Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Songs of Second Childhood

Lowry refers to a collection of fictional sonnets in Dana's inner dialogue in Chapter 2 of Ultramarine when he is thinking of his Norwegian father; "..without a country. Like myself, like Herman Bang, like the ship, like my excellent father, the only surviving son, who is now in a home eating the buttons off the chair at clairaudient intervals, and composing a sonnet sequence, Songs of Second Childhood.... (Pg. 68).

Lowry would appear to be making a humorous allusion to William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience or John Donne's Songs and Sonnets. Lowry's reference to Second Childhood relates to a later reference in Ultramarine when he quotes from the Descriptive Catalogue of the Liverpool Museum of Anatomy, which he utilised for the detail of the anatomy museum in Tsjang Tsjang (Dairen); ...The face of  an old BACHELOR, he became IDIOTIC and rapidly sank into second CHILDHOOD; what a fearful account he will have to give of himself at the JUDGEMENT DAY.... (Pg. 103). This quote relates to exhibit number 261 in the former Liverpool Museum of Anatomy, which Lowry visited sometime in the 1920's. (Gordon Bowker Pursued By Furies Pg. 40). Lowry has expunged from his quote the reference to masturbation as the full description begins as follows; " 261. - Face of an old bachelor; a confirmed onanist." (Descriptive Catalogue of the Liverpool Museum of Anatomy Pg. 33). Lowry is also alluding to the kind of Wesleyan books he probably read as a child informing of the dangers of masturbation; "The ..books on top of my brother's wardrobe .. already assured me, if they were true, that I had acquired certain habits and should have gone mad. So I had long got used to having no normal prospects. I looked for death at any moment." (Notes on manuscript to draft of 'Enter One In Sumptuous Armour').

Lowry also made reference to the description from the catalogue in a letter to Conrad Aiken dated 14/9/1952 concerning the publication of Ushant:

What a fearful account he will have to give 
of himself at the judgement day!

the reference being to the sinister inscription upon the glass case containing a bepoxed Liverpudlian waxwork in the old Museum of Anatomy in Paradise (Street) outside which it also said: Man know thyself! (Collected Letters Vol 2 Pg. 597)

The above throws light on the possibility that Lowry noted down the inscriptions rather than using the catalogue. We should also note that Lowry indicates to Aiken that the inscription is about syphilis and not masturbation which is a mistake on Lowry's part - deliberate or forgetfulness is open to question.

Lowry's reference to Herman Bang relates to the writer's death during a lecture tour of the United States when he was taken ill on the train and died in Ogden, Utah - dying "without a country" in effect a self-imposed exile. A theme later taken up by Lowry himself but also by Herman Bang in his novel Denied A Country. However, Lowry may also be alluding to Bang's novel Ida Brandt, in which the character Ida works in a hospital for the mentally ill, looking after a patient in room "A" who writes all day. Bang's family also had a history of madness and disease.

Lowry's use of the 'clairaudient' - The power or faculty of hearing something not present to the ear but regarded as having objective reality - probably relates to his exposure to clairvoyance through his sister-in-law Margot (Gordon Bowker Pursued By Furies Pg. 39). This may have included theosophy - "As a very young child I was evidently somewhat clairaudient — so many children are.." NFT Theosophical Quarterly Magazine, 1929 to 1930 - (Pg.166). There are several references to the system of esoteric philosophy in his work.

Lowry also adapted the phrase used in Ultramarine to name the fourth section of his long poem The Lighthouse Invites The Storm' - 'Songs for Second Childhood'.

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