Haydn In Plain Style: An Interview With Dick Davis

August 29, 2023 Elijah Perseus Blumov
Haydn In Plain Style: An Interview With Dick Davis
Show Notes Transcript

Topics discussed in this episode include: 

 E.M. Forster

“The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” by Edward Fitzgerald

Thomas Hardy

W.H. Auden

“Troilus and Criseyde” by Geoffrey Chaucer

“Vis and Ramin” by Gorgani

“Wisdom and Wilderness” by Dick Davis

Thom Gunn

Yvor Winters

Fulke Greville

Edgar Bowers

Mozart vs. Haydn

“The Creation” by Joseph Haydn

“Requiem” by W.A. Mozart

“Symphony 9” by Franz Schubert

“Requiem” by Michael Haydn

The Creative and the Erotic

The Spirituality of Old Age

William Wordsworth

“The Poetry of Sturge Moore” by Edgar Bowers (thanks Shane!)

Atheism and Morality

Embracing Nothingness 

“A Personal Sonnet” by Dick Davis


Text of poem:

A Personal Sonnet

How strange this life is mine, and not another,
this jigsaw... each irrevocable piece.
That bad, unfinished business of my brother,
dead at nineteen; my gadding years in Greece
and Italy; life lived, not understood;
a sunset in Kerala, when it seemed
the sun had risen on my life for good.
All this was real, but seems now as if dreamed.

The presences I've loved, and poetry--
faces I cannot parse or paraphrase
whose mystery is all that they reveal;
the Persian poets who laid hands on me
and whispered that all poetry is praise:
these are the dreams that turned out to be real. 

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Supported in part by The Ohio Poetry Association
Art by David Anthony Klug

List of the most common metrical feet:
Iamb: weak-STRONG (u /)
Trochee: STRONG-weak (/ u)
Anapest: weak-weak-STRONG (u u /)
Amphibrach: weak-STRONG-weak (u / u)
Dactyl: STRONG-weak-weak (/ u u)
Cretic: STRONG-weak-STRONG (/ u /)
Pyrrhic: weak-weak (u u)
Spondee: STRONG-STRONG (/ /)

Note: The following transcript was auto-generated. Apologies for any confusing mistakes in spelling, diction, or formatting.

Elijah: Hey, everyone. Thank you for tuning in to this very special episode of Versecraft. As we speak, I am sitting here in Columbus, Ohio, with Dick Davis, a living legend of a poet and translator and a man I am privileged to call my friend. You may remember Dick from my episode on his poem Marriage as a Problem of Universals. And if you'd like more specific details on his life and accomplishments, I'd suggest you check out that episode which I'll link to in the Show Notes. Here. I'll just say that Dick has won more international awards, both for his original poetry and for his translations of Persian literature than you can shake a stick at. He is that rarity in contemporary poetry, a true master of verse craft, and he is, in my view, one of the top contenders for greatest living poet in English. Dick, it's such an honor to be with you, and thank you for the gift of your time.

Dick: Well, thank you very much for that very nice introduction.

Elijah: Of course, it's my pleasure, my absolute pleasure. So I guess we'll get started.

Dick: Sure.

Elijah: Without any exaggeration, I think there is a common consensus in the literary world that you are the greatest English translator of Persian poetry in history. How do you feel about this assessment, and are you at all concerned that your incredible success as a translator will overshadow your accomplishments as a poet?

Dick: Well, the first thing to say about translating from medieval Persian, which is what I mostly do, I've done one modern text, but that was a kind of aberration, and I did it for fun, as it were. But the first thing about translating from medieval Persian is that very few people do it. So it's not difficult to be the best if you have very few competitors. I translate works because I admire them very much, or I like them, or I would go so far as to say I love them and I would like them to appear in English. That is, I do my best with them. It's not something I do mechanically to sort of pass the time or earn money. It certainly doesn't earn money. It's because I have faith in the works, and I hope something of what is in the works comes over in English, even if only as a kind of shadow. As for overshadowing my own poetry, if I had to be honest, I would say I think I'm a slightly better poet than my general reputation is and I'm a slightly worse Persian translator than my reputation is. So I think that's what I have to say about the relationship between the two.

Elijah: So, ideally, what would you most like to be remembered for in the ages to come?

Dick: All my poetry. Yes, certainly the thing about a translation is that finally everything gets retranslated. But because not many people know Persian and even fewer people translate from it I hope my translations last for a good few generations before somebody else does them does translations of the same books. But it's my poetry that I would like people to remember me for.

Elijah: I understand that you were first exposed to Persian poetry through your friendship with E. M. Forster. This was a crazy thing for me to discover because I think of E. M. Forster as being an exalted figure of the distant past in the same sort of canonical historical haze as Virginia Woolf or D. H. Lawrence. What was your relationship with him like?

Dick: I'm glad you asked that because there is a kind of misapprehension floating around. I think it's from a Wikipedia article which was written on me which implied that I had a very close, long friendship with E.M. Foster. I hardly knew him. I met him a few times. I think I was only alone with him once. But he was extremely encouraging. He was very kind. Of course, his own engagement with India, which is not the place I've been engaged with, but his own engagement with India couldn't but be fascinating. And he talked about his time in India with me and he talked about the relations with Muslims between Muslims and Christians in India, that kind of thing. So although I didn't have a lot of back and forth with him certainly the little that we did have had a great effect on me. And of course, he was also for me a sort of giant of literature who I mean, I was about I think I was 20 when I talked to him. I might have been 21 and he was certainly in his 80s. He happened to have rooms in the same college where I was at Cambridge which was how I was able to get to see him. And so I was completely in awe of him. So naturally I remembered the things he told me. He was very kind. He tried to put me at ease, as he did everybody, I think, that.

Elijah: He taught to from what I've read, the narrative makes it sound like he was one of the people who really influenced you to look into Persian poetry. Is that true?

Dick: Yes, it is. It is. In that I was at university in the 1960s. England's always been a pretty well, I don't know. I was going to say it's been a pretty xenophobic country. It's been the opposite as well. It's been welcoming of refugees at different times. But there is a strong streak of xenophobia in England. I grew up in a very provincial part of England, which wasn't particularly interested in anything outside the shores of England. And so Forster's interest in Asia and in Asian culture, Muslim culture, and the poetries and literatures in Muslim languages, it affected me. I thought, oh, that's something one can do. That's something to be interested in. That's another room that I can walk into if I wish to. So it did have an effect on me.

Elijah: Do you think you would have eventually fallen into Oriental literature and Persian literature without him?

Dick: I might have done. I don't know. When I was a child, it was said that if there were three books in a household, they would be the Bible, Shakespeare and Fitzgerald's translation of Omar Khayyam. My parents were very literate and they had many more than three books, but those books were certainly there. And by the time I went to college as an undergraduate, I knew most of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by heart. I learnt a lot of poetry by heart when I was an adolescent. Fitzgerald's version of Persia, of Iran, of Persian culture, well, he never got further east than Paris, so it's very, as it were, refracted through his own very English sensibility. Actually, when I got to be able to read Persian, when I got to be able to read the poems of Khayyam in the original. It's true that he's quite loose sometimes in his translation, but he really gets the spirit of what Khayyam is like in a way that I think no other translator has been able to do. So I admired Fitzgerald's translations very much, and he might have led me to Persian literature anyway. The real reason that I got involved with Persian literature is that I went to Iran because of a friend who was an archaeologist, who said to me, come to Iran, Dick, and we'll teach English in Tehran for a year, and then we can come back to England and do what we were planning to do anyway. And he had been working on an archaeological deed in southern Iran and I went, and then I got ill and I met my wife and I fell in love with her. She wasn't my wife then, of course, and it took quite a long time before I was able to marry her. And so I was staying there, as it were. And I've always cared about poetry very much, even from being a very young child. So I started to read, to learn Persian and to read Persian poetry. So I would really say it's partly my friend who said, why don't we go to Iran together? It's mainly my wife who was the reason I stayed in Iran and for whom I think all my experience of Iranian culture has been refracted through my relationship with her, was my love for her.

Elijah: So for the past several decades, you've been steeped in the poetry of medieval Persia and you've spoken on many occasions elsewhere about how you think Persian poetry compares with the poetry of Europe. I'm curious, though, how you might characterize the similarities and differences between medieval Persian poetry and other Muslim poetry, arabic, Turkish, and Indian of roughly the same time period.

Dick: That's a very interesting question, which I'm not really equipped to answer because I can't read any Turkish, and I can only read Arabic with a lot of stumbling and addiction, and I can't read Hindi either, so I can only read Persian. On the other hand, in the medieval period, persian had the kind of reputation that in the Middle East it had the kind of reputation that French had in Europe in the 18th century. It was the language of civilization, as it were. It was the language of culture, and it was the language of poetry. Turkish poetry certainly owes a great deal to Persian poetry. Persian poetry at the beginning owed a lot to Arabic poetry. In fact, some of the very earliest Persian poems are more or less translations of Arabic. But it soon branched off into its own into its own field. Persian poetry. From what I've seen of Arabic and Turkish poetry, persian poetry is more accessible to a Westerner than either of them. But I can't be dogmatic about this because I can't read them with any confidence.

Elijah: Since you were a young man, you've always been attracted to medieval poetry, whether European or Asian. Why do you think that is? What is it about the medieval sensibility that attracts you?

Dick: That's a very interesting question, and it's one I have asked myself, and I'm not really sure how to answer. I will say that when I was a child, I grew up mainly in the English countryside, and there are lots of sort of visible remains of the medieval world in the countryside. A lot of villages have medieval churches, for example, and the museums, of course, are full of medieval artifacts. The medieval world is not so distant as it might seem to somebody who hasn't grown up in that environment. But why I fastened on that rather than, say, the Elizabethans or the 18th century or something like that, I don't really know. When I was an adolescent, my sort of favorite literature was from the time of Jane Austen, and it was only later that I went further back, as it were. And Chaucer has remained my favorite poet, really since I was in my early twenty s. I can't really answer the question, except that I can say that it's strange enough for me to be constantly interested, and it's comforting enough for me to feel at home. It's this kind of strange mixture between the two, the unfamiliar and the familiar and comforting. So I think that's probably what it is, yeah.

Elijah: And that rings true with, I think, a lot of people who are into the medieval period. My fiancee Laura, who studies medieval art, says something very similar that she's attracted to the strangeness of it. And the way that we can sort of learn from medieval sensibility is a different way of seeing the world, of interacting with the world.

Dick: It is.

Elijah: Speaking of Chaucer, you mentioned to me in the past that your three favorite poets in English are Chaucer, Hardy and Auden, with Chaucer being your all time favorite. What is it that draws you to these three poets in particular?

Dick: Well, they're brilliant technicians, all three of them, and they're brilliant technicians in different ways. I like them because they're brilliant technicians. And I love technique in poetry, particularly technique that doesn't show off Auden does show off a bit. It's sort of tolerable Chaucer's technique is marvelous, but it's so sort of under the radar, it's so quietly done that you just feel it's somebody chatting with you. It doesn't feel technically brilliant, but then I feel you try and do it. The real reason for loving Chaucer is it's somebody who lived in the 14th century, and it's as if he lives now. He brings the people in his poems to life. Even the most formal of the poems, or the most sort of obviously, in The Canterbury Tales, people are brought to life, and everybody who's interested in literature is aware of that. But it's so in other poems, too. My favorite poem of Chaucer is actually not the Canterbury Tales. It's Troilus and Criseyde, which is the most marvelous poem, I think it's the most beautiful, long poem in English, which is quite a claim, but it is one that I would defend. Hardy I like because his poetry is so real. His poetry is very artificial. You often feel that there's been some strain getting a rhyme, for example, or he comes up with very strange words and you feel, is this really what you want to say? So there's a constant feeling of reading Hardy that you're walking in a bit of a minefield, technically, but he brings off the most marvelous effects. And Hardy is a profoundly honest poet. He's a deeply honest poet. There's no BS in Hardy. Auden I just admire because he was so good at everything he did, and he was also quite wise. He was a bit self consciously wise, but he was wise. And it's possible to take wisdom from his poetry.

Elijah: So I know that I'm just following up from this. I know that in the past you had more of a draw towards moral poetry and possibly even the didactic in poetry, and you've moved very much away from that. In the case of Auden, is his moralizing or his teaching or his wisdom? Is that something that you once were more entranced with and are less so, or do you still like it?

Dick: In his case, I don't like it. In fact, I tend to sort of skim over those bits, which would annoy Auden because he probably felt that they were crucial to what he was saying, but it's not what I find attractive in all of them. Now, I don't like overtly moralizing poetry. I like poetry in which you have a sense of the poet exploring the world. A person who moralizes doesn't explore the world because he knows what it already means and should be. And he tells you that there's a sort of ideology of how the world is and you, the reader, should conform to this. That's not the kind of poetry I like. I like poetry that feels its way in the world and that isn't sure of answers poetry. That's more a question than a statement. I don't like preachy poetry at all. There's an awful lot of preachy poetry in Persian and I've tended to avoid it as far as possible.

Elijah: I also wanted to go back to your comment about Troilus and Criseyde. Do you think you'd be able to articulate why you think it's the most beautiful poem in English?

Dick: Well, there is the fact that technically it's brilliant. It's really beautiful. You're always aware of the technique, but you're not so aware of the technique that you lose sight of everything else. It's really beautifully done. The characters in it are wonderfully drawn crusade, especially Troilus, to a lesser extent, Pandarus also. I don't mind the moralizing in Chaucer, I think, because there's no way I'm going to be convinced by it because it's in a completely different world, as it were. I mean, it's Boethius and medieval Catholicism, which is not my world at all.

Elijah: So do you think that if you were a contemporary of Chaucer, you would like him less?

Dick: I hadn't thought of that, no. Probably I would be part of that world too, and I would think it was appropriate. I think a lot of the stuff in Chaucer, the moralizing stuff, is rather pro former. I'm not sure he means it. This occurred to me. I translated a wonderful poem in Persian called Vis and Ramin which is in many ways very like Troilus and Criseyde. It's a love story and it has the same kind of sensuality and joy in life and pleasure in the notion of young love. It's very similar in that way. And at the end of the poem, Gorgani says, well, I've written this poem about love, but please, my friends, ask God to forgive me for being so carnal and secular and so on and so forth. Chaucer says exactly the same thing at the end of Troilus and Criseyde. And I feel that these poets who enjoyed life so much produced such marvelous pictures of young love which anybody who's been in love can identify with. I think they feel they had to say that, but I'm not sure that they mean it.

Elijah: That reminds me of something you said in an email once to me, which is that you thought that Auden had no sympathy for romantic love and he wasn't interested in it at all. Does that detract from your appreciation of Auden.

Dick: That's interesting. No, I'd go to Auden for other things. It's true that Auden's not interested in romantic love. He has a clerihew about sort of clerihew, which goes my middle name is Wystan, which rhymes with Tristan. But I do hope I'm not such a dope. I probably quoted that wrongly, but that's the gist of it. And the rhymes are as I said. No, he had no sympathy with romantic love. But that's not why I read Auden. I read Auden really, for the wit. Also. He inhabits a world which is close enough to the world I grew up in for me to recognize it. But it's a long way from the world I grew up in, too. So it's a bit like my liking for medieval poetry. I feel half in it and half out of it. Also, I just like ordinance personality. There are obviously unpleasant things in Ordinance personality, but he was very decent. He did a lot of decent, very good things, very quietly. He was a very good friend. He could be rude, he could be obnoxious, but then, so can most people be. And he was the most marvelous technician. I enjoy reading. His poetry is great fun. Well, I was going to say, I insist that poetry be fun, but Hardy isn't fun. But Chaucer and Auden certainly are.

Elijah: Yeah, so I was going to bring that up because it seems like joie de vivre and earthiness are things you really value in poetry, and Hardy doesn't really have as much of that.

Dick: Well, he has a kind of earthiness, but there's not a lot of in Hardy. It's true. And I think one of the reasons that I value it is that it's something I find very hard to talk about in my own poetry, and it's something I admire in poets who can do it. It's very easy to write miserable poetry. It's damn difficult to write happy poetry. There's a great deal of happiness in Chaucer and there's quite a bit in Auden, too.

Elijah: So I first encountered your work through the study of Yvor Winters that you did entitled Wisdom and Wilderness. How did you come across the work of Winters? What made you gravitate toward his work? And how do you think his influence has affected your own artistry and critical mindset?

Dick: I came across Winters because one of my teachers when I was at Cambridge, Tony Tanner, was a very good friend of Tom Gunn, who had been taught by Winters. And I met Gunn in Tony Tanner's rooms, and he sort of recommended Winters to me. And most people think of Winters as a critic, but I started reading Winters as a poet, and that's because Gunn said, read his poetry. And I loved his poetry. I thought it was marvelous. And then I moved on to the criticism. The criticism I was very seduced by. And I think most people who met Winters I never met him were seduced by his personality. Unless they found it utterly repellent, which some people did. But his students were certainly seduced by it. I was seduced by his criticism when I read it. I feel less so now. I feel further away from the mindset I had when I first read Winters. On the other hand, he did show me an awful lot of things that I wasn't aware of. Just the notion of the Plain style which I hadn't heard about before which Winters talks about which is a sort of strand that goes right through English poetry. It's what's behind Hardy, for example or one of the things that's behind Hardy. And the fact that you could write poetry in The Plain spyLe that I got from Winters. Also the sense that and this sounds trite and obvious but it's not something that was talked about when I was young that you can think in poetry. Winters is very keen on people thinking. He loves Fulke Greville, for example who actually thinks as the verse goes along and you can see him sort of pondering and changing his mind. And Winters liked all that. And I wasn't aware of that strand of poetry. And Winter's work introduced me to that sort of the Plain style thinking and also taking poetry seriously, not too seriously. Many things more important than poetry. But it doesn't have to be trivial. It doesn't have to be mere fun. It can say important things. And Winter showed me that.

Elijah: A couple of the most touching poems in your Collected concerns your loving, years long friendship with the poet Edgar Bowers. Could you speak a little bit about how you first came to be acquainted with him and how you came to influence one another's lives and work?

Dick: Edgar was an enormously important presence in my life while we knew one another. I met him, I think, in the late 1970s and I knew him until he died, which was in the year 2000. I met him because I had read some of his poems. A friend had shown me some and I was reading them as I was putting my own first book of poems together. And I admired his poems very much. And I had been sort of prepared for the kind of poetry he wrote by reading Winters, in fact. And Edgar, of course, was one of Winters's students and also Tom Gunn had said to me you should read Edgar Bowers. So when I was putting my first book of poetry together, I thought, I'll risk it. I'll send him a copy. So I did, and he wrote back a very nice letter, a very kind letter. He didn't praise my poems except very, very guardedly and quietly but he was a very sort of welcoming, pleasant letter. And he said, I sometimes come to England. Perhaps we'll meet each other. At that time, I was living in Iran but I went to England during the summers, in the holidays and I met him in one of those holidays, I think in 1976 or 77, I can't remember exactly, and we were friends from then on. I came to the United States because of Edgar. He got me a temporary position at UC Santa Barbara for a very I don't feel at home in the United States because obviously I'm not an American, and my sensibility that grew up in England, it doesn't really fit in many ways. On the other hand, I love being in America. There's a lot of sort of anti Americanism in Europe, and there is in England especially, and it infuriates me. I go home and I combat it as much as I can. And Edgar sort of was my in the same way that my wife was my entrance, as it were, to Persian poetry, Edgar was my entrance to American culture. I valued Edgar's friendship very much. He was a very kind man. He was endlessly considerate. He could be brusque, he could be difficult, he could decide that people weren't worth it, and that was that. But if he decided you were worth it, he would give you anything, he would do anything for you. He was very good to me, he was wonderful to my wife, Afkham, who also loved him, and he was a great presence in my life. And also Edgar, although I think he didn't especially like many of my poems, he did dedicate one of his poems to me, which I was very proud of and grateful for. He made me feel it's a good thing to try to be a good I, so I owe that to him, as it were.

Elijah: Do you think that the way he wrote influenced the way you wrote at all, or vice versa?

Dick: That's hard to say. Yes, it did to an extent. My very early poems I wrote before I knew Edgar, and they're much more show off y and messy and Young Man ish in not a very good sense. I think Edgar's poetry helped me to sort of grow up in poetry, to write poetry as a thinking adult rather than as a feeling adolescent. So in that way, yes, he did influence me. I don't think I influenced Edgar, but I know that my friendship and the friendship of a couple of other English poets and other people our age Americans too, was very important to Edgar. And there was a long lacuna in Edgar's writing career when he published virtually nothing, he came back to writing. And he confided to me once that it was partly because I, and not especially me, but this group of people, of which I was one, had appreciated his poetry so much and praised it so much and encouraged him so much. So I felt good about that. I felt that I was part of what brought Edgar back to writing his last poems, which are among his most beautiful poems, I think.

Elijah: Yeah, absolutely. So you've already talked about his personality a little bit. But for someone who never got to know Edgar, like myself, is there anything about his personality or his manner that you would like to talk about for posterity, to sort of preserve him in the flesh? And also maybe could you describe some of your most vivid memories with him?

Dick: His personality could shift. He was quite mercurial in his personality in many ways. He was very funny when he disapproved of people and he would say things like, oh, he couldn't tell a good poem from A Hole in the Wall. I actually remember him saying that about someone. He would speak with utter contempt about people. He didn't he hated people who showed off and didn't have anything to show off about. That really infuriated him. I felt sympathetic to that. I wouldn't dare say some of the things he said, but when he said them, I sort of inwardly cheered. He was very open to the world. He loved zoos, for example, which I wouldn't he just loved seeing the animals. He loved music. And part of my own love of music has come from Edgar's example. And he was full of narratives and stories and pleasant gossip. He very rarely said anything negative about anybody except things like he couldn't tell a good poem from A Hole in the Wall. But he didn't talk about people's sex lives or scandals or anything like that. He was discreet in that way. In that way. I think he was a very good friend to all his friends. He didn't blab, as it were. I probably think of other things when this is finished, but those are the things that stay with me. It was wonderful to go to a museum with him or the zoo or somewhere like that, and to see his reactions and to participate in them. When he saw, for example, a painting he loved, or he saw an animal that he thought was interesting and so forth, he was always very present at those moments, and he helped you to be present too.

Elijah: We were talking earlier about your love of Hayden and Bowers famously to those who know him loved Mozart. Do you feel that his love of Mozart and your love of Haydn not that you don't also love Mozart and he loves Hayden, but do you think that that preference, one for the other, speaks to any differences in your personalities?

Dick: That's an interesting question. I mean, if I had been asked if I wasn't myself and was asked there's Dick Davis and there's Edgar Bowers, and one of them loves notes up, and the other one loves hiding, which is which I would have switched this round because I think I'm a more sentimental poet than Edgar. Certainly I'm a more sentimental poet than Edgar's. Though I remember somebody saying to Tom Gunn after a reading that was a very sentimental poem, Mr. Gunn, and Gunn said, well, that's a part of life, too, which I. Thought was wonderful anyway. I do think myself as a more sentimental poet than Edgar and Mozart is certainly a more sentimental composer than Haydn so I'm not sure why it paired up in that way. I think Edgar loved elegance. There's something, I wouldn't never say that Hayden is inelegant but there's something earthy and peasanty and rough and ready about Haydn very often. And Haydn loves to do sort of surprising, even vulgar things in the middle of what seems to be something very serious. Also, Hayden is not afraid of spectacular sort of effects. If you think of the opening of his oratorio the Creation, for example, it's really spectacular. It sounds like something late Romantic. Mozart would never do that because Mozart always stays within the confines of propriety the elegance that propriety requires. And that's probably what Edgar loved in Mozart.

Elijah: Do you feel that's true even of something like the Requiem?

Dick: I don't know the Requiem, I find Requiem I'd never heard a recording of the Requiem that convinced me.

Elijah: Really? Wow.

Dick: And I've never been to a live performance of it. So the Requiem has always been a problem for me. Either I feel the conductor is making it far too romantic and trying to make it sound like Verdi, which is ridiculous or the conductor is being so cautious that it's completely bleached of any feeling at all. There are a number of works that I feel that about not just House Requiem. Another one is Schubert's 9th Symphony. I've never heard a good what I feel is a good recording of Schubert's 9th Symphony. They all seem either too ponderous or too trivial to me. The Requiem is a mystery to me. It's something I feel I haven't really met because I haven't heard a recording that moved me.

Elijah: Wow, that's fascinating for me to hear because we were also talking a little bit earlier about how music can influence how you write. And to me, I've never consciously written a poem with the Requiem in mind. But when I think of the Requiem, I admire so much its combination of sort of dark passion with extreme classical elegance. And that's something that I would love to be able to achieve in poetry.

Dick: When you describe it like that, I agree. Yes, it's wonderful. But I don't feel that when I hear the Requiem I'm not sure why. Perhaps I just need to hear a really good recording of the Requiem. I don't know. And it's probably a failure in me. The Requiem does seem I mean, if the Requiem were discovered and it hadn't got Mozart's name on it a lot of people would say, well, this must be by Mozart. But there would be some people who would say, no, it's outside of what Mozart does. And I think I would be perhaps among the latter group. I'm not sure what it is. But the Requiem, as I say, is a problem for me.

Elijah: Well and interestingly, You've probably heard Michael Hayden's requiem, Joseph Hayden's brother, and it's incredibly similar. Mozart definitely took a lot from it.

Dick: That's true. And I hadn't thought of that. Yes, you're right. It is very similar. Hayden and Mozart. Of course. Joseph Haydn and Mozart were great friends. Haydn famously told Mozart's, father, your son is the greatest composer I have ever met.

Elijah: Do you feel that your love of Hayden I know that you've written a poem about Haydn. Do you feel that your love of him has influenced your craftsmanship or your rhythms in some way?

Dick: Only in ways that would be very difficult to describe. I mean, there is a kind of technical expertise in Haydn which I would try to emulate, but that's there in a lot of composers. But there's also the wish to use the expertise to do things that expertise isn't usually thought of as doing. And in that way, I mean to produce sort of effects that seem to break what the poem or the piece of music is doing. In that way, perhaps it has influenced me. I think what's really influenced me in Haydn is a sense of the sensibility that produced it, which is a sensibility that I admire very much and would like to emulate. But my sense of Haydn's sensibility may, of course, be completely wrong.

Elijah: There's an epigram of yours that you've quoted to me on a couple of occasions. When I was young, I wanted truth, as in the way of youth. Now that I'm old, I know my duty is to acknowledge beauty. So to put my question in the crudest terms, when and why do you think you made the transition from moralist to aesthete?

Dick: Well, I think I was a very moralistic young man. I was a rather unpleasant young man, I think, always telling people how to live and what to do. And I really dislike people who do that nowadays. Aesthetics and morality don't seem to me to be opposites. Morality this is going to sound hopelessly precious, but morality, in a way, is a kind of aesthetics. It's an instinct for what is appropriate and right, which is what aesthetics is, too. It's an instinct for what is appropriate and right. So I don't see them as totally separate. But I think what I mean is that when you're young, you want to know what lies behind everything. You want to know, as it were, the truth of everything, the way the world works, why life is like this, what life is, where it comes from. That's all very pressing when you're young. When you're old, you realize you're never going to know all that. So enjoy the surface, enjoy what's there, enjoy the beauty that's available. And I have made that transition over my life.

Elijah: Do you think it's important to have both of those phases in life? Or do you think that if you were talking to your younger self, you would tell yourself to be more of an aesthete And not to take things so seriously?

Dick: No, I think it's important to have both. If you're just an aesthete without any sense of morality I mean, that way lies Nero and Goebbels, no, and you have to have a sense of morality. It's just that the morality is very important to young people. It always is. Children are terribly moral until they see that they needn't be. Morality is very important to young people because it's a sense of justice. I've often thought that when babies cry, it's usually because they have a sense that this is unjust. Of course they can't formulate it in that way, but the world shouldn't be like, this is the reason the baby is crying. My circumstances shouldn't be like this. And you need that when you're young. It's very important to have that sense of what is right. If you don't have that, then your aestheticism is mere self indulgence.

Elijah: How do you feel that being in a more sort of aesthetic mind space now? Do you feel that because you had that moral foundation, that you were in a secure place as far as that goes, that you wouldn't run to excess or run to decadence? Or is there still sort of a moral check that you feel on the sort of sensuousness of your current outlook?

Dick: That's an interesting question and one that's hard to answer. I feel I've reached a kind of emotional equilibrium between the two in which I don't have to try really hard to keep it going. Whereas when I was younger, of course I did, but I think that's just my age the sort of metabolism slows down and the impulse to do immoral things tends to dissipate, it tends to move you.

Elijah: Well, that actually perfectly segues into my next question, which is, in one of our correspondences, I asked you why you thought that poets tend to become more loose in form and latitudinarian in outlook as they age. And you gave a fascinating response. You said that, among other things, you thought that the drive to write aggressively was connected to erotic drive and that as erotic drive decreases, so too does the desire to try to order the world. I know that this is an intuition and not a developed theory, but I'm very curious what you think is the connection between the artistic impulse and the erotic impulse.

Dick: Well, the erotic impulse is often a desire for control. Of course, it isn't always. The erotic impulse can be, in fact, almost the opposite a desire to lose yourself in someone else or something else. But the erotic impulse, if it's not civilized, it can be a desire for control. And moralizing poetry is certainly a desire for control. There is a connection, eros, kind of connects you with the world when that begins to retreat as you get older. And at 78, I can say, yes, it does. Not entirely, but to an extent, certainly when that begins to retreat, as you get older, you're not interested in pushing the world around anymore. You're not interested in making pretty girls like you, for example, which, when you're young, you certainly are interested in that kind of thing. I don't want to get too sort of personal about this, but I do feel as one grows old and one's metabolism slows, it's much easier to accept the world than to fight it or to try and sort of mold it in your own manner.

Elijah: As a poet who is trying to order the world, it is almost like I mean, it connects to Persian poetry very well, I think, because just as in Persian poetry, there's this ambiguity between the erotic and the mystical.

Dick: Yes.

Elijah: In general, in poetry, if you're thinking of intellectuality as an erotic force, it's almost as if when the poet is trying to order the world, the poet is trying to be, you might almost say, sexually dominant over God or over the universe or something like that.

Dick: Yeah, I'd go along with that.

Elijah: All right. And this will be my final question.

Dick: Okay.

Elijah: You've mentioned to me before that one of the things that draws you to Persian literature is its mystical aspect and that mysticism has fascinated you from a young age. You said that your fascination was a nostalgia for something I could never have, meaning that you did not feel you could ever be a mystic despite your interest in it. You have also said elsewhere, though, that while you consider yourself an atheist, you're sympathetic to religious feeling and that it's possible that when you reach the evening of life, you might feel more inclined to ascend to this religious feeling at the age of 78. How would you characterize your spirituality and has it changed from when you were younger, as you predicted it would?

Dick: It's very hard to answer if I allow myself just to exist, as it were, sitting in the garden. Spirituality is the wrong word. But there is a real kind of gratitude for the plenitude and generosity of life comes over me, which I think some people might call spiritual. Some people might call it a religious feeling. When I think the problem with religions and religious feelings is that they're always attached to a dogma and any dogma. I think it's partly because I lived in the Middle East for a while, partly because I'm part Irish. The notion of religious dogma appalls me because it produces such terrible results all over the world. And I remember reading somewhere it's a big glib, but I think it's true. Bad people do bad things and good people do good things. To make good people do bad things, you need religion. And that's one of my problems with religion that it leads to such bloodshed, in fact, in such prejudice and cruelty. The worst thing for somebody who just who feels that life should be generous and enjoyed and one should share its benefits the worst thing is cruelty and meanness and there's an awful lot of it about. I know that religion doesn't present itself in that way, but its effect is often that. I mean, I lived in Iran for goodness. It's quite obvious there, and also in Northern Ireland for a long time it was obvious. And it's still latent there. I wouldn't call myself spiritual. In fact, if I had to define myself, my relationship with quotation marks, god, I'd say I'm an atheist. On the other hand, I do feel what a lot of people, when they get older, say that they feel. I feel an intimation of oneness with the reality of being, whatever that means. That sounds very pretentious.

Elijah: That's very Wordsworthian.

Dick: It's very wordsworthian. And you're right. And Wordsworth is apart from three or four wonderful poems, Wordsworth is not a poet I especially like. But there are some marvelous poems, of course. And I do feel that the religious feeling in Wordsworth's early poems I'm coming to it very late, as it were. I can sympathize with that. I see what he means. I see what he meant when he said those things.

Elijah: And it's interesting too, because have you read Edgar's dissertation on Sturge Moore?

Dick: I have, but a long time ago.

Elijah: Yes. He devotes the first quarter of it to really taking down Wordsworth and his spirituality.

Dick: Yeah, well, that was Winters. Winters had total contempt for Wordsworth.

Elijah: But and that's interesting. And you've said before also that Edgar was also an atheist. Yes, but it's interesting because if you go back and read his early stuff and maybe this is just Winter speaking through him, he does sort of insist almost on this secular version of a scholastic god as a sort of moral absolute.

Dick: He does. That's very winter's secular version of a scholastic god is exactly the right phrase. And that is hovering around in Edgar's poetry. At the beginning, I don't think it's there so much at the end. There's this immense sense in Edgar's late poetry of the famous phrase from Virgil Lacrimae Rerum the tears of things, the kind of pathos and pity of life, and that one should take that in and value it and be aware of it and not ride roughshod over people and ideas and so on, and produce more misery. There is so much damn misery in the world. Edgar is very aware of this. It behooves us to try and stand against that, insofar as we can.

Elijah: As an atheist, do you think that there is a way to objectively ground morality without resorting to some sort of godlike figure?

Dick: That's a very difficult question to answer. I will say that atheists, in my experience, tend to be much more moral in the normal, usual, cliched sense of the word. They tend to be much more moral than an awful lot of religious people. That is, they will not deliberately hurt people. They will not deliberately put people down. They will not deliberately tell people that they're stupid, and so on and so forth. It's true. It's not all atheists. I read somewhere that there are an awful lot of very religious people in prison, but there are virtually no atheists in prisons, which I can believe. An atheist tends to feel that the value is here. It's in the world. It's not transcendent beyond the world. And if the value is in the world, then you have to treat the world with respect, which means not crossing boundaries that hurt other people, not committing crimes, and so on and so forth. It's natural that an atheist should have a morality which is based on respect for the rest of existence.

Elijah: You spoke to me earlier saying that you have been thinking a lot about death, especially in relation to your poetry. Do you have any speculations or hopes about the afterlife, or are you pretty content to embrace nothingness?

Dick: Well, I hope there's nothingness, because if there is an afterlife, it means one has to function within it, and one's going to be responsible within it, and one's going to be I really don't want an afterlife. Thank you. I think there's a bit in Beckett somewhere where he says that the afterlife might be something ridiculous like the square root of minus three. And if there is an afterlife, God knows what it is. But just in logical terms, we belong to the animal kingdom. I don't think anybody thinks that animals have an afterlife, or if they do, how far do you go down before you decide? They don't. Perhaps primates do, or perhaps mammals do, but to fish and to bugs and bacteria. If none of those have an afterlife, why should we have an afterlife? Biologically, in terms of where we are in the sort of natural scheme of things, it's very unlikely that our demise is going to be different from, say, a dog's or a horse's demise.

Elijah: Thank you so much for your time, Dick. And if you wouldn't mind, would you read a poem of yours to close out?

Dick: Have you chosen one?

Elijah: I have. If you don't mind, I would love if you would read a personal sonnet for us.

Dick: Okay. Yes, a personal sonnet. How strange. This life is mine and not another. This jigsaw each irrevocable piece that bad unfinished business of my brother dead at 19 my gadding years in Greece and Italy, life lived not understood. A sunset in Kerala when it seemed the sun had risen on my life for good. All this was real, but seems now as if dreamed the presences I've loved and poetry faces I cannot pass, or paraphrase whose mystery is all that they reveal. The Persian poets who laid hands on me and whispered that all poetry is praise. These are the dreams that turned out to be real.