Ash

Still engaged in reading [ITAL] Melusina [ITAL]. An impressive achievement.

Have reached Book VI of [ITAL] Melusina [ITAL]. Its aspirations to cosmic reflection might be thought to sit uneasily with its Fairytale nature.

Still reading [ITAL] Melusina [ITAL]. What diligence, what confidence went to its contriving. Miss LaMotte despite a lifetime’s residence in this country, remains essentially [ITAL] French [ITAL] in her way of seeing the world. Thought there is nothing to which one can take exception in this beautiful and daring poem, in its morals indeed.

Today I laid down [ITAL] Melusina [ITAL] having come trembling to the end of this marvellous work. What shall I say of it? It is truly original, although the general public may have trouble in recognising its genius, because it makes no concession to vulgar frailties of imagination, and because its virtues are so far removed in some ways at least from those expected from the weaker sex. Here is no swooning sentiment, no timid purity, no softly gloved lady-like [ITAL] patting [ITAL] of the reader’s sensibility, but lively imagination, but force and vigour. How shall I characterise it? It is like a huge, intricately embroidered tapestry in shadowed stone hall, on which all sorts of strange birds and beasts and elves and demons creep in and out of thickets of thorny trees and occasional blossoming glades. Fine patches of gold stand out in the gloom, sunlight and starlight, the sparkle of jewels or human hair or serpents’ scales. Firelight flickers, fountains catch light. All the elements are in perpetual motion, fire consuming, water running, air alive and earth turning…. I was put in mind of the tapestried hunts in [ITAL] The Franklin’s Tale [ITAL] or in [ITAL] The Faerie Queene, [ITAL] where the observer sees the woven vision come alive under his wondering eyes, so that pictured swords draw real blood, and the wind sighs in pictured trees.

And what shall I say of the scene in which the husband, a man of insufficient faith, bores his peephole and observes his [ITAL] Sirenspouse [ITAL] at play in her vat of waters? I should have said, if I was asked, that this scene was best left to the imagination, as Coleridge left Geraldine – “a sight to dream of, not to tell.” But Miss LaMotte tells abundantly, though her descriptions might be a little [ITAL] strong [ITAL] for some stomachs, especially maidenly English ones, who will be looking for fairy winsomeness.

She is beautiful and terrible and tragic, The Fairy Melusina, inhuman in the last resort.

The sinuous muscle of her monster tail
Beating the lambent bath to diamond-fine
Refracting lines of spray, a dancing veil
Of heavier water on the breathless air

How lovely-white her skin her Lord well knew,
The tracery of blue veins across the snow….
But could not see the beauty in the sheen
Of argent scale and stage-blue coiling fin….

Perhaps the most surprising touch is that the snake or fish is beautiful.

My recent reading has caused me for some reason to remember myself as I was when a young girl, reading high Romances and seeing myself simultaneously as the object of all knights’ devotion — an unspotted Guenevere — and as the author of the Tale. I wanted to be a Poet and a Poem, and now am neither, but the mistress of a very small household, consisting of an elderly poet (set in his ways, which are amiable and gentle and give [ITAL] no [ITAL] cause for anxiety), myself, and the servants who are not unmanageable. I see daily how Patience and Faith are both worn down and hagged with the daily care of their broods and yet shine with the flow of love and unstinted concern for their young. They are now grandmothers as well as mothers, doted on and doting. I myself have come to find of late a kind of creeping insidious vigour come upon me (after the unspeakable years of migraine headache and nervous prostration). I wake feeling, indeed, rather spry, and look about for things to occupy myself with. I remember at sixty the lively ambitions of the young girl in the Deanery, who seems like someone else, as I watch her in my imagination dancing in her moony muslin, or having her hand kissed by a gentleman in a boat.

I hit on something I believe when I wrote that I meant to be a Poet and a Poem. It may be that this is the desire of all reading women, as opposed to reading men, who wish to be poets and heroes, but might see the inditing of poetry in out peaceful age, as a sufficiently heroic act. No one wishes a man to be a Poem. That young girl in her muslin was a poem; cousin Ned wrote an execrable sonnet about the chaste sweetness of her face and the intuitive goodness shining in her walk. But I now think — it might have been better, might it not, to have held on to the desire to be a Poet? I could [ITAL] never [ITAL] write as well as Randolph, but then no one can or could, and so it was perhaps not worth considering as an objection to do something.

Perhaps if I had made his life more difficult, he would have written less, or less freely. I cannot claim to be the midwife to genius, but if I have not [ITAL] facilitated [ITAL], I have at least not, as many women might have done, [ITAL] prevented [ITAL]. This is a very small virtue to claim, a very negative achievement to hang my whole life on. Randolph, if he were to read this, would laugh me out of such morbid questioning, would tell me it is never too late, would cram his huge imagination into the snail-shell space of my tiny new accession of energy and tell me what is to be done. But he shan’t see this, and I will find a way — to be a very little more — there now I’m crying, as that girl might have cried. Enough.

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~ by saikow on March 19, 2009.

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