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228 ELT FORUM ARTHUR SYMONS AND "THE SYMPHONY OF SNAKES" By Edward Baugh (University of Manchester) Dr. John Munro might have enhanced his comments on Symons' "The Symphony of Snakes" (ELT, VII: 3 [1964], 143-45) if he had mentioned that Symons transmuted his notes into a poem, which he first published in THE FOOL OF THE WORLD (Lond: Heinemann, 1906), p. 81. In Symons' COLLECTED WORKS (Lond: Seeker, 1924), the poem is dated 7 July 1904 (vol. II, 231), but it may well have been written shortly after the notes were made, and revised in 1904. I have underlined the words and phrases which also occur In the notes: The Andante of Snakes They weave a slow andante as in sleep, Scaled yellow, swampy black, plaque-spotted white; With blue and 1idless eyes at watch they keep A treachery of silence; infinite Ancestral angers brood in these dul1 eyes Where the long-1lneaged venom of the snake Meditates evil; woven intricacies Of Oriental arabesque awake, Unfold, expand, contract, and raise and sway Swoln heart-shaped heads, flattened as by a heel, Erect to suck the sunlight from the day, And stealthily and gradually reveal Dim cabalistic signs of spots and rings Among their folds of faded tapestry; Then these fat, foul, unbreathing, moving things Droop back to stagnant immobi1ity. The presence of this poem makes all the more surprising the fact that Dr. Munro speaks of "The Symphony of Snakes" as if Symons intended it to be considered as a work of art in it own right (" . . . in this instance he was not entirely successful, the symphonic structure being forgotten after the first few lines"). In the poem the "symphonic structure" (if "symphonic" Is the best word here) Is certainly maintained, a fact which Is emphasized when we notice how Symons rearranges and selects from his notes In order to shape the poem into a "perfect" movement, a wel1-integrated and harmonious whole. Although the poem is more explicitly symptomatic of the "romantic agony" than representative of the "romantic image," the suggestions of the latter account for much of what richness of texture it has. The poem belongs with those on the dance (e.g., "The Primrose Dance: Tivoli," "La Melinite: Moulin Rouge," "Nora on the Pavement ") in which Symons re-creates the dancer as "living symbol."' The rhythm and unfolding of snakes and poem evoke the "evasive, winding turn of things"^ which Symons speaks of in his essay "The World as Ballet." Even in the brief duration 229 of the poem he manages to suggest that "monotony" which is "continual slight novelty" (he borrows the idea from Aristotle),3 which he said the ideal work of art should possess, and which snake and dancer alike express in their motion. The snakes embody the same kind of inviolable self-involvement which La Melinite embodies as she turns before the mirrors. Like hers, their movement "reveals . . . the soul of [their] imagined being."^ And in the light of Symons' emphasis on the "silence", the wordlessness of the dance, the serpents' "treachery of silence" assumes a new dimension. If I read Dr. Munro correctly, he believes that Symons and Yeats did not meet until after "The Symphony of Snakes" was written, that is, after May, 1892. But their first meeting must have taken place quite some time before this, since the Rhymers' Club, of which they were both members, was started at the beginning of 1891, if not before. NOTES 1 STUDIES IN SEVENARTS (NY: Dutton, 1907), p. 391. 2 Ibid, 3 See FIGURES OF SEVERAL CENTURIES (Lond: Constable, 1916), p, 177; CITIES AND SEA-COASTS AND ISLANDS (Lond: Collins, 1918), p. 97; WANDERINGS (Lond: Dent, 1931), P. 263. 4 STUDIES IN SEVEN ARTS, p. 391. A REPLY TO EDWARD BAUGH By John Munro (University of Toronto) I am made respectful by Mr, Edward Baugh's drawing my attention to "The Andante of Snakes" and his perceptive analysis of the poem. To have ignored it was unfortunate , for, as Mr. Baugh states, reference to it would considerably have "enhanced" my comments on "The Symphony of Snakes." It is perfectly true that in "The Andante of Snakes" Symons extrapolates from his notes significant...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 228-229
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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