Sunday, April 24, 2016


I'll go anywhere I can to learn about writing, and tonight I was drawn to a play by someone I'd not read before: Henry Arthur Jones.

I was prompted by a statement of William Archer's, in his book, Play-Making, A Manual of Craftsmanship (1912):

"The first three acts of [Mrs Dane's Defence] may be cited as an excellent example of dexterous preparation and development. Our interest in the sequence of events is aroused, sustained, and worked up to a high tension with consummate skill. There is no feverish overcrowding of incident.... The action moves onwards, unhasting, unresting, and the finger-posts [the foreshadowing details] are placed just where they are wanted."

Out of curiosity, I read the play, and it was indeed well-handled. It held my attention from the first page to the last, which is more than I can say for too much of what I read these days, or try to read.

Beyond the craftsmanship, though, what struck me was the writer's attitude towards the conventional sexual morality of his day (1905). This play about a "fallen woman" does not lack compassion, but it does lack rebellion, or even perspective on the social and political nature of morality:

MRS. DANE: Good-bye, Sir Daniel. Don't you think the world is very hard on a woman?

SIR DANIEL: It isn't the world that's hard. It isn't men and women. Am I hard ? Call on me at any time, and you shall find me the truest friend to you and yours. Is Lady Eastney hard? She has been fighting all the week to save you.

MRS. DANE: Then who is it, what is it, drives me out?

SIR DANIEL: The law, the hard law that we didn't make, that we would break if we could, for we are all sinners at heart -- the law that is above us all, made for us all, that we can't escape from, that we must keep or perish.

I can just imagine Oscar Wilde, H. G. Wells, Anton Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, or Henrik Ibsen raising their eyebrows at this idea of "the hard law from above." But it does make me realize that almost every writer I've taken to heart over the decades has been oppositional, individualistic, skeptical, or humane enough to pick a fight with conventional ideas from his or her own time, to the point where I expect this opposition automatically.

I'm glad that I read Mrs. Dane's Defence, but not only because it's a well-crafted play; it also reminded me that rebellion, in art as in life, is exceptional, never the norm.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

I completed this translation last year, in September, but was never happy with it. This morning, I changed a few nouns, then decided that enough was enough -- here it is.

(I'm still unhappy, because I re-arranged the emphasis in the final stanza. I do what I can to preserve the poet's choice of structure, but in this case, I ended with a pronoun that he had placed much earlier. I was wrong to do this, but my way seemed to work slightly better... at least, in English. That's no excuse, I know!)

by José-Maria de Heredia.

In what chill oceans, for how many winters -- who will ever know, frail and nacreous conch? -- have the currents, the swells, and the tides rolled you in the hollows of their green abyss?

Today, under the sky, far from the tide's bitter ebb, you have made for yourself a soft bed in the golden arena, but you hope in vain. Drawn-out and despairing and always within you moans the great voice of the seas.

My soul has become a sounding prison: and just as the moaned refrain of that ancient clamour still weeps and sighs within your folds,

In the same way, dull, slow, numb yet somehow eternal, growls the distant, stormy din from the deeps of this heart too full of Her.

- - - - -


Par quels froids Océans, depuis combien d'hivers,
-- Qui le saura jamais, Conque frêle et nacrée! --
La houle, les courants et les raz de marée
T'ont-ils roulée au creux de leurs abîmes verts?

Aujourd'hui, sous le ciel, loin des reflux amers,
Tu t'es fait un doux lit de l'arène dorée.
Mais ton espoir est vain. Longue et désespérée,
En toi gémit toujours la grande voix des mers.

Mon âme est devenue une prison sonore:
Et comme en tes replis pleure et soupire encore
La plainte du refrain de l'ancienne clameur;

Ainsi du plus profond de ce cœur trop plein d'Elle,
Sourde, lente, insensible et pourtant éternelle,
Gronde en moi l'orageuse et lointaine rumeur.

-- From
LES TROPHÉES, by José-Maria de Heredia.
Alphonse Lemerre, Éditeur. Paris, 1893.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Veins and Stars

Elizabeth Bowen:

Callie reached out and put off her bedside lamp.

At once she knew that something was happening -- outdoors, in the street, the whole of London, the world. An advance, an extraordinary movement was silently taking place; blue-white beams overflowed from it, silting, dropping round the edges of the muffled black-out curtains. When, starting up, she knocked a fold of the curtain, a beam like a mouse ran across her bed. A searchlight, the most powerful of all time, might have been turned full and steady upon her defended window; finding flaws in the black-out stuff, it made veins and stars. Once gained by this idea of pressure she could not lie down again; she sat tautly, drawn-up knees touching her breasts, and asked herself if there were anything she should do. She parted the curtains, opened them slowly wider, looked out -- and was face to face with the moon.

-- "Mysterious Kôr," from Ivy Gripped the Steps. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1946.