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Jacket 20 — December 2002   |   # 20  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |

Tom Clark

Letters home from Cambridge (1963–65)

Tom Clark The American poet Tom Clark attended Cambridge University, England, from 1963 to 1965. This is a selection of his letters home. From England in the 1960s he edited a series of mimeograph magazines featuring a generation of younger poets who would also appear in The Paris Review during his ten-year tenure as poetry editor (1963—1973). He now teaches writing on the Core Faculty in Poetics at the New College of California in San Francisco, and lives in Berkeley.

You can read a review by Dale Smith of Tom Clark’s recent book, White Thought, in Jacket 4, and read seven poems (with ink-wash drawings) by Tom Clark from Cold Spring — A Diary in Jacket 12.

This piece is 7,600 words or about sixteen printed pages long.

September 29 [1963]

I have finally moved into permanent rooms so you can write to me at G19 St. Michael’s Court, Caius College, Cambridge. Have been living for past three weeks in one of the old courts of this college, which was founded in the 14th century, it feels like medieval chill still lingers in some of the old stone buildings. I’ve been coughing & sneezing for 3 weeks.
      I now have two “modern” and fairly large empty rooms four storeys above the town marketplace. Big windows and plenty of busy street noise from down below – buses, motorcycles, motor bikes – as well as hourly tolling of bells from Trinity Church, the belltower at almost eye level a stone’s throw from my windows. There is a coin-operated gas heater, and actual running cold & HOT water which I haven’t experienced in some time. The place is pretty bare so I will have to obtain furniture, lamps, etc. The whole suite of two rooms is approx. the size of the apt. I had last year on Washtenaw in Ann Arbor but the rent is just about twice as high: I’m paying $136 for the first term (Oct. 1 to Dec. 1, approx.). The meals in the college dining hall I must pay for whether I eat them or not and due to the narrowly prescribed dining hours it’s more often not. The old college dining hall is under repair. The new (temporary) one is pretty cheezy, a pre-fab box like a Dairy Queen dropped right in the middle of the old quadrangle, between ancient Gate of Humility (where new students like me enter) and the Gate of Virtue (through which to pass between studies). (Interior quadrangle features Gate of Honour, for dignified graduation exit.) The food is so-so, what’s interesting is the speed at which it’s consumed: dinner, three courses, “served,” takes 15 minutes. (Presumably it’ll be slower when everyone is here and the hall is full.)

Main facade, Gonville and Caius college, Cambridge

Main façade

Gonville and Caius College

      The large majority of the student body is due to arrive within the next few days, and then, I suppose, I’ll find out more about what this place is really like. So far I’ve been appreciating mainly the scenery. Only some dons (professors), fellows (junior professors), and a few graduates, mostly foreign students like me, are in residence now. My fellow grad students here at the college, the ones I’ve met, are all in sciences. It’s principally a science college, in fact. There’s an eminent and very pleasant seeming snowy-haired historian of science in China, Joseph Needham, emeritus or scholar in residence I take it (no longer teaches) whom I’ve seen but not dared try to talk to. The college’s “second founder,” a Doctor Caius, 16thc. fellow, actual name Keys, changed to the Latin Caius after he became a dr. following graduation from old Gonville Hall (i.e. here), was a physician who wrote treatises on sweat and dogs (!). Wm. Harvey who discovered the circulation of the blood (16thc.), Chadwick who discovered the neutron (Nobel Prize 1935) and Crick who discovered DNA (Nobel Prize for medicine last year) = all Caius products. Also Wilson the explorer who was at the S. Pole with Scott and brought back a Caius flag from the Pole, flag now “temporarily” not on view due to college hall reconstruction, but S. Pole photos & memorabilia interesting to peek at in college library. Some grad students whom I’ve met have been to same Pole, Australian scientist types who also have interesting tales of hunting opals in outback. (Two “hunters,” one stays with discovered opal claim while other goes back to stake it, sometimes not returning for reasons unknown, all a crazy complication of gold rush & snipe hunt.)
      One funny thing is local pronunciation of names of colleges, of which I was of course innocent & unknowing: Caius is “Keys,” Magdalen is “Maudlin,” St. John’s is “SINjens.” Another is that this college locks up at 11 every night, like a fancy kindergarten (high walls with spiked fence on top). And a lady bustles into your bedroom every morning to make your bed at 7:30!

King's Parade, Cambridge

King’s Parade


September 30

Spent the day in Ely (pron. “Eel-ie”). Lovely cathedral town north of here about 15 miles (1 1/2 hours by bus on circuitous route over flat fen lands). The beautiful old cathedral, built between 1081 and approx. 1300. (Beauty it seems takes time.) Made drawings of gravestones of dead monks, lunched in local pub & had a swell trip.
      Got back to learn the college wants 45 pounds (= 120 dollars) per term in “fees” (extra fees, unanticipated). Gentlemanly way of letting you know quietly and too late. This place is a haven for rich aristocrats. I’ve spent half my term book allowance already. The bookstores are too tempting. A case of the medieval flu has at least been reducing my shopping = spending.
      Students now arriving so dinner is slower.
      Major expenditure of the week (for sake of “blending”) = a powder-blue-and-black-striped woolen Gonville & Caius college scarf, from W. & G. Taylor, Tailors & Robe Makers, Trinity Street (actually just up the block). Now I fly local colors (feel slightly silly doing so as yet).

October 9

How are you? No mail for a week – have you sent any?
      I am getting along fine. My health is better. Had two colds and bad case of stomach flu in first three weeks (still adjusting to climate). Lectures beginning tomorrow, at last. Tutorials already under way. I have two. My “Moral Tutor” (to whom I must present myself in formal regalia i.e. gown – ! – for “permission” to “come up” & “go down” @ start & end of term), also tutorial teacher on Tragedy, is an interesting & smart Mr. Prynne. He is young (two years older than me, I think), very tall, and very very English. Dresses all in undertaker black, shiny black shoes, stiff white collar, black hair slicked & parted in middle, schoolmaster look (think of Ichabod Crane), speaks with very slight lisp, very “U” accent, thus Aeschylus = EESkalus, Racine = RAYseen. It’s said a Puritan ancestor of his had his ears “trimmed” in 17thc., also that he’s served as officer in British army elite detachment, “Polish cavalry” (?). I must write for him a weekly paper on tragedy.
      Every week or so I also see & write a paper for Dr. Davie, who is a university lecturer & Director of English here. Orig. Yorkshireman (non-U), “non-Conformist” (Methodist), has lectured also in Dublin, written critical books as you know. A very nice man, quite learned & I consider myself lucky he has time for me. We talk ostensibly about English 19thc. & Romantics – Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley – but he has surprising interest in American writers, Pound, also lesser knowns, Edward Dorn, et al. Prynne too takes interest in Americans (Charles Olson). Much talk by both teachers about “syntax” (order of words) as if being or anyway sounding American boiled down to that, somewhat funny.
      Rooms are fine, I have all I need, am eating well, and a lot (on my own), everything is cheap except room, board and fees (i.e. almost everything) which are unbelievably high. But I’m now trying to write some newspaper articles (poems & reviews) for actual income. Have met quite a few people, some nice, some not so nice, but haven’t made any friends yet. I suppose I’ll get to know some of the people studying English, sooner or later (there are exactly 8, all undergraduates).

October 28

The weather has been better here, turning from three weeks of mostly cold to two weeks of beautiful autumn days, then now a sudden two or three days of cold & grey that make the North Sea feel closer and winter coming soon, but this time I feel ready for it (or at least more used to it).
      Still not getting down to work as I’d like to, two papers a week difficult for me (I go slow) and since the lectures here aren’t compulsory I’ve been too lazy (easy on myself) & missed a lot. Developing bad habits. Graduate school in England is a gentleman’s affair, you are pretty much on your own about most things. So I go off to London (scout book stores), and in fact also spend much time considering (wishing for) longer travels – France, Spain, Greece, Italy. At Xmas I plan to go to France and all the latter places next summer, if I stay here another year, meanwhile I am at this moment late on a paper on Wordsworth for Dr. D. who as my academic supervisor will determine whether I get another year. So I’d better get going.
      By the way, I was disappointed to learn lately that Davie may be leaving after this year, going off to start a lit. program at new university (Essex). A shame since he’s a very nice man, and easily the best English lecturer (of the three or four I’ve so far heard) at the university.
      Good news – I think I’ve made a friend, John Temple, a sweet & gentle somewhat rumpled non-U fellow from the North (Sunderland, Northumbria) with whom I have some common interests (he likes American poetry, dreams of “the West,” etc.). He is an undergrad “reading” (studying) English & lives on my court, has rooms at bottom of the staircase, where we hang out & talk. We have in common, also, class exclusion. Other young Englishmen studying English here are pretty facetious pink-faced fellows, upper class twits with hyphenated last names & despite few actual achievements mighty pleased with themselves. I fear I’ve already committed a grievous social error by neglecting an invitation from the college dramatic society to perform in a play by J. M. Barrie (of Peter Pan fame). Realized my mistake when rec’d the silent treatment from young gents @ dining table: “Pass the sprouts” (i.e. brussels) greeted with glacial silence (pretty funny).
      PS. Would you mind sending some books left at home which would help with my tutorials: Aristotle, Liddell & Scott Greek Lexicon, Kitto Greek Tragedy, Dickens Great Expectations & David Copperfield, E. Pound ABC of Reading, Confucius, Annotated Index to the Cantos ? Maybe brother John could hunt them up for me, they’re in the basement (where I sometimes feel I am in studies here), thanks John! (I need all the help I can get.)

November 16

Sorry I haven’t written, really the time goes by too fast. To answer your questions:
      1. Yes, I wasn’t lying, I have a gown. I have to wear it to dinner, to see tutors, and, supposedly, on the street after dark. (I have twice been caught violating the latter rule thus incurring the wrath of ominous “proctors” who swoop down from dark doorways & alleys, but I explain I am graduate student & thus anyway technically exempt, which may or may not be true but seemingly it’s mostly play-acting anyway – ??).
      2-4. My trunk is here and safe, I have enough clothes, I’ll try to get a picture taken.
      5. Really don’t send money. Right now, and until I let you know otherwise, Absolutely don’t send money. I may as well spend the Fulbright money as long as they give it to me. Am working to earn a few pennies & pounds with articles too.
      6. Transportation to Mass is not necessary since I am about 5 minutes walk from the Catholic church. (Not that there’s any legacy of it in modern day but this college was once the residence of the notorious Titus Oates, author of infamous “Popish plot” – 1678.)
      7. I got the suitcase fixed.
      8. Feet are working so-so.
      9. Books got here OK, many thanks.
      10. I miss you too.
      About draft board, perhaps deferment papers should continue to go to Ann St. or to 1338 Washtenaw. No mail from them here yet, so maybe it would be just as well if they thought I were still at Ann St. Draft deferment only goes to June 15? They had better give me another one then, since I plan to travel (Europe) next summer & do not intend to come home just now to play Army. Have had enough of that (ROTC) to last a lifetime.
      In general I’m getting along pretty well. Can’t get used to different school regime. Have ceased to attend lectures, period. Doing reading and writing mostly on my own & only secondarily for my supervisor. I am not making much of a sensation as a scholar. Whether I come back next year, they’ll decide. I like the place very much, and a few of the people. But of course unless I’m getting somewhere work-wise it’d be silly to stay next year. Anyway I haven’t really made up my own mind. But I am having a good time. This week I have an assignment to write an article for a magazine at Oxford, plus essays for supervisor, so one of these days I really will have to get down to work. Meanwhile I talk, take walks, waste time.
      I’m feeling pretty well. The food at college is hideous so I purchase for myself what I need & thus grow strong. Sorry I’ve become so lazy about things, will write & let you know all plans once decided.

December 1

Glad you’re all well, and I’m okay too. The business about Kennedy was really a shock, I couldn’t believe it for a day or 2, was really in a daze. A terrible thing –
      Winter has arrived here, too. It’s cold and grey, but no snow and not much rain so I can’t complain. I want to change my program of studies, from the English degree to emphasis on American Studies for Ph.D. eventually. Davie, who has been very good to me, says OK. He will go on teaching me, concentrating on the things I want to work on (Pound). This may affect my chances of a Fulbright renewal. I would like to stay here another year but don’t know whether they’ll let me.
      John Temple (I think I’ve told you about him), and one or two others, have become friends to talk with. A friend at Christ’s College, Andrew Crozier (from Dulwich, London), took me for a beer (warm half pint) in that college’s “buttery” (pub for undergrads), nearby a nook in which grows Milton (the poet, not Milton Berle)’s pear tree (i.e. he’s to have planted it, Americans will believe anything). But generally people have been somewhat distant, and too much of the time (for me) the “witty” talk that prevails (social) often comes off seeming childish, or am I the one being the child? (Is it a case of syntax?) Anyway I do like the actual place very much, great walks, etc. Xmas vacation begins in a week and lasts in to early January. I’m going to Paris, will write when I get there and give you my address. I now have a small “editing” job, for a magazine, The Paris Review, it doesn’t pay anything but is very interesting to me all the same. No complaints, have plenty of money and therefore plenty to eat & get fatter by the day so don’t worry. Don’t send any money. I hope you are all well and send to all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS.

January 1 [1964] (postcard)

Well, I’m back from beautiful Paris, nursing a cold, but getting well. Left early because Kirby Hall, wife of Don, has pneumonia (was to meet with them in Paris). Haven’t heard from you and hope all is well. Don’t send me any money, I’m fine, but please write. This picture of King’s College lawn, green grass & sunny river is exactly what Cambridge will look like... six months from now.
      PS. Another of my books I hoped you might send, Selected Poems by Robert Duncan, City Lights, a small brown & white paperback, in the basement. Thanks.

River Cam

River Cam

January 16 (postcard)

Sorry to hear of John’s cold. Sinus weather here too. But the winter weather in general much better here than in U.S. – it’s misty & foggy but temp. seldom drops below 20-25 degrees (mostly about 40 degrees). I’ve been able to go out walking every day (so far) this winter.

January 26

You say you haven’t heard from me but by now you will have. I am settling into my long winter’s nap. Course this term with Davie (Pound) is very good, interesting & less work than the totality of the 19thc. was requiring. Allows me plenty of time for reading and tinkering with books to not much point, which I am getting good at. I have two or three friends and occasional date also, yes, more than enough to eat as I shop for myself when I do not eat in college. I now attend dining hall at dinner only & that more & more occasionally. Wrestling with 200 collegians in rotten-smelling gowns over a potato cooked in too much grease appeals less than eating bread & cheese in my room which is fine, one of the largest (thus most expensive, which is why I must soon forsake it) in the college. Much colder lately, a few spells of freezing misty fog. I keep the gas fire glowing happily by steadily feeding it coin. Have put in for a second year here (also to be safe applied to grad schools of Harvard, Columbia, Michigan), won’t know what I’m going to do until April at least. Sorry to ask, but if you have a minute you might poke around in the basement & try to dig up for me a black New Directions paperback, The Jacob’s Ladder by Denise Levertov. Very thin and light book which shouldn’t cost much to send. Thank you, you see my biggest problem here is finding books I need (many of these from back home, somewhat ironically).

January 29

After about ten days of awful cold misty fogs when you’d go outside and within five minutes have mist freezing into a solid beard on hair & face, it’s begun to rain steadily, which is at least an improvement. I’ve begun attending college meals every night, thus regaining 8-10 lbs. I’d lost this year.
      Considering going to Wales for spring vacation, at least for a week or two. Almost booked ticket for Ireland but two Irish fellows (brothers) I met here (tell Gram they are Catholic) have persuaded me that Wales is a much more pleasant place to spend spring vacation than Ireland (don’t tell Gram). I might find a cheap hotel in the North Wales for a couple of weeks. For the summer, I have my sights on Italy & Greece.

The Chapel. Jesus college, with hail, 2002

The Chapel
Jesus College, Cambridge

after a hailstorm

February 3

Glad to hear everyone’s OK (I hope).
      I’m getting along fine here. We had a week of beautiful spring weather, flowers came out, now it’s raining but still pretty warm, 35-40 degrees. It’s said there was a colder winter last year and this is more like normal, which is fine by me. I’m getting plenty to eat in & out of college & am fat & fine, don’t worry. Davie has been very good this year, excellent course. He suggests I try to stay next year, begin Ph.D. He’s going to a new university at Essex and wants me to register for the Ph.D. there, and work there with him, i.e. when it opens – a year from Sept. – and meanwhile stay on here & begin the studies. I won’t know about the Fulbright renewal till mid-March, but I like this new plan which would require less junk work and useless exams than a U.S. Ph.D. And if I stay next year I’ll know what I’m doing and be able to direct my own work (I haven’t really begun anything this year, just played around).
      I have been to see the Halls in Thaxted (Essex) where they have a thatch-roofed cottage. Kirby is still not completely recovered (from pneumonia) & the climate of famous chronic “consumptives” (English) is not doing her great good.
      Have I mentioned the interesting fact (John) that English girls are fine, better than U.S. girls, and better by far than English boys (the ones here), who are generally intelligent, sophisticated yet (to me) quite BORING. But I’d better not be setting myself up as a judge of English girls, as I’ve been (in truth) going out with an American girl here.
      It looks now like Europe, Greece, Italy, instead of Wales, for next travels. Prices lower at Easter, less tourists (Italy) in the spring, but don’t know yet if I can afford it.
      Oh sorry to bother you again but would you send another book. Unfortunately this is a huge fat one. Vol. I. of Remembrance of Things Past by Proust (Random House). There are two volumes; only send the first. (This copy contains my notes on first 3 or 4 parts of the novel.) I promise to ask NO more favors for a while. (I’ve already half eaten up this term’s book allowance.)
      PS. Lovely a.m. of Feb. 4, about 50 degrees, and blue skies like April!

March 5

Thanks for the box of delicious cookies unfortunately broken in 2 billion pieces. Box is marked “Book” and has been opened, no book inside, just cookie pieces. Does this mean postal inspector likes Proust not cookies?
      Very cold here now, finally some real winter. But then because of the warm weather we had last month, all the flowers are out, and looking somewhat confused about things as am I. Celebrated 23rd birthday four days ago with walk in gardens behind St. John’s (SIN-jens).
      Anyway I’m feeling pretty well & am fat, never fear.
      News that Johnny might go to Loyola – well, why not. John, my guess is it matters more what you want to do, and how you want to do it, than where. “Going away” may sound more glamorous but actually that’s a false rumor. “Here” often feels strange & too far away.
      Going to Sussex (maybe, I think) for a short vacation, still not sure about next year but should be hearing in a few weeks. All is meanwhile as unknown as ever.


March 1, 1964

Today there is new crocus, white
and yellow, yellow
aconite, and a strange, small
saffron flower, contained
by broad shafts of weed.
The weed is a carryover, a dream
of August. All
are soft, stooping
to the rain, saturated.

            The rain
extends west, beyond the slow
waking, the interrupted
quick traverse to air
of things, forging
through the cold topsoil; also

beyond the sea, to my
that is substance
of me, quick against the form,
and feeds
the root against the birth-mud
and the weed.

March 16

Sorry I’ve been so long in wanting to write but not doing so, it’s the end of term and I’m consequently v. busy (for a change). Vacation began last Friday, lasts till April 20. Almost went to Greece, decided not to go at last minute. Fellow here (Andrew Crozier) has invited me to Sussex, Hastings (1066 and all that) April 6-19. Am saving Greece/Italy for summer. My rooms will be occupied for a convention over the vacation so I must literally vacate. Will go to see Halls in Thaxted during this interim, after that uncertain.
      Getting along OK, know a few more people now (that helps) & feel OK, except when I work a lot, which is annoying. But in general I’m fine fat & happy despite wintry weeks of late: cold, rain and snow. But today it’s cleared up & all promises to be good.
      It seems I may get another Fulbright and I’ve got a Woodrow Wilson too if I want it, another month to decide, both a quandary & a luxury.

Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Main entrance
Gonville and Caius College


March 22

Bought this new fountain pen yesterday & am trying it out on you. I’m fine. Feeling well & enjoying myself doing nothing here in college, while everybody’s away. They’ve given me ancient medieval room in inner courts while mine’s used for convention. Weather however has been awful, only sunshine I’ve seen in ten days appeared this morning for five minutes & I was inside at the time so couldn’t enjoy it. Five minutes later, grey again. All the Protestants are walking around with palms today, evidently the Episcopals do that too.
      Later – warmer, now all we need is the sun. Daylight time, doesn’t get dark till eight o’clock in March. Have a happy Easter!

April 5

Sorry I haven’t written in a while. Under the weather. Three weeks of cold drizzle every day, worst spring climate I’ve ever experienced. Today, though, it cleared up and has been sunny though cool. They say spring really doesn’t come till May.
      The Sussex trip to Andrew Crozier’s is postponed due to a strange infection which caused my left index finger to suddenly get very swollen, white & sore, for no evident reason. Antibiotics, penicillin, now it’s finally getting better. Wonderful that doctors are FREE here and for prescriptions, each item, no matter what, is 30 cents. In that regard it’s a SANE place.
      Have to make up mind about future in next few days. Grant offers have now come in from Columbia, Harvard, Michigan, & the U. of N.Y. at Buffalo. The Buffalo grant would be a teaching fellowship so I’m tempted. I’m not too crazy about the idea of more school at this point, and if I’m going to do it, I’d like to start alternating between taking classes and teaching them. But Davie promises I can do this at Essex too so that’s equally tempting, though again, the Great Unknown (so far the “university” there’s still only a gleam in his eye).

April 19

I am OK. I didn’t go to Hastings. A finger infection followed by a sinus infection, last one for this year I hope, so I stayed around here. Have actually had a few fair weather days – about one out of every 3 – in the past few weeks, so it’s been all right. And now everyone’s back, term starts Tuesday.
      I’ve spent a lot of agonizing time trying to decide about next year. All offers look very good (as does Fulbright’s to stay here) but for some reason I was ungratefully a little discontent with all of them. I’ve suddenly got a yen for a more pleasant climate so wrote to Woodrow Wilson, very late but I hope in time, for allocation of grant to me at grad school of U. of New Mexico (Albuquerque). That probably sounds like the desert to you, it does to me too but I’ve heard it’s a pretty nice place if you can stand the cowboys (rednecks). Mountains, sunshine, Navajo and Hopi, dry climate, all sound a lot better than Buffalo. Looks like I could get a master’s in one year, 2ndyear a teaching fellowship. They start school Labor Day and have actually asked me to show up then, so what to do?

May 6

Happy Shakespeare Year! The color scenes from Shxpr on other side of this aerogramme are the reason why it cost ten pence rather than usual sixpence (dime vs. a nickel). So I hope it gives you 5 cents’ worth of pleasure to see Hamlet holding the skull, Julius Caesar being stabbed, Prospero waving his magic wand @ Caliban, Bottom in the ass’s head and Falstaff lifting the tankard. Though I’ve neither been stabbed nor fondled a skull here I’ve felt at times some sympathy with Bottom and Caliban, and have observed many a lifted tankard. The girls pictured are Ophelia (in strange weeds), Desdemona, Miranda and Titania, all pretty as English girls today. The dancing fairy is Ariel, who nowadays would have a hyphenated last name & fit in here perfectly.
      All meanwhile goes well, I’m actually working a little (with Davie) and enjoying the miraculous English spring weather which we are, finally, getting a little bit of. Part of every day is rainy & cloudy, but in between the sun shines & everything is green & very beautiful.
      In the past week I’ve entertained an American acquaintance visiting here, one John Maynard whom I think I’ve mentioned, I met him at Harvard when we were both there trying for the Henry. (Have at times wondered whether I should have accepted the Henry & stuck to my academic guns when I had the chance.) John has been travelling in Europe on a grant from Harvard, has spent two months in Florence and says it was wonderful. This has convinced me to set my sights on Italy and Greece for summer. Still up in the air about the New Mexico plan (& much else concerning future) but will let you know before long.

August 19

Thanks for your letter. Yes, I got back here safe & sound. Yes, Yugoslavia was somewhat of a problem as advertised. I was actually made to get off a train at the frontier, in the middle of the night, by strange military-uniformed police, and held in station amid empty railyards two hours, before being permitted to get back on the train, which, happily, had not moved an inch this whole time. American passport a definite advantage in some times & places, but a dubious benefit at Greek/Yugoslav frontier three weeks ago.
      Anyway I’m fine, I have new digs, two rooms on the Newmarket Road, just outside town, near Midsummer Common (where I heard a bagpiper in kilts practicing today as I walked past on way home from college), across the road from the Star Brewery & pub, and upstairs (third floor) from landlady to whom I pay a modest rent. There is a fire escape outside the kitchen window, above the sink, where I can crawl out & prop my portable typewriter & do my work, looking out over the laundry lines & “telly” antennae of Cambridge.
      After my Athens experience the English climate is for once a relief. Nice weather the past two days, cool & clear, about the best that can be expected here, not miraculous but nice. (Before that, a week of the familiar rain & grey, to welcome me back.) I’m getting settled in my place, cooking myself huge dinners every night, main course alternating between mince meat, lamb chops, bacon & eggs, and sausages, all of which I enjoy & find not too costly. I’m not as bad a cook as I thought, it seems. I’ve made bookshelves by sawing a large board (bed board) into three long planks, hunting down some bricks, and stacking the boards atop the bricks – basic but serviceable. Actually I find the place very nice, fills my needs anyway. The time goes slowly as no one’s around (between terms) except the tourists, however this lack of distraction (company) helps me to get some work done. I’ve taken a day off for one short trip, to Bury St. Edmunds (a Norman abbey) and am planning a few days in London, then maybe, if I save up, a longer trip next month to the West Country, Wales and Ireland if I can manage it (though probably most of that will have to wait until I’ve sold a few articles).

Cambridge wooden door

“We take milk in our tea, and lots of it!”

September 2

Sorry to be so lazy about writing, there hasn’t been much news to tell, which as you know means my life as usual in Cambridge. I’m well settled in this place, a very nice house, comfortable, with my fire-escape balcony on which I can sit out in the sun – of which, surprisingly, we have seen a great deal lately. The past 10-12 days have brought the finest weather I’ve experienced in my year in England, sunny and clear days, none of the usual mist/fog/damp, yet with cool evenings as well, altogether very pleasant. And I have a household addition which brings me great joy: a small black kitten which I found, evidently abandoned and quite frightened, under the back stairs of the house, and have taken in. The added trouble & expense of buying cat food & gravel is as nothing next to the pleasure of the company of a lovable living thing. It is against the landlady’s rules, too, so I have to try to (in fact absolutely must) keep it hidden from her.
      I’m doing some work each day, on Ezra Pound, but unfortunately am lagging in dedication and energy required for the real “serious research” that is expected – that is, at the British Museum and other libraries where time must be logged. Davie is on vacation and does not write to me so it remains unclear just what he will want me to have done by next year, but the fact is, he’ll expect some work, alas. This, as I have confessed, poses a problem – but, up against my laziness, as a motive to get myself going, I have my draft board. (Is there ever any mail from them? As of June 15 they will have begun to get ready to start bothering me again.)
      You will remember my Ann Arbor philosopher friend Loren Fishman, whom I have seen over here and in Paris a few times – he is at Oxford, where I’ve visited & stayed in his college (Christ Church). He has rented a house in the Oxfordshire countryside for the summer, has written to invite me over there for a few days so I will probably go on Saturday. (However this plan creates a crisis of conscience regarding caretaking of my new kitten, which I have not yet resolved.)
      May I ask two favors, since I’ve asked none in a while? The first – would you send a book (from basement) called Gnomon, a large brown-and-orange hardcover book of essays by Hugh Kenner (needed for Pound work). The second – I’m thinking of acquiring a cheap record player (have seen a used Magnavox on sale for about $8). I really miss having one. If I make this purchase, perhaps you could send a few of my records there at home? If you can send by slow boat, I wouldn’t mind the wait even if it takes a month. Would be well worth it from this end, as I don’t have $$ to buy new records here (they’re very expensive). If you’re willing, I’ll send a list.
      For the time being keep writing to me at Caius. There’s no doorbell here and so far my attempts to get the mailman to actually bring my letters inside have not been successful. Write soon, I hope you are all well. I enjoyed the newspapers you sent. I do read the N.Y. Times international edition here every day, mainly to see what happened to the White Sox. “War” news however too depressing, can’t stand sound of U.S. politicians on TV – which I see only in college jr. common room, thus rarely – without thoughts turning to friendly draft board.

A Difference

written between Sept. 2 and Sept. 17, 1964

Something is fallen out of the air, some
thing that was breathing there before
stopped: or say it is a difference

felt quickly on turning from one’s work
to the window, and seeing there the same
trees the same color, the sky still without clouds,

changed only in its reference to the trees
which also seem to have turned away.
The world less external but less distinct

at its center. For a few
seconds. Fall.

September 17

You can send mail to me here, at least as an experiment, if slightly risky one. The mailman, who can’t get in because the front door is locked, leaves letters for me on the front steps. But he will not leave packages, because no one to sign for them, thus anything larger than an envelope should go to Caius, where there are porters to perform that service.
      Have been meaning to write every day but then there’s rarely news to tell. Our good weather (warm and sunny every day for a month, which people here found hard to accept and I secretly believe they were annoyed, missed the rain, etc.) has collapsed, it has been grey, rainy & cold for 4 days (though fire-escape view shows promise of clearing today) so I suppose Fall is here. Six weeks ago when I returned from Greece the daylight (broad daylight) lasted until 10 p.m. Now it is dark at 7. I am getting out my sweaters, raincoat, umbrella for the season.
      No, I am not too far from college. I have discovered a more direct way into the center of town that only takes about 10 minutes to walk. So I am in no great danger of succumbing to consumption due to long hikes over the fens, etc. – don’t worry. Yes, I do have a permanent sinus infection (my constant condition in England) but have had that for so long now I don’t mind it, and anyway at least have STRONG LUNGS.
      With no one here to worry about me I am free to do a fair amount of hopping around, as long as I’m back every other day or so to provide food & care for my small feline companion. I spent a day in Oxford with Loren Fishman and went also for a day to Colchester, Essex, where Davie’s new University of Essex is under construction – early stages, actually a rather barren site (temporary barracks, etc.) with only sign of civilization an old manor house at Wivenhoe Park on pretty estate w/ lake once painted by Wm. Constable & soon to be turned into concrete if the plan comes out, perhaps my place of future learning (?). And last Monday I went in to London, which I do like to do. It takes about 1 1/2 hours each way, I can spend most of the day in the city & get back on a cheap day-ticket ($2 – round trip costs same as one way) in time to see to it that cat does not go hungry.
      Another book I’d like you to send (make sure to send it by surface mail, no enclosures, much cheaper that way: With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads, thin tall green hardcover book pub. by New Directions, author DENISE LEVERTOV.
      Very nice letter from Gram & Gramps advising me to go to Ireland. I want to go, too, but am feeling very lazy right now (also very guilty about all the work I’ve put off) so that trip may have to wait till next spring or summer. I’ll write and tell them that yes, I do understand this is an ALIEN land I’m now in.

Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 2002

Trinity Hall

Cambridge, 2002

April 30 [1965]

After two gloomy weeks since my return from Paris the sun appeared in full glory this morning, and it’s a warm clear day which I want to last forever. A recent series of 3-day drizzles kept me inside & at work but today I will walk the fields which is much better for the soul & temperament.
      Letter today from U. of Essex officially informs me I have a grant to do Ph.D. research there next year. It’s 450 pounds = 1200 dollars. That is 50 pounds less than I’ve been getting by on with Fulbright for past two years, but I think I can manage it. I will have to get a place to live over there. From what I hear that could be difficult, but I have one promising lead. An English friend I made here last year, John Barrell, will also be doing Ph.D. work at Essex next year, and with his wife has begun to look for a house over there. So far he hasn’t found anything, but if he does, perhaps I’ll live with him. And too another friend from Cambridge last year, Andrew Crozier, who’s spent this year in Buffalo, will be at Essex next year. So there will be some familiar company. Davie, I think, will be my teacher. And I may be doing a little bit of teaching, too, I hope. The university is at Wivenhoe Park, near the little town of Wivenhoe, close to the bigger town of Colchester. It’s on the east coast, where East Anglia meets the North Sea. Colchester’s about as far from London as Cambridge is – only about 60 or 70 miles – so day trips to the city will still be fairly easy. Anyway I’m going to give this a try: if I really get down to work next year, I may have enough done to come back home & try to get a teaching job, then finish the Ph.D. in another year. (Did I say I hope ?)

May 24

Summer hasn’t yet shown up, still off & on spring weather, though now it’s light till almost ten at night & all the flowers are out & walking in the meadows is pure delight.
      This has been a quiet and restful spell of days after a restless but interesting week. I travelled west across country to Bristol to attend a little poetry reading at an art gallery. The trip turned into a strange and mostly marvelous four-day adventure. I stayed with a fellow who lives out in the Somerset countryside about 15 miles from Bristol (which is a large city of 1 million). Rode to his country cottage in the side car of his motorcycle, accompanied, through curious circumstance, by the American poet Allen Ginsberg (of “Howl” etc. fame) who’d turned up at the reading. Later travelled with Ginsberg on bus and hitchhike junket which took us to Wells Cathedral (very beautiful), to Glastonbury (an ancient ruined abbey where A.G. insisted on invoking spirit of King Arthur at latter’s supposed gravesite, later he made funny scene in straitlaced local tea shoppe, a pleasant bearded poet obviously enjoying drawing attention by being totally outrageous – which as you can guess drove me nuts), and to Bath, the handsome 18th century city once social hub of the nation & residence of Beau Brummel, Beau Nash & all the beaux of that epoch. The countryside of Somerset is very beautiful, the rolling hills green and fledged thick with darker green of trees among which there are small stone cottages. In a thicket down the lane from the cottage of my host (the one with the motorcycle) I heard the singing of a nightingale for the first time. The whole trip was a very interesting extension of my experience of the English countryside & landscape, the West a refreshing change from this place where the fenland is so flat and unbroken.
      But I’m getting to appreciate this landscape too, after much hiking in its fields & meadows & by its slim trickles of streams & docile shallow river. I will I think travel to the North soon, perhaps even before leaving for European travels (France/Spain/North Africa, or so I dream) this summer. I have met a young poet named Tom Pickard (younger than me) who dwells in Newcastle, near the Scottish border. He has invited me to come up & do a short “reading” in a tower on the medieval wall of that city. It’s a chance (or an excuse) to take off from work for a few days & see that part of the country, which I believe I will do, while the weather is good and the days go on so long. I’ve realized it’s crazy to have lived in a country as interesting and various as this one, and, until lately, not really seen it. Especially as the country is also in fact so small – one continuous patchwork quilt of towns & villages & roads with very little open space in the American sense. (But I miss that open space too.)

June 22

Sorry to be late catching up on summer plans but as per my usual I’ve been busy making up (i.e. changing) my mind. But now I’ve settled on a departure date (next week, July 1st), and at least a general sense of my destination. Will travel through France to the Mediterranean by a route taking in a number of churches & towns I want to see (and I can vaguely excuse this indulgence as “work,” since I have E. Pound – his writing – among my guides), cross over Spanish border, travel down the coast from Barcelona and see as much of old Moorish Spain as I can on way to Gibraltar whence, if $$ and energy hold out (I bank on using thumb as travel vehicle, this time), I’ll sail over to Morocco (& perhaps even then make way to points south!). Plan to have at least a week for N. Africa, then come back through Spain again to Madrid, from which city I’ll catch a plane back to London in August. This is anyway the hopeful itinerary. I’m eagerly looking forward to and studying diligently for what I expect to be a marvelous journey. The final piece in the puzzle of how to put it all together was finding a friendly Spaniard here (teaches Spanish) who has not only helped me map my route but agreed to occupy my flat while I’m gone, thus providing absolutely necessary company for beloved & loyal (but touchy about being left alone) cat.

August 23

Back in Cambridge safe & happy to get some rest. Today spent paying a lot of old small bills with a few crisp new pound notes obtained at Barclay’s Bank after cashing small but very welcome check in mail (from London newspaper for article) of about $30. Bought large new sack of food for faithful cat who has not only survived my absence but grown large. Rain practically every day since I returned to England, but after the heat of the African & Spanish deserts I don’t mind.
      My friend Barrell, who’s been living in N. London (Islington) has now bought a house in a fishing & sailing village called Brightlingsea on the Essex coast, about 10 miles by bus from the new university. The house (actually a large cottage) is big enough for himself, his wife & their new baby, and also for me as boarder, it seems. I won’t be able to move in for about 3 weeks – will keep this place until Sept. 15 or so. Meanwhile must figure out how to move all my books & other junk & cat (who is a homebody). My former moral tutor Mr. Prynne has very kindly & surprisingly tendered the tentative offer of a ride in his station wagon, & though I fear how cat will react to this trip, & how Mr. P. will react to cat, I think I am going to take him up on it.

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Jacket 20 — December 2002
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