One of them had opened his bedroom window to sing
the cry of the Valkyries, after which voice after voice
responded with anotherWagnerian melody. Maud said of
this occasion to the photographer Cecil Beaton, “When
my husband came back, he noticed an atmosphere
of love.” Bache had remarked: “I don’t understand
what is going on in this house, but I don’t like it.
breadth of information, and size. Almost 8 pounds,
855 pages (12 inches by 10 ½ inches), with 200 entries
by 150 contributors (the majority, black) and nearly
400 illustrations, it was, and in many ways remains,
unique—an encyclopedic introduction to the history,
social and political conditions, and cultural
achievements of the black population throughout much
of the world: the United States, Europe, South and
Central America, the West Indies, and Africa. It is one
of the earliest examples of African American, cross-
cultural, and transnational studies and a call to all
civilized people to condemn racial discrimination and
appreciate the great social and cultural accomplishments
of a long suffering people.
Gordon suggests that that event, her continued financial woes, her shock at the silence of the Allied countries with regard to Spain, and her deteriorating health led, ultimately, to a brief mental breakdown and incarceration in an institution, her friends arguing that Nancy was not mad as much as mad about life. Cunard’s life clearly had been one lived at high pitch, and the passionate commitments to social and literary causes had been met primarily with silence and scorn. Despite her continued friendships with notables throughout the world and an embracement of younger friends such as Philadelphian Charles Burkhart, Cunard’s body and mind continued to decline during her last years.
BOOKS OF POETRY
* * * * *
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&emdash;
But in the master's town merely an old waiter, crossly:
"Of course I knew him, he was a dull silent fellow,
And beauty walked alone here,
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 saw the people climbing up the street
Maddened with war and strength and thoughts to kill;
And after followed Death, who held with skill
His torn rags royally, and stamped his feet.
The fires flamed up and burnt the serried town,
Most where the sadder, poorer houses were;
Death followed with proud feet and smiling stare,
And the mad crowds ran madly up and down.
And many died and hid in unfounded places
In the black ruins of the frenzied night;
And death still followed in his surplice, white
And streaked in imitation of their faces.
But in the morning men began again
To mock Death following in bitter pain.