Sunday, August 11, 2013

Geoffrey Hill, W.B Yeats, Robert Graves and Margot Rudock.

That list of names is willfully bathetic.

In his most recent Oxford lecture (30/04/2013), Hill, falling into the orbit of Graves’ early writings on Poetry, describes their attraction as partially due to the exploration of two conjoined factors: craft and trauma. As he says (I’m paraphrasing ) all technique and no crisis: The Movement; John Wain, Davie, et al with Larkin and Empsom as presiding geniuses. Crisis without a sound grasp of, or a naïve indifference to, technique, and you get Margot Rudock, who can be found in what Hill describes, with great relish in the pronunciation and repetition of the adjective: Yeats’ “lunatic” anthology, ‘The Oxford Book of Modern verse (1892-1935)’

Why Yeats included Rudock is anyone’s guess. Her pictures suggests she was beautiful. Roy Forster believes she was infatuated by him and he with her. Hill in his collective writings on poetry calls her Yeats’ ‘mistress’.  In her letters to Yeats (published as “Ah Sweet Dancer”), she addresses him as Darling Yeats. They sound like the letters of an increasingly unstable adolescent:  she was twenty seven, twice married, and the mother of two children. Her little poems seem inconsequential in the anthology, even if compared to the equally baffling inclusions from Dorothy Wellesley. 

But Yeats was giving them both advice on how to write. (see previous posts)
Yeats to Margot Ruddock, in a letter undated, but early April 1930:

I do not like your recent poems. You do not work at your tecnic (I cannot spell the most familiar words because of my illness-this is my first real letter) you take the easiest course-leave out the rhymes or choose the most hackneyed rhymes, because-damn you- you are lazy. Leave off verse for a time. When your technic is sloppy your matter grows second-hand-there is no difficulty to force you down under the surface-difficulty is our plough. Yours affectionately…

To which she replied, in an unsigned letter dated 24/4/36 which begins, not “Darling Yeats” or “Darling W.B.Y”  but simply:

Never say I do not work, for I am sitting from morn til night over a poem so bad so bad so Bad. Do you know that you have made poetry, my solace and my joy, a bloody grind I hate!
If we are in our natural state we write like the Swami (In his native). 52 poems of sheer ecstasy in a day.
I loathe poetry, I loathe working at it for given grammar and words (of which I have not enough), Poetry should not be worked at. Scrub floors and sweat in offices but do not sweat at poetry which is spiritual sweat.  And to make it physical sweat as well is to condemn it with all other earthly things.

It’s a strange thing to write to the man who wrote Adam’s Curse with its description of writing poetry:

I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,  
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.  
Better go down upon your marrow-bones  
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones  
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;  
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet  
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen  
The martyrs call the world.’