Drafts, notes and poems.

Yesterday the multi-talented Zachary Bos sent me two pdfs, one of a Geoffrey Hill pamphlet entitled ‘Preghiere’ which was published in 1964 and the other of ‘The Kensington Mass’ by David Jones which was published in 1975, a year after Jones’ death.

With regard to the second of these the publishers (Agenda Editions) explain that this is an unfinished draft of a poem that Jones had been working on until his death. The text of the book consists of a tentative draft of part of the poem together with fragments from Jones’ handwritten notes which have been collated by Rene Hague who also provides some explanation. Jones’ notes are reproduced at the end of the book.

I have mixed feelings about reading material that may not have been intended for publication. In general I think I’m against it because we don’t know if those poets would have wanted their drafts to be read by others and doing so can feel a little bit grubby and intrusive.

The above purist stance falls apart when we come to specific examples- ‘Edgar Allen Poe and the Jukebox’ is a collection of Elizabeth Bishop’s “uncollected poems, drafts and fragments” which contains 16 drafts of ‘One Art’ thus giving the reader the privilege of seeing a truly great talent at work. To those of us that might feel queasy about this kind of prying, the blurb quotes John Ashbery- “For those who love Elizabeth Bishop, there can never be enough of her writing. The arrival of this trove of manuscripts is therefore a stupendous event.” So, one justification would appear to be that it’s okay if the poet didn’t publish that much stuff during his or her lifetime. The counter argument goes that Bishop was meticulous about deciding what could be (by her very high standards) published and what couldn’t which is why a relatively small amount was made public.

Paul Celan presents a different kind of problem. James K Lyon’s “Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: an Unresolved Conversation 1951-70” which (among other things) makes extensive use of Celan’s marginalia in books by Heidegger in order to examine the relationship between the two. As a fan of all things Celan, I should be delighted by this but it turns out to be far too speculative:

During his intense reading of Wrong Paths in 1953, a passage on the nature of poetic language in the essay “What Are Poets For?” prompted Celan to enter double lines and write the word language [Sprache] in the margin. The passage reads, “Being, as itself, marks off its domain, which is measured (temnein, tempus) by Being’s being present in the word. Language is the domain (templum), viz. the house of Being . . . [the] temple of Being” (Das Sein durchmisst es selbst als seinen Bezirk, der dadurch bezirkt wird [temnein, tempus], dass es im Wort west. Die Sprache ist der Bezirk [templum], d.h. das Haus des Seins . . . [der] Tempel des Seins, G 5:310). In connecting humankind’s dwelling in the temple of Being with the poet’s role as a seer in that temple, Heidegger made an allegorical move that must have appealed to Celan’s belief in writing poetry as a higher calling.

Only a few days after finishing Wrong Paths, Celan again encountered the image of language as the temple or house of Being in Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism, where it occurs in at least nine passages. His underlining of several of
those passages suggests that they caught the poet’s attention and probably left a trace in a poem he wrote soon after reading A Letter on Humanism.

This is from p32 but the whole book is peppered with ‘must haves’ and ‘probablys’ which doesn’t inspire confidence. The other reasonably obvious point to make is that underlining can signify a whole range of things as can making a double line in the margin. Most of us who make these kind of marks know that they have a wide range of meanings and connotations, as a mark to return to to reconsider/evaluate, as a mark of approval, as a mark of something that seems important or as something to denote disagreement or condemnation etc etc.

There’s also the voyeuristic/intrusive element in this. It is very, very unlikely that Celan made these marks in the knowledge that they would be scrutinised and made the subject of a book. What we know of his widow, Giselle, it is very unlikely that she would have given permission for an exercise of this kind. The other issue that I have with Lyons is that he makes a number of assumptions about the meeting between Celan and Heidegger at Todtnauberg when the fact is that we will never know what took place.

I also have Pierre Joris’ magnificent translation for Celan’s notes and drafts for The Meridian Address which continues to absorb me – I’ve written about it several times because I think it gives us a deeper insight into his poetics. The only moment of voyeuristic grubbiness has been felt when he equates Sophie Goll with Goebbels. The other redeeming aspects are that Giselle gave permission for poetry to be published after his death and that Celan retained these notes even though he no longer had need of them- he committed suicide over 9 years after the Address was made. The German editors have provided notes to explain some of the references but these don’t make the leap in speculation so there aren’t any must haves or probablys. For example, there is a lengthy citation for a French phrase used by Celan that identifies the source that Celan alludes and the version that was in his poession. There’s also a short entry on Kropotkin that identifies his anarchism and one oh his works- the editors do not then suggest that Celan was also an anarchist because that would be a probably.

Rene Hague was Jones’ greatest friend and would not have participated in the publication of ‘The Kensington Mass’ if he felt that this was in any way contrary to what his friend would have wished. His explanatory notes are a delight and I think this is an example of the right mix of respect and judgement that these situations require:

Our inclination will be to include as much as possible; but we have, unfortunately, to remember that David’s method was the exact opposite. We may comfort ourselves, however, by remembering, too, that little or nothing (I believe) was destroyed, and work which had been put on one side (e.g. Balaam’s Ass) would later be reinstated.

Hague goes into detail as to his reasons for ordering the drafts in this way but the drafts themselves are also included so we can follow the way these decisions have been made.

Given that Jones is one of the great modernists, as with Bishop, anything that adds to the sparse work that we have has got to be important, especially when compiled out of friendship and affection.

11 responses to “Drafts, notes and poems.

  1. Thank you for this intelligent response to problems in criticism. You are very good at teasting out difficulties which too often go undetected. As to Heidegger, his thought is so willful (full of bad faith?) that there’s often fatal slippage in Heideggerian intertextuality. Celan is a different matter. I have found that when I try hard enough, his poems yield a reading experience that illuminates the search for truth we are all presumably engaged with as human beings. That said, Modernism is bestrewed with the false doubles of poets who challenge the limits of our patience and metaphysics. I say “false doubles” because Mallarme, for example, is not so “pure” that his poems are unparaphrasable, to use the old test, despite the accepted historicist gloss of “post-modernism.”

    • I think I’m just skimming the surface on this because there are a wide range of issues about posthumous excavations that I’m only now beginning to think about. I think the Heidegger/Celan relationship is overplayed at the expense of other thinkers, Martin Buber gets more references in the Meridian notes than Heidegger for example and the Celan in my head is much more complex than Heidegger’s poetic disciple- which seems to be the line pursued by Lyons and many others. I don’t understand Mallarme although I haven’t tried recently.

  2. nathaniel drake carlson

    Wondered if you had ever taken a look at Jones’s The Roman Quarry, which collects what remained of his unfinished or unpublished work (The Kensington Mass is included). I think it’s fascinating stuff and well worth having access to for the reasons you mentioned but Jones scholar Tom Dilworth told me that none of it should ever have been published. I don’t know if that’s just professional loyalty or not.

    • Thanks for this, the only other Jones I’ve got is ‘The Sleeping Lord and other fragments’ which was first published in 1974. What other unpublished work does The Roman Quarry have?

  3. nathaniel drake carlson

    It contains the title piece as well as another called The Old Quarry and an alternative version of The Book of Balaam’s Ass. A full third of the text is reserved for Hague’s learned and much appreciated commentary (his commentary on The Anathemata is, of course, also excellent). In the introduction, Harman Grisewood mentions that much of what appears in The Sleeping Lord was extracted from its originally intended place as part of another long, all encompassing poem (presumably the sequel to The Anathemata). Grisewood says that presenting the material in that way was questionable but attempting to re-present it as part of what Jones may or may not have intended as a unified piece seems just as much so. Nevertheless, I’m of the mind that had Jones lived another ten years we still wouldn’t have gotten a finished, complete version of his epic follow up. I think it may have defeated him in the end in which case I am grateful for what we have–all of what we have. As you say, Hague is very serious and committed and, even if that were not so, having the material available allows us a better chance to get a sense of what may have been and judge for ourselves.

  4. nathaniel drake carlson

    Also, if you haven’t seen these, you may like to look at Jones’s long lost “Wedding Poems” (collected in a small volume a few years back):



    • I’m enormously grateful for these- any ideas as to date of composition?

      • nathaniel drake carlson

        Dilworth says that they were both composed in September 1940 in London at the height of the Blitz. He writes at length on them in his book “Reading David Jones”. He goes into even more detail as to biographical context and publishing history in his introduction to the volume “Wedding Poems”.

  5. Reviews of Archie Burnett’s new Complete Poems of Larkin have expressed similar mixture of feeling — though I think the two which have appeared in the NYTimes have willfully, or at least ungenerously, failed to admit the scholarly purposes which such editorial work nourishes; and, more importantly, that a volume such as Burnett’s does not seek to displace the slimmer and more narrowly selected readers’ edition.

    PS: Let me send you, BB, a PDF of TRQ.

    • Thanks for the pdf, the diagram is fascinating. I think my ‘mixture’ also depends on the quality of the scholarly intent, the Lyon book manages to combine bad scholarship with bad taste.
      There is an argument that goes- once someone publishes then notions of privacy and the personal no longer have any hold but I do think this should be squared off by the quality of purpose and by what the poet might have wanted. I also accept that the recent dead have more rights in this than those who died centuries ago- but I don’t know why.

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