E d i t o r i a l at sea/with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes’. The many in the one, the overlapping of lives, the dwindling of the generation, made it possible for him to celebrate not a death but a life at once individual and representative. Had Simon Armitage been an ironist, had he been a little closer to Auden, say, or Larkin, he would have found it hard to make the big, unaffected historical noise that was required. Had he been less in love with England he would not have had the gumption to rise to patriotism.
There is something cinematic in the way the poem unfolds, the way the war is evoked:
To study their hands at rest was to picture maps showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions.
What remains is a specific set of natural images that bind the eulogised with a nature stubbornly English. The poem may be the final poem of the Second World War. It is notable, especially so given how late it comes in (I almost said ‘our’) history.
The major oaks in the wood start tuning up and skies to come will deliver their tributes. But for now, a cold April’s closing moments parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.
Letter to the Editor Open letter to English Heritage
The application for a blue plaque in Hallam Street, Central London, to commemorate Stefan Zweig’s residence in the city from 1933–1939, was turned down in 2012. English Heritage argued then that the Austrian writer’s ‘London connections did not appear strong enough’ and that his ‘profile has never been as high in Britain as elsewhere.’
Even at the time, this puzzled many. Zweig had been made so well-known to a new generation of English readers, mainly through new translations from the Pushkin Press and Hesperus, that his high profile had become a serious irritant in some quarters. The release of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ also suggests that his reputation is not in decline.
He moved into a flat at 11 Portland Place in October 1933 and was there until 1936. Portland Place, we argue, is where the plaque should be. He arrived at a time when his work, like that of other Jewish writers, was being publicly burnt in Germany. It is true he was then less well-known in Britain than on the continent: London offered him the libraries, anonymity and space to think that he wanted.
He came originally to complete a book about another great European humanist who had lived and worked happily in England four centuries earlier, Desiderius Erasmus, the ‘first conscious European’, as Zweig called him. Erasmus’ ‘Praise of Folly’ (1509), dedicated to his close friend Thomas More, was written while he was here and addressed Europe just before the Reformation tore it apart into warring factions.
Zweig’s ‘Erasmus: Triumph and Tragedy’ (1934) in turn sought to counter a ‘moment of mass intoxication’ with a hope. His was a shared, secular hope in Europe as a community of peoples created not on any imperial or religious model but ‘through gentle convincing.’ ‘Voluntary adhesion and inner freedom’ were to be its ‘fundamental laws.’