TS Eliot, Dante and Denis Devlin

The reference to TS Eliot in the previous post, by the way, refers to the opening lines of The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock, which (with apologies for any errors in the Italian) is taken from a riff on Dante. It talks of how a gulf from which none returns leaves one free to tell the truth, so languidly it could always be turned into a Petrach seduction song with a bit of knocking about;

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

and it reminds me of one of my favourite Denis Devlin Poems. Devlin was a Scottish-born diplomat of Ireland and one of the forgotten modernists. He got sent to Italy and Istanbul as minister plenipotentiary and ambassador to serve the Republic, and fell in love. I have always had a soft spot for him, and you'll forgive me if I put the whole poem below--more on request!

We all have a magic kingdom, some have two
And cry, 'O My City on the Golden Horn, and O my You!'
Discover, in the Bee flaunting his black and gold
among the foliage in the frieze
You are not what you thought, you are someone like all these
The most ardent young man turned, at the drop of a black hat
Into some rabbity sort of clerk, some heart-affairs diplomat
A John of the Cross into a curia priest.

It was years ago. It is not now like that when the century began--
Through apple and peach and brilliant in the dark,
and mineral worlds on the dark sky shine
And the red mouth breathes in; thine is mine,
And the careless Atlantic inhales the Thames, the Tagus and the Seine,
Murmuring back and murmuring forward beasts and Sonata scenes and Ophelia rays
Where a girl in her balldress was a light on the wave
Where a dying flare was a firefly on the wave
Where all the waves shivered with phosphorous under the moon's glacial withdrawal--
'me voici ignorant'; so a part of my father read.
The Empire born again, old pedants will rake up the dead.

My father thought my feeling could take fire by the vibrant Seine
And a tough intellect be constructed in Gottingen,
He thought the citadels of Anatolia I could justify
making what's hungry full, what's ragged spry;
Opalescent on the unbloodied green, the Sultan's battle-house
The hungry cavalry, rearing and screaming in the mist:
We put them down, these Franks, in their sweaty leather and blasphemous curse
Our salaried Levantine admirals sank their trading ships.
It happened; the Prophet conquered with murder in his hand and honour on his crescent lips.

Put it down to a thick heart and a thick pate,
Such puritanic temperament's outgrown
Now some international Secretary-General throws a lump of bait
And laughs and says my country's not my own.

There was a Professor who said, 'the horse must go!'
And certain poets praised him to their shame,
Except in County Cork and Mexico
And where the quick darlings to us from the Cossacks came.

In the Foreign Office, they humourlessly ask my advice,
My father had money, I was posted from place to place;
What can I tell them? Even if I got it right?
There would be protocol about the right time and the right place,
And even not to be sentimental about the corps of horse
Dancing between the up-country captains' harsh knees
They could assert that horses than humanity were worse---
And that our westernizing dictator, though free was no longer free
When at Smyrna he tumbled the chatterbox Greeks into the sea,
Turk lieutenants, waxed moustaches and all, and spiritless mugs of tea.

Go, try and make sense of that. More Devlin poetry can be found here and here, and if you know of others--I own one of his books of collected poems--let me know!


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