Louis Esterhuizen. Verlore e.e. cummings-gedig gevind

e.e. cummings

e.e. cummings

In ‘n omvattende berig op The AWL se webtuiste, het die Britse biograaf, James Dempsey, verlede week bekend gemaak dat hy ‘n onbekende gedig van e.e. cummings tussen Scofield Thayer se korrespondensie gevind het. Dempsey werk tans aan ‘n biografie oor die voormalige uitgewer en eienaar van die tydskrif The Dial.

Aangesien Thayer ‘n vroeë bewonderaar van Cummings se gedigte was, en alles in sy vermoë gedoen het om sy digkuns te bevorder, het ‘n hegte vriendskap tussen hulle ontstaan: “Evidence suggests that the poem was sent sometime around 1916, when Cummings was embarking on his career as a poet and artist,” skryf Dempsey. “At this time the two men had known each other for about three years. Their friendship, which would last until Thayer succumbed to paranoid schizophrenia a decade later, was based largely on a shared passion for art and literature. Cummings benefited most from the relationship, as the wealthy Thayer gave Cummings money to write and paint, launched his career with publication in The Dial, and blithely assented to Cummings romancing, bedding (and, as it happened, impregnating) his beautiful wife.”

Blykbaar het Thayer en Cummings mekaar as studente by Harvard ontmoet nadat Cummings ‘n enigsins formele bewonderaarsbrief aan Thayer geskryf oor ‘n gedig van hom wat in die Harvard Monthly verskyn het. Uiteraard behoort Cummings-bewonderaars ‘n mate van binnepret te ervaar met die formele toon daarvan:

Dear Mr. Thayer,

I shall feel better when I have made trial of expressing, to you, my admiration of your poem. I shall be very proud and happy indeed when I can say the thing so completely, so purely, and with such a true and fine ring as you have said it:

        Her body is a reed, so slender
        Whereon God’s lips do blow,
        And in each petty human motion
        The great hymns come and go.

If this letter needs an apology, it is that I love poetry.

Your sincerely,
E. Estlin Cummings.

Elaine Orr

Elaine Orr

Hierna beskryf Dempsey nie net die ontwikkeling van die vriendskap in detail nie, maar ook die verhouding (en uiteindelike huwelik) wat tussen Cummings en Dempsey se vrou, Elaine, ontstaan het. So het Cummings byvoorbeeld kort na sy ontmoeting met Elaine Orr soos volg oor haar aan ‘n vriend geskryf: “I considered EO as a princess, something wonderful, unearthly, ethereal, the like of which I had never seen.” (Iets waarvan Cummings se skets van haar duidelik spreek.)

Ironies genoeg het Thayer vir Cummings gevra om ‘n huwelikvers, waarvoor Thayer $1,000 aangebied het, te skryf vir hul troue. En ja, die suggestie van maritale ontrouheid waarmee die vers open, is eweneens veelseggend:

Thou aged unreluctant earth who dost
with quivering continual thighs invite
the thrilling rain the slender paramour
to toy with thy extraordinary lust,
(the sinuous rain which rising from thy bed
steals to his wife the sky and hour by hour
wholly renews her pale flesh with delight)
-immortally whence are the high gods fled?

Na die Thayers se troue het die huwelik egter teen nekbreekspoed gedisintegreer, aldus Dempsey: “All in all, this young, good-looking, wealthy couple seemed to be living an idyllic existence, but behind closed doors the marriage was unraveling at a calamitous rate. In his notes, Thayer described what seems like a moment of horror and desperation experienced by his bride: ‘E.O.’s cry at the Potter was not only the cry of the broken virgin,’ he wrote, ‘it was also the cry of the lost soul when, driven backwards, without the strength of backbone to withstand the Devil’s push-when it feels the earth give way and only air beneath it.’ He went on to describe her vulnerability thus: ‘The eyes opened wide like windows to break.’ Thayer’s writing was often expressionistic rather than journalistic, and while one cannot surmise the specifics of what he is describing here, it was obviously a moment of shock, pain and fear for Elaine, one that drained her. ‘E.O. at Montecito like a snake that’s had its back broken’.”  

In sy dagboek het Thayer blykbaar die volgende inskrywing oor die huwelik gemaak: “Marriage occupies same relation to love as the forced activities of sinners in Inferno do to their activities in this world. Marriage is as if a profound and penetrating punishment for love.”

Nou ja, toe. Na hul egskeiding in 1921 is Cummings toe uiteindelik met sy muse, vir wie hy meer as ‘n honderd gedigte geskryf het, getroud. Net om drie maande later deur sy swanger bruid ingelig te word dat sy ‘n nuwe liefde gevind het; die bankier Frank MacDermot.

Nietemin, die totaal onbekende gedig wat tussen Thayer se korrespondensie gevind is, se titel is “tonite” en ek plaas graag die openingsreëls daarvan hieronder vir jou leesplesier. Maar gaan lees gerus die volledige artikel. Dit is inderdaad fassinerend; veral die gedeeltes oor die geskiedenis van The Dial was vir my besonder insiggewend. (Daar is ook ‘n uitvoerige bespreking van die betrokke gedig.)

(tonite
in nigger
street

the snow is perfectly falling,

the noiselessly snow is
sexually fingering the utterly asleep

houses)

Ten slote – toe ek die skets wat Cummings van Elaine Orr gemaak het, sien, besef ek meteens dat die Cummings-skildery wat ek by ‘n vorige Nuuswekker oor Cummings as skilder geplaas het, waarskynlik óók vir Elaine Orr as model gehad het …

As toegif plaas ek dié skildery ook hieronder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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