Wednesday, April 14, 2021

507. Ricketts, Symons, Gray

After moving to Edinburgh, John Gray visited friends in London with some regularity. He also stayed in touch with them in other ways, through letters or publications. In September 1928, the Dominican journal Blackfriars published a contribution by Gray which was read by Ricketts. 

On a postcard Ricketts wrote to A.J.A. Symons (with whom he was in contact about exhibitions of the First Edition Club and about a possible publication of his stories) that John Gray had published 'a charming new poem' and that he would keep this recent issue of the magazine for Symons. Many of Ricketts' letters are undated, but the postcard is postmarked 11 October 1928 and the most recent issue of Blackfriars prior to that date was the issue of September 1928. It contained a translation by Gray of a poem by Henri de Régnier.

Henri de Régnier

They have struck on the doors of gold
with the hefts of their rugged swords;
and their salt lips are cold
from the mists which hang in the fjords.

Like kings they have entered again
the bourg where torches flare;
the charger steps high, and his mane
flies back like the mad sea's hair.

They are bidden to notable feasts
in gardens, on terraces, spread
with sapphire and amethyst
of these lie on the ocean bed.

So drunk with wine of the years,
so dazzled with jewels and rings,
so deafened with praise, in their ears
the hammering ocean rings.

It is an adaptation of a poem that De Régnier published as part of a long section 'Motifs de légende et de mélancholie' in Poèmes 1887-1892 (Paris, Société de Mercure de France, 1895, pp. 60-61).

Ils ont heurté les portes d'or
Du pommeau rude de leurs glaives
Et leurs lèvres étaient encor
Amères de l'embrun des grèves.

Ils entrèrent comme des rois
En la ville où la torche fume,
Au trot sonnant des palefrois
Dont la crinière est une écume.

On les reçut en des palais
Et des jardins où les dallages
Sont des saphyrs et des galets
Comme on en trouve sur les plages;

On les abreuva de vin clair,
De louanges et de merveilles,
Et l'écho grave de la mer
Bourdonnait seul à leurs oreilles.

John Gray, Poems (1931): title page

After his first two major volumes from the 1890s, Silverpoints and Spiritual Poems, new poems by John Gray appeared only sporadically. Ad Matrem appeared in 1903, The Long Road in 1926. In 1931, he published his last poetry collection: Poems. This collection of poems was designed by Eric Gill and René Hague in a modern style: set in Gill's own type and with a title page that was also a table of contents (a rare combination of functions). It was published in 1931, but it did not include the poem that Ricketts had praised.

It was not reprinted during Gray's lifetime. Ricketts himself would not live to see the publication of Poems, as he died on 7 October 1931. Poems was published barely a month later and Gray was so impressed by the death of his former mentor and lifelong friend that he dedicated the volume to his memory.

John Gray, Poems (1931): dedication

Ricketts's letter to Symons is held in the Oscar Wilde and his Literary Circle Collection at the Clark Memorial Library (shelf mark: R539L S988 1928 Oct. 11).