Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Terence White’s ‘Irene’

“Extracts from ‘Irene'” is extracted from pages 185 to 190 of Poetry London X, 1944. It clearly owes much to the example of James Joyce, whom White had visited in 1938. (White was also a contributor to transitions, the French review that had previously part published Finnegans Wake. White’s technique of finishing passages with staccato phrases – “There is darkness all over. All dark. All flash. All drum. Into all. Swept.” – is a clear borrowing from Finnegans Wake.) The influence of surrealism is evident, and the notion of an episodic satire employing both prose and poems may owe some inspiration to W H Auden’s The Orators (1932). I have added a few explanatory footnotes, in square brackets.

Appended are three other related pieces by White. “Nature for Nature’s Sake” was published as a contribution to The Crown and the Sickle (1944), the third “New Apocalypse” anthology edited by Henry Treece and J F Hendry. While the style is different, it is equally breathless; as it features the character of Desmond, it may originally have been intended for an early passage within “Irene”.

The poems “Moment of Love” and “O Clearness! O Sadness!” are taken from Patrick Freed and Other Poems (The Fortune Press, 1948), a collection published under the name of Terence White Gervais. They are noted there as from “Irene”, though they do not appear in the 1944 “Extracts”. The lovers in these poems are clearly Irene and Desmond.

Extracts from “Irene”

SONNET: URN [1]

When love is buried, and the hearse for hell,
With no calm cypresses, encircles all,
And the dead photos of what was appal
Even those who loved, when the bare clanging bell
Remains an ugly sign that tears are dull
And life must on-pulsate, like a solved spell
Cut now from mystery, as lights reveal
In vulgar bones its fraud, with prayings full:
When the slick irritater casts his shawl
Over the cool recovery of men’s will,
And stupid tags increase their clientèle,
And frantic stuffs seem shinier than real steel;
And when I know that all the continents feel
These miseries, then into fires I fall.

THE PROCESSION (with two Sonnets)

Scene: MOVING TOWARDS AN AERODROME

IRENE:

Stench-staunchly the funeral procession proceeds. At the head of it I walk, up the hill, towards the graveyard, beyond which is an aerodrome.

Funeral. We move. Weary. Move on. Energetic on we move and the next minute is mixed, half weary half energetic, like eating quickly thick monotonous pudding. We move on, up.

This first moment I am all stride. I move; there are houses, which we pass without looking at them; the sun is ahead; fields horizon-wide.

But, during the next moment, my mind is all microscope. I see every detail of houses, of sun, of fields. In the fields are children, insects, cattle.

A mob of insects kills a gang of insects.
Can the pig’s eyes conceive bacon?
Can the child’s flesh conceive bombing-planes?

But Man is said to have an End. Yet what does End mean? Aim or extinction? Shall we repletely ascend, or rot thinly? Shall we sing, or disappear? Are we buds, or mere spittle?

Funeral. We move on. As I move I feel the satisfaction of the food within me. And yet I ache. Every atom of air around me aches. Because –

Upon my plate burns the rich fruit,
Under gold light reclines the spoon;
Away in Wales the inactive loom,
And children stoking stoves in hope for food.

Less polished is my soul, less quiet;
My eyes become all space, my breath all wind;
My questionings become all stones that grind
Mortal excitement into immortal riot.

Grief! Why must thought and hunger
Consort, why must earth’s salt
Have stale, sparse bread; why shall men, forest-stronger,
In wind-racked huts their being heave and halt?

Sensitive now to the utmost gliding and glimmering of the air, I perceive gradually and with a heatening of clarity, the cities innumerable which live in each point, each fine electron of the air. All these square miles are in a moment of air.

All these hours are in a square inch of air.

I open my pocket-mirror to powder my face; across my face there are a multitude of cities. This first tiny pore of my skin is in all-spreading pained simplicity; this next is a fête with a see-saw and a gay coquette; the next one still resembles some vast wide hospital for asthma; in the next I see tiny funerals growing to vast funerals, village-dirges growing to funerals of continents. Still further on I see some pygmies who are flogging still smaller people, semi-pygmies; but then I deepen my microscope, and see further still that these semi-pygmies are in turn flogging a band of demi-semi-pygmies; and so on, ad infinitum, mad infinitum. [2]

Funeral. We have now reached the Church. Buried:

“Life all cremated into one veinless face,
O terrible pilot, O fact.’

Done. I go out from the church, and I find that the cities of my skin have merely showed me reality. For here around me is already in progress and regress and progress the civil war between the Bims and the Mibs, each of whom had been barbarous enough to put back the clock of the other’s spelling.

I walk up the hill, towards the aerodrome. It is there that I have wired Desmond to meet me! But as I walk, the road is obstructed with dead. At every shop-corner, within every car, lie the clotted dead, the smooth dead, the harsh dead. To every bus, tearing down the hill, there are attached gallows. Schoolboys, wandering along in the safe but sinking sun, would shudder at the still drooping humans, slain. Now and then a true idealist would snatch one of the boys, while learning his Aeneid by heart, and string him up. Reasons would then be worked out.

Solely the Suns are safe: each blinder being [3]
Must live in fear of the unpaved to-morrow
While those who cannot feed nor sing nor borrow
Dwell in fug-slum, with the rich clearly seeing.
Satchelled and cycled schoolboys to whom sorrow
Is a word in the Aeneid, lie askance,
Bombable in clean name of Christ-finance,
Or liquidated, with fine schemes to follow.
If these are reason and justice, earth’s best dance
When she is weary of chair, or when she’s fleeing
From her dull cell of toil, nailed-in so narrow
Despair men may and long for bare unbeing:
Though somewhere christened in man, deeper than lance,
Flow the calm waves whose solace is not shallow.

I go about among the huddled sufferers, bearing bread and cheeses and pullovers and poultices, lints, iodine, and whatever calm gaiety I can contrive.

Can the pig’s eyes conceive bacon?
Can the child’s flesh conceive bombing-planes?
I walk up towards the aerodrome. Universal death has narrowed me into single desire.
The moon brightens – des Mondes Schöne – Desmond schön!
Clouds come: Desmond, desire, despair, deserter, desolation!
I am almost at the aerodrome.

(to Desmond):

Your lips too long are shut,
As if the sun had overslept,
And the waiting audience wept,
And the impatient audience clapped;
Open O! and bestow your debt,
I am your audience, you my world,
Monde, demi-monde, Desmonde ;
O! appear, Satan-elegant boastador,
Impostador! Come, lips thus curled
And savage-coiled, sweetest my brutador!
This is the door.

JOY IN POLITICS

Scene: A CINEMA

The next evening, we wanted to have some joy outside ourselves, some relief; so we went to the News-Reel at the local cinema.[4]

And what did this treat of ? This treated of the recent life-history of Chauffeur Puckthorn. He who had sprung into fame in one day, from being clerk to the Wreckonomic Committee of Subject Common, a little frontier town in Bim-Mibbia.

And what had he sprung into fame for? For having declared war by his own universal human initiative. And where was he now to speak? In public. The chauffeur-public of Subject Common, who lived together in conflict and sheep-unity, in convention and distortion, in ubiquitous agreement and universal dissent, drove to hear him speak.

We saw them driving.
How did they drive?
They drove like the struck counters of a typewriter;
like the pores of dirt driven by soap along the bath ;
like the enumeration of the miseries of Job;
like the movement of blood in the jaw.

Universal Advertisements proclaim :-

“Heil Puckthorn Versatiluoso
Duce de la Welt:
Gloria Soi, O Lord.”

Even the children whose birth the Wreckonomic Committee was preventing came to momentary life, and gave a cheer.

Distinguished adults were present, even the Vice-Canceller of Epigram University, noted for his double-thirst in sublimation, who held the Uniperversity Bed of Psychology, and was the buggest hypocrite and cryptohit in all Christsodom : he was surrounded by volumes of popular scientific philosophy, philosophic poetic science, scientific popular poetry, and philosophic poetic popularity.

Finally Puckthorn entered and brushed all these volumes on to the floor. He then began his speech, a little alcoherent in his abandon-abundance. Thus he spoke:-

“The Empire of Babylonia has made an aggression on the Duchy of Babylinen. War, war. It is now too late for the Fatigue of Nations to offer mediocration.

“Our foes: how mean and inhuman they are – inhuman one and all!

“Nor have we any need to-day of the historic class-conscious Uniperversity of Epigram. To hell with Culture! Drive this slogan before you: Not Epigram- but Program! Act! Do! Drive!”

– And they did drive. How did they?
Like the struck counters of a typewriter;
Like the pores of dirt driven by soap along the bath;
Like the enumeration of the miseries of Job;
Like the movement of blood in the jaw.”

– And then the News-Reel finished. And we rushed out of the cinema, into the forest where man or woman or Epigram man-woman was not.

We lay down, calmed, alone. We ate plums together. Nature. For Nature’s sake.[5]

BY THE COASTLINE

But the shelling continues bombing. Yes, my child, you must learn the truth now: I cannot protect you any more from what is real. Look, now, out of my body[6], into the world, just half a view. This is what will confront you, O my child; bearer of so much grief of the world, bearer of beauty, too, I shall call you Christbearer: Christopher.

Christopher, what do you see? Ah, the appalling cliffs: they have summoned us. Let us come in courage then, and sing together a song to the coast:-

IRENE and
Christopher
(echo-embryo)
together:

O! fascinate-fencer,[7]
Delirious dancer,
Ever intenser
Sibyl and censor
Of the sea’s answer
(Vain advancer);
Rigorous rinser,
Lascivious prancer,
Perilous lancer,
With eyes tenser
Than mincer or chancer,
America-senser,
Fascinate-fencer,
O! demon without answer,
Delirious dancer!

– My scarf is all awry.

NEGROSILK – THE CAT

We are allowed to go into the drawing-room of the great Mansion of the Duke of Perhaps. At once we greet and are greeted.

By whom? By Negrosilk, the cat, black, velvet-head, purrer in fur.

O Christopher, if I caress this animal for you, it will make you calm, and yet rich of soul. Your soul shall be as his fur. He purrs; you shall sing.

O! furred Negrosilk, I thank you, for you will make my son rich of soul. Come, creature, and purr to Christopher. Come, lovely form, and shape this form into grace.

Black with green eyes, star-verdant Negrosilk,[8]
Padder of carpets, prince of sides of chairs.
Unanimal angel needing meat and milk,
Fiercer in gaze than glaciers of bears,
Ultimate animal singer of swift sulk
And bitter richness that with pathos pairs,
Seated upon my long lap’s waveless bulk,
Jumping on, off like swings at Whitsun fairs.
I fear you, but the mice do not; birds tear
Their bread under your sleepy, brilliant gaze;
Cherubim, satyr, hell, grace, pride, are there,
Walking their velvet stretch on this crude glaze.
Furred purrer, desperate washer of clean hair,
For praise you do not care, or lack of praise.

19th AND 20th YEARS “FOLLYTRAVEL”

Provided with a passport by Puckthorn, Christopher at last toured abroad. He took tea on a mountain-top, for instance, sun and ice, an infinite vanilla, himself the spoon. Gipsies, lit by a csardash of wine, play on the polished Polish floor; while the rest of the restaurant helps itself restlessly to venison, pals already with the palaces of Venice, gone already to the gondolas, marking St. Mark’s in their plans, while venison dissaplans down their grand canal. Moonlight night on the lakes verging on virgin forests a thousand miles up the Amazon while a badged guide, badgered, indicates indians and a band of bantus, together with one singular singalese. Keen road-making proceeds in kenya and rhodesia; overnight, with only our carcasses on, we entered carcassonne; day made us decent up to our pyreknees; swiftly our party was sevilled in marktwain, and the archangel our danzig of war saw, which he frankfortly berlinved to be the shiraz cracow of doom, long dresded although to him it was but a warp of ants: he let out one kremlinendous rotter of dams. When the brabants had leyden the northants low, and it was uncultivated-plain that the buddhapests were wienning, his excellensavoy, genoaly distressed at the milans of dead, turned suddenly palermo and made rome for himself with his sharp calcutter and, without any nankingpanking, stopped the cruel bombayment. Demobilised into the nobility, Christopher found himself emptyhanded, after such noble daysandknights of killarneying, kilkennying, killaling sinnocent men, made after all in the hymnage of Godmammon. So he took to flirting on board, and met at Mayo an unostendious Lassa called May, who had buenos aires but as yet no concepcion, and committed liege with her up the dardanelles. Hungary for more, he sought her bushire everywhere, but she, never having mandalain before, was shy, and calmed her fear by dreaming of the coasts of virginia and muniching sandwichisles out of a paper-bagdad. Eventually, however, she expected an event; but this upset Chris. O amsterdamn his golden horn! Getting up from the meccafast-table, and marmoring to himself in reminiscence, he went on deccan. The cry of newsboys under the meditativeanean sun shang high over the sounds of workmen with their yokohammers and the angorer of a motorist who had burst one of his tyrols. But suddenly Miss May Mayo came on the scene; and Chris, instead of representing her as his young nice, told all on the bored board that she was his own darjeeling, his holy savoy from utter rouen. Arm in harm he longed to catch and jung her; but she blushed to the beyroots of her virginia city, and left him forever, without pains or aix but with iggrenoble gestures of utter-gutter contempt. He wept. Passing down the primeval steppes to the gangesway, he drank a glass of passport, and lost his scents of levantation. So this is love! What uncomo bad lucca! He wept. Epigramour. Weeps.

IRENE (transfigured)

O shore-eternity, O lawn so still!
O trumpet-plenitude of the One Will,
High-lighted in joyvelvet of swift, still
Dazzling repose. Gone is all town, to fill
The whole sun who in country sanctifies
Air, path, and soul – which now form one desire,
To see pure in Himself their positive Sire:
For this is simple Heaven, and its prize
Gleams everywhere. Too taut, sight dies. Yet life,
Defier swift who frees sinner and sigher,
Dances in the original grace of sky,
Where He, who is higher than fire, singing fire,
Is, shines, consumes, creates Irene: I.

Nature for Nature’s Sake

Piled stones of hail. The sea rises in foam-fury like masts. The sea’s blood flows, not well visible to men; the rampaging mazelike heart of the sea is wounded. Storm has no father, no mother: it moves upon the ancestral wave-crest longingly. Yet storm blends with no body of fish. From slits beneath the higher levels of waves come prancing forms, hawks and eagles of the sea, inverted birds, the primordial shining slim fish, flying through slime. At the basement of this, darkness began chanting. Ranches and ranches of depths, reached to the very bottom of this, light is extinguished. Only moving in the water. And afterwards, only moving. Distantly from this south-depth a shipwreck: vanishes at last like a straight shoal of sand. The dark agitates for its flesh. There is darkness all over. All dark. All flash. All drum. Into all. Swept.

Above, in the forest: darkness and transparency divided the texture; a single leaf would have both. Gradually storms storm, and made darkness more terrible and transparency, like lightning, more revealing. Everywhere was life scamped, unfulfilled, restless, attempting, bending. Not one of these branches looked secure. The gradations in it seemed not breathing-spaces but sighs; its muscular points bore a nervous uncouthness rather than the signs of a perfect organisation. But they held, some of them, until the next swipe from the clear above broke open their veins and they fell. And so many fell that no man could pass through the track; they had involuntarily made themselves into an invisible shield, a buttress warding off penetration. A quiver. Again, then again, the torn branches descended like leaves; and in the middle of this descent there would be a hesitation, a debating whether to fall or not: and some branches would heave themselves round and up, unknived. Yet most twisted and fell. And a vacant space was made where branches of trees and great trees were broken; air-vacancy, for the tops of the opposite trees joined each other no longer at a height but on the ground. Through them this vacancy, this opened cave of air, came at one moment a sweetness almost a calm, at another a vexatious rain, at the last or next suddenly, demented, the wildest of to-day’s lightning, like a courier or jockey across in a nerve. Pines sizzled; the pines wilted but withstood. High to low to bend to ground, a few careered and fell. Sideways some shout; then a semi-silence collecting the shout. Then a murmur, in which breathing became circular – and with this against the glass-wildness of the rain. Devouring. Great heats of devouring. Yet a consuming that was also creation: such went on in height and darkness in and out. Is going on; no end complete or incomplete to it. This part just by a small treeless oasis, a mere ground with sky is being compressed out of existence. Influxes of broken trees, pieces of trees, sharp or round fragments, from both sides invade on it. Soon it becomes nothing but a heap, and a blown heap: for the wind comes. But it cannot be entirely moved away, since more comes on it each moment. Suddenly rain flocks straight down, not sideways; like great stilts. And the pools of wet hurry and rearrange themselves. More trees turn away from each other, and thrust parting by the wind. Wind and rain breathe together, seem taking an oath together. Across the plain of the head-high forest flirts an uncontrollable delicate mixture of rain and wind, sometimes halting invitedly there, at times here, always lightly, till overthrown by the pursuer the harsher rains, and wind ruthless, when the light becomes frantic and delicacy is swum away. Into, around every furrow ploughs rain, and the wind, and the rain, and wind. And now a triple wind, whip-like sea of power, came like a fire-thread through cranny and furrow, milking sweetness away from each into crude streaks, till bitterness is at once its rind and core. At this point it ceases to crystallise, each part being essentially the same and thus able to continue separate. Never rising from this condition but soaked into indifference to light or the underneath, the intwining branches remain sore. Now a nest falls. Appealing, falling, misunderstanding. Then a howling bowls forth, not of birds but of heedless winds and the sky cut. Storm becomes rain, and rain storm; a fall and rise begotten of breath, from the too-fast running of the tempest. Regains its breath, and tumbles over – wrathfully like coals on dark ground. The scene reshatters, reassembles, and a moving cut weals across some join between the two trees. Blood flows; life creeps underneath. Long crawling the slugs and then lizards are struck by the storm, are struck and then sizzle through. The wolves creeping carrying prey feel it higher, become more part of the storm, the rich yolk of the storm. And the sky becomes white in turn, complementing it. Now no darkness is; every bush has become greyish white. A cold unmetal brightness in the storm. Rain comes now like earthquakes filleted.

The forest lies, exhausted, bare, and the tempest, having sailed, leaps; upon it, into it through secretly becoming it. Tempest and wood are one. Clinging for life. And the sky tosses them; but they are held together, held strangled.

The ocean of rain spares no life now. Submerging. Vast queues of submerged things; the slipped ground among them. The doorways of the great forest are now clear, like lanterns. The ears are open. Life is torn away still, the bottoms of plants uproot the flower, the ground is like rubber-juice. The climax to the thunder comes, and would cut the forest; nothing is seen to be cut, since the whole has become monotonous, unsensitive. Not a twig, not a leaf is left: if anything, only the cases of leaf, twig. The vein and colour have gone; and thus wind flogs a corpse. No limit seems to balance the rain’s fury: it is beyond reach; a uniqueness; an Antarctic pole of storms, the end of the type. And at length still harder hail pours, with sterner and surer lightning. The forest shouts for a moment, and triumph seemed to have won for it. A further depth of onslaught and a second cry, not one of triumph. The last wrestle, beneath and with the accelerating rains of sky, torments the bewildered rich-foamed woods. Their cold last weapons, which, as the first, are themselves, are raised up like children’s hands. The phalanx stands steady; but shocks and strokes rip up the air in front which is their breath and moisture. No resistance is. At last end comes; the dark beds are stormed, insects fly deeper into imagined earth.

The storm calms into sheer night. Moon shines, now like a monotonous carpet now piercing. The surface of the waves was quiet: the sea looked like a mass of soothing stretched handkerchiefs. The round moon seemed like a cymbal for the solemn dance: sarabanding were the eaves and leaves, forgetting, dying, sleeping, waking. Night at last lay in the last of laps. Moon shot upon the leaves like the pouring of juice from a dish. The gleam was content. A perfection was. All the distance held and sustained a royal grace, and there were horns in the sight now echoing through. Now the darkness came in moods: now like a slanting cushion, now flat like a cloth, now like leaves themselves. Thus it lightens itself. A long rod seemed to be emerging into the night, and guiding in into symmetry; and such symmetry ended the night. On the shore, a distance from the richer part of the sea, lay the slim body of Desmond who had not slept much. The sky yawned with him. He gazed and, rising, thought around him. Throwing his clothes to the ground and air, he plunged upon the waves; rising, disappearing. Hills grew long behind him.

Moment of Love

O slowly conqueror, surely crowned
In profound
Fulness of rich physical mind,
Built by twenty-fingering unique hand,
My silver tuned
And through three continents ‘phoned
Into your gold hair unconfined,
Entirely with our own precision signed.
Intenser than cup to wine,
Mouth murmuring me in mine,
Enticed more close than air to dawn
As I move slimly through thy lips’ pure lawn;
Tighter than sand to flesh, I to my own,
Are we to us, infinity alone
In space that is small, vast, and small again;
Elected king sheer absolute in reign.
– But cast off consonants, and “reign” is “ray”!
We both are rays from the high-aired Sun’s day;
And in our aeroplane we play.

O Clearness! O Sadness!

Can we not meet
In equal desolate defeat?
Must your will conquer,
While I among low-ceilinged anger
Crouch in mad languor?
O clearness! O sadness!
Can we not force
A desolate equal remorse?
Must you be censor,
And I the merest jingling chancer,
Wire to your pincer?
O singleness! O sadness!
Can we not speak
In equal desolation weak?
Must you be accuser,
The sole eraser, excuser, amazer?
Why your full Caesar?
O sadness!

Notes

[1] “Urn” appears in Patrick Freed (1948), but is not noted there as from “Irene”.

[2] Flogging ad infinitum is a theme explored exhaustively in White’s 1956 treatise on Chastisement Across the Ages.

[3] “Solely the suns are safe” appears in Patrick Freed, but is not noted there as from “Irene”.

[4] White had been a contributor to the highbrow ‘thirties cinema magazine, film art. The format of the news-reel had been referenced in his Terence White’s Verse-Reel, an occasional “broadsheet” of poetry that he had produced from 1939.

[5] The words “Nature. For Nature’s sake” are used as the title for the prose piece featuring Desmond in The Crown and the Sickle, appended here.

[6] For echoes of the theme of pregnancy, see the references, in my post linked to this page, to White’s desire to give birth, and to his lost poem “Sylvia Pregnant”.

[7] In Patrick Freed, this poem is titled “The Coast-line of Connacht”.

[8] “To a Cat” in Patrick Freed. In an obituary tribute to White, in the theosophical journal The Aryan Path for January 1969, Ruth Gaevernitz recalled that “his warm-embracing heart included strangers, people forlorn, animals. A mongrel dog, or a sweet black silken female cat, each was, with him, quite a personality!” Though here the cat is a “prince”.

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