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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.

Letters to the Editor
Dear Editors:

Although Donald Davie has ultimately done Jack Clemo a service by drawing our attention to Mr Clemo's Confessions of a Rebel, one wonders whether Mr Clemo has not been done a disservice in the short run, having been introduced by way of politics rather than by way of poetry (and I do not mean to quibble with PNR's political interests; there is plenty of precedent for politics and literature, going back to perhaps its purest form in Homer). I have no doubt that a number of academics reading Professor Davie's article (PNR 9) will be put off reading Mr Clemo for very 'political' reasons, unfounded as they may be, but nevertheless real and measurable by the fashionably ethical terms of a faculty confabulation.

Mr Clemo is an accomplished poet, and although he claims kinship with Hardy, Browning and Tennyson, there is another side to him, a neoromantic one in the tradition of Frost, Eliot and Roethke, that needs to be discussed. I am thinking of poems like 'Virginia Woolf Remembers St Ives' and 'Unearthed', two recently published poems. But, of course, there are four volumes (The Map of Clay, Cactus on Carmel, The Echoing Tip and Broad Autumn) that deserve attention from any critic worth his words.

Yours, etc.
Perranporth, Cornwall
HARRY WILLIAMS
 
SEFERIS : A BONE TO PICK

Dear Sir:

A bone of sorts to pick with Michael Cayley over his quotations from Seferis (PNR 9). But first let me say how good it was to find somebody paying serious attention, and not mere lip-service, to Seferis as a major European poet of our time. And stressing again that vital 'sense of the past as an inescapable part of the present', which has so alienated some readers and been so admired for the wrong reasons by others.

The bone: Cayley says that except where otherwise stated quotations are from the Keeley and Sherrard Collected Poems 1924-1955. However, he quotes among other things two brief phrases-`trust this emptiness' and 'perhaps to find there what you thought was lost'-without mentioning that they are taken from a translation of Seferis's Three Private Poems published in the Agenda special issue on Greek poetry (Winter 1969) and nowhere else.

This would be a small matter indeed had he not given as the source of these phrases 'Three Secret Poems'. Which raises somewhat less trivial points. The Three Private Poems were Seferis's last collection, published by IKAROS in Athens at the end of 1966. Three English versions exist: one (unauthorized and not a little slapdash) by Paul Merchant, published in Modern Poetry in Translation; one (academic and not a little prosaic) by Professor Walter Kaiser, published by the Harvard University Press; and the one referred to above, by myself (no comment, save that it did receive great encouragement and generous cooperation from the late poet). An attempt at a comparison of the Kaiser and the Thompson translations can be found in the TLS some time during 1969 or 1970, as can a brief correspondence this provoked.

Both Merchant and Kaiser entitled their versions Three Secret Poems. I cannot think why Cayley has appropriated this title and tacked it on to phrases from a different translation. `Secret' of course is not wholly inaccurate. But the Greek title was TRIA KRUPHA POIEMATA. And KRUPHA has the sense of 'hidden', 'kept concealed for a time', or 'put away somewhere', or perhaps of 'coming from deep down inside'. It would make little sense to label 'hidden' a sequence one is publishing, and for similar reasons it makes in English not much more to label it 'secret'. I myself hesitated between 'personal' and 'private', but felt that 'personal'-although in Seferis's context not incompatible with Eliot's 'impersonal'- would raise irrelevant questions. While I would not claim that it is quite satisfactory, 'private' seemed to me, and still seems, nearest to the two things I believe Seferis meant: first, an analogy with the way one may speak, for example, of 'private papers, now released to the public'; and second, the fact that his sequence arose in part out of deeply personal experience which, however, the poems do not need to do more than hint at, far from fully disclose, in order to achieve the power and universality of great, mature work.

Finally, I would like to mention that it is hoped in two years' time to produce either a special issue, or a section of a regular issue, of Agenda to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Seferis's death in September 1971. In the last ten years the number of students of modern Greek poetry in this country has multiplied, and there must be many who have come to know Seferis's work during that time who may have something fresh to say about him for English-language readers. If anyone would like to discuss possible contributions, I should be happy to receive their letters care of William Cookson, Agenda, 5 Cranbourne Court, Albert Bridge Road, London SW 11.

Yours, etc.
London W 1
PETER THOMPSON

WATERMAN ON BLY

Dear Sir:

I am sorry that Frank Wallace (Letters, PNR 9) is upset by my dislike (I don't, as he suggests, find it 'difficult') of Robert Bly's book This Body is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood. But unlike my review in PNR 8, his comments offer no argument about Bly, only objection to my fleeting deviation into parodic mockery of a certain American idiom. Parody is of course a useful concise critical resource: its purpose in my review to highlight a sentimentalism of false-naive raptness binding in complicity, it has struck me, some American poets and their readers. Upon his objection Frank Wallace bases, again unreasoned, a large assumption that I am biased or blinkered against American poetry. It is in fact fatuity, pretentiousness, etc., I have a down on, not nationality; a point I was at some pains to make clear in my review; and anyone returning to what I actually wrote from Frank Wallace's letter will notice that there as elsewhere I find much to admire in some American poets, to whose merits and demerits I hope I am as sincerely `open' as when I read poets from this side of the Atlantic. But my review itself enlarged on this question.

If I may make a more general point: it is of course the case that any reviewer who is not a fool will perpetually be aware that in committing himself to an opinion he might be wrong. His responsibility is to read without prejudice, reflect, say scrupulously what he does think, and try persuasively to show why. Which I did with Bly's book, though regrettably Frank Wallace implies that I merely sneered at it. I did, and I do, think the poetry in it is extraordinarily, and self-indulgently, and pretentiously, bad; bad in ways prone to be influential, and therefore of some significance. It is also the duty of any reviewer caring about what seems to him good to want to distinguish and defend it against what seems bad, particularly when the latter is calculated so winsomely to captivate as Bly's recent work, and not least in a period of some poetic chaos, with a plethora of rival claims pushing strongly at readers' uncertainties, like the present. I of course take no pleasure in discovering what seems, in Bly, a total decay of talent once worth attention. But equally of course, it is not because he is American, but because he is him, that I don't admire him.

Yours, etc.
Coleraine, Co. Londonderry
ANDREW WATERMAN

DAVID LEVY ON HEIDEGGER: A REPLY

Dear Sir:

One can only admire the lucidity of David Levy's summary of central themes in Being and Time in PNR 9, but his account of Heidegger's later philosophy, and particularly his dealings with poetry, is so at variance with what Heidegger says (or appears to say through his translators in the texts now available in English) that an attempt at corrections seems in order.

Levy's approach is based on what I take to be an inadequate understanding of Heidegger's position on rationality, a falsification of his views on language, a confusion of distinct senses of 'metaphysics', an inaccurate characterization of the poetry with which he concerned himself and, most unfortunately, the attribution to Heidegger of attitudes initially ascribed fancifully to those to whom his later thought is meant to appeal.

Discussing Heidegger's treatment of poetic language, Levy brings him 'close to a type of nihilism which takes meaninglessness and absurdity as evidence of truth because the world itself is experienced as meaningless and absurd'. He continues, 'I do not think that this is what Heidegger intended to teach but it follows as the night the day from his rejection of the truth-telling powers of rational discourse'.-Perhaps it may suffice to quote just one of Heidegger's numerous statements on rationality (which I take to be a broader issue than that of logic and 'logistics' on which he speaks more clearly still) that Levy should have taken into account before so firmly asserting a consequence that Heidegger surely would have wished to deny. From An Introduction to Metaphysics: 'The slow end of this history (of the moving apart of logos and physis), the slow end in which we have long been standing is the domination of thinking as ratio (in the sense of understanding as well as reason) over the being of the essent. Here begins the contest between "rationalism" and "irrationalism" that has been in progress to this day in every conceivable disguise and under the most contradictory titles. Irrationalism is only the obvious weakness and failure of rationalism and hence itself a kind of rationalism. Irrationalism is a way out of rationalism, an escape which does not lead into the open but merely tangles us more in rationalism, because it gives rise to the opinion that we can overcome rationalism by merely saying no to it, whereas this only makes its machinations more dangerous by hiding them from view.'

In Levy's version of Heidegger, 'The fate that dictates blindly that man is the being that uniquely brings the truth of Being to presence in language also, in the end, draws us towards silence. For discourse, as in metaphysical speculation, is described as rigidifying and falsifying the stray morsels of truth in the play of concepts. . . . Heidegger's demands imply a totally passive language, a concept of language as simple register of happenings of truth between which there can be no intelligible connection.'-It is true that Heidegger says, 'Man speaks' in that he responds to language. This responding is a hearing. It hears because it listens to the command of stillness.' This stillness (`It is in no way merely soundless') is that of beings in their differentiation. But for Heidegger, 'Language is the softest and also the most vulnerable vibration, holding everything in place, in the swaying edifice of the Ereignis (identity).' Thus man moves from the stillness of discrete entities to the speech that, in a two-fold sense, identifies them and only lapses into silence as he ceases to listen. For Heidegger language that is at one with Being, far from existing in total passivity, is dynamic-making of itself the intelligible connection between things.

Certainly Heidegger's language is not the language of metaphysical speculation as we usually understand it, it is not the language of the play of concepts, but the encounter with Being that exhausts metaphysics, exhausts what Nietzsche described as 'otherworldly' philosophies, it does not exhaust metaphysics in the sense of that questioning that begins with the fundamental problem, 'Why are there essents rather than nothing?' that Heidegger traces back to the pre-Socratic philosophers and from which he attempts to set his thinking on its way once more.

Language that is at one with Being, that speaks it purely, is therefore not the language of conceptual thought; Heidegger calls it Saying. 'Saying is the mode in which appropriation speaks: mode not so much in the sense of modus or fashion, but as the melodic mode, the song which says something in its singing. For appropriating Saying brings to light all present beings in terms of their properties-it lauds, that is, allows them into their own, their nature.' Saying is the mode both of thinking and of poetry. Why then does Heidegger the thinker cite poetry that is, as Levy puts it, 'usually ambiguous in meaning and fragmentary in utterance'? The answer is that he does no such thing. The poetry considered in the texts so far translated into English includes the first chorus of the Antigone of Sophocles, two hymns by Hölderlin, some lines from Goethe, concentrated, but wholly coherent lyrics by George and Benn and various poems by Rilke and Trakl. Of these only the poems of Trakl might be accepted generally as going some way towards fitting Levy's description, but they have also been described as 'work through which exceedingly simple, naked words enter into, generate a construct, a music of thought, of insight into the meaning of life which are, literally and demonstrably, inexhaustible'.-When George Steiner writes, 'It does seem to me that Heidegger is, at certain moments, a reader of poetry like no other in our time, a re-enactor of the poem's genesis and meaning who towers above the tired bric-à-brac of literary criticism and academic commentary', he is expressing something of the excitement that must be felt in reading these texts by all who wish to see poetry stand in its own light rather than that of the 'approaches' emanating from an institutional bankruptcy.

When Levy concludes that Heidegger was driven by 'the logic of his position' to the pose of 'a sort of Dadaist Tiresias' supposedly adopted by some of his followers it becomes clear that he has ignored Heidegger's invitations to accompany him on a journey of thought the stages of which are retraceable from the printed page. This journey is through no esoteric realm. The conditions under which Being may be approached, which Levy says Heidegger forgets, are the conditions of 'being-there', being in the world in which Being manifests itself, they are not the conditions either of a private vision or of a spuriously 'objective' rationality whose court of justice is nowhere to be found.

Yours, etc.
London EC 1
ADRIAN CLARKE

This item is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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