Saturday, March 14, 2009

all the dragons born of pain

My thoughts came drifting down the Prison where I lay —
Through the Windows of their Wings the stars were shining —
The wings bore me away — the russet Wings and grey
With feathers like the moon-bleached Flowers — I was a God reclining:
Beneath me lay my Body's Chain and all the Dragons born of Pain
As I burned through the Prison Roof to walk on Pavement Shining.

The Wild Wind of Liberty swept through my Hair and sang beyond:
I heard the Souls of men asleep chattering in the Eaves
And rode on topmost Boughs of Heaven's single-moon-fruited Silver Wand,
Night's unifying Tree whereof the central Stars be leaves —
0 Thoughts, Thoughts, Thoughts, — Fire-angel-birds relentless —
Will you not brood in God's Star-tree and leave Red Heart tormentless!

This is 'The Pensive Prisoner' by James Elroy Flecker, from The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker, with an Introduction by J.C. Squire (London, 1918). It is the 12th poem that Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

Considered to be one of Flecker's best, the poem meets Lawrence's criteria for verses he chose to carry about with him: neither the poet nor the work is great in the usual sense, it is musical, and the tenor is anguished, yearning, and — with its impossible hopefulness — pessimistic. Still, its diction and imagery are more Romantic, in the mode of William Blake, than are most of the others.

Some of the images in this poem inspired Lawrence while writing The Mint, after Seven Pillars probably his best-known work. This extract from that memoir is from Part I, Chapter 4, p. 19:
At ten-fifteen lights out; and upon their dying flash every sound ceased. Silence and the fear came back to me. Through the white windows streaked white diagonals from the conflicting arc-lamps without. Within there ruled the stupor of first sleep, as of embryons in the natal caul. My observing spirit slowly and deliberately hoisted itself from place to prowl across this striped upper air, leisurely examining the forms stretched out so mummy-still in the strait beds. Our first lesson in the Depot had been of our apartness from life. This second vision was of our sameness, body by body. How many souls gibbered that night in the roof-beams, seeing it? Once more mine panicked, suddenly, and fled back to its coffin-body. Any cover was better than the bareness.
{ -- source: T. E. Lawrence, The Mint on the pages. It is The editor of Minorities, Jeremy Wilson, who draws attention to this correspondence.}

{left to right: Flecker, his book, he and friend Beazley}

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker (1921)

Living age, Eighth Series, Volume IV, October, November, December, 1916, pp. 461-68 (a review of the book)

T. E. Lawrence, The Mint

1 comment:

Susan Gawarecki said...

This poem brings to mind an excerpt from TE Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, at the end of Chapter I:

"In my case, the effort for these years to live in the dress of Arabs, and to imitate their mental foundation, quitted me of my English self, and let me look at the West and its conventions with new eyes: they destroyed it all for me. At the same time I could not sincerely take on the Arab skin: it was an affectation only. Easily was a man made an infidel, but hardly might he be converted to another faith. I had dropped one form and not taken on the other, and was become like Mohammed’s coffin in our legend, with a resultant feeling of intense loneliness in life, and a contempt, not for other men, but for all they do. Such detachment came at times to a man exhausted by prolonged physical effort and isolation. His body plodded on mechanically, while his reasonable mind left him, and from without looked down critically on him, wondering what that futile lumber did and why. Sometimes these selves would converse in the void; and then madness was very near, as I believe it would be near the man who could see things through the veils at once of two customs, two educations, two environments."