Between Waving and Drowning: Stevie Smith’s Poems, Stories and Radio Play
By way of opening example, a poem like ‘The Failed Spirit’ from Smith’s wartime collection — remarkably never discussed as such1 — is newly illuminated by careful explication of the trilogy at the same time that it illuminates aspects of the novels as well. Upon reading the above poem we find ourselves instantly back at the start of Novel on Yellow Paper, where Pompey began her monologue with a description of the ‘Kismet’, or fate, of her times. If we remember, it was presented to us as the recalcitrant and deeply destructive (hobby)horse she had been riding, whose sole desire was to ‘crop a wall of its plant life’, ‘crop the verdure’, ‘la[y] waste’ all pastures with the ‘scythelike movement’ of his grazing head stolen, it would seem, from time itself (9, 10).2 War offers, as we have seen, terrible and ultimately self-destructive distraction from the isolation of the spirit that has been failed by, and is failed as a result of, Europe’s religious and philosophical soul being ‘sold out’, made cost-effective in ‘successful endeavour’ translated into the languages of commerce and war.
KeywordsBurning Europe Cage Coherence Explosive
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