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Lowry’s Last Lap to the Sea

Malcolm Lowry was an oft heard name on our phone lines. When Dad was a twenty-something writer, he met Lowry – twenty years his senior – at Earle Birney’s Deep Cove hut. Biographers would call, asking Dad to talk about his ensuing friendship with the brilliant, hard-living author of Under The Volcano.

In one interview, Dad told biographer Tony Kilgallin – author of the 1973 Lowry– how, at age twenty, he was “too naïve and ill-educated to fully understand Under the Volcano, but I knew it was more of a poem than most modern works which are called poems. He was the only genuis I had ever met; and when he said some flattering things about my own immature work, my gratitude knew no bounds.’

‘I never thought of him as an “alcoholic” as the word is normally used’, Dad continued. ‘He seemed to me to be a self-destructive visionary, who used liquor the way some Romantic poets used drugs, as a kind of anesthetic for the mundane self.’

I often think of these BC writers – Lowry, Birney and their mentees – as I walk along the beaches that so many of them described.

Here’s an excerpt from the short version of a Lowry novella where he writes about living in a tiny beach shack with his wife, Margerie.

The forest path to the spring.
From Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place.
Malcolm Lowry. 1961

‘The wash from an invisible freighter, the wash still invisible itself from where we were on the path, could be heard breaking all along the curve of the beach as it approached us, and simultaneously it began, slowly at first, and gently, to rain, and as the wash of undulating silver rippling into sight transversely spent itself against the rocks we stopped to watch the rain like a bead curtain falling behind a gap in the trees, into the inlet below. I thought of that first time when we had seen the rain falling into a calm sea like a dark mirror, and we had found the canister and decided to stay.

Now, somewhere in the unseen west where it was setting, the sun broke through the clouds, sending a flare of light across the water, turning the rain into a sudden shower of pearls and touching the mountains, where the mist rising now almost perpendicularly from the black abysses fumed heavenward in pure white fire.

And the spring? Here it was. It still ran, down through the jack-in-the-pulpits, down toward Hi-Doubt. It purified itself a bit as it came down from the mountains, but it always carried with it a faint tang of mushrooms, earth, dead leaves, pine needles, mud and snow, on its way down to the inlet and out to the Pacific. In the deeper reaches of the forest, in the sombre damp caves, where the dead branches hang bowed down with moss, and death camass and the destroying angel grow, it was haggard and chill and tragic, unsure measurer of its path. Feeling its way underground it must have had its dark moments. But here, in springtime, on its last lap to the sea. it was as a joyous little stream.’

The Burial.
From On The Broken Mountain.

Norman Newton. 1979

Deep undersea the moon is dead.
Now let the sun revolving sing.
The bride, who would not raise her head,
For fear the hangman moon might wring
The neck of her delight, may cling
Tighter to her own love, and sing.
Deep undersea the moon is dead.

Deep under leaves the fox is dead.
Let the slim hare emerge, and dance.
No more that snake of cunning red,
As sly and terrible as chance,
Waits in a predatory trance
To steal the dancer from the dance.
Deep under leaves the fox is dead.

Deep hid in light all grief is dead.
Night’s well is empty; tears are done.
The excommunication’s read;
It killed the moon, but not the sun.
Sorrow, when it began to run,
Was singing when the race was done.
Deep hid in light all grief is dead.

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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton