Listening time: under 5 minutes.
Durrell has long been a favourite writer and poet. When I first read his Alexandria Quartet in my twenties, I went back to the beginning and started again, something I’ve only ever done for one other book (The Tale of Genji). I discovered his poems about the same time, and half a dozen were quickly committed to memory.
This one is a little harder to remember and every few years I have to refresh its unusual lines in my mind. I love its celebration of an ‘unimportant’ morning, a morning among many, ordinary, mostly forgotten, but worth remembering. People waking up, shaking carpets from windows, going about their business. The mornings which add up to a lifetime.
That first verse surfs smoothly in like a wave to the shore. You need to take a deep breath to read or recite it in one exhalation before it rolls in to land on the sand.
The poem also enchants me with its evocation of a specific coastline, one I have yet to visit but have always been in love with. Durrell paints the Adriatic coast as I have dreamed of it since childhood, prompted by a photo here, a painting there.
A few years ago, we flew over this stretch on our way to and from a holiday in Greece, which in turn led me to read Durrell’s books on the Greek islands, irresistible prose tributes, spare and limpid as the hyacinth-blue Greek sky.
On one leg of that flight I had a window seat on the Italian side of the plane, and looking out I saw the distant line where the Adriatic met the shore, and I joyously, inwardly, recited this poem.
Some of the lines aren’t obvious; don’t worry, let them wash over you impressionistically, like the sea’s sussuration, rather than trying to make sense of them. Just enjoy this bright Adriatic morning and the promise of that boatman waiting like a bird to take you who knows where.
Source: ‘Unimportant Morning’ by Lawrence Durrell (1912-90)
Photo credit: FMedic_photography at pixabay
This unimportant morning
Something goes singing where
The capes turn over on their sides
And the warm Adriatic rides
Her blue and sun washing
At the edge of the world and its brilliant cliffs.
Day rings in the higher airs
Pure with cicadas, and slowing
Like a pulse to smoke from farms,
Extinguished in the exhausted earth,
Unclenching like a fist and going.
Trees fume, cool, pour – and overflowing
Unstretch the feathers of birds and shake
Carpets from windows, brush with dew
The up-and-doing; and young lovers now
Their little resurrections make.
And now lightly to kiss all whom sleep
Stitched up – and wake, my darling, wake.
The impatient Boatman has been
Waiting under the house, his long oars folded up
Like wings in waiting on the darkling lake.
Click below for more podcasts!