And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot
fighting in the Captain's tower
while calypso singers laugh at them
and fishermen hold flowers ..
If, within the sound of this page, a reader happens by who never drew upon the thoroughest resources of his erotic disposition in the converse of some amiable occasion, to the tune of a dissonant, faintly dissident lyric, then some lawyer at Milbank, Tweed has not been doing his job for the Estate of Cole Porter. As a lesser-educated man, I'm loathe to be held accountable even for crimson reputations. Two disturb me, considerably, in that way which insinuates itself through the fullest extraction of our language's letters, toward resembling the dearest touch one could ever lay upon the membrane of its resonance. Every season, they come back. Now it is Summer, and one can hear Mr Eliot and Henry James, saying so.
Is this useful, one might ask, as if we were discussing something as marginal as the substance of male circumcision seems to be, until some opinion is read from some bench somewhere tending to threaten the free exercise of religion - as happened only this Summer again, where it only most poignantly can, in Germany - restoring the matter to the acutest assertion of significance.
To hear that debate, one was very much put in mind of whether James or Eliot is useful, for the countless times one noticed the question's turning not so much on what the matter of circumcision means, as on what one wants it to mean, i.e., what one likes and what one believes. How many lines in Eliot are so eloquent, one feels one could not dispose of them except upon pain of true deprivation of perception; how many images in James are so extraordinarily imperishable as he conjures them, that when we go to their sites today, we find their demolition completely incompetent to strip us of what we know is there, because of him.
In the perfect building one is rarely sure that the
impression is simply architectural: it is more or
less pictorial and romantic; it depends partly upon
various accessories and details which, however they
may be wrought into harmony with the architectural
idea, are not part of its essence and spirit. But in
so far as beauty of structure is beauty of line and
curve, balance and harmony of masses and dimensions,
I have seldom relished it as deeply as on the grassy
nave .. before lonely columns and empty windows where
the wild flowers were a cornice and the sailing clouds
a roof. The arts certainly hang together in what they
do for us.
One could rest the soul of perception on this predicate, that the honouring of masterworks is no affectation, that they are a birthright woven literally environmentally, to affirm for the benefit of others to whom an obligation is owed. Do I take a position in the matter of male circumcision? I have a private view, and a private view of the silly arguments I read about it. But ask me if it doesn't matter whether we have Henry James on Wells Cathedral, or Thomas Stearns Eliot on Coventry, and I will ask you not to tamper with my inheritance, and let me know as I might have known.
We are returned, I think, to the great, active question by this consideration of inheritance, just as it is asserted to be an exercise of religion to take a position on a boy's body, much less the position that the boy's body is one's own because he is a boy. May I make Mr Eliot say what I want? May I admire James for what I like, if he did not intend it? The fact is that we do, as certainly we see in our endless season of politics; but within limits rooted in a common faith and defensible construction, then we must, for the substance of what they created to be discovered, much less for it to be sustained. Then, linguistically, the resumption of the text in the new voice is natural, and not necessarily a ruin. We could instantly hear that this is what Bob Dylan had done, in Desolation Row, yet is this any concern of Summer reading?
.. Last season's fruit is eaten
and the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
T. S. Eliot
Photography, Cecilie Harris
July 16, 2012