Letter from Thomas
MacGreevy to George
13 January 1929.
Ecole Normale Superieure
13th January, 1929
I wonder if you are back from Rome. I hope you had an enjoyable time yourself and W.B. and that the children got lots out of it. Nurse also. Did she see Pop? And did O'Hagan do his part? I hope at least you had no trouble about it.
Well I've had lots to think about as a result of my visit to you. It was terribly worth while to me and, needless to say, enjoyable as well. Needless to say I am upset as a result of it too. I want to be "nothing so much as" a starving poet and am making all sorts of secret plans with a view to achieving that ambition, the two ambitions, starve and be a poet, by starve meaning of course idle, except for the making of pomes. The reason is indirectly that the B.I. is upset because my pupils find my lectures too "literary" that is to say not sufficiently professorial and I doubt whether they'll appoit me for a second year. Consequently what interested me rather has become irksome and Im jes bored with the whole thing now. Perhaps it will go better precisely because I am less interested. But the attendance at my lectures has diminished. Its the last job I'm going to trouble about anyhow and if it is not a success it will be sink or swim after and if I can get my debts paid before they dismiss me I shall feel relief more than anything else at having no more to do with other people, professors, connoisseurs, county council committeess and the rest.
I got all my trains and came back to snow and ice and broadcasting in
good time. But George, I did an
awful thing, forgot Caterina in my hurry. I tried to
cash the 2 get notes for the 20 lire I had
at Ventimiglia to send to her without telling you but
they told my little notes are no longer current. I have the 20 lire still
but have no way of sending them and it would only be sending you to the post
if I sent you 30 francs. Is it ignoble of me to ask you to give her the 20
and I'll pay you when we next meet. It's the second time I did this chez
vous. When I had to catch an early train to Kerry 55
months ago I forgot Bridgie but I was coming back in a
week that time and made it all right. The moral is that I should never try
to catch early trains but go the night before. The annoying thing is that
yours is the! only house I would not have it happen in and the only one in
which it ever has happened to me. Forgive me.
It has been awful weather here but very sunny to-day and yesterday. To-day I was taken for a drive to Versailles and with the Swiss Water and the Grand Canal packed with skaters it was a ravishing sight To-night I was at a marvellous ball for the Russian New Year. Such dresses and such quantities of 'em. Really maraviglia. And delicious things to eat and drink.
My broadcasting on Ben Jonson went off all right. But what a scramble to write it in English, then translate it myself into French, then get it corrected and then re-type it. God! It was a[p.2 recto] well-earned couple of hundred francs. And then I got so fed up with Ben's bon bourgeoisisme before I had finished it, like Browning. There is no one at the moment only Ezra — my latest hare. But if I had done nothing at Rapallo but get hold of your copies of the cantos it would have been worth the voyage. I also wrote to Geoffrey and told him it was his urgent business to read them. Lucky he, he can get them through the Central Library if they are not sold out.
I am enclosing the Sailing to Byzantium in
French. Some one or two I have shown it to who do not know
French say it is a English say it is a beautiful
poem. Peyron — the translator —
says there are a few things that could not go literally into French. They
use God's fire for instance as we say God's truth, artifice he wavered over
but he thinks on the whole it is too frequently pejoratif in French to be
possible and even if he had used it he would have to say dans le sein de l'artifice de l'eternite which is obviously
awkward. I am not sure if I was able to explain perne properly to him but
his way of deling with the phrase is voted impressive in the result whether
it be the most exact equivalent possible in French or no.
Here is a quatrain W.B. wrote for the Duncan's many years ago and which he did not remember and which only Jim knew so I thought it had better be salved:
God loves dim ways of glint and gleam.
To please him well my rhyme must be
A dyed and figured mystery,
Thought hid in thought, dream hid in dream
The third line is fine I think and I like it very much.
Will you send me a line when you have time and feel like it. It was all beautiful being with you and I loved it and wish I could make you understand how I appreciated it. May you be well and flourishing and gay always.
Love to you both and to Anne and Michael when you are writing. And cordial remembrances and respects to the Pounds. I'll write to Ezra when I have seen his friends. With Ben J and the British Institute — curse them both — it has been impossible so far.
Has Tinche a permanent address yet. I want to send him some things.[p.2 recto] Voyage vers Byzance Ce pays d'ou je viens n'est point fait pour des vieillards les jeunes gens;
Dans les bras l'un de l'autre, les oiseaux dans les arbres,
Ces généations mourantes a leur chanson,
Les barrages à saumon, la mer grouillante de maquereaux,
Poisson, chair ou gibier vont célébrant, au long de lété
Tout ce qui s'engendre, nait ou meurt;
Prisonniers de cette musique des sens, tous negligent
Les monuments à jamais jeunes de l'Esprit.
Un vieil homme n'est plus qu'une piêtre chose,
Une defrogne en lambeaux au bout d'un baton, à moins que
Son âme ne batte des mains et ne chante, ne chante toujours plus Haute chaque fois,
Pour chaque lambeau de sa vêture mortelle;
Et il n'est point d'autre école pour le chant que l'étude
Des monuments de sa propre splendeur,
C'est pour quoi j'ai franchi les mers et suis venu
Vers la sainte ville de Byzance.
O sages qui vous dressez dans les flammes sacrées du feu divin,
Comme sur la mosaique d'or d'une muraille,
Quittez le feu divin et tournez la meule dans un cercle mystique,
Que votre maitrise quide mon âme dans ses chants,
Consumez parfaitement mon coeur, malade du desir
Et attaché à une bête mourante;
Il ne sait pas ce qu'il est; recueillez moi
Dans le grand oeuvre de l'éternité!
Une fois sorti de la nature, je n'emprunterai jamais
Ma force materielle à des objets de sa façon,
Mais choisirai des formes telles qu'en forgent les orfévres Hellénes
Pour tenir éveillé quelque empereur somnolent,
Ou pour chanter, perchée sur un rameau d'or,
Aux seigneurs et nobles dames de Byzance
Les choses qui ont passé, passent et surviendront.
(Translation by Alfred Peyron)