henry miller, lawrence durrell, dylan thomas | how way leads to way…

17 05 2010

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 209 | May 17, 2010

How Way Leads to Way…

Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Dylan Thomas…

I’m not sure what I am about to write is about these three authors, the lost art of letter writing, (the crackling prose of Thomas evident his correspondence), or the Greek Isles.

I came upon this book of Thomas’ letters in a library sale months ago and never opened it till last week. First surprise: Thomas had a connection to Miller, who was a staggering early influence upon me as a writer. (I smuggled copies of his banned TROPIC OF CANCER and TROPIC of CAPRICORN out of Mexico in 1958.)

Miller led me in time to Durrell and his work—THE BLACK BOOK. But more importantly, his ‘travel’ masterpieces, especially REFLECTIONS ON A MARINE VENUS about the Greek island of Rhodes, which eventually drew me there, to the village of Lindos in 1976, renting a small white house ‘up above’ like all the houses in the village, cascading down to the blue harbor with a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean.

There has never been a better ‘travel writer’ than Durrell. Here he is on the village of Lindos, the island of Rhodes:

“Doubling back about a quarter of a mile before Calato you come across Lindos through a narrow gulley of rock. It is as if you had been leaning against a door leading to a poem when suddenly it swings open letting you stumble directly into the heart of it…Lindos with its harbor lies below you…all but landlocked and the blue of it drenches you like a spray.”

Thomas is an added bonus to all this, as you will see in his letter. —Norbert Blei


December 1938?

Dear Lawrence Durrell,

I would have liked to see you too, after that first short meeting in Anna’s house, in a clean pub with an evening before us and pockets jingling and lots of fire and spit and loud, grand affectations and conceits of Atlases and London coiling and humming: but Caitlin and I went away in a pantomime snow, thrown out at midnight, and we spent the night very coldly and trained back without tickets to charity in the morning. Now this warmth is ending, and we’ll train back without tickets to London and live there in a bad convention.

I think England is the very place for a fluent and fiery writer. The highest hymns of the sun are written in the dark. I like the grey country. A bucket of Greek sun would drown in one colour the crowds of colours I like trying to mix for myself out a grey flat insular mud. If I went to the sun I’d just sit in the sun; that would be very pleasant but I’m not doing it, and the only necessary things I do are the things I am doing. Unless by accidents, and my life is planned by them, I shall be nearer Bournemouth than Corfu this summer. It will need a nice accident for us to live anywhere: we are stages beyond poverty; completely possessionless; and we are willing but angry; we can take it but we don’t want it. I liked your Stygian prose very very much, it’s the best I’ve read for years. Don’t let the Greek sun blur your pages as you said it did. You use words like stones, throwing, rockerying, mossing, churning, sharpening, bloodsucking, melting, and a hard firewater flows and rolls through them all the time…. And it’s so brave too; you used the sudden image of Christ with incredible courage. I mean to borrow the typescript of the Black Book as soon as I get to London.

But I wonder what Anna will make of Miller’s books. I know her well. Morals are her cup of tea, and books are just beer: she swallows them down without discrimination of taste or body or brew, and judges them by the effect they have on her bowels. For her a good book produces a bad poem from her, containing an independent moral judgement, but the poem could really have been written without the book. And I think it insulting to books to take them as a purgative in order to void material which, with a little constriction of the muscles, could have been voided anyway. My own book isn’t nearly ready. I am keeping it aside, unfinished, and writing off, now, the things which would be detrimental to it if I were to continue. You said on the back of the envelope that you wanted a poem for a special number; I have one I can send but Miller, in his letter, said he did not know when two prose pieces of mine would appear, owing to some unexplained difficulties, and it’s rather silly, isn’t it, sending you stuff to keep and not to print. But do tell me; I’d love to send you the poem of course.

Dylan Thomas

Lawrence Durrell was two years older than Dylan. They had met a year or so earlier, but did not know each other at all well. Dylan at this TIME admired Durrell’s writing, particularly the Black Book which had been published in Paris earlier that year. Later, as will be seen, he was to have second thoughts.

Durrell had come to London with Henry Miller, another writer whom Dylan greatly admired. They were at that time editing an English language magazine in Paris together, originally called The Booster and later Delta.

[from Selected Letters of DYLAN THOMAS, Edited and with commentary by Constantine Fitzgibbons, New Directions, 1965]



9 responses

17 05 2010
Robert M. Zoschke

Capitano Nazzzz…how poignant of you to mention your smuggling of Miller’s banned books into America via a poetry dispatch appearing the night before my colonoscopy. Ahem.

18 05 2010
Jean Casey

Can you imagine any of these beloved guys stone cold sober???? j.

18 05 2010
lowell b. komie

I really liked this Norb….thanks for sending…..Lowell

19 05 2010
Mike Koehler

Oh to do something like that today! Thanks Norb. Be well and cheers to ya. Michael

19 05 2010
Alice D'Alessio

Was very intrigued by this entry…reminded me that I have a book of Durrell/Miller correspondence – 1935-1959 (selected and edited) and I went back into it to see whether they discussed Thomas, but couldn’t find any mention so far…What letter writers they were! No-one writes letters like that anymore – Durrell’s letters could be travel pieces themselves. Thanks for reminding me of them.

19 05 2010
Barbara Fitz Vroman

One of the amazing things Durrell mentioned was all the ing words Dylan
had used, and admirably so. Now, it is considered something of a sin to
use ing words. The “rules of writing” all stuff and nonsense in the end? Or
Frost’s you have to learn them first before you break them?

So good to have YOUR rich, wonderful gifts back and flowing to us.

Barbara Fitz Vroman

20 05 2010
jude, hey

Exciting to read this – it just RUNS across the page doesn’t it? … yes. Another treasure I would have never found, without you bringing it to our attention. Yes again. Lv2U.

3 08 2012
The lost world of Lawrence Durrell » Spectator Blogs

[…] be expected to write deathless prose amid this racket?’ In the letter below (reproduced by Poetry Dispatch), the 24-year-old Dylan Thomas wrote to the 26-year-old Durrell to insist that England is the […]

12 02 2021

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