Wednesday, June 04, 2008

4. The Magic of Mantovani & l'an trentiesme de son eage - Michael Hofmann

A quick word on The Magic of Mantovani. MH writes with considerable irony on this light orchestra composer (“careful brass/ for the darker moments – the blood of Spain.”) and its audience (“well dressed and supplied with contraceptives”) before coming to his father disappearing “into his own thoughts” while Mantovani’s music plays in the cinema before the ads. What strikes me is the sudden shift at the end:

Ice cream was no longer on sale in the foyer –
the end of kindness…I thought about mortality,
and cried for my father’s inevitable death.

From ice cream to an end of kindness to mortality. That’s the conclusion of a poem on light music. At first I thought the leap was too much, too easy. But I’m now coming round to it. I’m not sure whether it’s further irony, the sentiment of the music bringing out such thoughts? Or whether MH is deliberately reacting against the light stuff and filling his head with something heavier? Either way, the lines made me think again about what I’d read up until then.

And a double-bill today. The poem l’an trentiesme de son eage is about the relationship between Katherine Mansfield and Ida Baker. KM is in a sanatorium suffering from tuberculosis. She is continually irritable with Ida, her lover, criticizing her appearance, her personality, her lack of intellectuality. Life there is cold and miserable. She buys flowers etc for her husband Murry, even though “he is in England, advancing his career/ as a man of letters.” She writes to him, “I love you more than ever now I am 31.”

It’s quite prosy, matter-of-fact, few verbal fireworks, dispassionate. The poem works partly because of its intense underlying sadness – the love KM expresses for her husband who isn’t there, and her criticism of the woman who sticks around. “It’s hardly the scandalous lesbian affair/ you read about, but a sad, bitchy one.” I suppose it’s what often happens – people are nastiest to those who are least likely to reject them because of it.

No particular line jumps out at me from this poem, but the overall effect is pretty sobering.

Yesterday, I chickened out of discussing the title, as I am no Ezra Pound expert, but it’s worth noting that the phrase “l’an trentiesme de son eage” comes from the end of the first section of Pound’s poem Hugh Selwyn Mauberly (although Pound may have borrowed it from somewhere else?):

Unaffected by "the march of events",
He passed from men's memory in l'an trentiesme
De son eage
; the case presents
No adjunct to the Muses' diadem.

I don’t know enough to be sure of how that connects to MH’s poem. KH has just passed her 30th year. I find it quite ambiguous. She is out-of-time, someone who was her own person, unaffected by the prevailing currents? I’m probably barking up the wrong tree entirely. I really don’t know.


Anonymous said...

In 'Mantovani' I like:

Swaying in treetops,
violins hold the high notes.

Nothing especially fancy, but just the right image. Almost the kind of thing I think I've maybe heard before, it's so obviously *that*.

I know what you mean about the ending ... it's maybe a little overboard, since it seems unlikely he was actually crying in the cinema at the sudden thought ... but who knows. Maybe the music got to him?


Cailleach said...

I did a spot of googling and you're right: Pound did indeed borrow from somewhere else.

"L'an trentiesme de son age," comes from Francois Villon's 'Le Testement' (1461), a poem that according to Michael Coyle was written whilst Villon awaited execution. Coyle adds " Mauberley by conrast, did not die in his thirtieth year, but 'merely passed from men's minds' a poet unmissed by the public and become irrelevant to the future of letters." Coyle goes on to say that in contrast "Pound's lines are anything but wan or merely aesthetic."

The book in question that this comes from is 'A Companion to Modernist Literature & Culture.'

Rob said...

Yes, I liked the violins too.

Thanks, Barbara, for doing the research. Interesting stuff.