Tuesday, December 25, 2012

`Spangled the Butterflies of Vertigo'

Two fat volumes of verse beneath the Christmas tree: The Collected Poems of Samuel Beckett and The Complete Poems of Philip Larkin. Neither man was notably Yule-minded. Larkin has two poems titularly devoted to the holiday but neither is memorable, both Audenesque. Both poets are neat correctives to the seasonal bloat, what can’t be salvaged from the humbug. In the park, remarkably, we walked through a cloud of ladybugs, the big ones, Harmonia axyridis, densely spotted, signifying many years of good fortune. And in the back yard, on Christmas Eve, monarch butterflies flitted among the lantana blossoms. Larkin’s editor, Archie Burnett, dates “Butterflies” to 1939, the year the poet turned seventeen. We wouldn’t recognize the opening lines as Larkin’s: 

“Side-stepping, fluttering, quick-flecking,
dropping like tops under the blue sky
Skipping white under the sultry pall of green
summer trees
Or side-slipping over rich green hedges
of cottage gardens, with red and
yellow flowers…” 

In a note to the poem, Burnett quotes Larkin’s self-written comment on the manuscript: “written variously on a cycle tour. not very good. pretty bloody, actually. ANUS.” 

I find no mention of butterflies among Beckett’s poems, but his 1932 novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women has a nice passage spoken by Belacqua:

“The experience of my reader shall be between the phrases, in the silence, communicated by the intervals, not the terms, of the statement, between the flowers that cannot coexist, the antithetical (nothing so simple as antithetical) season of words, his experience shall be the menace, the miracle, the memory, of an unspeakable trajectory….I shall state silences more competently than ever a better man spangled the butterflies of vertigo.” 

That's for you, Roger. Merry Christmas to all. We’re off to Virginia.


Roger Boylan said...

And no one ever stated them more competently. Cheers, Patrick. Happy New Year. Hope to see you soon.

Don said...

Merry Christmas and thanks for the year round gift of your blog.