Sunday, September 22, 2019

'With Melancholy Look, but Bearing Bold'

A reader in Louisiana describes a rare enthusiasm for Elizabeth Daryush, the poet who wrote “you should at times walk on, / away from your friends’ ways”:

“Over the years, I've managed to acquire original copies of all of her books of verse for my personal stacks as well as the selection gathered by [Yvor] Winters and published by Swallow Press. My Daryush collection is one of the gems of my library, but I especially cherish the two inscribed by her. I’m partial to one, in particular, in which she pasted a calling card bearing her name printed in letterpress as ‘Elizabeth Bridges.’ She struck through ‘Bridges’ on the card with a single, clean line in ink and signed her name below the card as ‘Elizabeth Daryush.’”

Daryush (1887-1977) was the daughter of Robert Bridges, Britain’s poet laureate from 1913 to 1930. She married Ali Akbar Daryush in the nineteen-thirties and lived in Persia for four years. No one ever told me about her work, nor had I even encountered her name until I learned some years ago of Winters’ advocacy:

“She is not pretentious, she is not an exhibitionist; she is rather perfectly serious and perfectly honest—she has something on her mind, she knows it is worth saying, and she tries to say what she means, by employing all the subtlest resources of her art.”

Daryush impresses me as a writer utterly herself, indifferent to the Zeitgeist, the muse of most poets. She mingles archaisms with a modern-sounding concision, as in this sonnet:

“Autumn, dark wanderer halted here once more,
Grave roamer camped again in our light wood,
With garments ragg’d, but rich and gorgeous-hued,
With the same fraying splendours as before—
Autumn, wan soothsayer, worn gipsy wise,
With melancholy look, but bearing bold,
With lean hard limbs careless of warmth or cold,
With dusky face, and gloomed defiant eyes,

“You glanced at summer, and she hung her head;
You gazed, and her fresh cheek with fever burned;
You sighed, and from her flowery vales she turned;
You whispered, and from her fond home she fled:

“Now seated by your tattered tent she broods
On timeless heights, eternal solitudes.”

The third line prompts a memory of this passage in Henry James’ The American Scene“. . . the way the colour begins in those days to be dabbed, the way, here and there, for a start, a solitary maple on a woodside flames in single scarlet, recalls nothing so much as the daughter of a noble house dressed for a fancy-ball, with the whole family gathered round to admire her before she goes.”

Winters writes in his foreword to his edition of Daryush’s Selected Poems (1947): “Poetry as an art is an anomaly at present, an anachronism; poetry today is rather a debauch, a form of self-indulgence, or a form of self-advertisement.” Imagine what Winters would make of what’s left of poetry in 2019.

No comments: