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Atlantis by John Cowper Powys
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Tennyson’s poem Ulysses was suggested to Powys as a subject. He’s finished his 'chief work' Porius and he’s getting on for eighty; he’s said to have cheerily 'thrown control to the winds' in his novels thereafter, and you get the sense he’s out to enjoy himself. I swear he’s pulling his own leg half the time. Atlantis isn’t in Tennyson’s heroic temper. It’s a… metaphysical comedy? A comedy of ideas? (people liken him to Dostoyevsky, who wrote tragedies of ideas). It’s a candidate for strangest work by a major novelist, is what.

While old Odysseus endeavours to set sail from Ithaca - he meets a lot of halts and interruptions – there is news of an upheaval in the world: rumours of revolution, on a cosmic scale. As you imagine is the case with revolutions, no-one’s sure what’s going on, but every creature has his or her pet interpretation. Every creature, because in this novel things are given voice. The action is commented upon by a fly and a moth, who are engaged in an inter-species love affair, and travel about with Odysseus in a crack of his club – the club that once, in Herakles’ hands, slew the Nemean lion, and that also has a consciousness (unutterably proud of its history). Everything has a stake in events, if there’s a cosmic revolution.

It’s important for Odysseus to sail. Half the island is out to hinder him, the other half to help. The Olympian gods have sunk Atlantis, from whence came the first salvo in the revolt against them, this revolt of the older gods against the newer gods, of the great old giant-gods, animal-gods, dragon-gods, serpent-gods, women-gods. Odysseus feels a need to cross the sea-site of the drowned city. "It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles" (Tennyson). His crew aren’t his old comrades, but include Nausikaa, arrived in Ithaca to start up an old romance; Arsinoe, a Trojan captive and nostalgic daughter of Hector; Zeuks, fathered by Pan, named in blasphemous satire on Zeus.

Powys writes of lives with an intimacy and a pathos, if I can say that, no matter who or what they are. As an example, can I introduce you to the old Dryad who lives in a tree outside Odysseus’ window and keeps her 'garden' - one of those divine sanctuaries where the smallest insects and the weakest worms could be safe at last from all those abominable injustices and cruel outrages, and all those stupid brutalities and careless mutilations that lack even the excuse of lust. /But it was not only of things like these that the aged Dryad Kleta constructed what she called her garden… Anyone, whether human or more than human, who turns nature into a garden is liable to find an unbelievable number of very small things that have once been part of other things but are now entities on their own, such as bits of wood, bits of stalk, bits of fungus, bits of small snail-shells, bits of empty birds’ eggs, bits of animals’ hair, bits of birds’ feathers, bits of broken sheaths of long-perished buds and shattered insect-shards, strewn remnants of withered lichen-clusters, and scattered fragments of acorns and berries and oak-apples that have survived in these lonely trails and tracks to be scurf upon the skin of one world and the chaos-stuff for the creation of another world. This gentle eccentric has early-morning confabulations with Odysseus, until the beleaguered Zeus, who has got one thunder-bolt left, a very little one, but large enough to dispose of my oak and me, blasts her.
( )
1 vote Jakujin | Mar 30, 2013 |
Tennyson’s poem Ulysses was suggested to Powys as a subject. He’s finished his 'chief work' Porius and he’s getting on for eighty; he’s said to have cheerily 'thrown control to the winds' in his novels thereafter, and you get the sense he’s out to enjoy himself. I swear he’s pulling his own leg half the time. 'Atlantis' isn’t in Tennyson’s heroic temper. It’s a… metaphysical comedy? A comedy of ideas? (people liken him to Dostoyevsky, who wrote tragedies of ideas). It’s a candidate for strangest work by a major novelist, is what.

While old Odysseus endeavours to set sail from Ithaca - he meets a lot of halts and interruptions – there is news of an upheaval in the world: rumours of revolution, on a cosmic scale. As you imagine is the case with revolutions, no-one’s sure what’s going on, but every creature has his or her pet interpretation. Every creature, because in this novel things are given voice. The action is commented upon by a fly and a moth, who are engaged in an inter-species love affair, and travel about with Odysseus in a crack of his club – the club that once, in Herakles’ hands, slew the Nemean lion, and that also has a consciousness (unutterably proud of its history). Everything has a stake in events, if there’s a cosmic revolution.

It’s important for Odysseus to sail. Half the island is out to hinder him, the other half to help. The Olympian gods have sunk Atlantis, from whence came the first salvo in the revolt against them, this revolt "of the older gods against the newer gods, of the great old giant-gods, animal-gods, dragon-gods, serpent-gods, women-gods". Odysseus feels a need to cross the sea-site of the drowned city. "It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles" (Tennyson). His crew aren’t his old comrades, but include Nausikaa, arrived in Ithaca to start up an old romance; Arsinoe, a Trojan captive and nostalgic daughter of Hector; Zeuks, fathered by Pan, named in blasphemous satire on Zeus.

Powys writes of lives with an intimacy and a pathos, if I can say that, no matter who or what they are. As an example, can I introduce you to the old Dryad who lives in a tree outside Odysseus’ window and keeps her 'garden' - one of those "divine sanctuaries where the smallest insects and the weakest worms could be safe at last from all those abominable injustices and cruel outrages, and all those stupid brutalities and careless mutilations that lack even the excuse of lust. /But it was not only of things like these that the aged Dryad Kleta constructed what she called her garden… Anyone, whether human or more than human, who turns nature into a garden is liable to find an unbelievable number of very small things that have once been part of other things but are now entities on their own, such as bits of wood, bits of stalk, bits of fungus, bits of small snail-shells, bits of empty birds’ eggs, bits of animals’ hair, bits of birds’ feathers, bits of broken sheaths of long-perished buds and shattered insect-shards, strewn remnants of withered lichen-clusters, and scattered fragments of acorns and berries and oak-apples that have survived in these lonely trails and tracks to be scurf upon the skin of one world and the chaos-stuff for the creation of another world." This gentle eccentric has early-morning confabulations with Odysseus, until the beleaguered Zeus, who "has got one thunder-bolt left, a very little one, but large enough to dispose of my oak and me", blasts her. ( )
1 vote Jakujin | Jul 1, 2012 |
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There had been an unusual tension all that Spring night in the air of the arched corridor that led into the royal dwelling.
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