Saturday, 21 November 2009

Parallax, by Nancy Cunard

Cunard's Parallax is the poem that inspired this blog. I sought it after seeing a casual reference in Leavis's New Bearings in English Poetry, and after being unable to find it either in the library or on the internet, I ordered Poems of Nancy Cunard from the Internet. It arrived today, and sadly only contains two short sections from Parallax, but as they were previously unavailable on the Internet, I will reproduce them here. Some day soon I hope to go to the British Library, where I will be able to read the whole thing.

* * * * *

Dry moss, grey stone, hill ruins, grass in ruins
Without water, and multitudinous
Tintinnabulations in the poplar leaves;
A spendrift dust from desiccated pools,
Spider in draughty husk, snail on the leaf—
Provence, the solstice.
And the days after
By the showman's travelling houses, the land caravels
Under a poplar; the proud grapes and the burst grape-skins.
Arles in the plain, Miramas after sunset-time
In a ring of lights,
And a pale sky with a sickle moon.
Thin winds undress the branch, it is October.
And in Les Baux, an old life slips out, patriarch of eleven inhabitants:
"Fatigué" she said, a terse beldam by the latch,
"Il est fatigué, depuis douze ans toujours dans le même coin."

In Aix what's remembered of Cezanne?
A house to let (with studio) in a garden.
Meanwhile "help yourself to these ripe figs,
And if it doesn't suit, we, Agence Sextus, will find you another just as good."
The years are sown together with thread of the same story:
Beauty picked in a field, shaped, recreated,
Sold and dispatched to distant municipality—
But in the master's town merely an old waiter, crossly:
"Of course I knew him, he was a dull silent fellow,
Dead now."
And beauty walked alone here,
Unpraised, unhindered,
Defiant, of single mind,
And took no rest, and has no epitaph.

* * * * *

"—Then I was in a train in pale clear country
By Genoa at night where the old palatial banks
Rise out of vanquished swamps,
And in San Gimignano's towers where Dante once ..
And in the plains with the mountains' veil
Before me and the waterless rivers of stones—
Siena-brown with Christ's head on gold,
Pinturicchio's trees on the hill
In the nostalgic damps, when the maremma's underworld
Creeps through at evening.
Defunct Arezzo, Pisa the forgotten—
And in Florence, Banozzo
With his embroidered princely cavalcades,
And Signorelli, the austere passion.
Look: Christ hangs on a sombre mound, Magdalen dramatic
Proclaims the tortured god. The rest have gone
To a far hill. Very dark it is, soon it will thunder
From that last rim of amaranthine sky.
Life broods at the cross's foot,
Lizard and campion, star-weeds like Parnassus grass,
And plaited strawberry leaves;
The lizard inspects a skull,
You can foretell the worm between the bones.

(I am alone. Read from this letter
That I have left you and do not intend to return.)

Then I was walking in the mountains,
And drunk in Cortona, furiously,
With the black wine rough and sour from a Tuscan hill,
Drunk and silent between the dwarves and the cripples
And the military in their intricate capes
Signed with the Italian star.
Eleven shuddered in a fly-blown clock—
Oh frustrations, discrepancies,
I had you to myself then ....."

* * * * *
I'll be posting more of Nancy Cunard's poems in the future.


  1. You can order copies of 'Parallax' here:


    1. Seamus, I can't imagine you still check this blog, but if you do, I've scanned a first edition of Parallax and would be happy to share it. email me: