Tuesday, August 11, 2015

`I Prefer to Give It to Him Now'

I’m a sucker for the kind of email Ian Jackson, an antiquarian book dealer in Berkeley, Calif., sent me on Monday. Included were three passages borrowed from his reading, including an excerpt from a letter written by Leo Spitzer to Cesi Kellinger, and translated from the Italian by Ian: “Thus [he has just made a little money on the stock market with the proceeds of his Feltrinelli prize] we have been able to repair the house a little: to repaint the wood of the porch, the windows, etc. I’ve always loved having workmen in the house: their methodical ways, their expertise . . .”

Next came some lines from St. Augustine’s De Doctrina (trans. R.P.H. Green, On Christian Teaching, 1997): “For a person who has to speak wisely on matters which he cannot treat eloquently, close adherence to the words of scripture is particularly necessary. The poorer he sees himself to be in his own resources, the richer he must be in those of scripture, using them to confirm what he says in his own words; so that although once deficient in words of his own he can grow in stature, as it were, by the testimony of something really important. A preacher who cannot give pleasure with his words may give pleasure with his texts.”

Like the Spitzer passage, the Augustine lines serve as a comment on a recent post at Anecdotal Evidence. The third quote comes from the poet Robert Francis (1901-1987), a poet I knew only by name and mostly as a friend to Robert Frost. Ian writes:

“He would seem to be the sort of poet you'd approve of. His autobiography, The Trouble with Francis (University of Massachusetts Press, 1971) is a delight and an inspiration to be content with little. (The title comes from a review of one of his books: ‘The trouble with Francis is not that he’s too happy as that his happiness lacks weight’).”

It’s reassuring to be reminded that four decades ago reviewers were already humorless and disapproving of happy people. Ian goes on, “In Pot Shots at Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 1980), a collection of (largely half-page) observations and aphorisms, [Francis] remarks:

“`When I think of the poetry festivals I have attended and taken part in, my mind goes back to the Book of Hosea, the twelfth chapter, the first verse: Ephraim feedeth on wind.’

Ian: “And since you mention Yvor Winters as one of the few whose recorded voice does justice to verse, I will add this reference to perhaps that very recording: “`This,’ says The Yale Series of Recorded Poets of Yvor Winters, `is a field recording made in the poet’s own locale.’” I was reminded of the John and Alan Lomax recording Lead Belly at Angola, and of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. My next step was to borrow Pot Shots at Poetry. Remember Ian’s reference to Francis’ autobiography as “an inspiration to be content with little” when reading this exchange from a 1974-75 interview. His interlocutor notices the sparsity of books in Francis’ house in Amherst, Ma. The poet explains he has never had enough money to buy a lot of them, and he instead relies on the public library. Francis adds:

“Yet small as my collection is, it is larger than one might suppose in entering my house. Books are stowed away in my bedroom and others are in boxes in the attic. I am more interested in reducing my store than in enlarging it. Whenever I have a book that a friend would enjoy owning, I prefer to give it to him now rather than wait till I die.”

1 comment:

Hugo Rios-Cordero said...

Thanks for such a beautiful post.