Saturday, 30 November 2013

BATH - NOT JUST JANE AUSTEN

The leaves still copper and gold in Henrietta Park behind Great Pultney Street.  A chill in the air, and the light dwindling earlier each afternoon.  I’ve been spending a few brief autumn days in Bath, staying with my son in his top floor flat in one of Bath’s old Georgian houses.

On a bright frosty day we tramped round Dyrham Park and watched the fallow deer.  Some of the older males had magnificent antlers like elaborate headdresses.  We wondered if their heads felt unbalanced.

I checked out two of Bath’s indie bookshops:  Mr B’s Emporium (where I bought a novel) – great atmosphere and full of tempting marketing ideas, and Topping and Company – huge stock and an autumn literary festival in progress.  I was delighted to find (and buy) a signed copy of Philip Gross’s virtuoso sonnet sequence “I Spy Pinhole Eye”.

Just five minutes’ walk from the flat is the Holbourne Art Museum, where I discovered a micro-exhibition of Christmas engravings by Simon Brett.  One engraving particularly caught my imagination.  I jotted down a few ideas in my notebook.  A couple of hours later my Christmas poem emerged from the notes – not quite ready to fly but certainly drying its wings.  I had a brilliant idea – I could put a link with my poem to an image of the engraving on the internet.  Alas, I can’t find it anywhere on the internet.  No image, no ekphrasis.  No Christmas poem.

I met up with a friend who has moved down to Somerset.  We were thwarted in our attempt to visit the highly recommended Buildings of Bath Museum.  It was unexpectedly closed (possibly to rehearse Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) so we went to the Fashion Museum instead.  Plenty of Jane Austen here of course but also, more unusually, an exhibition of 16th and 17th century courtiers' gloves.  They were exquisitely embroidered, some with religious iconography such as Jonah and the whale or the pelican feeding her young.  The oldest pair were contemporary with Shakespeare.  My friend told me about glove marriages.  And I thought of Larkin’s “Broadcast” with “One of your gloves unnoticed on the floor”.  That’s why pairs of gloves are such rare survivals.

 






Saturday, 16 November 2013

DANTE OUR CONTEMPORARY

I read The Divine Comedy in an English translation a couple of years ago.  I found it fascinating in many ways: the close relationship between Dante and his guide, Virgil, the beautiful epic similes, the breadth of Dante’s knowledge, the synthesis of the classics and Christianity, the attacks on the abuses of the Medieval church, and the sheer imaginative inventiveness of it all.

I’ve recently read A N Wilson’s Dante in Love which gave me an excellent introduction to Dante’s life and world.  The last chapter is called “Dante’s afterlife”.  It’s a brief excursion through the ways Dante’s work has been interpreted.  I turned to the 20th century: “The two great Modernist poets in English, T S Eliot and Ezra Pound, were both – slightly
disastrously for Dante’s later reputation – determined to read him as a proto-fascist and a proto-modernist.”  Oh dear.  It seems a long way from medieval Italy.  Robert Lowell was a Dante enthusiast, as is the Nobel prize-winning West Indian poet, Derek Walcott.  Walcott sees the genius of language in Dante when he writes of his desire to do a similar cross-cultural synthesis in the 20th century.  Geoffrey Hill gets a mention as does one of my favourite poets, Amy Clampitt.   In “At a rest stop in Ohio” Clampitt brings together the Greyhound bus and Dante’s greyhound from the beginning of the Inferno.

 And now there is another name to add – Clive James’s recently published translation of the Inferno.

Dante, like Shakespeare, lives on in every generation.