Summer Poems, 1939

Here is Saturday’s post on Friday — going away for weekend.

NOTE: The two-part article by William Troy, “Thomas Mann: Myth and Reason” which follows Luxemberg’s “Letters from Prison,” will be the subject of a blog post here later in the autumn, and will include responses to Troy at the time from other PR contributors.

But seeing how it is still August here, and the slim volume of Partisan Review Vol 5, No.1 is drenched in anxiety about the state of things in the summer of 1938,  it seems right to move on to the next PR document from that June:  poems by ‘Two English Poets,’ Julian Symons and D.S. Savage.


Julian Symons

Julian Symons, was the editor of the English, Twentieth Century Verse, which he founded in 1937; he was known to the Partisan Review also  as a supporter of  Trotsky.  D.S. Savage  (who figured in an earlier post on this blog, May 17, 2017–see archive) was published by Symons, and in Partisan Review.

Neither Symons nor Savage were part of the public school wing of 1930s political poetics; in fact, neither of them had been educated for their roles as poets or as conscientious objectors. And both were rejected for that status during World War II.

Symons left school at 14, and, as he said on Desert Island Discs in 1982, “I was, what I believe is now horrifically known as an ‘autodidact.'”  Symons says as well that he published young poets who were outside the circle of ‘Oxford Poets,’ one of whom was D.S. Savage.  The “Country Weekend” is filled with the atmosphere of tension that Symons lived– between the literary and the self-taught — the farmer and the guest,  and with the news of Fascism.  And not long afterwards, Symons and Roy Fuller watched and heard the first bombing raids in London. Symons returned to the period in his 1960 study, The Thirties. 



Though he had left organised religion in his youth, Derek Savage was reconfirmed at St. Paul’s and added a commitment to living sparely and simply to his already decided pacifism. Savage’s first pamphlet of poetry, The Autumn World was published by Reginald Caton’s Fortune Press in 1939, after Caton’s press, under the watchful eye of the law, stopped printing gay erotica and porn.  Caton turned to poetry, and  also  published early work by Dylan Thomas, Philip Larkin, and Julian Symons as well as Savage’s The Autumn World.  It seems likely that it was Symons who sent Savage on to Canton.

Savage married in 1938, and when the volume was published, he and his wife  moved to a village near Cambridge, where, Alison Olson wrote in a 2007 obituary of Savage, the couple lived in a condemned cottage without water, light or sanitation in Dry Drayton, Cambridgeshire.

Savage  remained a pacifist, and in 1940 he was taken to a tribunal on that account.  He was ridiculed as a coward, but he felt that war was a manner of ” legalised murder”. In 1944, he moved to Bromsash Hertforshire, where the family — they had six children — lived in a pacifist market-gardening village. Savage was committed to simple living, Anglicanism, and Pacifism.

In 1947, Savage discovered the pleasures of Cornwall and the literary-artistic community around St.Ives.  The family moved to Mevagissey, and he became friends with the poet W.S. Graham, Nessie Dunsmuir, and also knew the painter,Roger Hilton.  The Savages  lived  in the  Heligan Woods, continuing his decision to live a life of poverty. They went without  running water, and had no oven. Savage took the family dinners to be cooked in the Village Oven, part of a long-time community ritual.  He did move from the Heligan Woods into the Village after two years and lived there until his death in 2007.

Savage is known to many as a  literary critic, who wrote The Withered Branch against the Modernist Novel in the 1950s. But in 1938, he was beginning a life of asceticism, piety, pacifism, and poetry.


You hear Auden’s influence  here, but so many poets were that it doesn’t make much sense to criticise them for looking to such a model. And for Savage,  “My central idea is the necessary unity of poetry, religion and politics in integrity. Politics needs to be ethically grounded and pacifism is the ethical ground of political action.”

Julian Symons, you may know, was an acclaimed mystery writer after the war;


Savage, with his roots in the countryside, became the author of  books about farming and living a simple life.



I haven't been able to find a photo of Savage. If you have one, would you send me a copy?



Hands off Rosa Luxemburg



In the summer of 1938, Partisan Review began publishing its fifth volume: it had been a terrible spring, with Hitler’s forced “Anschluss” with Austria; and like our own summer of 2017, there was a growing map of dread reaching across Europe and the USA. Trump’s threats of nuclear war are keeping us up at night, and Hitler’s troops were knocking on doors in the night.

The experiences of 1938 are not only relevant to the present Trumpocracy, but also to the Partisan’s Review own historical horror at the years when Stalin killed off most of the heroes of the October Revolution. They were assassinated in the purges and Soviet principles, eroded over the following decades, were structurally weakened. Volume V includes pieces on the “The Soviet Cinema: 1930 – 1938”; (Dwight Macdonald, issues 2 & 3); Victor Serge’s reflections on “Marxism in our Time (issue 3”; and a piece by Trotsky on “Art and Revolution” (issue 3); and a look back to 1915 in Knoxville by James Agee (issue 3). What else is there to do when you are waiting for the crisis but to think about the way it may have come about…. There is certainly a lot of that going around this summer of 2017.

SO, Volume V, issue 1, begins with a selection of letters by Rosa Luxemburg written from prisons in Leipzig, Wronke, and Breslau between July, 1916 and October, 1918. The letters were written to Sonia Liebknecht, the wife of Luxemburg’s political partner, Karl Liebknecht, with whom she founded the Sparticist League and the German Communist Party.

Rosa_Luxemburg  Sophie_and_Karl_Liebknecht 440px-KLiebknecht  left to right: Rosa Luxemburg, Sonia Leibknecht with husband Karl and children, and Karl Leibknecht.

Partisan Review, remember, in 1938 was seen by the CPUSA as a Trotskyist journal,  and as Mary McCarthy told it,  being a Trotsky supporter during the Moscow Trials and through WWII meant being a traitor to the Party.  So it isn’t surprising that Trotsky and his intellectual and revolutionary comrades are present and accountable in this volume of PR. Victor Serge, a member of the Left Opposition with Trotsky, was expelled in 1929, and went to Paris and then to Mexico,where he died in 1947. We will look at his essay on contemporary Marxism later in this blog.

Trotsky was also a friend to Rosa Luxemburg, and in 1932 he wrote a polemical piece for the Militant, “Hands off Rosa Luxemburg” (August, 1932) in which he made the case for Luxemburg’s revolutionary politics before her death in 1919. In that essay, Trotsky takes us back to the period of discussion and debate between Lenin and Luxembourg, and rescues her from being called a ‘centrist’. As you may know, the German CP was riven within by arguments between and against Kautsky and Bernstein, and Trotsky’s article is, in 1932, to remind the revolutionary reader of Luxemburg’s 1909 statement:

Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones up to now who can cry with Hutten, “I have dared!”  [AJ: Ulrich von Hutten was a 16th century German Humanist who campaigned against the Papacy, and whose motto was: “I have dared to do it”] After which, Trotsky ends the article “Yes, Stalin has sufficient cause to hate Rosa Luxemburg. But all the more imperious therefore becomes our duty to shield Rosa’s memory from Stalin’s calumny that has been caught by the hired functionaries of both hemispheres, and to pass on this truly beautiful, heroic, and tragic image to the young generations of the proletariat in all its grandeur and inspirational  force.”

Luxemburg’s letters published by Partisan Review, June, 1938. Assassinated along with Karl Liebknecht almost twenty years earlier by the remnants of the Imperial German Army and militias called the Freikorps — German mercenary militia in existence since the 18th century — after the Sparticist Uprising in Berlin failed, in 1919 — the heavy criticism of Luxemburg from Communists and from the right — and a sense of her’s having been a failure of heroic and tragic dimensions is counterpoised to these letters of intimacy which show us her as a reader, writer, and  enthusiast of everyday life and of human possibility. There is a gauze of nostalgia in Trotsky’s article of 1932, and in this group of letters, translated by a familiar Partisan Review writer, Eleanor Clark.

Jacqueline Rose recently, in Women in Dark Times, presented a view of  Luxemburg as a woman who was constantly pushing past the limits of conventions — even those of revolution itself — makes redundant the distinction between the woman of the letters and the leader of revolutionary theory and action — which sends a message of a distinctively feminist ‘wildness’ that might be marshalled again today in a new wave of feminism. As often happens with such speculation, its very articulation is a stimulant in those ‘dark times’ — the title Hannah Arendt borrowed from Brecht for her generation and that Rose quotes for her book’s title for these dark times.  Rose’s argument is that from the wilder shores of feminism, there is an outrageousness that cannot be controlled.  You can read and admire Rose’s call for revolutionary enthusiasm — but it is difficult to hear her own voice in these parts — a voice which is usually anxious to maintain a rigour with respect to psychoanalysis, feminism, and our own dark times.   But Rose’s essay is a good introduction to learning how to see the personal joy that Luxemburg has, as a gift of imaginative force and that pushes her ideas towards joy as well.

In one of her prison letters, Luxemburg writes to Sonia, “you ask, ‘to what end all this?’ [AJ: the current state of the revolutionary torment they are both experiencing, on a grand scale and in small, almost muted, experiences of daily events and daily routines]. “To what end?” — It is a question that has nothing to do with a conception of the totality of life and its forces. To what end are there titmice in this world? I don’t know. But I rejoice that there are…”  And while her choice of favourite writers and poets may be of some cultural interest, it is her imaginative writing, shaped by reading about the natural world,  and passages of remembering her own sensations in the world, outside of prison, that makes present to us her vitality.  She writes to Sonia from prison in Breslau:

“What I wish for you is real and palpable joys. I would like to communicate to you too my own inexhaustible inner joy, so that I can be at peace thinking of you, and that you may pass through life in a mantle embroidered with stars, that will protect you from all that is mean, trivial, and agonising in experience.”  

It is certain that it is exhilarating to read these letters, and it is fine that Rose helps make that exhilaration available in her discussion. After the letters themselves, Dwight Macdonald contributes what he calls “A NEWSREEL” — (much like DosPassos’s in USA), in which the excerpts from The New York Times aim to walk silently between the violence of Luxemburg’s murder in the news story, and their contempt for Luxemburg and Liebknecht in the ‘editorial’ on the same day:

“Regrettable as is the manner of death, the work of private violence, not the law, that came to Dr. Liebknecht and Rosa  Luxemburg, it was to be expected, and does a summary, if irregular, justice to the fomenters of  robbery, murder, and anarchy. These two leaders, the man violent but weak, the woman a termagant of the familiar revolutionary type, have perished miserably by the sword they drew.”

The collage that Macdonald assembles in his “newsreel” draws an ironic line under the words of Zinoviev, who writes to the  German Communist Party, “Comrades, your struggle is hard. But your victory is sure. After the night comes, inevitably, the morning; and the impotent and infamous regime of the traitorous ‘Social Democracy’ will inevitably give way to the dictatorship of the heroic German proletariat.” But Zinoviev would be one of the first to be tried and executed in the Moscow Trials of August 1936.  (you can read more about the Moscow Trials on this blog — check in archive —

Read  Luxemburg’s letters from prison to Sonia Liebknecht – 

However, for reasons I don’t understand, the website of the archive of PR is out of action today, so I can’t give you the link to the letters as they appear in issue 1 of Vol. V. As soon as the archive is functioning again, I will add it here.


Well, its August

Its August, and like other bloggers and tweeters and scholars and readers —

this week I’vegone fishin

I hope you will check back next Saturday when Reading Partisan Review will be back, with  Partisan Review, Volume 5, No.1. June, 1938.  The issue opens with Rosa Luxemburg’s “Letters from Prison”.   Rosa_Luxemburg

…….but till then…

Here is a photo of people coming into New York Harbour that summer of 1938. Photo-23-PassengersViewNewYorkSkyline-500