Updated June 2012
T. E. Lawrence to Bruce Rogers
Thank you for sending XXI. I checked over your changes and W's, and sent it on to Miss Saunders, with a few very minor alterations of my own. You will be able to pass upon these when the proof reaches you. However I had to leave 'go gay' which W. called American slang (you properly dissenting - it is good Queen Anne colloquial), as nothing else in my head fitted the sentence.
Some weeks ago I sent Miss Saunders the text of XXII. When I read the XXI on its coming from you, I felt it had movement, and suspense: it was like a prelude to catastrophe: and XXII has done its best to be grim and bloody: or at least to be grimmer and bloodier than Homer. In parts the Greek is poor melodrama, and stinks of unreality: and I am hoping that you (and others) may find my version more credible, as tragedy.
Just before my leave ended I finished off XXIII and XXIV and sent them to London last Saturday. They have been confronting me in the rough, as you know, for months: and are very difficult books. After the slaughter of XXII some quiet finish was artistically necessary: and there were all manner of loose strings flapping from the poem. So Homer (Odyssey-Homer, should we say?) started out to tidy everything; and hopelessly lost his way. These 'little' artists, to use little as a term of sheltering affection, find a theme so hard to end. His last movement drools on and on like one of Schubert's, everybody (author included) dying to end it, but mellifluously unable.
I've been wrestling with it intermittently or all these months, trying to get shape into it, in my mind: for if I could have seen it in one piece, then shape would have somehow marvellously appeared. And it did improve: though it will remain a failure, always. You can help, in XXIV, by leaving a space where the scene shifts between hell, earth and heaven too suddenly. The author's cunning deserted him, or he tried his skill too high. At any rate he failed to darn over his gaps and transitions.
Mind you, these books are authentic stuff. It will not do, as they said in Alexandria, to end the Odyssey where he and Penelope get into bed. This is not a comic opera: but I fancy that poor O-Homer threw his hand in at the end, rather as I did, after trying very hard. He has lavished on these two books some of his loveliest intimacies - only the need was for one or two big things, and he couldn't write big.
Eurycleia stumbling upstairs; the entry of Penelope upon Odysseus; her comment upon his death-story; the funeral of Achilles, where Thetis comes; Agamemnon's praise of the Odyssey; Laertes in his garden; the babbling childhood of Odysseus amid the trees; the welcome of Dolius; the wrangle upon valour between O., Telemachus and Laertes - all these are in the best manner, perfect touches which only imperfectly conceal the need for good construction. It is most true and genuine O-Homer. Even another comic lion, another shipwreck, and more birds arrive, worked in unhandily to cover climaxes he couldn't deal with, straightly
So when you are disappointed with these two books, blame O-Homer as well as me. I have worked on them till I went blind and stupid. All the revision in the world will not save a bad first-draft: for the architecture of the thing comes, or fails to come, in the conception, and revision only affects the detail and ornament, alas!
Well, it is finished, except for W. and yourself. I am like a man lightened of a burden, who yet feels that he has dropped something. 1927 it began. How long ago that life in Karachi ended.
|Last revised:||6 January 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