Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Prime Passage: Posthumous Keats by Stanley Plumly

"If poetry -- Keats is saying -- is finally about the flesh vanishing, disappearing, turning cold -- the absorbing night, the setting sun, the broken stone -- it is also, in its afterlife, about the word as spirit, aspirant on the air, invisible, articulate, available. Keats's letters are the mind and heart out of which the poems -- the least as well as the best -- are realized. Lyric poetry, after Wordsworth and Coleridge, becomes a crucial drama of the serious, even conflicted, self. After Keats, form itself -- self-generative, self-reflective -- becomes integral to the acting out of that drama. The letters are replete with how form -- the poem as artifice -- is inseparable from the struggle for meaning." (page 347)

Buy Posthumous Keats here.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Prime Passage: The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft by George Gissing (1903)

From late in the section entitled "Autumn":

"Is there, at this moment, any boy of twenty, fairly educated, but without means, without help, with nothing but the glow in his brain and steadfast courage in his heart, who sits in a London garret, and writes for dear life? There must be, I suppose; yet all I have read and heard of late years about young writers, shows them in a very different aspect. No garretteers, these novelists and journalists awaiting their promotion. They eat -- and entertain their critics -- at fashionable restaurants; they are seen in expensive seats at the theatre; they inhabit handsome flats -- photographed for an illustrated paper on the first excuse. At the worst, they belong to a reputable club, and have garments which permit them to attend a garden party or an evening 'at home' without attracting unpleasant notice. Many biographical sketches have I read, during the last decade, making personal introduction of young Mr. This or young Miss That, whose book was -- as the sweet language of the day will have it -- 'blooming'; but never one in which there was a hint of stern struggle, or of the pinched stomach and frozen fingers. I surmise that the path of 'literature' is being made too easy. Doubtless it is a rare thing nowadays for a lad whose education ranks him with the upper middle class to find himself utterly without resources, should he wish to devote himself to the profession of letters. And there is the root of the matter; writing has come to be recognized as a profession, almost as cut-and-dried as church or law; a lad may go into it with full parental approval, with ready avuncular support. I heard not long ago of an eminent lawyer who had paid a couple hundred per annum for his son's instruction in the art of fiction -- yea, the art of fiction -- by a not very brilliant professor of that art. Really, when one comes to think of it, an astonishing fact, a fact vastly significant. Starvation, it is true, does not necessarily produce fine literature; but one feels uneasy about these carpet-authors. To the two or three who have a measure of conscience and vision, I could wish, as the best thing, some calamity which would leave them friendless in the streets. They would perish, perhaps. But set that possibility against the all but certainty of their present prospect -- the fatty degeneration of the soul; and is it not acceptable? I thought of this as I stood yesterday watching a noble sunset, which brought back to my memory the sunsets of a London autumn, thirty years ago; more glorious, it seems to me, than any I have since beheld. It happened that, on one such evening, I was by the river at Chelsea, with nothing to do except to feel that I was hungry, and to reflect that, before morning, I should be hungrier still. I loitered upon Battersea Bridge -- the old picturesque wooden bridge -- and there the western sky took hold upon me. Half an hour later I was speeding home. I sat down and wrote a description of what I had seen, and straightaway sent it to an evening newspaper, which, to my astonishment, published the thing next day -- 'On Battersea Bridge.' How proud I was of that little bit of writing! I should not much like to see it again, for I thought it then so good that I am sure it would give me an unpleasant sensation now. Still, I wrote it because I enjoyed doing so, quite as much as because I was hungry; and the couple of guineas it brought me had as pleasant a ring as any money I ever earned."