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Saturday, 22 May 2010

Stevie Smith: Dirge


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File:Firstlittlelulu022335.jpg



From a friend's friend I taste friendship,
From a friend's friend love,
My spirit in confusion,
Long years I strove,
But now I know that never
Nearer I shall move,
Than a friend's friend to friendship,
To love than a friend's love.

Into the dark night
Resignedly I go,
I am not so afraid of the dark night
As the friends I do not know,
I do not fear the night above,
As I fear the friends below.




from Stevie Smith: Mother, What is Man?, 1942

The first Little Lulu: Marge (Marjorie Henderson Buell), Saturday Evening Post, 23 February 1935; image by Pepso2, 2009

8 comments:

bill sherman said...

yes, and even more sadly, her "Voices from the Tomb" #3):

I died for lack of company
Did my dear friends not know?
Oh why would they not speak to me
Yet said they loved me so?



and more "resignedly", "Come, Death #2"

I feel ill. What can the matter be?
I'd ask God to have pity on me,
But I turn to the one I know, and say:
Come, Death, and carry me away.

Ah me, sweet Death, you are the only god
Who comes as a servant when he is called, you know,
Listen then to this sound I make, it is sharp
Come Death. Do not be slow.



(sorry about run-on line breaks) but as you know, TC, she could be quite sardonic as well, give Bukowski a run for his money. Here's her "Mabel" for your readers)

Mabel

in her loneliness Mabel
Found the hiss of the unlit gas
Cpmapnionable
And in a little time, dying
Sublime.

Sylvia Plath, perhaps. Who Stevie didn't see, that cold London winter, 1963.

bill sherman said...

Tom...here's a letter i'll pirate and post here, from ME AGAIN, THE UNCOLLECTED WRITINGS OF STEVIE SMITH (Virago, 1988). written by Sylvia Plath to Stevie Smith, Nov. '62. "I have been having a lovely time this week listening to some recordings of you reading your poems for the British Council, and Peter Orr has been kind enough to give me your address. I better say straight out that I am an addict of your poetry, a desperate Stevie Smith- addict. I have wanted for ages to get hold of "A Novel On Yellow Paper" (I am jealous of that title, it is beautiful, I've just finished my first, on pink, but that's no help to the title I fear) and rooted as I have been in Devon for the last year bee-keeping and apple growing I never see a book or bookseller. Could you tell me where to get a copy?" She continues in a second paragraph: "Also, I am hoping, by a work of magic, to get myself and the babies to a flat in London by the New Year and would be very grateful to hear if you might be able to come to tea or coffee when I manage my move - to cheer me on a bit. I've wanted to meet you for a long time." She signs it "Sincerely".....

.....in the MABEL poem it should read "Companionable" ... (i don't use spell-check, etc.)

bill.

TC said...

Thanks very much Bill.

I spent that winter shuddering with the cold in Cambridge and Paris. It comes back quite vividly at the moment because it is thirty-eight degrees here and feels to have been that way since time began.

About the loneliness, Stevie's Times obit got that part right, saying she had been "always in some sense a person apart".

Reading her poems on the Beeb in 1951 SS conceded that the people in them never quite seem comfortable in the world, and made this telling comment: "Always the problem that presses most is Man's loneliness and his inability to get on with his fellow creatures".

Plath could have used a bit of advice from her on the good sense of bucking up in the face of it all. As well as a bit of her wit and sense of humour, especially the refusal of self dramatizing. But then I would speculate that for Stevie being brave was not something she ever took up, it was second nature.

As to SP and SS, what I have always found interesting about that particular (non)connection is that fact that SP's being influenced by SS is often attested as a reason to look into the poetry of the latter.

It was entirely a one way influence. Replying to that letter of Plath's Stevie made no bones about the fact she had not read Plath's poetry nor was likely to do so any time soon.

(In my view anyway Smith's genius so dwarfs Plath's talent as to render any conversation about the two of them a declension.)

bill sherman said...

thanks, Tom. still not that many in U.S. it would appear know Stevie Smith's work. and i was unaware (re: your penultimate paragraph) that she had replied to Plath's letter. in ME AGAIN, the editors note that the poem "Mabel" is undated and existed in holograph, although they say "it is tempting to speculate." hang tough, Bill.

bill sherman said...

"And as for poetry, I am a real humbug, just write it sometimes but practically never read a word. That makes me feel pretty mean spirited when poets like you write such nice letters."

ah yes, found this excerpt you must have known from her letter back to Plath published in the bio of Stevie by Frances Spalding. footnote says the original is in Smith College Library.

billymills said...

As I said last time, there's a good deal of SS's fiction that reminds me of Stein. Passages like this, for instance:

"I will say now that William makes excellent coffee, and rightly prides himself on his coffee, so afterwards we were drinking a very great deal of this excellent coffee, and eating a very great many ginger biscuits, that were rather flabby I remember, but the ginger flavour was still left. And if they had lost that hard brittleness that young ginger biscuits have, I did not say so, I was feeling very kind and mellowed myself by now, and I should not have been so unkind as to say: William, your biscuits are flabby. No."

TC said...

On occasion Blogger helpfully hijacks incoming blog comments. This comment is so interesting I can see why the Blogger gremlins would be covetous:


billymills has left a new comment on your post "Stevie Smith: Dirge":

As I said last time, there's a good deal of SS's fiction that reminds me of Stein. Passages like this, for instance:

"I will say now that William makes excellent coffee, and rightly prides himself on his coffee, so afterwards we were drinking a very great deal of this excellent coffee, and eating a very great many ginger biscuits, that were rather flabby I remember, but the ginger flavour was still left. And if they had lost that hard brittleness that young ginger biscuits have, I did not say so, I was feeling very kind and mellowed myself by now, and I should not have been so unkind as to say: William, your biscuits are flabby. No."


Posted by billymills to TOM CLARK at 24 May 2010 05:55


To which:

Billy,

Frances Spalding tells us that Stevie's notebooks indicate an interest in Woolf in particular, also Joyce.

After reading SS's Novel on Yellow Paper, the poet Robert Nichols assumed it had been written by Woolf pseudonymously. "You are Stevie Smith," he declared to Woolf. "No doubt of it. And Yellow Paper is far and away your best book."

"What makes the book so very unlike Virginia Woolf," Spalding comments, "is its inspired and instinctive chatter..."

Re. Stein, Spalding elsewhere speculates that "almost certainly [Smith] had read the best-selling Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Both authors energize their prose through self-conscious rhythmic effects, but Stevie's rhythms are noticeably lighter and less ponderous. The debt to Stein is important, even though Stevie chose to acknowledge only the influence of Dorothy Parker..."

Sandra said...

love that "confusion"...!!