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Collected Novels

Where does one start? Perhaps here, at the middle
Of them all, as now, with Elevenses, that
Strange minor afterpiece, a book of partings
And mostly written on shipboard in passage
Between a new old world and an old new one,
Rocking between a fear of open ocean
And an arrival at a terror firmer
Than that, its separate sections somehow stand
For all the other novels: one can find them
There, such as in the scene where they both promise,
Standing by the inadequate lifeboat, drunk—

But you never read that one. Perhaps you did
Guess things about the juvenilia: The
Rock Cried Out “I’m Burning, Too” was the first one
(In England called A Universe of Death), long,
Lyrical, assaulted by gangs of fancies,
Burdened with epigraphs, limping earnestly
Along corridors dimly lit with callow
Candor. On the other hand, The Book of the
Perfect Clown, the second of my first books, with
Its mock-dialogue form, inset tales, and arch
Picaro gestures, shone with counterfeit light.

Next, My Brother’s Reaper was a mystery.
(I’d wanted its title to be The Case of
The Limiting Case, avowing how here the
Solution was indeed the discovery
Of the proof that the case was insoluble.)
It was an anatomy of doubt, and the
Successful but untriumphant detective
Disappeared unexplainedly at the end,
So that his career could not continue in
Other books, but only in life. Here it stands,
In all its cheap editions, with the others.

They are finally together on the shelf—
As if about to be packed up for moving—
Here at a somber time of dissolution,
Leaning wearily against each other: some
From out of the closet and still dusty with
Concealment, some that had been staring out at
You all along, others from scattered regions
Of the house, huddling together, refugees
Bereft if not of their titles then of their
Various makers’ names—the ones in which I
Penned them (or in which I, too, was penned). All mine.

The truth is out. You have the books: I give you
Their true authorship. You’ll find among them our
Collaboration, the epistolary
Most Said, about the couple who put about
Experimental rumors of their life in
Order to trace out the modellings of truth
(Keeping safe in that the facts were notional)
By friends and lovers. And about what happened to
Them thereby (we rejected The French Letters
As title, with “For Prevention of Disease
Only” as epigraph—but you remember…)

It does belong with the others—even with
That purgatorial vision, Peeping Tom,
Its solipsistic opposite, lonely and
Mad in its questing for certainties of light;
The intricate récit of an old voyeur
Epistemologist, it tells of his three
Wives, Virgilia, Matilda and Beatrice,
His three lives with them, and of his going blind
After a life of seeing wisely and far
Too well; full of long digressions on mirrors,
Cameras, pictures—not the best sort of novel.

No: the few good ones were those which went about
Their sad work of imagining marriages,
Doing what we need such texts for, providing
Models of the mysteries of pairs we are
Not part of, and mirrors of our unknown own.
Leaving, for one, and The Right Links and even
Merrydown, that romance of sunken heights and
Afterpleasures: broad canvases, cities and
Seaside sojourns, many households, and, that there
Be truth, humming swarms of irrelevancies—
These redeemed the early games and drawn-out songs.

The novel of wartime London, Dark Cremorne,
Hardly a failure, dwelt in its retractions
Of vision—squinting through magnesium glare,
Turning emptied eyes toward the cold dawn—and was
One with its minima—few characters, a
Minor rondo of fewer locales, even
The poor, grey wartime paper of the book James
Chamberlain was reading, sad food, those frightful
Knickers to be got past to delicate hairs.
Yet these simple, enviable pleasures robbed
From death seem bright idylls of denial now.

(No, Blackbird Cross would have been a bad title
—Taken from the bus-route terminus and, of
Course, from Helen Elizabeth’s dream: you must
Have guessed by now what part you played in it.) But
About the destroyed manuscripts of what was
To have been Jealousy I shall say nothing.
It is not here among the works. It might have
Been the worst or the best—a vivisection
Of desperate knowledges and narrowings.
Of the sense that one’s death is being kept from
One or one’s life. The earliest drafts were endless.

Having no terror of design, you would not
Have dreaded knowing that all these works had one
Author. But that I failed to write them under
My true name is not a matter merely for
The spirit’s connoisseurship: to gather them
Here, half a dusty sheaf of hybrid grains, is
To acknowledge the too early arrival
Of frost, the race for a few last hours of light
To read by, to plant or reap by. I would have
Given you their common life: I have left you
Them, though, like eleven expired leases:

The last one, in press, being Some Natural
Tears, which we were to have read together, hand
In hand. You may perhaps now guess its subject—
The old story we all know and can never
Comprehend, its fierce transfers of elation
Across the bound of loss, its presentiments
Of endings, departures in the evening
Shade of sky and distant horizontal woods.
Announced in this reprint of Elevenses,
It shall at least reach you under my own name.

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