Saturday, November 20

Just the Thing


James Schuyler wrote beautiful poems. And I am only now coming to realise how beautiful and wonderful they are. I’m not sure yet that he touches me the way his friends do. But one of the things one learns from reading poems is that wakefulness comes at odd times. One may perhaps only begin to fully appreciate a poet after an unusual long time of acquaintance. I have not, until lately, been altogether ready in my head for the still and monumental exactitude of Schuyler’s beauty. Then, reading these poems again for the first time in a while, I was stunned. “Hymn To Life” is amazing. Nine pages or so of amazing. “One gull coasts by, unexpected as a kiss on the nape of the neck.” If you would not give your life to be able to write like that then you do not want to write. I am sorry. That’s what I think. And I am not sorry at all.

That’s from my review, published a few months ago at Stride
of Mark Ford’s anthology of "The New York Poets".

I mention it because a couple of weeks back I was in e-mail conversation with Charles North and he mentioned that Schuyler’s letters were just published. And I happened to say that I have a copy of Schuyler’s "Diaries", which were published in 1997. And I said I bought the book when it came out, and had found it rather dull. Charles said he thought the Diary was terrific. And in the light of him saying that, and in the light of knowing my reading of Schuyler’s poetry had changed lately, I have returned to the Diaries and am so happy to have done so:

Full moon dead low tide, heavy fog, the bay calm. The beauty of a faintly seen rowboat at a mooring, afloat in clouded white – the patina’d silver of an old mirror, almost – without a seam between water or sky; without sky or water; bright, pale, impenetrable, soft silence. Extraordinary silence to the eye ….

Schuyler used to read extensively in old English memoirs, countryside books and journals, and other old and specifically British texts, and one diary entry has this:

A beautiful sentence: “To the student of manorial rolls by far the most interesting franchise is the ‘court leet or view of frank-pledge,’ because it is very common, because it has great importance in the history of society, because its origin is extremely obscure: so obscure that we may be rash in speaking about it; still a little may be ventured.”
F.W. Maitland, “Leet and Tourn” Historical Essays, Camridge University Press, 1957 (first published 1888).

Where once I found the book dull, now I find myself calmed and absorbed by the pleasure of reading wonderful writing.

"Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler" appears to be available from Amazon, & I shall be including it in my list of Wants & Pleases when I write to Santa.





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