Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday night fever...

An extended episode of fever this week, while thoroughly mundane and inconvenient, presented the intriguing possibility that I might access an as yet untapped state of the subconscious that would illuminate my writing. Bouts of delirium springing forth untold sapience and literary genius. Rather like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, lolling about under his lime tree bower in 1797, conjuring up poetry that lives and breathes in line and verse today. Although his ingenuity was possibly induced more frequently by opium than febrile disease.
Whether it was partly due to professional hazard (years of rejection, self-imposed seclusion, substance abuse, complex and clandestine personal relationships - some of those dudes make contemporary man look saintly) or they were just plain unlucky, it's curious how many poets through the ages have met an entirely hapless end. I made a list once.

  • Euripides, the Greek playwright, was mauled to death by a pack of wild dogs in 406BC.
  • According to Pliny the Elder, Athenian poet Aeschylus was killed by a falling tortoise dropped by an eagle in 456BC.
  • Italian poet Dante Alighieri fell ill and died just as he completed The Divine Comedy in 1321. Doh.
  • Christopher Marlow, rumoured to be an Elizabethan secret agent, was killed in a pub brawl in 1593.
  • Sir Francis Bacon died in 1626 of suffocation caused by a severe chill, after stuffing a chicken with snow to test his theory of refrigeration.
  • Having given away his entire fortune, Leo Tolstoy froze to death in a railway station in 1910.
  • WS Gilbert drowned in an English lake trying to save a damsel in distress in 1911.
  • In 1932 Hart Crane, a 'pederastic alcoholic' in love with a Danish merchant mariner, drowned himself by jumping off a steamboat into the Gulf of Mexico.
  • William Burroughs accidentally killed his wife when he tried to shoot an apple off her head in Mexico in 1951.
  • Hilaire Belloc died in 1953 from burns he sustained after stumbling into a fireplace.
  • American Surrealist poet Frank O'Hara was killed by an errant beach buggy in 1966.
  • Playwright Tennessee Williams was at home in New York when he choked to death on a bottle cap in 1983.

I'm sorry to say this persistent bout of fever has not conceived anything close to a blinding flash of brilliance. All it's produced so far is sweaty hair, a clammy glow and endless spontaneous rounds of rug-up-strip-off-rug-up-strip-off. 
And a frustratingly lean word count for this week.
Cautionary Tales for Children by Hilaire Belloc. Hmmm. "Don't stand too close to the flame" ?

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