Wednesday 25 February 2015

Henry James at the Pacific

I was delighted to come across this typically elegant sonnet by Donald Justice (an English sonnet, though the rhymes are scarcely noticeable), as it doesn't seem to be in my bedside Collected Poems. In Henry James at the Pacific, The Master has extended his American travels further West than he did in actuality and arrived at the blank immensity of the Pacific, where he muses on America and his art, and finds himself pining after all for the 'mild, dear light of Lamb House'.

Henry James at the Pacific

In a hotel room by the sea, the Master
Sits brooding on the continent he has crossed.
Not that he foresees immediate disaster,
Only a sort of freshness being lost -- 
Or should he go on calling it Innocence?
The sad-faced monsters of the plains are gone;
Wall Street controls the wilderness. There's an immense
Novel in all this waiting to be done.
But not, not -- sadly enough -- by him. His talents,
Such as they may be, want a different theme,
Rather more civilized than this, on balance.
For him now always the recurring dream
Is just the mild, dear light of Lamb House falling
Beautifully down the pages of his calling.

There's a long in-depth analysis of this poem here. The author, William Logan, traces a deep affinity between Justice's sonnet and Keats's On First Looking into Chapman's Homer. The piece has a rather wonderful final paragraph [Spoiler Alert]:
'I once asked Donald Justice whether he had recognized the odd, subterranean links between "Chapman's Homer" and "Henry James by the Pacific." He seemed surprised, then gratified. After thinking for a moment, he said, "Not at all." 

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