Thursday, June 7, 2018

Under the Volcano

"The mountain chains traverse the republic roughly from north to south, forming between them a number of valleys and plateaus. Overlooking one of these valleys, which is dominated by two volcanoes, lies, six thousand feet above sea level, the town of Quauhnahuac."

Those are the opening lines of Malcolm Lowry's "Under the Volcano," and it was on this day--June 7, 1945--that the fourth draft of the novel was lost when Lowry's shack on the Dollarton flats in North Vancouver burned down. Twelve years later--ten years after "Under the Volcano" finally was published--Lowry died in the Sussex village of Ripe, and is buried there in the graveyard of the church of St. John the Baptist.

Lowry composed an amusing epitaph for himself, but a more serious farewell might be one of his poems:

"The ship is turning homeward now at last.
The bosun tries to read but dreams of home.
The old lamptrimmer sleeps, the engine thrums.
His lamps are set to light us from the past
To a near future unmysterious as this mast
With iron and what iron loves of kingdom come.
Patient iron! But, beyond the mainstruck, dumb
Blankness, or the twitch of reeling stars cast
Adrift in a white ocean of doubt.
Perhaps this tramp rolls toward a futurity
That broods on ocean less than on the gall
In seamen's minds. Is that star wormwood out
Among love's stars? This freighter eternity?
Where are we going? Life save us all."

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