R.I.P. IRVING LAYTON
January 4, 2006
Inspiring, Groundbreaking Poet Dead At 93
Those who know me know how deeply I was affected by Layton's work, so much so that I named my band after his poem "The Improved Binoculars" and put the same poem to music. He had been suffering a long time, and I'm glad that he's out of his misery, but it's hard to accept that a poet who has shaped both my understanding of the written word and of our city for the past seven years is finally gone. He lived well and was a true inspiration to many, and I'm sad to see him go.
2006-01-04 10:57 pm
wow. This hurts more than I might have thought.
2006-01-04 11:08 pm
I talked with Trehearne about him back in the summer sometime and from what I heard he'd been in terrible shape for some time. Trehearne said that for his sake he hoped he'd die sooner rather than later and that the confusion and misery would be over, that he was practically dead already except that he had to deal with a series of interruptions from people who were essentially strangers who felt they had the right to barge into his room at Maimonides. I don't think I'd ever heard Trehearne swear out of the context of classroom quoting before, and I was a little shocked to hear how frank he wise in explaining his disgust with those who refused to let Layton die in peace and dignity, but I sure understood where he was coming from.
At any rate, I think tonight will be about A Red Carpet For The Sun.
2006-01-04 11:14 pm
Somewhere I still have the coursepack Trehearne had to photocopy for us, for so much was shamefully out of print, at least then. Given the choices at home, I'll most likely rummage around for that old course pack and probably The Improved Binoculars, and a cup of tea..
The Improved Binoculars
Below me the city was in flames:
the firemen were the first to save
themselves. I saw steeples fall on their knees.
I saw an agent kick the charred bodies
from an orphanage to one side, marking
the site for a future speculation.
Lovers stopped short of the final spasm
and went off angrily in opposite directions,
their elbows held by giant escorts of fire.
Then the dignitaries rode across the bridges
under an auricle of light which delighted them,
nothing for later punishment those that went before.
And the rest of the populace, their mouths
distorted by an unusual gladness, bawled thanks
to this comely and ravaging ally, asking
Only for more light with which to see
their neighbour's destruction.
All this I saw through my improved binoculars.
I've always pictured this poem as the view of Montreal from the mountain. In honour of that, I climbed the mountain with Philippe tonight. Just got in from the long walk a moment ago. The light up there was perfect-- clouds of falling snow, wet enough that it stuck to and coated the trees completely. We tried scampering and sliding down the side a ways, but turned back when it only got steeper and icier, fording our way through knee-deep snow. I love this city so much.
Flesh has fallen away. Trees
And buildings are summer's skeleton;
Wind has loosened, disarrayed
The separate ribs, the evidence of bone.
Dead, deposited relics
Shored up clean against a stiffened sky,
Fixed by the mortician cold
Moving his fingers over them ceaselessly;
While the snow, decently to inter,
Drifts between the spaces, everywhere.
Second stanza of Street Funeral:
This frosty morning,
the coffin wood bursting
into brilliant flowers,
Is he glad
that after all the lecheries,
After all the lusts,
false starts, evasions
he can begin the unobstructed change
into clean grass
with the insult of brth,
the long adultery
It gives me some strange comfort to know that Irving Layton died with Musia Schwartz by his side, some 50 years after he wrote this poem to her:
For Musia's Grandchildren
I write this poem
for your grandchildren
for they will know of your loveliness
only from hearsay,
from yellowing photographs
spread out on table and sofa
for a laugh.
with the lovely grace you gave their flesh
they regard your dear frail body pityingly,
your time-dishonoured cheeks
pallid and sunken
and those hands
that I have kissed a thousand times
mottled by age
and stroking a grey ringlet into place,
I want them suddenly to see you as I saw you
- beautiful as the first bird at dawn.
Dearest love, tell them
that I, a crazed poet all his days
who made woman
his ceaseless study and delight,
begged but one boon
in this world of mournful beasts
that are almost human:
to live praising your marvellous eyes
mischief could make glisten
like winter pools at night
or appetite put a fine finish on.
On The Death of A. Vishinsky
by Irving Layton
Adults are children merely
with a larger vocabulary:
my fears are no different from
when I was a six-year son.
This I my wife abuses;
and others, my principal:
who lives by daily ruses
a desperate animal
Heard today how quietly
the fluent Vishinsky died:
if he could not out-talk Death
what chance have I, so tongue tied?