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Updated July 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Ernest Altounyan

Ozone Hotel,


Dear E. A.,

Ah me, but I find you difficult. Your verses twist and turn like eels with your thought ever slipping away from me, and with never a stop. It moves and moves, and moves, until I find myself longing for somewhere to sit down and rest. Have you, in your re-reading of it after the heat of creation, noted its restlessness? All of you and it jigging non-stop?

I think you'll have to make pauses, sometimes, for the readers to draw breath. Imagine it a song you had written, with never a blank half bar even, for the singer to refill her lungs. Now that
I have more leisure and cool blood to confront the mass of it, I see that the prose headings and divisions and arguments for which I pleaded were not to explain it (it explains itself) but so many landings on which to halt a moment. Otherwise you'll kill your readers. Spenser killed them with his Faery Queen. I've read that, heaps and heaps of times. I lived on it till 1916 or so. Yet I know that nobody can really grapple with it because it runs on too fast. What a river you were, in those months. Now you must feel like the Kuweik in September.

No letter from you lately. I had hoped to hear what was the cause of your money forebodings. Do felicitate yourself on having a real craft, a hand-craft, behind you. To be a writer and no more is to be misshapen, lop-sided, unstable. Solid poetry cannot be written by a shaky man. If you let yourself fall down easily you condemn all your work. I feel great power in these writings: everything except the power to stand still, and that can only come in a revise.

I haven't got on well with them. I don't know what it is, but my eyes are letting me down. In open daylight I can read, perfectly: and my far sight is as good as good. But by night, or in dull daylight, something goes wrong. I have to put pressure on some nerve within my head, and say 'focus yourself on that line: see it' before I can read it, and then not for long. This happened to me once before, in 1927 in India, and I ceased reading and it passed off. But now here it is again. As the light goes now by four o’clock (and we work till 5, from 8) this is cutting into my enjoyment of your script. One cannot get the picture of it in spasms between blind times.

Please commend me once more to your father. We used to get such pleasure from his company, twenty years ago. Queer that I should now spend my evenings in yours! And to D. my regards. Poetry, a profession, a wife, some children: no wonder you are distracted sometimes with over-much going out of you. I hope you may soon balance your mind's account, and write me cheerfully.

Don't be hasty over the poems. They probably represent your life's work, and they will keep. We owe no duty, no immediate duty, to our generation - unless we are journalists.


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Source: DG 831-2
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 7 February 2006


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