Saturday, February 18, 2017

Refuge (Harry Mathews)

The attractions: solitude and secrecy—the orchard in the hills like a kingdom, the forbidden manufacture of liquor a prowess all my own, blessed with the contemplation of fir and beech, wild plum and cherry, and the company of the shy marten and jay as well as of cocky wrens and wagtails; the challenges of hiking, labor, and barter; the relief of exhaustion; the reassurance of a smartly contracted horizon; the refuge of my dwelling, small, neat, and warm, with its pots of flowering wallpepper and thyme, my pet dormouse staring around the thyme, and the new ikon over my writing stool whose wood shines in the clear frame of stenchless fresh oil; soft if short hours in the lamplight, pen in hand, showered with the random amber of phantasmal summers, abundances, triumphs of art; visits from the widow.
The title section of the late Harry Mathews's Armenian Papers: Poems 1954-1984 purports to be an adaptation of an Italian translation of a lost Armenian original, "a manuscript of medieval poems that had mysteriously and irrevocably disappeared during the decade preceding the First World War," whose existence was revealed to Mathews, Marie Chaix, and David Kalstone in 1979 during a visit to the Armenian monastery of San Lazzaro in Venice by a certain Father Gomidas. San Lazzaro does in fact exist, and the three writers may well have made such a visit; the rest is made up out of whole cloth, perhaps inspired by a package of papier d'Arménie.

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