Thursday, March 05, 2009
Who buys old issues of literary magazines in second-hand shops, I wonder. Myself excepted, that is. That distinctive savour of the compost heap or potting shed drew me irresistibly to a copy of The Dublin Magazine (Autumn/Winter 1966) the other day, as edited by the euphoniously named Rivers Carew. How pleasing, though, to come across not just the first printing of the Mahon poems ‘Exit Molloy’ and ‘Preface to a Love Poem’ (‘This is a way of airing my distraught /Love of your silence. You are the soul of silence’), two uncollected poems by Anthony Glavin and, in among four other poems of his, a Longley inédit, ‘The Centaurs’:
The sergeant, an arrow in his back,
Who crawled, bleeding, up the dusty street,
Who gasped his news of the failed attack,
How on all fours he made his retreat – ...
And then to find, too, an uncollected essay by Eavan Boland titled ‘The Attributes We Seek’ reprimanding Edna Longley’s dismissal of Thomas Kinsella in the previous issue. Boland demurs at Longley’s pejorative characterisation of Kinsella’s imagination as ‘heraldic’, and this being before what I might ill-advisedly call her ‘damask-scene’ conversion to Dundrum feminism, her critical language frets in the shadow of what I presume was the TCD style of the day, i.e. something resembling an Addison editorial, all the way down to the ‘We’ of her title and the heavy hand of this last comma: ‘Once surprise is traduced, and wonder is exchanged for a sort of weary prediction, then those bearings by which each man’s achievement is valued, become illegible.’
Seeing Mahon’s ‘Preface to a Love Poem’ again though reminded me of Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence, and a letter she quotes on the subject of silence from her friend Janet Batsleer:
Silence is the place of death, of nothingness. In fact there is no silence without speech. There is no silence without the act of silencing, some one having been shut up, put bang to rights, gagged, told to hold their tongue, had their tongue cut out, had the cat get their tongue, lost their voice. Silence is oppression and speech, language, spoken or written, is freedom. (...)
All the social movements of oppressed people in the second part of the twentieth century have claimed ‘coming to language’ and ‘coming to voice’ as necessary to their politics... In the beginning was the Word... Silence is oppression. It is ‘the word’ that is the beginning of freedom. All silence is waiting to be broken.
Which is, I have to say, the biggest pile of tripe I’ve read since the last biggest pile of tripe I’ve read. To restore silence is the role of objects, said Molloy. Literature is the word that speaks and stays silent. Whereof man cannot speak, the silence thereof one noisily celebrates.
Janet Batsleer obviously isn’t one of those people who read back issues of literary magazines, in other words (I mean, you should see the rest of the issue of the Dublin Magazine I’m talking about here). Now there are cloisters whose calm will not be violated any time soon. Or as Michael Longley says of the weasel and the ferret elsewhere in my mouldy new purchase:
I can tell how softly their footsteps go -
Their footsteps borrow silence from the snow.