Thomas McGreevy and Wallace Stevens: A Correspondence
A Machine Readable Version
Mary Joan Egan
This text is available only for the purpose of academic teaching and research provided that this header is included in its entirety with any copy distributed.Full Colophon Information
On 12 April 1948,
Fitzwilliam Place in
Dublin wrote a letter
Stevens at the
Hartford Accident and
Indemnity Company in
unpublished letters to Stevens are used with the permission of
Farrington and Elizabeth Ryan, his nieces and literary
executors; and of the Huntington Library,
California, where they are part of the
Stevens Archive, catalogued WAS 141-80. References will be given by
date in the text. I have copied
handwritten letters verbatim, without silent corrections of punctuation.
Their mutual friend, Barbara Church,
Mrs. Church was the
widow of Henry Church, the wealthy American expatriate who
published the French little magazine Mesures from 1934 until World War II.
Church, who had published in
Mesures translations of several poems
York: Knopf, 1923), became one of the poet's closest friends.
Notes toward a Supreme Fiction
Cummington Press, 1942) was dedicated to
Church. It was
work that gave a dedication. had told
some time before that Stevens had seen some of his poems and had
spoken well of them. Although
longer published poetry, except for rare occasional pieces, he wanted to know
if the American poet, whom he had long admired, had seen merit in his work. He
wrote, "I have known your Susannah since my 1922
birthday," referring to "
Peter Quince at
the Clavier," which had been published in
Others in August 1915.
offered to send a copy of a book he had written about his friend and neighbor,
the Irish painter Jack B.
Yeats, as well as his own collected poetry.
Jack B. Yeats: An Appreciation
and an Interpretation (Dublin: Waddington,
1945), and Poems
(London: Heineman, 1934). References to
poetry will be taken from this latter source. The letter struck a
sensitive nerve; Stevens answered in part:
I was really touched by it: by the eagerness on your part for
the satisfaction that any sensitive poet gets from a response. It is the same
satisfaction, if I may try to put my finger on it, that one gets from a sudden
sense of kindness in an extremely unkind world. It is one of those things about
poets that is usually misunderstood, but it is something that it is important
to understand.... I do not remember where I saw your poems and, since it was
some years ago, I do not actually remember the poems, to be honest about it,
but I do remember seeing them and being very much affected by them at the time.
Holly Stevens, ed.,
(New York: Knopf, 1966), 586.
Further references will be given parenthetically in the text, designated
L. Excerpts from this book and from
The Collected Poems of
Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens
The Necessary Angel (The Necessary Angel
NA), 1951; and
Opus Posthumous (Opus Posthumous
OP), 1989, are reprinted by
permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Stevens went on to say that he would like to have Jack B. Yeats make a drawing of McGreevy on one of the front pages of the book he would send. Yeats obliged; McGreevy wrote, "I showed Mr. Yeats your letter and he liked it and its writer so the page of my little book with all our names on it is a precious and historical document now please God." Of the drawing, he observed, "I see that he has got my querulousness" ( 27 Apr. 1948). Although they were not to meet until 1954, they exchanged letters until Stevens' death a year later. Peter Brazeau has briefly discussed the correspondence of the two men in "The Irish Connection: Wallace Stevens and Thomas McGreevy ," Southern Review 17 (Summer 1981): 533-41, concentrating on Stevens' use in poems and essays of suggestions derived from McGreevy's letters. George S. Lensing includes similar information in Wallace Stevens: A Poet's Growth (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986), 228-30, as does Joan Richardson in Wallace Stevens: The Later Years, 1923-1955 (New York: William Morrow, 1988). Richardson also mentions the effect of "McGreevy's religious, mystical kind of perceptiveness" on Stevens (312) and perceives a subtle spiritual affinity between the two.[p.124]
It would seem an unlikely friendship: McGreevy was gregarious, unabashedly outspoken about his religious beliefs, and quick to establish intimacies; Stevens was reserved, jealous of his privacy, and so given to abruptness that many regarded him as a misanthrope. But these opposites complemented one another happily, and the seven years saw an incremental dialog that soon made them true cronies. Stevens' daughter would observe that McGreevy was one of those "with whom ... he was most himself" ( L 811).
At the age of fifty-four, McGreevy was richly and variously experienced in the art and literature of his time. He had a relatively late start. After finishing national school at sixteen, he worked for the civil service in Dublin and then in London until World War I, when he joined the British army. He was demobilized as a lieutenant in 1919 and took advantage of a scholarship for ex-officers to attend Trinity College, Dublin, where he took an honors degree in political science and history. After his graduation, he began his eclectic career as writer, critic, lecturer, translator, and art historian, moving among Dublin, London, and Paris as opportunities faded or blossomed.
In 1927 he went to Paris as lecteur at the École Normale Superieure. During the next seven years he was active in the circles that were giving form and voice to the literature of the time. In 1929, for example, McGreevy wrote "The Catholic Element in Work in Progress ," one of the fourteen essays in Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress (Paris: Shakespeare, 1929). Other contributors included Samuel Beckett, Eugene Jolas, and William Carlos Williams. McGreevy's essay also appeared under the title "A Note on Work in Progress " in transition 14 (Fall 1928): 216-19. In his poetry, published in avant-garde magazines such as The Dial, Criterion, and transition, he strove to develop his own voice — Irish and modern but independent of both Celtic twilight and prevailing mainstream influences. In a critical monograph about T. S. Eliot written in 1931, he speculated about what the sensibilities of specifically American writers had to contribute to the western world and mentioned Stevens as being detached from the masses and not a spokesman for them. Thomas MacGreevy, Thomas Stearns Eliot (London: Chatto and Windus, 1931), 4. This work indicates that his attempts to assimilate the best thinking and art of his time were not limited to Europe but already spanned the Atlantic.
McGreevy moved to London in 1934 and back to Dublin in the spring of 1941. There he continued to write, chiefly about art, and involved himself in the culture of his own nation. For all his cosmopolitan experience, McGreevy was emphatically not a West Briton; he was an Irish Irishman, familiar with Gaelic language and story, seeking both to inform Ireland with the finest that the rest of the world could offer to bring it out of its insularity and to make Irish thought and sensibility internationally recognized. He never lost his rural Irish identity; he was born and grew up at Tarbert, a village in County Kerry on the estuary of the Shannon. He went back there often for his holidays and regarded it as the base of his being. Wallace Stevens shared this nostalgia for the ultimate home — in his case, Reading, Pennsylvania.[p.125]
Stevens sent copies of Parts of a World (1942) and Transport to Summer (1947); McGreevy found the books delivered at his flat on a Saturday evening when he came home from the opera. Stevens was to find ample "satisfaction that any sensitive poet gets from a response": "Like Debussy's music your poetry doesn't make a noise" ( 27 April 1948). McGreevy began "browsing," "tuning in," "finding things I'm happy to find while waiting leisurely to find the ultimate res Wallace Stevens" ( 10 May 1948). A few days later he wrote of Stevens' "Credences of Summer" ( CP 376), "On every page I find things that content me, as 'The trumpet of the morning blows in the clouds and through / The sky."' A devout Roman Catholic, he added, "And I think my delight in it is of the Holy Spirit" ( 26 May 1948).
Stevens also "browsed" and "tuned in" to what McGreevy had sent him — the Poems and the book about Jack B. Yeats. Of the latter, the avowed purpose of which was to show that Yeats was important because "he paints the Ireland that matters" (5), Stevens wrote: "Your essay on Mr. Yeats is right on the rightness of his realism. The mind with metaphysical affinities has a dash when it deals with reality that the purely realistic mind never has because the purely realistic mind never experiences any passion for reality — I think Mr. Yeats visibly does" ( L 597). McGreevy had argued that in his choice of subject matter and his rendering of attitudes, poses, and expressions, Yeats had captured the uniqueness of the Irish mind and spirit; and he had included twenty plates to illustrate his claim. Later, when McGreevy sent him a newspaper photograph of himself and Yeats, Stevens wrote, "In his picture although Mr. Yeats has the lean look of the visionary, he also has the extremely live look of the man to whom reality means as much as the imagination ever could mean, if not more" ( L 652). The importance of the fusion of reality and imagination has been well established as the very core of Stevens' poetics. He praised both Courbet and Giorgione, different as they were in style, for their "devotion to the real" and "resistance to the false, the fraudulent" ( L 632). As he matured and developed as a poet, Stevens was more and more concerned with "[t]he demand for reality in poetry," which "brings one sooner or later to a point where it becomes almost impossible since a real poetry, that is to say, a poetry that is not poetical or that is not merely the notation of objects in themselves poetic is a poetry divested of poetry" ( L 631). He seems to have recognized this demand for reality in McGreevy's work as well as in that of Yeats.
The Poems, influenced
but not dominated by the techniques of
Joyce and his early
followers, ranged in subject matter from the Anglo-Irish War to art to love.
them carefully and commented, "These poems are memorabilia of someone I might
have known and they create for me something of his world and of himself. It is
possible to see that you were (and I hope are) a young man eager to be at the
heart of his time"
An excerpt from this letter appears on the dust
jacket of the latest edition of
Schreibman, Collected Poems of
MacGreevy: An Annotated Edition (Dun
Laoghaire:Anna Livia Press, and
Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1991). In addition to
annotations, Schreibman's book includes biographical
notes, uncollected poems, translations of Spanish poems, and a wealth of
Stevens played with the meaning of a tercet
that comes two-thirds of the way through
High above the Bank of Ireland
McGreevy was right to put the Bank of
Ireland before the unearthly music,
because attention is thus focused on the real rather than the unreal. That
element alone interested him; he was apparently unaware of the intended import
of the poem. McGreevy had long been impressed by the power
grotesquery, but his immediate motive was his reaction to the hanging of
Kevin Barry, an
IRA soldier in the Anglo-Irish
War, on 1 November 1920
(Schreibman 104, 170 n 11). His death
caused intensified outrage against the British: it inspired a number of street
ballads, one of which is well-remembered and frequently sung with the other
Irish songs of rebellion. Memorabilia of his last days are preserved in the
National Museum in
have found these facts interesting had he been aware of them, but his interest
was solely in the appropriateness of the tercet and the use he could make of
In the introduction to his edition of
Sur Plusieurs Beaux Sujects:
Stevens' Commonplace Book (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1989), Milton J. Bates gives a
full account of Stevens' free and oblique use of diverse
Unearthly music sounded,
Passing westwards. (Poems 14)
" is a composition of truly Boschean imagery — a
child without hands, a faceless woman, worms, rats, ghosts — and
speculated that the Bank of
Ireland passage was an intrusion of the
nostalgie du divin, "which," he
remarked, "obviously is epidemic in
596). He lost no time in using ideas from
letters as well as his poems in "Our Stars Come from
," a poem in two sections: "
America, / Thinks of Himself as a Boy"
and "The Westwardness of Everything." From the tercet
he had noted he took the ideas of imaginary music over
Dublin and of westwardness in general and bent
them to his own purpose.
poem is ominous and foreboding;
Over the top of the Bank of
Ireland,He has transformed his gleaning into an expression of
the nostalgia it suggested to him, as he did with
metaphor of the sound of a rushing Swiss river recalling the sounds of the
Shannon Estuary tides in "Recessional"
used a reference to
Mal Bay, an Atlantic inlet northwest of his
home, as the closure of "Recessional"; he had written,
Stevens was born at
October 2, 1879, fourteen years and 24 days before
was born in
Co. Kerry" (
10 May 1948).
the two Irish place names to parallel his references to the eastern
Pennsylvania Swatara and Schuylkill rivers in "
America...," thus reinforcing his
conviction that the two men were akin in their deep attachment to the ultimate
home. The best gloss of his poem is
comment: "When we look back, at least when I look back, I do not really
remember myself but the places in which I lived and things there with which I
The wind blows quaintly
The wind blows quaintly Its thin-stringed music,
As he heard it in Tarbert. ( CP 454)
McGreevy grasped and delighted in
virtual fusion of identity with him. The persona of the poem is
himself. The two men are doubles — Stevens is
McGreevy — and yet the voice of the poem
is split; the older man is reconstructing himself "as a boy" from his memories
of sense impressions, chiefly sounds. The boy no longer exists:
He stayed in
Kerry, died there.
I live in Pennsylvania.
Out of him I made Mal Bay
And not a bald and tasselled saint. ( CP455)
Because he had used
name as well as his ideas,
if it would be all right to include the poem in a small collection to be
published as a pamphlet in
agreed with delight: "The whole poem was like myself talking to
myself — about Wallace Stevens maybe. Another mystery that
doesn't seem at all mysterious but quite natural" (
4 Aug. 1948). Later, he wrote, "You
write to me as if you were writing to yourself" (
29 Dec. 1948).
felt the same affinity for Swatara and Schuylkill that
Mal Bay. When he next went home, he wrote:
It is fitting that I send you a word from here since you have
been here too — yesterday. I went over the hill to the strand with my
sister and we sat on the rocks long enough to smoke a cigarette. But we didn't
have to talk and I was quite by myself when, as was of course bound to happen I
thought of Swatara and Schuylkill, and the sense of inner content, of something
indistinguishable from absolute peace, came naturally and sweetly. I could have
stayed a long time with nothing happening beyond the talk of the full tide
amongst the stones and it like a little song of comfort to a lad who hardly
knew he was a poet long ago on the other side of the water, but I was quite
satisfied to finish my cigarette and then come away without saying anything.
But you, I knew for certain, were welcome in
21 Aug. 1948)
It became his custom to write at least a short letter to Stevens every time he went home — "you who from 3000 miles away made poetry of Tarbert....I had the feeling even as I came down in the train that I'd be meeting Wallace Stevens here. And when I walk over the hill down to meet the tide filling the Shannon valley I'm talking to my sisters and friends and I am contently in the presence of Wallace Stevens too" ( 1 Sept. 1949). Stevens echoed the sentiment if not the sentimentality: when McGreevy sent him a catalog of one of Yeats's exhibitions in Dublin, he wrote, "It was on my desk just when you expected it to be and I spent some time with you and afterwards we all went off together and had a drink" ( L652).
Another remark of
spawned part of another Stevens poem. He wrote, "I rejoiced to find
you had a white Eulalia in 'Certain
Phenomena of Sound.' Lorca had '
Olalla blanco en el blanco' which I
thought beautiful" (
26 May 1948). The Spanish phrase stayed
he used it in "The Novel," a poem he wrote a few
months later, but again he adapted the source to his own idiosyncratic purpose.
"The Novel" is a bleak and wintry poem that uses
images of warmth and the poetic to intensify bitterly the harsh reality of the
world. After he quotes Lorca, he goes on: "Lol-lolling the
endlessness of poetry" thus belittling the euphony, dismissing it as a defense
against coldness and darkness.
Although the line that
"thought beautiful" served
purpose well, the poem in which it occurs, "The Martyrdom of
, " which
translated and published in 1931 (Schreibman, 86-88, 169), is actually a
bloody, graphic, and stark account of the saint's mutilation and death.
renders the last three lines of the poem, affirming her apotheosis:
"Olalla white in the white. / Angels and seraphim / say:
Holy, Holy, Holy." Stevens was probably unaware that
translated the poem.
And one trembles to be so understood and, at last,It was first published in The Auroras of Autumn in 1950.
reminded of the Harmonium poem "The Snow Man," with its "not to think / Of any misery
in the sound of the wind"
CP 10), and he wrote: "I thought of the Prophets as
I went back again and then again to the last words of 'The
Novel.'...I think too that in spite of the tragedy of knowing and the
fatality of seeing things too well, there is yet a mystery which is blessed and
maybe we'll all know, poor Lorca and Saint
Eulalie and Wallace Stevens and
or perhaps better, not know but be happy in it." He had seen a wedding at the
tomb of Saint Eulalie in
Barcelona years before; the line from
Lorca had reminded him of the scene; and "years later
Stevens makes it all as fresh as if the
Barcelona Cathedral of twenty-five years ago and
Hartford and the
Fitzwilliam Place of today were all one" (
21 Sept. 1950).
To understand, as if to know became
The fatality of seeing things too well. ( CP 459)
"Our Stars Come from
" was not published in
England after all — a fact that did not
surprise McGreevy: "The wonder is when anything that
is nice for me gets through in
29 Dec. 1948). When it appeared in
Auroras of Autumn,
even more affected than he had been two years before when he first saw the
There isn't any way of telling you what I felt as I read "Our Stars Come from Ireland
." I just sat there for most
of the morning by myself, in pride and tears and love, looking out over
Merrion Square and looking back at the book,
reading other poems, going back to my own, wondering, disarmed, thinking about
Stevens and about the Holy Spirit, feeling very small and very very
grateful that I had lived to see such a day. The sun I should tell you was
shining outside and my lovely room and the noble square were all full of it and
full of your poetry — and my little part in it which however little was all
of me. (
21 Sept. 1950)
The letters from Tarbert made Stevens happy. He had read a book about the west of Ireland that gave him an impression of "mist and the rain" ( L 564). Mario Manlio Rossi, Pilgrimage to the West, trans. J.M. Hone (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1933). He mentioned it to McGreevy: "I very much prefer the picture of you seated on the rocks there smoking a cigarette. One likes to see things of this kind exactly....Your letter from Tarbert balances your account, so to speak" ( L 611). Again, "We have been having a poor summer over here and since I store up summer (like a bee) and since there has been so little to store up, I shall have to cherish the Courbet-like image of you at Tarbert which, whatever it may be in reality, seems to have much of the elemental about it — the heroic idea of the Shannon wading downward like a giant into the sea" ( L 691).
Stevens became fascinated by a real and imagined Dublin as well. When McGreevy wrote about a performance of Pelleas et Mélisande and a party for the singers afterward, adding that the troupe had flown back to Paris the next morning, Stevens embroidered the account and wrote to his young friend José Rodríguez Feo in Cuba: "It seems that troupes of singers of operas fly from Paris to Dublin, fill the night air with Mélisande , then go to a party and fly back to Paris, all in a single circuit of the clock. What a dazzling diversion. And I am sure that even without such things one is never bored in Dublin because with all the saints they know, and know of, there, there is always company of a kind and in Dublin saints are the best company in the world" ( L599). When McGreevy sent newspapers, Stevens combed through them to embellish his images. He wrote to Mrs. Church, "I was interested to see that they have sausages in Eire. It doesn't seem quite Celtic. And there were butchers advertising pork, which was stimulating" ( L 616). Later he wrote, "One picks up a kind of freedom of the universe, or at least of the world, from the movements of other people" ( L 727).
As he did with other correspondents from Cuba to Ceylon, Stevens gained from McGreevy a sense of a country he would never visit. It was through McGreevy that he saw the paradoxes of Ireland — its gaiety, its sadness, its wildness, its sincere Catholicism. He read "The Lion Tamer," [p.130] a story by Bryan MacMahon In The Lion Tamer and Other Stories (New York: Dutton, 1949), 11-27. about "a romantic Irish liar" who brags in a pub about his experience as a lion tamer. The man's recurring boast is, "'At last, Ireland had produced a lion tamer'" ( L 655). Stevens was charmed, and wrote to McGreevy, "why should not Ireland produce a lion tamer? Is there any appointed patrie for lion tamers?" ( L 652). Stevens' vision of Ireland was perhaps a little romanticized, slightly stereotyped, but not too far wrong for all that: "The Irish seem to have hearts. Besides, Dublin and the whole place look to my eye like the pages of a novel — not one of those frightful continental novels in ten volumes, all psychology and no fresh air, but a novel full of the smell of ale and horses and noisy with people living in flats, playing the piano, and telephoning and with the sound of drunks in the street at night" ( L 609). Dublin, he believed, was "merely one more minor metropolis," and goes on: "But the country could be more than that. I like natives: people in civilized countries whose only civilization is that of their own land. Not that I have ever met any: it is merely an idea. Yet it would be nice to meet an idea like that driving a donkey cart, stopping to talk about the rain" ( L 613).
McGreevy's idea of America was as stereotyped, and as nearly accurate, as Stevens' idea of Ireland, and it seems to have come, by and large, from novels — chiefly those of Henry James. In his monograph on T. S. Eliot, he had said, "America itself is not so much a country as a mass meeting" (2) and "It is, I suppose, generally accepted that America as a whole is the most vulgar plutocracy that the modern world has ever seen. Even the poor American is proud of all the millionaires, and of all the splendid skyscrapers they build for the biggest big business ever" (3). He had no desire to visit the country, although there had been opportunities for him to do so. He seems to have felt that there was nothing to interest him in America. A visit would not be worth the time and risk of ocean crossings. Furthermore, he was somewhat repelled by the notions he had picked up about the country, because he viewed its inhabitants as a horde of vulgarians dominated by a joyless New England elite. Getting to know Stevens gave a new dimension to his imaginings, although his suspicions were not immediately dispelled. He once wrote, "I am glad that somebody I know was 'born in Pennsylvania' and not to the bigotry and exclusiveness of Boston" ( 19 June 1955). Stevens represented the most wholesome aspect of America to McGreevy. After his only visit, he wrote, "Though I met lovely people, most sympathetic and charming people all the way and all the time during my month in America, I incline now in retrospect to think that maybe only you really were America. Are you, do you think, the first America since Whitman who was surely wasn't he? the first America of all?" ( 7 Mar. 1954).
McGreevy contributed to
"freedom of the universe" not only an awareness of
Ireland but also a sense of the
Continent, especially of
Rome. In late 1948
went there for two weeks, his first visit in ten years. He sent a postcard and
a long letter:
Being there is like being part of a play. Everything seems to
be an outward, visible thing there. Even at Mass you get, or I do at least
whatever about the others, some queer feeling that I am expected to pray not
with the mind but with the senses. I daresay the balance between mind and sense
impressions is more weighted down on the side of the latter than it is north of
the Alps. And one day during the fortnight I said to somebody, 'Look, there is
a cloud.' It was the only one I saw. And shapes buildings, statues etc. are
everywhere impressive in the sunshine beautiful or venerable or sometimes
both....A town 3000 years old and ready to take on a bet that in another 3000
years another Tom
McGreevy will be writing to another
Stevens about how much he was taken with it. It isn't of course
Paris one must analyze, find out why and the
stamp of intellect is on everything that matters there.
Rome is content to make a magnificent
29 Dec. 1948)
Stevens thrived on such
letters: "Your postcard from
Rome set me up.
Rome is not ordinarily on the itinerary of my
imagination. It is a little out of the way, covered by cypresses. It is not a
place that one visits frequently like
For Easter 1950,
Rome again as a member of a delegation headed
by the Lord Mayor of
Dublin. They traveled across
Italy in a motorcoach, "from which," he wrote,
"you can see nothing but thousands of feet of eternity. Not that I object to
eternity but I'd tend to be choosy about ways of getting to it!" (
21 May 1950). He wrote about his
audience with Pope Pius XII and about the "indescribable
beauty" of the Easter Sunday mass. He was happy and at ease with the
Pope but somewhat uncomfortable decked out in full dress
with his Legion of Honor ribbon and cross.
was having a spell of dreariness, again found himself cheered by the pictures
his friend had conjured up:
At the end of all this there were you bouncing across
France in the coach of the Lord Mayor
on your way to the capital
fete of the year, if I may say so. Actually, when you spoke of a coach, I
allowed myself, without stopping to think, to see one of those fantastic
anachronisms which we are led to believe are the appropriate vehicles of Lord
Mayors. There you were rolling across the French villages through files of
bewildered natives with nothing to do but look at the scenery, take an
occasional drink and murmur a simple prayer or two. I was
when I realized that it was probably a motor coach after all, probably painted
black, and that if you ran over an occasional hen you were probably going too
fast even to know it.
But even with the piety and respectability of yourself and your
friends, what a secret rowdiness must have been alive in all of you. What an
adventure to take such a trip and to know that in spite of your memories of
this town and that mountain you were gathering
Venezia and a lot more, just like so many
tall black-haired girls with your arms and giving them a whirl all over the
place. And then the lovely propriety with which it all came out, the
peace-giving memories of the Pope and of his glorious
church and the happiness of feeling both sanctified and everything else all at
the same time, as if you had been on an airplane trip through several of the
more celebrated planets with two days of heaven thrown in.
At the end of all this there were you bouncing across France in the coach of the Lord Mayor of Dublin on your way to the capital fete of the year, if I may say so. Actually, when you spoke of a coach, I allowed myself, without stopping to think, to see one of those fantastic anachronisms which we are led to believe are the appropriate vehicles of Lord Mayors. There you were rolling across the French villages through files of bewildered natives with nothing to do but look at the scenery, take an occasional drink and murmur a simple prayer or two. I was [p.132] horrified when I realized that it was probably a motor coach after all, probably painted black, and that if you ran over an occasional hen you were probably going too fast even to know it.
But even with the piety and respectability of yourself and your friends, what a secret rowdiness must have been alive in all of you. What an adventure to take such a trip and to know that in spite of your memories of this town and that mountain you were gathering Roma and Venezia and a lot more, just like so many tall black-haired girls with your arms and giving them a whirl all over the place. And then the lovely propriety with which it all came out, the peace-giving memories of the Pope and of his glorious church and the happiness of feeling both sanctified and everything else all at the same time, as if you had been on an airplane trip through several of the more celebrated planets with two days of heaven thrown in. ( L 680)
As time went on there was more fun and more playfulness in the letters. McGreevy had his occasional joke: "Apropos of your saying that except in Boston America doesn't have ascetics or humanities — they tell a story in the north of Ireland about a lonely G.I. of the war years emerging at dusk from the station to Ballymena and meeting a nice looking girl. 'Say sister,' says he, 'what do you do about sex in this burg?' And she answered politely, 'I think most people have their tea about that time'" ( 23 Mar. 1949). Stevens told of seeing a lavish display of pictures and objects sent from the Vienna Museum to New York by the Austrian Government: "It was, however, too much. If I could have looked at the six Velasquez pictures alone — but to wander about among a hundred or more masterpieces (to be magnificent about it) made me feel like a young Sultan just married to his first hundred girls: there wasn't much one could do" ( L 680). That one gave McGreevy great glee: "God bless the fun of it n'empêche pas" ( 21 Sept. 1950).
Both men were contemptuous of the politicians of any country,
and they were disgusted with the cold war, nuclear weaponry, and the news of
the day in general. McGreevy wrote from
Tarbert: "One thing about being at home is
that the stuff in the newspapers is put in its place and doesn't
make me cross. In
Dublin it puts me on edge and excessive work
has made me, an edgy man by nature, more edgy still with the ridiculosity of
the people who scheme to hold or to get power. Our papers must be nearly as bad
as yours with blither about atom bombs and hydrogen bombs and all the rest of
the bogey-bogey. If they want to break the Christian rules of warfare and go in
for mass killing it would be much less expensive to poison the well it seems to
24 Aug. 1951).
McGreevy used these very words in his short
poem "On the Death of
": "Of the three who threw the
bomb, / None, we may like to think / Would poison a well." The poem was first
published in 1962 (Schreibman, 71, 168 n 1). It may well have
been written earlier; Stalin died in 1953. When the Korean
"military action" was getting underway,
I want very much to live quietly this summer, writing as may
be but in any case turning my back on politics. It may be necessary sooner or
later to emigrate to some region where there are no radios, newspapers etc. and
where the natural man can be himself, saying his prayers in the dark without
fear of being slugged. Over here, it is just as if there was a war going on,
vast crowds of young men in training camps, restrictions on this, that, and the
other. Life itself will eventually become the modern bore, unless it becomes
possible to have a peaceful interlude or two.
716) Ever testy about the IRS, he wrote:
"With the rest of the world half-strangled, half-suffocated by extortionate
Ireland might be able do very well for herself
by providing a decent country in which fortunes, if they could not be made
there, could at least be preserved from politicians who are so busy nowadays in
dissipating even the fortune of the world"
Stevens, whose poetry had not been well
distaste for the British. Speaking of his own published work, he said, "I
always liked the Englishman who wrote to say that he didn't like the damned
stuff. The truth is that American poetry is at its worst in
England and, possibly in
Ireland or in any other land where English is
spoken and whose inhabitants feel that somehow our English is a vulgar
597). The remark made
"crow inwardly with delight" (
26 May 1948). In September 1949
A good many of us are at the moment very much bored with
Ireland's neighbor....There is so much that
the Government (our government) does that hurts me, personally, that it is only
too easy for me to feel that it is a clique of politicians seeking to
perpetuate itself (as in fact it is). But most of the insults that we get from
the British are the sort of thing that we have been getting regardless of when
or why and having nothing to do with economics and politics as they exist
between the British and the Americans. These dirty cracks must be regarded
expressions of a fixed attitude. How natural that sort of thing
seems to be to them in their "ancient civilization". In what sense is it any
more ancient than ours? There are older ghosts and perhaps there is Roman money
in the ground. The truth is that the British flatter themselves at the expense
of the world, always have and always will.
646-47) One reason
facetiously gave for not wanting to visit
Europe was the "risk of being suddenly
ossified by the stare of an Englishman"
They exchanged observations about commonplaces such as the
weather that led to speculation about the effect of the world itself not only
on the feelings but on the spirit as well. For example,
at the beginning of June 1950:
Your fabulous letter found me well — just about as flat as
that. We have had all the dreariness of life falling down (more or less) in
rain week after week until it has come to seem like life up a spout or round
about a great sewer. Spring in
Connecticut is just as wild as spring in
Persia. But not this year. Things come up in
the garden and hang their heads. At the moment azaleas are just going and
rhododendrons are coming in — poor old things with their leaves glistening
wet day and night. This has quite brought me to a standstill. I feel none of
the brightness that a man feels at seventy when everything around him becomes
young again and does what it can to include him. This year I begin to think it
will soon be nice to sit more or less constantly by the fire. It will be nice
just to keep dry and away from the sheets of rain outside of the window.
McGreevy had a happier story to tell when he was on holiday at Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire; but his account is colored by his Anglophobia: "By the way the Byron of Lochnagar is almost wrong when one comes down here....I went out for a minute or two before I came upstairs just now and walked up and down the terrace for a few minutes and with the wooded cliffs above the rapids in the light of a full moon it was so beautiful that I could praise God, which before any English scene is an experience without precedence for me" ( 12 Oct. 1954).
As might be expected, there is much talk of art and poetry. Stevens tells about galleries and exhibitions he has been seeing in New York; McGreevy tells about identifying pictures for the National Gallery. They discuss the virtues of artists as diverse as Courbet and Arp. McGreevy wrote: "A poem is a letter to oneself. (You wait upon the unconscious news of yourself and send it to the conscious recipient self. Who then is the middle self, the transmitter? I suppose he is just the craftsman)" ( 29 Dec. 1948). When [p.135] McGreevy asked Stevens why he published and whether he had an audience in mind, the answer was unequivocal: "Your question about the audience for whom I write is very much like the question that was asked of a man as to whether he had stopped beating his wife. But, as it happens, I know exactly why I write poetry and it is not for an audience. I write it because for me it is one of the sanctions of life. This is a very serious thing to say at this time of the morning, so that I shall let it go at that for the present" ( L 600). He had said much the same thing in his lecture "The Irrational Element in Poetry" in 1936: "the poets who most urgently search the world for the sanctions of life, for that which makes life so prodigiously worth living, may find their solutions in a duck in a pond or in the wind on a winter night" ( OP 228).
In January 1949, when the French government awarded McGreevy the cross of Chevalier de la Legión d'Honneur for his services to art, Stevens had nothing to say; he simply addressed his next letter "Chevalier" instead of "Dear Mr. McGreevy" ( L 631). He had a great deal to say, however, when McGreevy was appointed director of Dublin's National Gallery in 1950. McGreevy had applied for the job twice before, in 1927 and in 1935, and had been rejected; the appointment, therefore, was the realization of a long-time ambition. Stevens wrote: "I thought of you in July when your new work began. As a matter of fact, it delights me to think of you as hard at work with such an endless lot to do: the endless job of rejuvenating and revitalizing a public institution. I know nothing about the Gallery, but it could well be a bit venerable, a bit neglected and more than a bit in need of the many things that are required to make a museum a place of enchantment, full of the activities of enchantment, as well as of the intelligence" ( L 690-91). Later: "Some time ago I was talking to the man that runs the Frick Gallery in New York. He said that people always supposed that running a gallery meant little more than the constant indulgence of his desires, while in reality it means seeing that a leaky radiator is fixed; that a broken glass is repaired; and that money is found for this, that and the other. I suppose that that is true. My guess is that you would love all that and that this is what you have been waiting for all your life" ( L 697). He was right on all counts. The Gallery had been neglected; McGreevy was immersed in time-consuming trivia; and he gloried in the job. In his thirteen years there he not only brought the gallery out of the doldrums — before his time there had been only a part-time director and a registrar — but also started plans for an extension of the building. He wrote to Stevens about bringing pictures up from the cellars and solving problems with his expanding staff.
When George Bernard Shaw died, the same year that McGreevy took up his post, he left one-third of the royalties for his plays until the year 2000 to the National Gallery because, he said, it was there that he found [p.136] "the only real education I ever got as a boy in Eire." The bequest was for the acquisition of pictures only, and McGreevy supervised plans about spending it. He was, however, less than overcome with reverence for the benefactor. He took part in a radio symposium honoring Shaw, but he wrote to Stevens: "I got into hot water with the radio critics one in particular who wrote out the riot act about me in The Irish Times. They were shocked I think because I reported that some time after I first met him, Mrs. Tyrell (the widow of Professor Robert Y Tyrell, classics man of T C.D.), was organizing a lunch party for me in London and said 'Would you like me to ask that old bore George Shaw?' And I dared to say I thought we'd have a better party without him. That was nearly 30 years ago and I'm sure Mrs. Tyrell who is 96 would say the same thing again and I'd make the same answer again. And she'd quite understand and remain very fond of Shaw just the same" ( 18 Dec. 1950). Stevens concurred: "I stopped reading [Shaw] years ago because I thought he had nothing affirmative in him and, also, because his noes were indiscriminate. In short, he lacked focus. What he was all about, after all, was himself and the only structure he left was his own image.... [O]f course, he was always enjoyable in the theatre as distinct from in the reading of him" ( L 715).
a true epicurean in the best sense of that word. He savored the pleasures of
apprehending art, feeling the world's sensuousness, and empathizing with
people. It is an indication of his psychic integrity that pleasure was entirely
compatible with his deep religious beliefs. His delights were always "of the
Holy Spirit." Of a fortuitous pleasure, he wrote:
It was just a perfectly natural proceeding, and blessed too,
like finding that one has been singing to oneself without knowing it, or as
happened to me at home in
Tarbert last summer during the warm weather
finding oneself with the seashore to oneself and though one had only gone for a
walk without any intention of bathing, undressing and bathing with at once
(though only half consciously) the sense of surrendering oneself and of
(through the surrender I suppose) being given possession of one's own destined
world. Perhaps one shouldn't over-analyse but be satisfied with the inadequate
and overwhelming words of St. John, To as many as believed
He gave power to be sons of God. Forgive me if that last remark makes you
impatient. But I think of Luke and John rather as
buddies too, like Giorgione, sharing with one. (
4 Aug. 1948)
One of McGreevy's enduring joys came from the work of Giorgio Barbarelli, called Giorgione "from his bodily looks and the greatness of his mind," Terisio Pignatti, Giorgione , trans. Clovis Whitman (London: Phaidon Press, 1971), 7. the innovative Venetian painter of the early sixteenth century. [p.137] McGreevy cited him as one of the "profane influences that matter most" (Poems 59) in informing his poetic sensibility, and referred to him frequently and affectionately as "big George." He objected to critics calling the painter pantheistic (a term that, indeed, many critics use loosely), but seems to have responded most deeply to those very qualities that they used to support their judgment, particularly the expansiveness of his vision of nature. When he read Stevens' " Poem Written at Morning," which begins "A sunny day's complete Poussiniana / Divide it from itself" ( CP 219), McGreevy wrote that he especially liked "things like the name of Poussin making a page radiant as Poussiniana" ( 10 May 1948).McGreevy would later write a book about the French painter: Nicolas Poussin (Dublin: Dolman Press, 1960) (Schreibman 177). He used the passage to suggest that Stevens share his own enthusiasm for big George, perhaps using him as an imaginative jumping-off point as he had done with the French painter: "I've never escaped from Giorgione since I met him first when I was about eighteen" ( 10 May 1948). Years later, he explained more fully when he told of looking forward to a Giorgione exhibition in Venice, "an exhibition I have been waiting for since I was round eighteen and first realized that the angle, attitude, philosophy or whatever it be of Giorgione had some special validity for me" ( 19 June 1955).
Stevens promised early on to "come to terms" with the artist, and he mentioned "Among the pictures from the Berlin museums that are being exhibited over here at the present time there is a Portrait of a Young Man with a good deal of mulberry-lavender-purple about it. That is the extent of my experience" ( L 600). They agreed in rejecting Walter Pater's negative assessment of the painter in The Renaissance — in Stevens' words "one of his more dreadful goings-on" ( L606). McGreevy reread it with "some little impatience" ( 10 May 1948).
Stevens did, in fact, develop an interest in Giorgione and found in him "freshness" and "tenderness" ( L 608). He wrote to Mrs. Church, "Giorgione died at 33 leaving behind works on which he lavished all his youthful poetry: things full of the exquisite, the delicate, the tender" ( L 607). McGreevy's affinity to the painter seemed much like his affinity to Stevens, the poet: "I read Harmonium and like the Budapest Giorgione or like the Hampton Court one [Shepherd Boy with a Flute] which was the first I saw ... it stays after I have put it away" ( 4 Aug. 1948). He made the parallel even more emphatically when he wrote about his former reluctance to visit America: "I had no America. But now I have an America and if ever I go — which is not really very likely — I have somewhere to go. I'll go to Swatara and Schuylkill. And it will be to find the myself that was Wallace Stevens there, as going to Castelfranco from Venice was going to find the myself that was Giorgio Barbarelli there four hundred and fifty years ago" ( 4 Aug. 1948). As a very young man, he had given his mother a print of [p.138] Giorgione's Castelfranco altarpiece, and it was still there in the home he visited at Tarbert as he was writing his letters.
Giorgione finally did appear in the
in his essay "Imagination as Value," read before the
English Institute at Columbia University
There is also among these pictures [the touring exhibit from
Berlin] a Giorgione, the portrait of a young
man, head and shoulders, in a blue-purple blouse, or if not blue-purple, then a
blue of extraordinary enhancings.
Vasari said of
Giorgione that he painted
nothing that he had not seen in nature. This portrait is an instance of a real
object that is at the same time an imaginative object. It has about it an
imaginative bigness of diction. We know that in poetry bigness and gaiety are
precious characteristics of the diction. This portrait transfers that principle
to painting. The subject is severe but its embellishment, though no less
severe, is big and gay and one feels in the presence of an abundant and joyous
spirit, instantly perceptible in what may be called the diction of the
152-53) Throughout his life,
regarded painting as the most meaningful sister-art of poetry. He makes his
case most vividly in " The Relations between Poetry and
Painting," a lecture given at the Museum of Modern
New York City in 1951. There he concludes:
It would be tragic not to realize the extent of man's dependence
on the arts. The kind of world that might result from too exclusive a
dependence on them has been questioned, as if the discipline of the arts was in
no sense a moral discipline. We have not to discuss that here. It is enough to
have brought poetry and painting into relation as sources of our present
conception of reality, without asserting that they are the sole sources, and as
supports of a kind of life, which it seems to be worth living, with their
support, even if doing so is only a stage in the endless study of an existence,
which is the heroic subject of all study.
175-76) Although his message is secular in thrust,
seems to have come quite close to
"delight of the Holy Spirit."
concerned themselves with the importance of poets and poetry in the world at
large in an unpoetic time. When William
Butler Yeats's body was returned to
France in September 1948 and reburied in
accompanied Jack B.
Yeats with the cortége from
Sligo. He wrote:
The occasion itself with the personal memories of
W. B., the boys of our
little navy (that the spirit of his writings had helped to create) carrying his
coffin reverently, and of our little army with arms reversed and heads bowed
and the people along the hundred miles that we drove blessing themselves and
praying for him because he drew inspiration from the lives of their forbears
and wrote spoke and worked so that they should be great people too, all
together these things produced a beautiful effect that amazingly was sustained
from beginning to end. (
28 Sept. 1948)
interpreted the event as a tribute to poetry itself:
In spite of Yeats' contribution to the national spirit, or, say,
in spite of his additions to the national nature, it is hard to see how these
ceremonies came to take on their public aspect. The transport from
France on a corvette of the
Navy, the procession from
Sligo, the lying in state were acts of
recognition and homage of a public character. Conceding that
Yeats was a man of
world-wide fame, it is an extraordinary thing in the modern world to find any
poet being so honored.... The fact must be that the meaning of the poet as a
figure in society is a precious meaning to those for whom it has any meaning at
all. If some of those that took part in this episode did so, very likely
because of the man's fame, the fact remains that his fame could not be
different from his poetry. So that in this event there was a good deal that had
to do with human beings both deeply and, likewise, superficially.
When Harvard University conferred an
honorary Doctor of Letters degree on
June 1951, McGreevy's congratulatory note drew similar
In some odd way that I don't normally associate with the
conferring of honorary degrees on friends, I have the whole evening, found
myself rejoicing for you. I think it is partly because of my feeling that more
than most recipients you have the understanding necessary to realize that for
all the speechmaking an honorary degree ceremony is a touchingly inarticulate
and fumbling attempt to express a humble and even loving appreciation on the
part of university men (and those outside whom university men would represent
better if they knew how) of what the recipient has given to his fellowmen and
represents for them. When Mr.
Jack Yeats got an honorary degree here I'd swear that more than half
of those who be
stowed it couldn't grasp the sense or tendency of
his work, but they gave the impression nevertheless of being happy in their
association with the mystery. And so though the Harvard dons
were probably unable to say more after you had gone in the evening than that
you were a nice old boy, or that for a poet you talked quite a lot of good
sense, I have no doubt that they were, nevertheless, a little more conscious of
the Holy Spirit because of the events of the day and glad to have been
associated with them for that unavowed and only semi-conscious reason. (
22 June 1951) Although he
had quite recently been awarded both the Bollingen Prize for Poetry and a
National Book Award, the Harvard degree, conferred when his
graduating class was having its fiftieth reunion, meant most to him. He wrote
to Mrs. Church, "this degree is the highest prize I can
McGreevy and Stevens confided in one another about their regrets at not having achieved more. McGreevy wrote: "Not to have written the poems one might have written had the Lord God had His way with one instead of organized society — but let that be" ( 4 Aug. 1948). He never finished a play he had begun about "the foolishness, the nobility and the pity of Ceallach (Kelly) of Kilala fourteen hundred years ago" ( 21 Aug. 1948). Ceallach, whom McGreevy calls "a bald and tasselled saint" from the line in "Our Stars Come from Ireland ," was a scholar and cleric who let himself be lured into a warrior's life. He returned to his studies and became a revered bishop, but his lapse had caused him to make enemies who eventually destroyed him. There may be an implicit parallel between Ceallach's abandonment of his studies and McGreevy's ceasing to write poetry. McGreevy's case had a happier ending; it did not include martyrdom — quite the contrary: his position as Director of the National Gallery was the most stable and fulfilling work of his varied career. Nevertheless, he wrote, somewhat wistfully: I'll be regretful for the lost years when I might have been doing things there even while I am trying to get these same things done with a detachment I should not have had long ago" ( 8 Mar. 1950).
Stevens, who confided in few people, wrote
just before the publication of his Auroras of
Autumn in 1950:
There is a possibility that the book may go better than any book
that I have ever had. And, yet, for my own part, I feel that it is something of
an improvisation and not at all what I should like it to be. However, at my age
one cannot move in the circles of spaciousness in quite the grand way that one
moved a generation ago. If
Beethoven could look back on what he had
plished and say that it was a collection of crumbs compared to
what he had hoped to accomplish, where should I ever find a figure of speech
adequate to size up the little that I have done compared to that which I had
once hoped to do. Of course, I have had a happy and well-kept life. But I have
not even begun to touch the spheres within spheres that might have been
possible if, instead of devoting the principal amount of my time to making a
living, I had devoted it to thought and poetry. Certainly it is as true as it
ever was that whatever means most to one should receive all of one's time and
that has not been true in my case. But, then, if I had been more determined
about it, I might now be looking back not with a mere sense of regret but at
some actual devastation. To be cheerful about it, I am now in the happy
position of being able to say that I don't know what would have happened if I
had had more time. This is very much better than to have had all the time in
the world and have found oneself inadequate.
McGreevy wrote back, deeply touched: "I haven't been able to give life as abundantly as it was in me to but I hope I have made it a bit more abundant here and there when I could.... In one way or another God is good. And the quality in you that might have as you say turned to thought and poetry has probably turned to thought and poetry even if not in tangible form. Didn't He say that not even a sparrow falls or something like that. In His scheme nothing is lost and where it seems that something has been lost we have no alternative but to leave it to Him. And that we might as well do with a good grace. (Sorry I suspect I've begun to preach. Don't mind me)" ( 8 Mar. 1950).
At first, Stevens, the self-styled "dried up Presbyterian" ( L 792), had been somewhat unsettled by McGreevy's unabashed declarations of his faith. He had written to José Rodríguez Feo, "I have a new correspondent, a citizen of Dublin, a fellow of great piety but otherwise of impeccable taste" ( L 599). He gradually came to respect deeply the genuineness of that piety. He wrote to Mrs. Church, "He is ... a blessed creature, sustained by a habit of almost medieval faith and I like the God bless you with which he winds up his letters" ( L 682-83). "He is a good egg with his God's blessings and it makes me happy to hear from him. He has really the sweetness, simplicity and honesty of a boy" ( L 704).
McGreevy, in fact, did not have a narrow concept of his church and its dogma. After writing about the pleasure he derived from music and poetry, he added, "No wonder I said to a priest in Confession a few years ago that I wasn't sure of how much reality that phrases at the end of the Creed (from 'the resurrection of the body' on) had for me since it could be heaven without waiting for the hereafter at all" ( 10 May 1948). His frequent references to [p.142] the Holy Spirit were made at a time when the Catholic Church still referred to the Third Person of the Trinity as the Holy Ghost. In his contribution to Our Exagmination ... he ridiculed the "inquisitorially minded" and spoke of the unfortunate influence in Ireland of "French Jansenism and the orientally fanatical Catholicism of Spain" (123). He had a sense of humor about his own "goings-on" as well; he wrote on Easter Monday 1953 about his meetings with the aging Bernard Berenson in Rome to thank him for his help in identifying some of the National Gallery's paintings: "I was happy with him, tho' surprised by an occasional religious dig, until after my last day with him had ended when I was told he had got or been given the impression that I was going out to try to 'convert' him. That was a bit hard when I had only gone to say my thanks. Which reminds me that Mrs. Church said you were sometimes set wondering by my rambling flights in letters to you and I had been meaning ever since July to say to you that you weren't to mind them. I write as to myself when it is to somebody who makes me feel at my ease as you do and as Berenson does."
Stevens himself was deeply concerned about religion, although for most of his life he subscribed to no specific creed. The religious element in his poetry has been thoroughly discussed by critics. Almost wistfully, he once wrote to McGreevy, "At my age  it would be nice to be able to read more and think more and be myself more and to make up my mind about God, say, before it is too late, or at least before he makes up his mind about me" ( L 763). Many things influenced Stevens' decision to become a Catholic shortly before he died, For an account of Stevens' religious beliefs in his final days, see "In the Fold," the Appendix to Joseph Carroll, Wallace Stevens' Supreme Fiction: A New Romanticism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987), 339-43. but it is safe to speculate that McGreevy's ebullient devotion to a kind and generous God contributed to his confidence about taking that step. McGreevy had once written, "You say Buddha and Jesus are not human figures. And I thinking of Jesus as more human than any human being that ever was, the apotheosis in the literal sense of the word, of the human as well as the humanization of the divine! The human beings whom I like best, from whom I have fewest secrets, being those I regard as most like Him and not least in their capacity to laugh at me and go on putting up with me at the same time, just as He has to. I'm afraid you, incidentally, have become one of those human beings, God help you" ( 23 Mar. 1949).
Mrs. Church had become an intermediary between the two men, traveling as she did between America and Europe, seeing Stevens at her Park Avenue apartment and McGreevy in Dublin or at her villa outside Paris. In spite of that and for all the camaraderie of their letters, both men had the feeling that there was something artificial about this disembodied friendship. When McGreevy had been considered as an emissary to America from the Irish Minister for External Affairs in 1950, he wrote: "There was the thought that however clumsily I might manage the first meetings with Wallace Stevens we should be closer friends for actually meeting once [p.143] the difficulty of knowing each other without having met had been got over, as got over it would be by God's grace" ( 8 Mar. 1950). And Stevens wrote to Mrs. Church, "I managed to get off a letter to Tom McGreevy, as warm-hearted a person as any that I know but a difficult correspondent — for me, because he is mythical, theoretical, and inhabitant of the world of names" ( L 738).
They did finally meet. In January 1954 McGreevy came to America as the Irish delegate to the month-long Congress in Art History and Museology at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. He expected that he would meet Stevens in Hartford, where a tour of New England museums would bring him on the evening of January 15th. A dinner party was being given for the members of the Congress at the Avery Memorial of the Wadsworth Atheneum. Stevens had, however, purposely stayed aloof from the cultural pursuits of Hartford; and he was not even invited for that evening. He much preferred to meet McGreevy under more congenial circumstances. Mrs. Church invited them for lunch at her apartment on January 23rd. That was their only meeting, and it was apparently a very happy occasion. Marianne Moore, who knew both men well and had been a habitue of Mrs. Church's literary "salon," was the only other guest. There was lively talk, much laughter, and good food and champagne. Later, in a recording that McGreevy made for the Harvard University Library, he recalled, "we were just like so many canaries; we all talked together" (Schreibman 145).
After he went back to Dublin, McGreevy wrote: "What I can't get over, what I haven't gotten over, is your youth. Why am I sixty and you a young forty? What right have you to pop up full of youthful divilment and disconcert a tired old Irish trier who was half inclined to think that maybe he had in a sort of a way, whether punditry accepted it or not, made something of himself in his old life, and just make him realize that he had lost what is probably the most valuable thing of all, the readiness to accept the fact that life can be fun for five whole hours on end without any need for watchfulness or caution or anything" ( 7 Mar. 1954). Stevens wrote to Mrs. Church: "Someone called me up the other day to ask a question about T. McGreevy. She said that he had been the beau of the ball (her words: not that there was a ball). She said that everyone that met him had been much interested in him; that he had established himself as a story teller. . . . I got a tremendous kick out of meeting him at your house, so much more than would have been possible if I had met him here in the company of the mob that attended the reception. He himself called it the mob" ( L 817-18). He was delighted, of course, to be called forty.
They continued their correspondence, although McGreevy's work at the National Gallery kept him from writing as much as he would have liked. One of Stevens' last projects was to write prefaces for two of the Dialogs of Paul Valéry — "Eupalinos" and " Dance and the Soul" ( OP 290- [p.144] 302). He asked McGreevy for a copy of his translation of Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci to use as a reference. Unfortunately, the only copy McGreevy could locate was one that he had given to his parents, and Stevens refused to let him send it. On 19 June 1955 McGreevy wrote his last letter to Stevens. He spoke of his hope that there would be another party soon and of his enthusiasm about going to the Congress in Venice mentioned above. (At that Congress much was done to settle questions about the canon of Giorgione — there was to be a special exhibition of his paintings.) Stevens answered on June 23rd. He had had an operation, and he,was very tired. He wrote, "I shall be writing you again a little later in the summer" ( L 886). Stevens died on August 2nd.
McGreevy went on to receive an Order of Merit from the Republic of Italy for his Catalog of the Italian Paintings in 1956 and an honorary Doctor of Letters from the National University of Ireland in 1957. He retired as Director of the National Gallery when he was seventy, and he died on 16 March 1967, at the age of seventy-four. His volume of poems was reprinted in 1971 and again in 1983.
The dust jacket of Susan Schreibman's Collected Poems of Thomas MacGreevy: An Annotated Edition , The reader will note the variant spelling of "MacGreevy," which Schreibman uses throughout. I have used the spelling "McGreevy" for two reasons: he signed his letters that way, and he wrote to Stevens on 8 March 1950: "My name is registered McGreevy. But my poor Stephen MacKenna used to say '"Mc" that Scotch abortion.' So I let the people who prefer Mac, which obviously is more correct, use Mac. But applying for the Gallery for instance I must be Mc." which gives the fullest account of McGreevy's work to date, has another comment along with the quotation of Stevens' letter of 6 May 1948: "What more can I say but yet again how much I admire Tom MacGreevy's verse and deplore the grudging recognition it has received." It was written by Samuel Beckett.Slippery Rock University [p.]