I have only a small number of literary heroes, but in all cases my admiration of them – and my decision to collect their oeuvre – was sparked by a single book. With Lawrence Durrell, for example, it was The Alexandria Quartet, his most famous work. Likewise for Paul Scott, after I read The Jewel In The Crown, the first part of the Raj Quartet, also his most famous work. But for the latest author to join this august company, it was not their best-known work I read. It was in fact a posthumous collection. And, to be honest, the first story in it did not bode well at all. But I persevered, and the second story, a novella, proved to be very very good indeed. And pretty soon I was hooked.
The book was Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place, and the author was Malcolm Lowry. I knew of Lowry, of course; though previously I had never read anything by him. But I’d picked out the aforementioned collection, Ultramarine and Under the Volcano from my father’s Penguin paperbacks collection to read. I have subsequently ordered more Lowry books. Lowry only saw two novels published during his lifetime – which will at least make collecting signed editions easier… When he died, he left behind a number of manuscripts which were edited by his wife and subsequently published. He also left behind several hundred poems. Here’s one of them. It’s from Selected Poems of Malcolm Lowry, published in 1962 and number seventeen in City Lights Books’ The Pocket Poets Series.
And, when you go – much as a meteor,
Or as this swaying, incandescent car,
Which, like lost love, leaves lightnings in its wake,
(And me, an aspen with its Christ in mind,
Whose wood remembers once it made a cross,
So trembles ever since in wind, or no wind)
But most like Venus, with our black desire
Which blinds me now, your light a horned curve
First; then, circling, a whitely flaming disc,
Not distance, but your phase, removes the mask -
Until you burn the brightest of all stars -
Pray then in your most brilliant lonely hour
That, reunited, we may learn forever
To keep the sun between ourselves and love.