Tuesday, March 17, 2009

death is strong and full of blood and fair

Who hath given man speech? or who hath set therein
A thorn for peril and a snare for sin?
For in the word his life is and his breath,
     And in the word his death,
That madness and the infatuate heart may breed
     From the word's womb the deed
And life bring one thing forth ere all pass by,
Even one thing which is ours yet cannot die —
Death.. Hast thou seen him ever anywhere,
Time's twin-born brother, imperishable as he
Is perishable and plaintive, clothed with care
     And mutable as sand,
But death is strong and full of blood and fair
And perdurable and like a lord of land?
Nay, time thou seest not, death thou wilt not see
Till life's right hand be loosened from thine hand
     And thy life-days from thee.
For the gods very subtly fashion
     Madness with sadness upon earth:
Not knowing in any wise compassion,
     Nor holding pity of any worth;
And many things they have given and taken,
     And wrought and ruined many things;
The firm land have they loosed and shaken,
     And sealed the sea with all her springs;
They have wearied time with heavy burdens
     And vexed the lips of life with breath:
Set men to labour and given them guerdons,
     Death, and great darkness after death:
Put moans into the bridal measure
     And on the bridal wools a stain;
And circled pain about with pleasure,
     And girdled pleasure about with pain;
And strewed one marriage-bed with tears and fire
For extreme loathing and supreme desire.

What shall be done with all these tears of ours?
     Shall they make watersprings in the fair heaven
To bathe the brows of morning? or like flowers
Be shed and shine before the starriest hours,
     Or made the raiment of the weeping Seven?
Or rather, O our masters, shall they be
Food for the famine of the grievous sea,
     A great well-head of lamentation
Satiating the sad gods? or fall and flow
Among the years and seasons to and fro,
     And wash their feet with tribulation
And fill them full with grieving ere they go?
     Alas, our lords, and yet alas again,
Seeing all your iron heaven is gilt as gold
     But all we smite thereat in vain;
Smite the gates barred with groanings manifold,
     But all the floors are paven with our pain.
Yea, and with weariness of lips and eyes,
With breaking of the bosom, and with sighs,
     We labour, and are clad and fed with grief
And filled with days we would not fain behold
And nights we would not hear of; we wax old,
     All we wax old and wither like a leaf.
We are outcast, strayed between bright sun and moon;
     Our light and darkness are as leaves of flowers,
Black flowers and white, that perish; and the noon
     As midnight, and the night as daylight hours.
     A little fruit a little while is ours,
          And the worm finds it soon.

But up in heaven the high gods one by one
     Lay hands upon the draught that quickeneth,
Fulfilled with all tears shed and all things done,
     And stir with soft imperishable breath
     The bubbling bitterness of life and death,
And hold it to our lips and laugh; but they
Preserve their lips from tasting night or day,
     Lest they too change and sleep, the fates that spun,
The lips that made us and the hands that slay;
     Lest all these change, and heaven bow down to none,
Change and be subject to the secular sway
     And terrene revolution of the sun.
Therefore they thrust it from them, putting time away.

I would the wine of time, made sharp and sweet
     With multitudinous days and nights and tears
     And many mixing savours of strange years,
Were no more trodden of them under feet,
     Cast out and spilt about their holy places:
That life were given them as a fruit to eat
And death to drink as water; that the light
Might ebb, drawn backward from their eyes, and night
     Hide for one hour the imperishable faces.
That they might rise up sad in heaven, and know
Sorrow and sleep, one paler than young snow,
     One cold as blight of dew and ruinous rain;
Rise up and rest and suffer a little, and be
Awhile as all things born with us and we,
     And grieve as men, and like slain men be slain.

For now we know not of them; but one saith
     The gods are gracious, praising God; and one,
When hast thou seen? or hast thou felt his breath
     Touch, nor consume thine eyelids as the sun,
Nor fill thee to the lips with fiery death?
     None hath beheld him, none
Seen above other gods and shapes of things,
Swift without feet and flying without wings,
Intolerable, not clad with death or life,
     Insatiable, not known of night or day,
The lord of love and loathing and of strife
     Who gives a star and takes a sun away;
Who shapes the soul, and makes her a barren wife
     To the earthly body and grievous growth of clay;
Who turns the large limbs to a little flame
     And binds the great sea with a little sand;
Who makes desire, and slays desire with shame;
     Who shakes the heaven as ashes in his hand;
Who, seeing the light and shadow for the same,
     Bids day waste night as fire devours a brand,
Smites without sword, and scourges without rod -
     The supreme evil, God.

Yea, with thine hate, O God, thou hast covered us,
     One saith, and hidden our eyes away from sight,
And made us transitory and hazardous,
     Light things and slight;
Yet have men praised thee, saying, He hath made man thus,
     And he doeth right.
Thou hast kissed us, and hast smitten; thou hast laid
Upon us with thy left hand life, and said,
Live: and again thou hast said, Yield up your breath,
And with thy right hand laid upon us death.
Thou hast sent us sleep,and stricken sleep with dreams,
     Saying, Joy is not, but love of joy shall be;
Thou hast made sweet springs for all the pleasant streams,
     In the end thou hast made them bitter with the sea.
Thou hast fed one rose with dust of many men;
     Thou hast marred one face with fire of many tears;
Thou hast taken love, and given us sorrow again;
     With pain thou hast filled us full to the eyes and ears.
Therefore because thou art strong, our father, and we
     Feeble; and thou art against us, and thine hand
Constrains us in the shallows of the sea
     And breaks us at the limits of the land;
Because thou hast bent thy lightnings as a bow,
     And loosed the hours like arrows; and let fall
Sins and wild words and many a winged woe
     And wars among us, and one end of all;
Because thou hast made the thunder, and thy feet
     Are as a rushing water when the skies
Break, but thy face as an exceeding heat
     And flames of fire the eyelids of thine eyes;
Because thou art over all who are over us;
     Because thy name is life and our name death;
Because thou art cruel and men are piteous,
     And our hands labour and thine hand scattereth;
Lo, with hearts rent and knees made tremulous,
     Lo, with ephemeral lips and casual breath,
          At least we witness of thee ere we die
That these things are not otherwise, but thus;
     That each man in his heart sigheth, and saith,
          That all men even as I,
All we are against thee, against thee, O God most high.
This is an extract from a chorus in "Atalanta in Calydon" by Algernon Swinburne in his play Atalanta in Calydon: a tragedy (London, 1894). It is the 15th poem that Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

In his time, Swinburne was considered to be one of England's greatest poets, worthy successor to Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning. This entry my therefore seem to be a major departure from Lawrence's goal to include only minor poets in Minorities, but in fact he did not consider Swinburne to be great. In letters written in 1913 and 1927, he called him long-winded and boring. Because of its length and the hand-cramping trouble it's likely to have caused him as he transcribed it, this chorus must have had special significance in Lawrence's hierarchy of works by minor poets, set in a minor key, which have an appealing lyricism.

The editor of Minorities says Lawrence used a metaphor from the chorus in the dedication poem of Seven Pillars of Wisdom: "Love, the way-weary, groped to your body, our brief wage ours for the moment / Before earth's soft hand explored your shape, and the blind worms grew fat upon / Your substance."* Modern commentary tends to associate the lines with homosexual love, but others point out that Lawrence was not particularly strongly inclined toward either homo- or heterosexuality; he had an Oxonian tolerance for the sexual adventurism of others, but seems not himself to have been highly libidinized. The identity of "S.A.", the subject of Lawrence's dedication is thoroughly discussed in a page by Yagitani Ryôkoa called An 'S.A.' Mystery, which says that, typically of Lawrence, the initials cannot assuredly be assigned to any one person or concept.**

{This is the second half of the extract in Lawrence's hand from Minorities; source: Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).}

{source: Special Collections and Archives, Univ of California, Irvine}

{Algernon Charles Swinburne, painting by William Bell Scott, 1860; source: victorianweb.org}

Here is the Atalanta story from wikipedia:
Atalanta (Greek: Αταλάντη, English translation: "balanced") is a character from ancient Greek mythology.

After being told by an oracle she would be ruined if she were to marry, Atalanta set up a contest to win her hand in marriage. All of the suitors that wanted to marry her would have to race her, and if they beat her in the race, they won her hand in marriage; if not they would die by her hand. After she meets and instantly loves Hippomenes, she begs him not to race her. She fears if he loses she will have to kill him, and she has fallen in love with him on sight, but because of her competitive nature and the oracle's promise that marriage will be her demise, she must kill him should he lose – per the rules of her own contest.

Hippomenes prays to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, for help in winning the race and thus Atalanta's hand. Aphrodite, taking pity on the love-sick man, devises a plan to help Hippomenes win the race without necessarily cheating.

Aphrodite gives Hippomenes three golden apples and tells him to throw them on the race track at different stages in the race. Atalanta is distracted by these golden apples and therefore stops each time Hippomenes throws them, giving Hippomenes a slight advantage over her own speed. Hippomenes wins the race and her hand in marriage.
This page describes Atalanta's connection with Calydon.


* Susan H. Warren believes that a Thomas Hardy poem, He Never Expected Much, may, in turn, draw upon Lawrence's metaphor, but it is difficult to see a close correspondence. Hardy has "The World," meaning our lives in the world, speak thus:
Many have loved me desperately,
Many with smooth serenity,
While some have shown contempt of me
Till they dropped underground.
**Yagitani Ryôkoa gives the following candidates list for S.A.
* Achmed, Sheik Ahmed or 'Salim' Ahmed, otherwise Dahoum
* 'Son Altesse', Her Highness, i.e. Fareedeh el Akle -- Robert Graves
* A lay figure of literary passion -- Vyvyan Richards
* An imaginary person of neutral sex -- TE himself
* Sheikh or Sharif Ali -- Desmond Stewart
* Prince Feisal -- an article in the Beirut newspaper, L'Orient, on 1 October 1965 [Lives, McGraw-Hill ed., p.181; Panther ed., p.185]
* One is a person and one a place: Dahoum and Syria or Arabia
'as a personification as well as a person - a combination of the person and the place, a symbol of the pre-war happiness of life at Carchemish' -- A. W. Lawrence [ibid.]
* Syria and Arabia -- Fareedeh el Akle
* Sarah Aaronsohn (d.1917), a Jewish intelligence agent, sister of Aaron Aaronsohn
-- Put forward firstly by Flora Armitage in her TE biography The Desert and the Stars, Holt, New York, 1955 [p.135]. Anita Engle wrote an appendix entitled 'The Lawrence-Sarah Myth' in her book The Nili Spies, The Hogarth Press, London, 1959. Supported by a close friend of TE's, Dr Ernest Altounyan [Lives, McGraw-Hill ed., p.181; Panther ed., p.186]. I found two letters in the correspondence column of Sunday Times in 1989 and 1992 supported Sarah Aaronsohn.[*7]
* 'an idea or spirit rather than an individual' -- Michael Yardley [Backing into the Limelight: A Biography of T. E. Lawrence, Harrap, London 1985, p.48]
* 'An imaginary conception, unrelated to a particular person or place, which represented all that he had found that was fair and gentle and lovable in Arabia and its peoples' -- Anthony Nutting [Lawrence of Arabia: The Man and The Motive, Signet ed., p.234 (first published from Hollis Carter, London 1961)]

{On left: Miss Fareedeh/Fareedah or Farida el Akle, a modern-thinking Christian Arab, who taught Lawrence Arabic and was said to be embarrassingly fond of him; on right: an unusually pale-skinned Arab named Dahoum or Dahum, a waterboy or donkey boy, who Lawrence felt to be a kindred spirit and who died young. source: An 'S.A.' Mystery}

Some sources:

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

Atalanta in Calydon: a tragedy (London, Chatto & Windus, 1875)

Thomas Hardy and T. E. Lawrence: A Literary Friendship, by Susan H. Warren; Journal of the T. E. Lawrence Society, Vol. VI, No. 2, Spring 1997.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.E. Lawrence - Dedication


Anonymous said...

" I liked a particular Arab very much, and I thought that freedom for the race would be an acceptable present.'....An outline drafted in 1919 reads: 'A(?).I wrought for him freedom to lighten his sad eyes: but he had died waiting for me. So I threw my gift away and now not anywhere will I find rest and peace.'

So S.A. is a man. It wasn`t Sarah Aaronsohn (and he didn`t meet her)

Jeff said...

Thanks. You can read about S.A. in Tess's blog post here: http://www.diary.ru/~arabiannights/p82467605.htm