized' by Christ who longed to join the Catholic Church but refused it because the Church would not recognize the presence of spiritual  truth outside of itself. A gifted teacher whose pupils were permanently indebted to her even as they were likely to fail their official examinations. An intellectual who sought out a range of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs to understand in the flesh the impacts of such  (often piece) work on people: physical, emotional and spiritual. No one can read her letters from the Renault factory without recoiling at the conditions imposed, knowing that such factories remain the norm. She was a person of the t…

Past life

The past life of this blog can be found at:

Making Hay

Back from Hay with my modest purchases:

A copy of David Gascoyne's 'Selected Poems' signed (as a gift) by his wife, Judy. When T.S. Eliot was asked which English language poets he had 'missed' failed to identify as important voices (and, therefore, not published by Faber of which he was the editor). He named David Gascoyne (and Kathleen Raine). Gascoyne left school at sixteen and went to Paris where he befriended the Surrealists and became one. (His 'Short Survey of Surrealism', written when he was only eighteen, remains one of the best, insightful introductions to the movement). His early poems are full of arresting images, piled up but in ways that hinted at future patterns as he journeyed from the 'unconscious' to an explicit, if tentative, Christian existentialism. I remember sitting in the bar of Dartington Hall, talking Buber and Berdaeyev with him: his quiet, probing voice, always questioning, exploring. He was mentally frail, al…