A summer Friday in blogland is not the time to post anything mentally challenging. So as an experiment I’m going to post the best bit of the week’s reading, in this case, the opening of an essay by Robert Lowell on his friend Randall Jarrell. I’ve already read it myself several times and obliged Mister Litlove to listen to it, too, I think it’s such a delight.
When I first met Randall, he was twenty-three or four, and upsettingly brilliant, precocious, knowing, naive and vexing. He seemed to make no distinction between what he would say in our hearing and what he would say behind our backs. If anything, absence made him more discreet. Woe to the acquaintance who liked the wrong writer, the wrong poem by the right writer, or the wrong lines in the right poem! And how those who loved him enjoyed admiring, complaining and gossiping about the last outrageous thing he had done, or more often, said. It brought us together – whispering about Randall. In 1937, we both roomed at the house of John Crowe Ransom in Gambier, Ohio. Ransom and Jarrell had each separately spent the preceding summer studying Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and had emerged with unorthodox and widely differing theories. Roughly, Ransom thought that Shakespeare was continually going off the rails into illogical incoherence. Jarrell believed that no one, not even William Empson, had done justice to the rich, significant ambiguity of Shakespeare’s intelligence and images. I can see Ransom and Jarrell now, seated on one sofa, as though on one love-seat, the sacred texts open on their laps, one fifty, the other just out of college, and each expounding to the other’s deaf ears his own inspired and irreconcilable interpretation.
The rest of the essay is just as good, and it comes from a wonderful collection: The Company They Kept; Writers on Unforgettable Friendships, edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein. It makes me long to write about my friends who are writers, but given they are all alive and kicking (and hopefully for a long time yet), I will have to wait.