Friday, March 21, 2008

Ires & Ishmaels: Bunting, Strindberg, Catullus, Hill & Co.

Don Share in a couple of recent Bunting posts has touched on the themes of the writer's indignation and exclusion - Bunting in a crossed out notebook entry wrote "The scholar ought to be like the poet, an Ishmael, scouted and feared" Wild Ishmael, scornful Ishmael (Milton) - his hand against every man, and every man's hand against him - has long been a sort of patron for some writers. A character in Strindberg's The Road To Damascus calls Ishmael a 'scoffer' and explains that that was why he was driven out. The scoffing and scornful outsider: Bunting can wear those shoes.

In the preceding post Share refers to Bunting's Ode II.6 and quotes I.12, with its doctored line from Catullus 47 - all three fine examples of poems sparked by indignation. The image of the poet cadging drinks on streetcorners is a enduring emblem of lack of recognition - like the young penniless Johnson following the older penniless Savage on his habitual night patrols of the affluent West End.

Strindberg explains the usefulness of anger in a letter to Siri (27 June 1875) "Anger is the most powerful emotion, so if you can recall something with anger or sadness the words will become more potent." That "anger or sadness" launches a volley of references ... Hill's "a sad and angry consolation", or D.J.Enright's book title "Sad Ires" ... Pound's early 'Planh for the young English King" ending each stanza with the words "ire and sadness", and then straying a little from the track, Rowland Mallet's fits of angry sadness (Roderick Hudson), and "the sad influence of the angry Moon" (Byron).

Maybe there's a connection between the anger and pride of the excluded (or self-excluded) that accompanies the very notion of setting out to be a poet: inner worth not being recognized or rewarded by the world. "You don't know what's inside me" shouts Sue Bridehead - she's been accused of being nothing unconventional - and she lets Jude know what it is inside her: "The Ishmaelite".

Ishmael and Isaac stand another enduring emblem, ever topical: divided blood ever makes loud discord. Remember Lancaster and York.

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