Oct. 2, 2002

The Diving Bell

by Tennessee Williams

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Poem: "The Diving Bell," by Tennessee Williams from Androgyne, Mon Amour (New Directions).

The Diving Bell

        I want to go under the sea in a diving-bell
and return to the surface with ominous wonders to tell.
I want to be able to say:
    "The base is unstable, it's probably unable
    to weather much weather,
being all hung together by a couple of blond hairs caught
in a fine-toothed comb."

I want to be able to say through a P.A. system,
Authority giving a sonorous tone to the vowels,
    "I'm speaking from Neptune's bowels.
    The sea's floor is nacreous, filmy
with milk in the wind, the light of an overcast morning."

I want to give warning:
    "The pediment of our land is a lady's comb,
    the basement is moored to the dome
by a pair of blond hairs caught in a delicate
tortoise-shell comb."

I think it's safer to roam
    than to stay in a mortgaged home
             And so-

I want to go under the sea in a bubble of glass
containing a sofa upholstered in green corduroy
and a girl for practical purposes and a boy
    well-versed in the classics.

I want to be first to go down there where action is slow
    but thought is surprisingly quick.
    It's only a dare-devil's trick,
    the length of a burning wick
    between tu-whit and tu-who!

    Oh, it's pretty and blue
but not at all to be trusted. No matter how deep you go
there's not very much below
    the deceptive shimmer and glow
    which is all for show
of sunken galleons encrusted with barnacles and doubloons,
an undersea tango palace with instant come and go moons…

It's the birthday of novelist Graham Greene, born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England (1904). He was teased as a child, because he was the son of the headmaster, and he often skipped his classes to avoid the harassment. The constant tormenting caused several suicide attempts and eventually a mental collapse, after which he left school and wrote his parents that he did not wish to return. His parents sent him to London for psychotherapy administered by a student of the famous Sigmund Freud. His analyst encouraged him to write and introduced him to his circle of literary friends. He wrote mysteries and crime novels, consistently using danger and peril in his plots saying: "When we are not sure, we are alive." He said: "The sad truth is that a story hasn't got room for more than a limited number of created characters. One more successful creation and like an overloaded boat the story lists." He noted that the ability to write a "simple scene of action . . . was quite beyond my power to render exciting."

It's the birthday of author and comedian Julius (Groucho) Marx, born in New York City, New York (1890). He said: "I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members."

It's the birthday of poet Wallace Stevens, born in Reading, Pennsylvania (1879). Admitted to the U.S. Bar in 1904, Stevens found employment at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co. in Connecticut, of which he became vice president in 1934. His first book of poems, Harmonium, was published in 1923 when Stevens was forty-four years old. It sold only 100 copies. Percy Hutchison in The New York Times said: "…The volume is a glittering edifice of icicles. Brilliant as the moon, the book is equally dead…" He said that he composed his poems just about anywhere. Usually, he said on another occasion, he got most of his ideas when on a walk. Every morning Stevens walked two miles from his home at 118 Westerly Terrace to his office at 690 Asylum Avenue. In the evening he walked back. He occupied himself by composing poetry in his head. He said: "Imagination is the power that enables us to perceive the normal in the abnormal, the opposite of chaos in chaos."

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