Thursday, June 18, 2009

`The Man Who Cared About Things'

Some anniversaries go unobserved and some can be observed only modestly and in private, by one person. Today, for instance, when I remember my only meeting with Guy Davenport. A friend and I left upstate New York, heading south and west, with no itinerary, camping along the way. Our first night we spent at a campground in Cumberland, Md., surrounded by identical young Mormons. The following afternoon we reached Lexington, Ky., where I visited Guy the next morning at his house at 621 Sayre Ave.

I have described my visit before in some detail and wish only to make two points. Guy was a gentleman, in the customary sense of being gracious, courteous and welcoming. He made it clear he wanted me to feel at home in his home. Guy was also a gentleman in Shirley Robin Letwin’s sense, as she expresses it on the final page of The Gentleman in Trollope:

“He has firm convictions about what is good and true, for which he will fight, without forgetting that nothing in nature prevents other men from questioning his verities and that he himself cannot keep hold of them without support from others to keep him aware of what he has overlooked or distorted. But whatever disagreement he encounters, however uncongenial he may find his neighbours or his fortune, he will always be thoroughly at home in the human world because he can enjoy its absurdities and has no ambition to overleap mortality.”

The three or four hours I spent in Guy’s company, mostly talking and looking at books and paintings, evaporated. Before leaving, Guy signed, in his precise, angular, draftsman’s hand, the two books I brought with me – Apples and Pears and The Geography of the Imagination:

“For Patrick Kurp
18 June 1990
Guy Davenport”

In the latter volume, in his essay “Ezra Pound, 1885-1972,” Guy’s words about his mentor express my gratitude for him:

“I learned all sorts of things I would probably never have heard of otherwise. Like many another, I saw in Pound the very archetype of the man who cared about things.”

Two paragraphs later, Guy says his reaction to first reading Pound was to learn Italian and Proven├žal and “to paint in the quattrocento manner.” Here’s the next sentence:

“All real education is such unconscious seduction.”


William A. Sigler said...

188 miles NW from Lexington is Crawfordsville, IN, the place James Longenbach argues was the closest thing to a real home for Ezra Pound. There he wrote the lovely "In Durance," which starts:

"I am homesick after mine own kind
And ordinary people touch me not.
And I am homesick
After mine own kind that know, and feel
And have some breath for beauty and the arts.

Aye, I am wistful for my kin of the spirit
And have none about me save in the shadows
When come they, surging of power, "DAEMON,"
"Quasi KALOUN." S. T. [Coleridge] says Beauty is most that, a
"calling to the soul."
Well then, so call they, the swirlers out of the mist of my soul,
They that come mewards, bearing old magic.

But for all that, I am homesick after mine own kind
And would meet kindred even as I am,
Flesh-shrouded bearing the secret..."

Lincoln said...

What a nice tribute. I did not know Guy Davenport, but the psychiatrist I was seeing in the early 1980's did, and they corresponded.
When I wasn't talking aout myself, the doctor and I would discuss Apples and Pears, the only Davenport book I had read up to that time. Thanks for the memory.