Other literary forms
Lawrence Durrell (DUR-uhl) wrote novels, plays, travel books, humorous sketches, and poetry. The differences in genre, however, cannot obscure his fundamental and single identity as a poet. He is best known for his novels, especially The Alexandria Quartet (1962) and The Avignon Quintet (1992). Any reader of these works will recognize the same hand at work in Durrell’s poems. The beauty of language, the exotic settings, and the subtle treatment of the themes of love, death, and time are elements common to all of Durrell’s work. In addition, the novels are rife with interpolated poetry. The characters not only speak poetically, but also quote at length from Greek, Egyptian, French, and English poets. Some have questioned this plethora of verse as unrealistic; others insist that Durrell’s use of language and interpolated poetry represents a more intense reality, not a fantasy.
Durrell’s poetic drama has inevitably enjoyed less attention than his novels, but it provides an excellent showcase for his skill at characterization and his poetic gifts. Durrell himself considered several passages from Sappho (pr. 1950) good enough to include in his Collected Poems, and most readers would agree. A later play, Acte (pr. 1964), shows that his drama does not rely entirely on the author’s magnificent command of English: It was first performed in German, three years before its publication.
Ultimately, Durrell was a word artist, a poet. All genres had for him their particular virtues, and he brought to them all a poetic impulse that no change in form could disrupt.
Lawrence Durrell’s accomplishments in prose overshadowed his work in verse. Most readers will turn to the Collected Poems only after having read The Alexandria Quartet, or perhaps one of the travel books. Durrell won no major awards for poetry, despite his consistent excellence from the 1940’s on. His name rarely appears on the lists of major English poets of the twentieth century.
All this notwithstanding, Durrell’s achievement as a poet is sound and his eventual recognition assured. His success in other genres left him well-off financially and under no pressure; he could write poetry as he pleased, with no fear of disappointing expectant readers and no burden of leadership. Precisely because Durrell made his formidable reputation as a novelist, he could approach his poetry as an alternative. This does not imply that he merely dabbled—on the contrary, every poem shows the mark of craft and diligence—but rather that the wealth of material afforded by his diverse experience and wide-ranging mind could find its expression in pure poetry. He was free to write only those poems that his good judgment told him to write.
Neither rigidly traditional nor wildly experimental, Durrell’s poems represent the subtle innovations of a consummate and independent artist. In this respect, they are reminiscent of the work of Wallace Stevens. Like Stevens, Durrell balanced the demands of tradition and the modern psyche, creating poems that the eye and the mind can follow, but that the soul does not reject as obsolete. Some of them compare favorably with the best of the twentieth century and will someday be read for their own merits, not merely for their connection with the famous novels by the same author.
Other literary forms
Lawrence Durrell (DUR-uhl) was a prolific writer in many genres. As a successful poet, he published many books, including Ten Poems (1932), Bromo Bombastes (1933), Transition: Poems (1934), A Private Country (1943), Cities, Plains, and People (1946), On Seeming to Presume (1948), Deus Loci (1950), The Tree of Idleness, and Other Poems (1955), Private Drafts (1955), The Ikons, and Other Poems (1966), The Red Limbo Lingo: A Poetry Notebook for 1968-1970 (1971), Vega, and Other Poems (1973), and Collected Poems, 1931-1974 (1980). He wrote three plays in verse, Sappho (pr. 1950), An Irish Faustus (pb.1963), and Acte (pr. 1964). He also published travel books such as Prospero’s Cell (1945), Reflections on a Marine Venus (1953), Bitter...
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