Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

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.