Dear Readers: The next piece in Partisan Review, Vol.6, No.1 is an Anthology of Poems assembled by D.S.Savage. Having neglected to heed the advice of reason, and hence not getting a flu jab, I am now unable to do much better than wheeze and cough. SO I have decided to re-post this week some paragraphs from my earlier post about D.S. Savage, who was such an interesting and somewhat eccentric poet, and which will serve as the preface to the ‘Little Anthology’ in Partisan Review: I hope this will give you some interesting reading. The poems are by important poets: David Gascoyne, the Surrealist Poet, Dylan Thomas, George Barker, and a few others, and they were all inflected by the malaise and fear of late 1938.
So who was D.S. Savage? Well, he too was a revolutionary defeatist in the sense that he was a pacifist, and today we might think of him as a member of the ‘simple living’ movement of late capitalism. He grew up in Hertfordshire and he said that he became a pacifist at 13 years old, when he saw wounded and mutilated soldiers of WWI in the hospital where Savage was being treated for leg injuries from playing football. I imagine that the editors at Partisan Review were interested in a poet-pacifist, since Trotsky had written and spoken about the relationship between pacifism and revolutionary defeatism.
‘Only very slight injury can be done to the machinery of war of the ruling class by pacifism. This is best proved by the courageous but rather futile efforts of Russell himself during the war. The whole affair ended in a few thousand young people being thrown into prison on account of their conscientious objections…. In the old Tsarist army the sectarians, and especially the Tolstoyans, were often exposed to persecution because of their passive resistance to militarism; it was not they, however, who solved the problem of the overthrow of Tsarism.’ (L.D. Trotsky, ‘On Pacifism and Revolution’, 1926, written in reply to a review by Bertrand Russell of Trotsky’s book Where Is Britain Going?)
By 1938, Trotsky had become more open to what pacifism might contribute to revolutionary defeatism.
‘Bourgeois pacifism and patriotism are shot through with deceit. In the pacifism and even the patriotism of the oppressed there are elements which reflect on the one hand a hatred of destructive war and on the other a clinging to what they believe to be their own good elements which we must know how to seize upon in order to draw the requisite conclusions. Using these considerations as its point of departure, the Fourth International supports every, even if insufficient, demand, if it can draw the masses to a certain extent into active politics, awaken their criticism and strengthen their control over the machinations of the bourgeoisie.’ (L.D. Trotsky, Transitional Programme of the Fourth International, 1938.)
Though he had left organised religion in his youth, he was reconfirmed at St. Paul’s and added a commitment to living sparely and simply to his 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 and Philip Larkin, as well as Savage’s The Autumn World.
He married in 1938, and when the poems were published, he and his wife moved to a village near Cambridge, where, Alison Olson wrote in an 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 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 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.
“My central idea,” he wrote, “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.”