Tag Archives: W.B.Yeats

Life is Poetry

Life, lived on the same plane as poetry and as music, is my distinctive desire and standard. It is the failure to accomplish this which makes me discontented with myself (3).
– 
Lady Ottoline, quoted in Lady Ottoline’s Album.

Lady Ottoline, by Simon Bussy

Lady Ottoline, by Simon Bussy

As I read Selected Letters of André Gide and Dorothy Bussy the name of Lady Ottoline came up with some frequency. By an odd coincidence I happen to have the book, Lady Ottoline’s Album, in my possession (with a postcard of the portrait of Ottoline by Dorothy’s husband, Simon Bussy, laid in). Last year when I worked as a companion to elderly (mostly) women, I had a client who delighted in knowing and discussing what I was reading, which delighted me, naturally. More often than not she had a personal connection: Isak Dinesen? “My husband had lunch with her, she was like a bird! All she ate was fruit and champagne!” I loved that- to quote my youngest son, that’s  “my always dream!” But I digress.

When it was time for me to move on, she told me to take whatever books of hers I wanted to “start my library.” I hadn’t the heart to tell her that I was  in the process of a massive book downsizing to make my move manageable, not to mention the fact that I am actually a full fledged book-accumulating adult, but when one is 104, I guess I would seem a mere girl starting out in life….Anyway, at the very least, on sentimental grounds, I couldn’t resist. And of course, I cherish them now, as they recall her to my mind.

One of the books I choose was Lady Ottoline’s Album, but I had not yet read it. André Gide and Dorothy Bussy had reminded me, but it wasn’t until yesterday, whilst in the midst of a quasi-quarterly cleaning and reorganization spasm that I came upon it.

André Gide

André Gide

It had not, until this moment, occurred to me that Ottoline was a woman who would allow me to make love to her, but gradually, as the evening progressed, the desire to make love to her became more and more insistent. At last it conquered, and I found to my amazement that I loved her deeply, and that she returned my feeling (38) Bertrand Russell, quoted.

Lady Ottoline seems to have been the type of woman who had an exquisite understanding of the excellence of social interactions- conversation, humor, passion, intellect – the poetry of life. Pursuing the myriad photographs in the book one can’t help being fascinated by her face -her countenance is strangely appealing- she should be unattractive, and yet, she is, in fact, quite strikingly beautiful.

The list of guest that she hosted is extraordinary, she had a knack for attracting artists and writers to her home, Gide and Russell, of course, but also Yeats, D. H.  Lawrence, E. M. Forster, T. S. Eliot, Ian Fleming, Hardy, Henry James, Auden, Huxley, Katherine Mansfield, and Virginia Woolf, among others:

“…I remember spending some dark, uneasy, winter days during the first war in the depth of the country with Lytton Strachey. After lunch, as we watched the rain pour down and premature darkness roll up, he said, in his searching, personal way, “Loves apart, whom would you most like to see coming up the drive?’ I hesitated a moment and he supplied the answer: “Virginia of course.” (78) – Clive Bell, quoted.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

The book is comprised of her and her famous guest’s writings or letters and a huge array of photographs that Ottoline, for the most part, took. An intimate peek into the lives of a wonderfully influential group of people. The photos of these towering figures in casual moments, is fascinating, and extremely endearing…I can’t stop picturing Yeats, described perfectly by Stephen Spender as having “something of the appearance of the overgrown art student” (100).

Despite Lawrence’s rather scathing sketch (presumably of Ottoline) in Women in Love, which would seriously breach their friendship, (and yet seems a plausible description)…she is a mesmerizing woman. Her relationships, by all accounts burned bright; there is a ferocity about her that makes me trust Lawrence….but still, her insistence that life be lived as poetry – reduced to pure feeling and experience, is so appealing. I suppose Lawrence wondered if she ever really achieved her desire.

Nevertheless, She and Lawrence, have philosophical congress. Concentrated in our bodies, for good or bad, life is meant to be felt, loved, and savoured. It is a lovely little book- an erstwhile golden age, elegantly composed by a passionate woman who had, truly, a genius of repose.

*Lady Ottoline’s Album: Snapshots & Portraits of Her Famous Contemporaries (and of Herself) Photographed for the Most Part by Lady Ottoline Morrell from the Collection of her Daughter Julian Vinogradoff. Edited by Carolyn G. Heilbrun, with an Introduction by Lord David Cecil.

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Yeats…

Things fall apart
in our house,
as if jarred by the whim
of invisible ravagers:
not your hand
or mine,
or the girls
– from Things Breaking, Pablo Neruda

I recently watched Annie Hall in my film class; it is easy to simply enjoy the angst ridden humor, but, there is an expectation in some scholastic environments that one think a little more deeply every now and then. And Allen does provide a lot of fodder,  particularly for those of us living in the second half of our lives.

In the film, Allen uses the concepts and ideas of psychology both visually and within the context of the story. His characters freely go in and out of their bodies and over time to comment on past influential events or to simply suggest the distance that is felt between our bodies and ourselves.

His love of New York City is always highlighted in his films and he has, of course,  some beautiful shots that emphasize the drama and energy of New York. I love his use of very long shots where the characters are heard having an intense conversation but only slowly come into view walking to us, it naturalizes the “medium” as it were, and if we take (at the dire risk of pontificating) Allen’s funny exchange over Marshall McLuhan in the theater waiting to see The Sorrow and the Pity, the medium really is the message. Films, like novels, as John Crowley once said to me,  must always end in a way that life does not- there is a very unnatural summing up that real life does not offer to the living. But the fakery of cinema becomes the message- that unsettling feeling of being a character in our own inescapable film. Who is this difficult person inside our bodies?

Yes, the body. Allen’s unembarrassed attention paid to his sexual life is refreshing, the woman in me must assess him sexually, he asks for it -even if the assessment does not necessarily compliment- there it is. He draws it out and it must stand. In a way, it is exactly the point. Why? Why is Alvy sexually vacant with his first wife, who was, in his opinion, perfectly lovely? Why is it so much more complete and satisfying with Annie?  That is an unanswerable question that many of us struggle with at one time or another. Why this person, and not that person? Allen confronts this essential aspect of romantic love, albeit from a very analytical angle.

D.H. Lawrence, of course, wrote a lot about physical intimacy and its importance to our feeling of being deeply connected to another person. For Lawrence, it is vital that humans allow themselves to really feel. Sex, being…well, physical, was his method of discussing the larger themes of life, meaning and connection in our bodies,  where, it shouldn’t be denied,  each of us dwells. Allen does this as well, (this theme comes up again and again in his films) he is without question, funnier, but, he is not quite as convincing because he is such a pain in the ass. However, he is asking the questions – why does it matter? Why can’t we control the “yes” switch as it were? Turning it on or off at will would make it all so much easier.

And finally why? Why do things fall apart? Is it just the law of entropy? The centre cannot hold. Allen cannot answer the questions, he can only offer a lame joke with an earnest punch line: We may only believe ourselves to be chickens (or in love) but don’t tell us we’re not – we need the eggs. And we need each other.

Life grinds
on the glasses and powders, wearing us threadbare,
smashing to smithereens,
pounding
the forms;
whatever is left of its passing abides
like a ship or a reef in the ocean,
and perishes there
in the circle of breakable hazard
ringed by the pitiless menace of waters.

– from Things Breaking, Pablo Neruda

1976


The moment that I am perpetually stuck in is this: “What’s the matter honey?”
Was I seven? I was lost, trying to navigate that small scale map of the mind.
“The museum is closing, everyone exit.” Ever compliant,
I left.
I walked back to the parking garage, I found my way back to the garage.
That was an accomplishment, was it not?
I think of you often, “What’s the matter honey?”
Your blond bouffant; rolling down the window, your red lips.
Sitting in the office of the car park, trying to swallow the offered soda, trying to accept the generosity of strangers. But I cannot.
Did I represent the seminal moment?
Lost, disinterest, reserve: all
is at an end.
Things fall apart. After all, Yeats said so. Then it must be true.
I am waiting. I am waiting for you kind woman.
What’s the matter honey? No one asks anymore.