The Ballad of the Children of the Czar

We turn and return to Delmore Schwartz  after Gide– ‘The Ballad of the Children of the Czar,’ was Delmore’s second piece for Partisan Review — and thematically it belongs to the Russian-American links between the ‘old country’ — the ‘alter heim’ and the new.  The elegance and elevated style of Gide’s analysis and criticism of the USSR is followed by Schwartz’s comparison between the children of the Czar and the child who throws his potato (poverty food) on the floor in New York City. Contemporaries and living in two versions of time. Siblings and on other sides of the class line.  The poem is set in 1917 and 1918, the years of the Russian Revolution. unknown-5Schwartz wrote the poem during the period that he was becoming fast friends with the poet John Berryman.images-3They remained friends and readers of each other’s work until their deaths. After Schwartz’s death, Berryman wrote a series of ‘Dream Songs’ that elegise Delmore and that are among the greatest tributes written to him.

The Tsar and his family had been executed 0n 17 July, 1917, by the Bolsheviks who held them in Yekaterinburg to prevent them from being rescued by counter-revolutionary forces.  russian_imperial_family_1911

The first part of that poem plays with the associations of their lives and their deaths: playing, the innocence of whiteness, the White Army of those fighting against the Bolsheviks, the face of the Tsar, who knows their fates, while the children are both aware and unaware,  mingled with the moon: ‘bald white/like Papa’s face.’  The second part takes place in Brooklyn, where Delmore as a small child eats a potato — a misshapen ball. The Arrow Collar Ad alludes to President FDR’s admiration for the all-American men who posed for the Arrow Shirt Company’s ads. Roosevelt  said that the “Arrow Man” was “a superb portrait of the common man.”arrow-1 arrow-2

Another kind of irrationality, we see, by looking at some of those ads! And the man who flees the Tzar, Delmore’s grandfather, and comes to America certainly isn’t an Arrow Man, but his fantasy is just as irrational,  “To be a king himself.” The poem moves on to the destructions of history, and the legacies that must be borne from generation to generation.  A great reader of Yeats, Delmore alludes to Yeats’ poem of generational inheritance, ‘Leda and the Swan’: “A shudder in the loins engenders there/The broken wall, the burning roof and power, and Agamemnon dead.”  The next part elaborates this as the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 breaks into the life of the children, and turns them against each other,

The children of the Czar
Played with a bouncing ball

In the May morning, in the Czar’s garden,
Tossing it back and forth.

It fell among the flowerbeds
Or fled to the north gate.

A daylight moon hung up
In the Western sky, bald white.

Like Papa’s face, said Sister,
Hurling the white ball forth.

While I ate a baked potato
Six thousand miles apart,

In Brooklyn, in 1916,
Aged two, irrational.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt
Was an Arrow Collar ad.

O Nicholas! Alas! Alas!
My grandfather coughed in your army,

Hid in a wine-stinking barrel,
For three days in Bucharest

Then left for America
To become a king himself.

I am my father’s father,
You are your children’s guilt.

In history’s pity and terror
The child is Aeneas again;

Troy is in the nursery,
The rocking horse is on fire.

Child labor! The child must carry
His fathers on his back.

But seeing that so much is past
And that history has no ruth

For the individual,
Who drinks tea, who catches cold,

Let anger be general:
I hate an abstract thing.

Brother and sister bounced
The bounding, unbroken ball,

The shattering sun fell down
Like swords upon their play,

Moving eastward among the stars
Toward February and October.

But the Maywind brushed their cheeks
Like a mother watching sleep,

And if for a moment they fight
Over the bouncing ball

And sister pinches brother
And brother kicks her shins,

Well! The heart of man is known:
It is a cactus bloom.

The ground on which the ball bounces
Is another bouncing ball.

The wheeling, whirling world
Makes no will glad.

Spinning in its spotlight darkness,
It is too big for their hands.

A pitiless, purposeless Thing,
Arbitrary and unspent,

Made for no play, for no children,
But chasing only itself.

The innocent are overtaken,
They are not innocent.

They are their father’s fathers,
The past is inevitable.

Now, in another October
Of this tragic star,

I see my second year,
I eat my baked potato.

It is my buttered world,
But, poked by my unlearned hand,

It falls from the highchair down
And I begin to howl.

And I see the ball roll under
The iron gate which is locked.

Sister is screaming, brother is howling,
The ball has evaded their will.

Even a bouncing ball
Is uncontrollable,

And is under the garden wall.
I am overtaken by terror

Thinking of my father’s fathers,
And of my own will.

The poem was welcomed by other writers, and it had some of the same renown as “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” that had opened the first issue of the new Partisan Review.

Later,  in 1949 Delmore wrote in his journal about a party held by  the wealthy poet, Hy Sobiloff, at  which he “kept talking about Czar poem and how I was a great man.  Depressed because of days and days of drinking.” The link is characteristic of Delmore. The praise raises his sense of his inadequacy as a poet; the drinking feeds it. This will become the refrain in his personal journals.


appendix: There are reverberations between Schwartz’s poem and John Berryman’s ‘The Ball Poem,’ which was published in 1942 by James Laughlin’s New Directions Press — a press that underwrote the careers of many Modernist poets, including Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and Schwartz.  It was Schwartz who promoted and encouraged Berryman.

The Ball Poem
What is the boy now, who has lost his ball.
What, what is he to do? I saw it go
Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then
Merrily over—there it is in the water!
No use to say ‘O there are other balls’:
An ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy
As he stands rigid, trembling, staring down
All his young days into the harbour where
His ball went. I would not intrude on him,
A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now
He senses first responsibility
In a world of possessions. People will take balls,
Balls will be lost always, little boy,
And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.
He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,
The epistemology of loss, how to stand up
Knowing what every man must one day know
And most know many days, how to stand up
And gradually light returns to the street,
A whistle blows, the ball is out of sight.
Soon part of me will explore the deep and dark
Floor of the harbour . . I am everywhere,
I suffer and move, my mind and my heart move
With all that move me, under the water
Or whistling, I am not a little boy.

pub. 1942.


Happy New Year…. Annie J.


“But we shall not turn our face from you, O glorious and grieving Russia”

Andre Gide (1869- 1951)  was a central figure in French intellectual life in the early decades of the 20th century, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1947.  His was a passionate  voice among European anti-fascists and he was widely admired in the USA and in the Soviet Union before his break with the Communist Party in 1936.  Gide was older than most of the Partisan Review crowd but was seen as a comrade in arms because of his literary excellence and his initial political sympathy with Communism and his subsequent anti-Stalinism.  After he made his break,  many others felt freer to criticise Soviet Stalinism. In the 1940s, Nicolas Chiaromonte, the Italian intellectual and close friend of Mary McCarthy, defended and identified with Gide’s position.

Gide — youth and man).

andre-gide-youth      andre-gide-man

Gide was a man who was an experimenter: in writing, in politics, and in love. He began writing as a young man, and published his first novel in 1891.  Gide’s works were grounded in a drive towards personal ‘truth’ — addressing one’s own inner life, developing and reflecting upon psychological identity and being responsible to to that never-entirely-to-be-achieved personhood .  If that sounds a lot like Sartre, its because Sartre was heavily influenced by Gide.  However, after the War, Sartre became more involved in Communist Party politics and theory, and Gide turned away from the movement.  As we will see, Partisan Review did extensively engage with Sartre’s works in the post-War period.

Gide was one of the founders of the Nouvelle Revue Française,  which published many of the writers who also  contributed  to PR.  His interests were humanitarian as well as political and literary.  He spent time in Africa in 1926-27. On his return he wrote about the exploitation of human and natural resources by French colonial businesses.  He became a model for the anti- colonial movements of the post war period.

Gide was a sexual explorer as well: though he married in 1895, he soon became the lover of  15 year old Marc Allegret, with whom he had a long relationship which continued as a friendship until Gide’s death in 1951.

allegret Marc Allegret became a distinguished filmmaker in France.

Gide’s marriage to his cousin, Madeleine,   was what used to be called a ‘companionate marriage’– the marriage was not sexual but the two loved each other and Gide was a devoted to her care. But it  became emotionally crisis-ridden when Madeleine burned Gide’s correspondence in revenge for his sexual relationship with Marc Allegret.madeleine-and-gide

Gide had strong and permanent friendships with many women, the most important of whom were unknown-3 Maria van Rysselberghe and her daughter,Elisabeth b.1890.

images-2Elisabeth and Gide had a short sexual relationship, and Elisabeth gave birth in 1923 to a daughter, Catherine, who was Gide’s only child.

Gide was filled with enthusiasm about the Soviet Revolution, and with the same curiosity and mental sensitivity to a new world to be explored that he had shown in Africa, he went to the USSR in 1936 to observe life in the communist country.  In “Return from the USSR,” a short book published in France by Gallimard in 1936, he recounted his visit and his developing critique of the Soviet Union under the domination of Stalin; it was then translated and published in the US by Knopf in 1937.  The French edition went through more 30 reprints that year.

Gide had been invited by the Soviet Writer’s Union, an official Party organisation, and he was squired around in a luxurious style. But as he travelled, he began to notice that things weren’t as he had hoped they would be.   The greatest trouble lay in the anti-intellectualism that is part of Soviet education under Stalin: he writes:

“IN THE U.S.S.R. everybody knows beforehand, once and for all, that on any and every subject there can be only one opinion. And In fact everybody’s mind has been so moulded and this conformism become to such a degree easy, natural, and imperceptible,that I do not think any hypocrisy enters Into it. Are these really the people who made the revolution?No; they are the people who profit by it. Every morning the Pravda teaches them just what they should know and think and believe. And he who strays from the path had better look out! So that every time you talk to one Russian you feel as If you were talking to them all. Not exactly that every-one obeys a word of command; but everything Is so arranged that nobody can differ from anybody else. “

As for Stalin himself, “Stalin’s effigy is met with everywhere; his name is on every tongue; his praises are invariably sung in every speech. In Georgia particularly, I did not enter a single Inhabited room, even the humblest and the most sordid, without remarking a portraitof Stalin hanging on the wall, in the no doubt place where the Ikon used to be. Is It adoration, love, or fear? I do not know; always and everywhere he is present.”

The response to Gide’s ‘report’ was divided between outraged loyal Communists and the developing anti-Stalinist group in the US and Europe.  Gide had never been a member of the Communist Party, but many felt he had defected from the movement.

Gide lived with a great sense of sociable connections, and he was accompanied on his trip  by a set of companions, each of whom had a lively mind and literary sensibility as well as a great excitement about going to the Soviet Union: Jacques Schiffrin, Eugene Dabit, Louis Guilloux, Jef Last and Pierre Herbart.


Jacques Schiffrin (seated) with Kurt Wolf.

Kurt Wolf (standing) Jacques Schiffrin (seated)

Schiffrin was the editor of the Library of the Pleiades, the distinguished uniform set of works by renowned writers, much like the present-day volumes in the Library of America.  He merged the project with Gallimard Editions, still an important French publishing house.

eugene-dabitEugene Dabit was a left wing writer associated with  the ‘proletarian literature’ movement in France. His most successful novel, published when he was 31, L’Hôtel du Nord (1929) was a popular success in France.  During the junket, Dabitdeveloped Scarlet Fever, and was hospitalised where he died. Gide was  very distressed and dedicated the “Return from the Soviet Union”: “To the memory of Eugene Dabit, I dedicate these pages, reflections of what I lived and thought beside him, with him.”

louisguillouxportrait Louis Guilloux, novelist, was a close friend of Dabit, who painted the portrait here. He remained sceptical of the Stalinist regime, and never became a member of the FCP

.pierre-herbart Gide and Herbart

Pierre Herbart (1903-1974) was a life-long friend of Gide. It was Gide who helped get Herbart’s first novel published by Gallimard when Pierre was 21 years old, and in 1931 he married Elisabeth van Rysselberghe, the mother of Gide’s child, Catherine. He had been close to Jean Cocteau, who showed him the pleasures of opium, to which Herbart remained addicted until his death.He allied himself with Gide’s anti-colonialism, and was  happy to join Gide for his own second trip to the USSR in 1936. Herbert became a member of the French Communist Party who, in turn, grew suspicious of him during the visit with Gide to the USSR.

pierre-herbart  Andre Gide and Pierre Herbart

Jef Last was a Dutch sailor in the merchant marine, and also a member of the Communist movement in the Netherlands;  he first met Gide at a meeting Gide chaired where the Report of the Congress of Soviet Writers was read. They remained friends and were both interested in the way in which the Soviet Union would legislate for/against homosexuality.  jeff-last-autoportrait

As Alan Sheridan, in his excellent biography of Gide tells us, as the group trip to the USSR was coming to its close, two major events shadowed the expedition. One was the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, and the other was the 1936 “Trial of the Sixteen,” the show trial of Zinoviev-Kamenev, Trotsky (in absentia), and 13 others. (See blog post 26 November, 2016, “End Papers” which discusses the Moscow Show here EndPapers)

The struggle of Nationalists against Republicans in Spain was complicated by the Stalinism of the Spanish Communist Party, and the Trotsky-inspired anti-Stalinism of the  POUM, the more or less independent coalition of socialist and anarchist groups.  Gide had been pleased that even though Herbart was a committed CPer, he and Gide began agreeing about the  conditions, politics, and culture of Stalinist USSR.  The situation was different with  Jef Last, who remained close to the positions of Stalin, and who invited Gide to come to Madrid to “testify once again to your absolute fidelity to the revolutionary, socialist cause.”  Jef Last also urged Gide not to publish Return from the USSR, because it would be premature, given the unstable situation in Spain. Last continued to press Gide to forgo the publication.

But on 13 November,1936 Return to the Soviet Union was published. You can access it by clicking on the underlined link, which gives you the full text. Return from the USSR. Herbert wrote a somewhat pusillanimous criticism of the work, given that he had been working on the proofs with Gide for weeks. And Jef Last, though he had built his defence against Gide with the weak generalisations and urges to loyalty, retired from the arguments after some months.

Gide was taken aback by the angry reviews he received, and he soon began another discussion document, ‘Second Thoughts on the USSR.’ Philip Rahv, at PR, said to Dwight McDonald that they should translate and publish the piece. But Fred Dupee thought that the ‘Second Thoughts’ essay might sound too  political and alienate the contributors to PR who weren’t political at all. After some arguments and an attack by the New Masses on Partisan Review,  it was decided to print the Gide piece in the second issue. Vol. IV No2.

So…. its Christmas morning here in London, and maybe you are getting ready to have your Christmas meal.  After this long build-up, I hope you will be able to make sense of the “Second Thoughts” piece.  Read it and let me know what you think.  CLICK: Second Thoughts on the Soviet Union

Oh yes, and Happy New Year,   Annie J.





“The Migratory Worker”


“The Migratory Worker,” a short story by John Dos Passos is the next piece in the January, 1938 issue of PR.  Its a naturalist portrait of the fall of a man in Depression America, and it reminds the reader that PR isn’t all theory and cosmopolitan high culture.  Set in Arizona, the narrative is of a young man without many skills, but some experience of the clap, freight train riding, and what he thinks of as ‘easy women.’.  He has been doing unskilled ‘pick and shovel’ work, but a second dose of the clap sends him to buy a ticket to Phoenix where a ‘part-Indian’ doctor is rumoured to provide a cure.  Ike Hall is  strong and confident, eager to learn, and he finds a job which can train him in electrics. He is a member of the IWW, founded in 1905 — The International Workers of the World — an American union, “One Big Union”–, known as the known as the”Wobblies,” and he feels the pride and the power of being in employment. The Wobblies were linked to the politics of socialism and anarcho-syndicalism. Committed to an inclusive membership, it welcomed people of all races, both sexes, and promoted the slogan; “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

While learning the electrical trade, Ike meets Jinny Connor, who is young and pretty and ‘thinks the world of him.’ Her family objects to a marriage between them, which forces the young couple to leave Phoenix, and go to Kansas City.  But Ike’s luck turns, and “The electrical workers local wasn’t taking in any new members on account of the slump and before Ike could say Jack Robinson there he was smashing baggage at the Railway Express and Jinny was counter girl in a onearmed lunch”. 



one-armed-lunch-room  one armed lunch room — like the place where Jinny worked.

The shades of the prison house start closing in around the young couple, they sleep in the cold at night, and “There wasn’t a living soul they could call on for help.”    Ike, in despair, has to sign on for a job that will take them to Oklahoma so he can work in the oilfields.  It means that he has to turn in his “red card,”his IWW membership card, and he becomes what they called a ‘scissorbill,’ a union busting scab.iww

“The train made a cheery racket over the ties in the night. Now and then from way up ahead the engine hooted at him: ‘Just a lousy scabbin’ scissorbill.'”

Joe Hill, one of the heroes of the IWW wrote this song about the scab:

“You may ramble ’round the country anywhere you will,
You’ll always run across the same old Scissor Bill.
He’s found upon the desert, he is on the hill,
He’s found in every mining camp and lumber mill.
He looks just like a human, he can eat and walk,
But you will find he isn’t, when he starts to talk.
He’ll say, “This is my country,” with an honest face,
While all the cops they chase him out of every place.
Scissor Bill, he is a little dippy,
Scissor Bill, he has a funny face.
Scissor Bill should drown in Mississippi,
He is the missing link that Darwin tried to trace.
And Scissor Bill, he couldn’t live without the booze,
He sits around all day and spits tobacco juice.
He takes a deck of cards and tries to beat the Chink!
Yes, Bill would be a smart guy if he only could think.
And Scissor Bill, he says: “This country must be freed
From Niggers, Japs and Dutchmen and the gol durn Swede.”
He says that every cop would be a native son
If it wasn’t for the Irishman, the sonna fur gun.
Scissor Bill, the “foreigners” is cussin’;
Scissor Bill, he says: “I hate a Coon”;
Scissor Bill is down on everybody
The Hottentots, the bushmen and the man in the moon.”

Dos Passos’s story  belonges  to the genre of ‘proletarian literature,’ which sometimes means literature written by the working class, and sometimes means literature about the working class, written with a pro-socialist or communist politics. It was the stuff of socialist and  CPUSA periodicals from the founding of the CPUSA in 1919, and became an official ‘line’ of the CPUSA in Third Period Communism, and through the Popular Front.  The New Masses, one of the most popular of the CPUSA-related periodicals, published many ‘proletarian’ stories and poems.

I first read Dos Passos’ wonderful trilogy, USA,  when I was taking a graduate course in 1930s literature. It is a long and exciting set of three novels, and in them Dos Passos not only writes against Capitalism, he draws on the avant-garde and mass cultural structures: he includes a set of inter-chapters  which  offer  newspaper headlines, jingles from commercials, songs, etc.  It is a engaging novel and I recommend it to any one interested in the 1930s and the Left in the USA. Mary McCarthy, in How I Grew, read a Dos Passos novel in a course at Vassar, and followed it up with his pamphlet about Sacco and Vanzetti, “which turned me around politically from one day to the next (or so it seemed). There was no more talk from me about Royalism [aj:!!]
Mary McCarthy’s second husband, Edmund Wilson, was a friend of Dos Passos, and they were neighbours on Cape Cod.

As for Dos Passos himself, he was one of those whose defection from the CPUSA became a defection from the Trotskyist Left and then the Left altogether. He was born into a upper middle class family, was sent to Choate for boarding school, and then went on to Harvard. Like many of his generation, he became an advocate for communism and was involved with communist inspired literary conferences throughout the 1930s.His experience in the Spanish Civil War led him to give up on the Communist Movement. Like his friends at Partisan Review, DosPassos had listened carefully to the news about Stalin, and he  signed on to the Defence of Trotsky Committee.  But he was moving to the Right, and by the mid-1940s, he was on the Right. The death of his wife in 1947  was a devastating event for him, and though he wrote many many books , he withdrew from much of public life in the late 40s and 1950s, only to emerge as an advocate for conservative politics and political candidates in the 1960s.

As you have seen,however, Partisan Review was sparing in its publication of ‘proletarian literature,’ and the shock of the story’s intensity and depth of feeling when read against the more restrained and analytical pieces in the journal is both exhilarating and odd.

next: Andre Gide on the Soviet Union.

“Now draw us into daylight in our beds”

The Partisan Review – Vassar College connection begins with and will return to Mary McCarthy, the most vibrant and social of the Vasser group — young women who were, if not exactly those who appeared in McCarthy’s popular novel, The Group, in 1963, at least something like them.  So, for example, after the end of the affair between McCarthy and Philip Rahv, he married  Nathalie Swan, the model for the Group’s Lakey, the posh, aloof one; the one who finally finds her life and love in Paris.

But it was another Vassar friend, Elizabeth Bishop who hopped off a boat in Brazil and fell in love with lota Carlota Costallat de Macedo Soares (“Lota”) in 1951, and with whom she lived for 16 years.

elizabethbishop Elizabeth Bishop vassareb

And in this second issue of PR, an issue that relaxes some of its political stringency to let Modernism in poetry and art stand alone, Elizabeth Bishop, who remains one of the most admired of the American ‘middle generation,’ offers a poem about the city at dawn, and the motor that moves us from nature to culture.  The term ‘middle generation’ refers to those poets more or less a generation younger than Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and Marianne Moore, who took the abstraction of modernist poetics and hammered it against their own experiences —  the genre of ‘confessional poetry.’  These younger poets,  including Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton, saw a fellow-artist in  Bishop, and she sustained a long and important friendship and correspondence with Robert Lowell, who was married for many years to Elizabeth Hardwick, a contributor to Partisan Review and in 1967, a co-founder of The New York Review of Books, which still is one of the urban intellegentsia’s most valued journals.

Bishop and McCarthy became friends at Vassar in 1932:  in an interview with the Paris Review published in 1981, a few years after her death,  Bishop said,

“We started a magazine you may have heard of, Con Spirito. I think I was a junior then. There were six or seven of us—Mary, Eleanor Clark and her older sister, my friends Margaret Miller and Frani Blough, and a couple of others. It was during Prohibition and we used to go downtown to a speakeasy and drink wine out of teacups. Most of us had submitted things to the Vassar Review and they’d been turned down. It was very old-fashioned then. We were all rather put out because we thought we were good. So we thought, Well, we’ll start our own magazine. We thought it would be nice to have it anonymous, which it was”.  

Although the 1930s was the decade of literary-political arguments, Bishop didn’t see herself as part of the New York Left:

“Everybody was frantic trying to get jobs. All the intellectuals were communist except me. I’m always very perverse so I went in for T. S. Eliot and Anglo-Catholicism. But the spirit was pretty radical.”

And that spirit, not given as a position, but rather as a mosaic of observations, is displayed in the poem she contributed to this issue:  like other city poems, such as Wordsworth’s “Composed upon Westminster Bridge, 1802,” Bishop’s poem takes the city at dawn and uses its opening calm to build up a full picture of the encounter between the sky and the urban terrain and its human hazards.

“Love Lies Sleeping”.

Earliest morning, switching all the tracks
That cross the sky from cinder star to star,
Coupling the ends of streets
To trains of light,

Now draw us into daylight in our beds;
And clear away what presses on the brain:
Put out the neon shapes
That float and swell and glare

Down the gray avenue between the eyes
In pinks and yellows, letters and twitching signs.
Hang-over moons, wane, wane!
From the window I see

An immense city, carefully revealed,
Made delicate by over-workmanship,
Detail upon detail,
Cornice upon facade,

Reaching up so languidly up into
A weak white sky, it seems to waver there.
(Where it has slowly grown
In skies of water-glass

From fused beads of iron and copper crystals,
The little chemical “garden” in a jar
Trembles and stands again,
Pale blue, blue-green, and brick.)

The sparrows hurriedly begin their play.
Then, in the West, “Boom!” and a cloud of smoke.
“Boom!” and the exploding ball
Of blossom blooms again.

(And all the employees who work in a plants
Where such a sound says “Danger,” or once said “Death,”
Turn in their sleep and feel
The short hairs bristling

On backs of necks.) The cloud of smoke moves off.
A shirt is taken off a threadlike clothes-line.
Along the street below
The water-wagon comes

Throwing its hissing, snowy fan across
Peelings and newspapers. The water dries
Light-dry, dark-wet, the pattern
Of the cool water-melon.

I hear the day-springs of the morning strike
From stony walls and halls and iron beds,
Scattered or grouped cascades,
Alarms for the expected:

Queer cupids of all persons getting up,
Whose evening meal they will prepare all day,
You will dine well
On his heart, on his, and his,

So send them about your business affectionately,
Dragging in the streets their unique loves.
Scourge them with roses only,
Be light as helium,

For always to one, or several, morning comes
Whose head has fallen over the edge of his bed,
Whose face is turned
So that the image of

The city grows down into his open eyes
Inverted and distorted. No. I mean
Distorted and revealed,
If he sees it at all.


Next: John Dos Passos, “Migratory Worker”


  “He was a revolutionist, in the sense that every Bohemian artist under the Bourgeois regime

has been a revolutionist.” William Troy on D.H. Lawrence.

Between 1974-1976 I was a student of the critic Terry Eagleton. When I got to Oxford I began looking through the lecture lists to find the leftish lectures and lecturers. I wrote to Terry, described myself as an Hegelian Marxist, and asked if I could attend his weekly Friday afternoon seminar at Wadham College.  He must have laughed to get my note, but he wrote back to me very kindly, and thus began my somewhat vague romance with Trotskyism.terry I discovered soon enough that Frankfurt School Marxism, which I had studied with friends at Reed College, was no match for vanguard parties of the ‘Oxford Left,’ the IMG, the IS (as it was then), the Sparts, etc.  I was in over my head before I even understood what “Permanent Revolution” meant….but I loved the arguments, the big mugs of tea in the Balliol JCR  — a kind of club for the Left —  and leafletting with comrades outside the Cowley motor works early in morning.  I grew to love the  IMG uniform of a duffle coat and a plastic shopping bag filled with leaflets.


But as entry into reading Vol. IV, No. 2, Partisan Review,  Eagleton’s 1976 taxonomy of the politics of major British writers, as they developed out of 19th century ‘organicism’ and into the paradoxes of Modernism  suggests something of the distance between Terry’s Criticism and Ideology and the opening essay of PR Issue No.2,  January, 1938 William Troy’s”The Lawrence Myth,”  for Terry had taken a hard line on D.H. Lawrence: Lawrence was right wing, almost to the point of being a fascist, and he belonged to the great conundrum of the Modernist  Right. Terry’s style then was a bit scientistic, but always full of interesting ideas, and I had walked into the seminar as the participants thrashed about, debating Lukacs versus Althusser, and the discourse of analysis tended towards the terse.

William Troy’s, “The Lawrence Myth,” is noted in the contributors to Issue 2,  as the ‘second in our series on modern literary figures.’ I assume that Lionel Abel’s piece on Silone was the first.  And as you will know if you have also read Edmund Wilson’s piece on Flaubert, there were rudiments of  a developing position in the journal that the politico-literary strength of a writer was not to be reduced to that writer’s political choices, but rather to the ways in which the writer works up and through the political texture of their imagined world.

William Troy was not a editor of PR, but he was an admired writer of literary  criticism for The Nation and other periodicals, and after his death, he was praised by his colleagues from Bennington College for his talents as a writer and teacher. “The Lawrence Myth” starts out by scolding Lawrence for the egoism of his own step on beyond the “suffering hero” stance of many romantic writers — Blake and Melville for example — into the heresy of becoming a primordial demiurge himself. Troy finds the absolute character of Lawrence’s egotism chilling, Lawrence’s attachment to personal identity overwhelmingly Dionysian, and his sense of the indissoluble link between sexuality and transcendence as a misunderstanding of religious mystery. Troy offers two vivid and dangerous examples of Lawrence’s need to become a  god of darkness, mystery, and the natural subjective state of personhood.




The first is the story of Lawrence arranging a dinner party for various friends at the Cafe Royal, sometime between the 21-24 December, 1923 which he called the ‘Last Supper.’ It was at this dinner that  Lawrence proposed to his guests, according to Catherine Carswell, one of his intellectual friends,  that the assembled group move with him to Taos, New Mexico and start a New Life. But she wondered “Did the search, the adventure, the pilgrimage for which he stood,mean enough to us for us to give up our own way of life, and our own separate struggle with the world?”   That same night, Lawrence believed, the affair that his wife, Frieda, had been having with John Middleton Murray was ‘symbolised’ in Murray’s enactment of Judas to Lawrence’s Jesus.  Lots of drinking and smashing of glasses, concluding with Murray’s Judas kiss to Lawrence, after  which according to Lawrence, Murray had asked,  ‘You remember saying: “I love you Lorenzo, but I won’t promise not to betray you”’?  Troy finds this a ‘disgusting performance,’ and the shift from Lawrence’s interest in the Freudian mythology ‘to another and much older one’ — Christian and medieval —  as regressive. We see Lawrence backtrack from The Last Supper to the Wasteland.




The Second is Troy’s  discussion of Lawrence’s late paintings: “Because these belong so clearly to biography rather than to art, because they represent self-expression at its most naive and irresponsible, they leave no doubt as to the image of himself that Lawrence came to realise at the end. He had become, as he put it in a deathbed fragment, “like a Lord!” 

In both cases Troy is as censorious as were the officials who declared these paintings ‘obscene’ when they raided the Warren Gallery in 1929.  And in both cases the criticism is attached to the over-weening egotism of Lawrence as mystery god of power and sexuality.  Troy’s distaste is certainly political as well, but its language is that of the ‘bourgeois regime’ that all ‘revolutionists,’ bohemian artists rebel against.  Troy goes on to argue that Lawrence’s view is based on ‘an inaccurate analogy with the medieval doctrine of grace.’ “Through sex the separate individuals in any relationship are restored to an organic union with the processes of nature; and through this process they are strengthened, in the best religious sense, both in themselves and in their relations with others….Politically, of course, such a doctrine leads straight into the very dark burrow of  fascism.”   Ah, Terry, here you meet up with Troy.

And Troy is equally determined to place Lawrence in a more seriously Marxist context. That is, Troy wants to show a dialectic at work in Lawrence’s positions that will achieve a resolution which can raise Lawrence to a place of greater importance (and maybe to the PR readership) in the revolutionary struggle. He gives a short history of Lawrence’s politics that opens the sympathetic part of Troy’s account: “As a coal-miner’s son, as a suffering artist, and as an intelligent observer of contemporary life, he could never have been very sympathetic to the ideal of modern bourgeois  society. All of his work is an implicit , and much of it, an explicit, criticism of mass-production in ideas, emotions, and men. He was a revolutionist, therefore, in the sense that every Bohemian artist under the bourgeois  regime has been a revolutionist.”

Troy outlines the dialectic of reason and drives, humanity and nature, individual and collective that thrived in Lawrence and his works, and the Hegelian Marxist in me was waiting for the moment of synthesis, the marvellous “Aufhebung” that never arrives entirely.  But in Troy’s rescue of the contradictions within Lawrence is an apologia pro vita sua available to both men.