T. E. Lawrence to Robert Graves
These came too late to return with My Head, My Head, and so I took the liberty of laying them aside for second reading, which is just ended, in my cottage, with the Kreutzer sonata going on the gramophone. My Head isn't at its best this morning, owing to my having been in trouble lately (run up for insulting a corporal, and used the company office to purge all the draafe of my mind upon him... a hot and horrible scene, which scared our ladylike O.C. out of his manners. Case dismissed), and because there are more worries to come next week. Court of inquiry.
However. The Presence. Very moving. It reads like a first draft, too charged with passion for its form. The metre isn't common, and does not always fit the thought perfectly. I've underlined two phrases. The first didn't please me: and you repeat it (its grammatical form is what I'm talking about) four lines lower.
Also 'abuse' and 'use' feel as if brought in just to match one another. I may be wrong. They seem like bubbles in the mixture. 'Accusingly enforcing her too sharp identity'. That strikes me as a bit mannered. Bad-mannered, like the Sitwells' over-punctilious ceremony of phrase. Pernickety: Max-beerbombish.
I'd like to transpose some of the opening lines: the 'of whom' etc. down to 'on memory' aren't, intellectually, greater, louder, or in complement of 'dead is gone . . . underground': indeed I fancy they come before it: and I'm old-fashioned in liking my climax last... or in liking the poem to open crescendo and not diminuendo.
This is not to be taken as a denigration of The Presence. The power of the whole comes through its parts... transcends its parts: so that you wonder after having come down that uneven stairway of rhymes, to find yourself possessed of a place entirely new.
On third thoughts I wouldn't alter it. The spontaneity is one of its strengths.
What's the cause that you, and S.S. and I (from the S.S. to the ridiculous!) can't get away from the War? Here are you riddled with thought like any old table-leg with worms: S.S. yawing about like a ship aback: me in the ranks, finding squalor and maltreatment the only permitted existence: what's the matter with us all? It's like the malarial bugs in the blood, coming out months and years after in recurrent attacks. Have you leisure? I'd like to send you the book I tried to write those years ago. S.S. read it, and grew kind to me, afterwards: which was a good comment: and if your mind is now accustomed to living, perhaps you would read it for me.
My motive is the selfish one, of wanting criticism. The margins are blank to write upon in pencil. The print is eye-destroying, the length of the book appalling:... its sincerity, I fancy, absolute, except once where I funked the distinct truth, and wrote it obliquely. I was afraid of saying something, even to myself. The thing was not written for anyone to read. Only as I get further from the strain of that moment, confession seems a relief rather than a risk.
Note. This letter almost certainly dates from mid-October 1924, since the incident with the corporal is referred to in a letter from Lawrence to Charlotte Shaw of 13 October, see Letters I, p.110.
|Last revised:||19 February 2006|
T. E. Lawrence chronology
1888 16 August: born at Tremadoc, Wales
1896-1907: City of Oxford High School for Boys
1907-9: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., 1st Class Hons, 1909
1910-14: Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy), while working at the British Museum's excavations at Carchemish
1915-16: Military Intelligence Dept, Cairo
1916-18: Liaison Officer with the Arab Revolt
1919: Attended the Paris Peace Conference
1919-22: wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1921-2: Adviser on Arab Affairs to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office
1922 August: Enlisted in the Ranks of the RAF
1923 January: discharged from the RAF
1923 March: enlisted in the Tank Corps
1923: translated a French novel, The Forest Giant
1924-6: prepared the subscribers' abridgement of Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1927-8: stationed at Karachi, then Miranshah
1927 March: Revolt in the Desert, an abridgement of Seven Pillars, published
1928: completed The Mint, began translating Homer's Odyssey
1929-33: stationed at Plymouth
1931: started working on RAF boats
1932: his translation of the Odyssey published
1933-5: attached to MAEE, Felixstowe
1935 February: retired from the RAF
1935 19 May: died from injuries received in a motor-cycle crash on 13 May
1935 21 May: buried at Moreton, Dorset