John Fuller, “Edward Lear in Corsica.”
Times Literary Supplement, 7 July 1995.
New Selected Poems: 1983-2008. London, Chatto & Windus, 2012.
Is it not unpleasant, at fifty-six years of age, to feel that it is increasingly probablu that a man can never hope to be otherwise than alone, never no, never more? Did not Edgar Poe’s raven distinctly say ‘Nevermore’?
Edward Lear, Journal of a Landscape Painter
With its colourful flora and fauna
How delightful to visit La Corse!
There is silence for once in the corner:
Poe’s raven has cried himself hoarse.
The terrible word that he utters
Brings none of its usual fears.
In Ajaccio, latched are the shutters
And deep are the hats over ears.
For hope is a buoyant statistic
And here they are used to being free.
You are bound to become optimistic
When you wander into the maquis.
The woods breathe a whimsical vapour
That doesn’t compel you to think.
The walks by the shore smell like paper.
The sea is the colour of ink.
The landscape was formed when the planet
Had little but rocks on its mind.
The fall of the coastline granite
Is awesome but not unkind.
When the clock chimes five and a quarter
Already I’ve fought with the sea.
I rise from the vanquished water
And drip from my beard to my knee.
My pride, like a low-tide anemone
Is sailing at less than full rig
And my otherwise pendulous gemini
Are tight as a Cargèse fig.
I shall live in crepuscular mountains
Where the chestnuts are full of white cows.
I shall drink at the pebbly fountains
And put on a peasant’s loose blouse.
I shall draw every day what’s before me.
My spirit will put up a fight.
Not a thing on this island could bore me.
I shall map the behaviour of light.
Here’s the pichet. Now take out the stopper.
Through my breakfast I’ll know who I am.
The honey’s the colour of copper.
The wine is the colour of jam.
The fish are the colour of roses.
The cheese is the colour of cheese.
Its smell has found out where the nose is.
The name of it sounds like a sneeze.
In heaven one stores up treasure
From every shifting mood
That belongs to the landscape of pleasure
With its rituals of air and of food.
The host of the morning croissant,
The sacrament of the pêche,
The globulous soupe des poissons
That is almost an act of the flesh.
The tone of a leaf or a petal,
The wind with its breath of intrigue,
The herbs that seduce from the kettle,
The herbs that define the garrigue.
But it’s on to the col de Bavella!
Where the mountains are pink in the sky
Like the ribs of lady’s umbrella
Left out in the garden to dry.
The easel unfolds like a table.
There is oil, and fresh pigments to crush.
With a sweep of my hand I am able
To lay on the sky with a brush.
In each cloud, in each pine, in each boulder
You may see that the paint hasn’t lied.
Come sir, look over my shoulder:
The hills are like elephant’s hide.
There was a young lady of Zonza —
But I cannot come up with a rhyme.
My verse-making skill has quite gone, sir.
I find that I haven’t the time.
It was something to do with a corset,
Or was it the shape of her toes?
When the memory’s gone you can’t force it.
God knows where the memory goes.
The past is a prison. I’ve tried it.
It is choked up with ash like a grate.
The future has nothing inside it.
The present is hard to locate.
I have made an important decision:
I shall live from now on in my art.
It’s a way to achieve the precision
That’s dulled in affairs of the heart.
The nourishing zest of the highlight
That glints from a rock or a spoon,
The deepening draught of the twilight,
The rich chiaroscuro of noon.
And then, when the starlight is silent
Above the still murmurous sea,
I shall know I belong to this island
And this island belongs to me.
And I shall have found the haven
That glistening granular shore,
Where flown is the ruminous raven
And the echo is: ‘Evermore!’
On John Fuller.