Interview with John Heath-Stubbs

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Interview with John Heath-Stubbs

from: The Camelot Project  1999

LONDON
8 MAY 1989

   One of the problems with interviewing someone in London is parking. While checking into a hotel, I narrowly escaped having my car wheels clamped. Looking out the window, I spotted a police van moving slowly towards where I had illegally parked, and raced to my rental car only just ahead of it. After finding a more secure spot and recovering my breath, I set out to find John Heath-Stubbs's flat--on foot, of course, lest I lose my precious parking place.
   Heath-Stubbs was the first poet whom I interviewed, and I wondered whether this would mean a different approach to Arthurian legend from that adopted by novelists. The main difference I found, however, was the extent to which he relied upon his remarkable memory in the writing of Artorius (London: Enitharmon, 1973; also in Collected Poems, 1943-1987, Manchester: Carcanet, 1987). This allows him to include a wealth of allusions in his poetry, not only to various traditions within Arthurian legend, but also to material from a wide variety of sources. Since Heath-Stubbs was blind by the time he wrote this poem, or sequence of poems as he suggests it might be considered, his memory was of vital importance in the creative process. Blindness, however, is not a condition that prevents him from engaging in a full and active life: over dinner at a nearby restaurant, he told me that he was travelling by train to Oxford the next day to give a series of classes, and that he was looking forward to a poetry-reading tour later that year. Certainly he seemed to be coping with travel in the London area a lot better than was I.


RT: Artorius displays a wide range of learning, not just about Arthurian legend, but about classical and Anglo-Saxon traditions as well. Is this something you like to do in your poetry?

JH: Well, it is. I try, in a certain sense, to cut down on such references because they tend to put people off, but they come quite naturally to me. I've always been interested in a wide variety of things, and I've a very good memory. When I'm writing poetry, as opposed to a paper or an essay, I almost make it a rule never to look things up, with the idea that the only real knowledge is what you can spontaneously remember, although in exceptional circumstances I might verify a name.

RT: Now, because of the wealth of allusion, may not readers be uncertain about some of the references, like the figure of Zennora at the end of Artorius?

JH: I lived at Zennor in Cornwall for a time. Zennora is the patron saint of that village, and the church is dedicated to her. I first called her Zennora with a Z, but I discovered later on, in time to alter it in the edition of Artorius that appeared in my Collected Poems, that although the village is called Zennor with a Z, the saint is called Sinora with an S. I knew nothing about her, really, when I wrote the poem. I later heard her legend, given on a radio talk, but it wouldn't have helped me. The name Sinora means golden breast, and there was a story that she defended her father from a serpent or dragon by interposing herself. The serpent bit off her breast, and she was provided miraculously with a golden breast. Another legend claimed that, when she was born, her father set her adrift in a barrel because he didn't want a daughter. She drifted to Ireland where someone found the barrel. She later journeyed back through Britain, ending up at Zennor in the extreme northwest of Cornwall before returning to her native Brittany.
   The Zennor is an extraordinarily barren place, treeless, with empty tin mines. I lived there for a time with friends: George Barker, David Wright, and George's nephew John Fairfax. We were very much caught up in the atmosphere of the place. The concluding book of Artorius is where I departed most radically from tradition. The passing of Arthur is done so beautifully by Malory and by Tennyson that I didn't want to challenge them, and so I completely made up my own. It seemed to me that Zennor is the end of the world, and the idea in that section is that everything has fallen to pieces. Time itself is wearing thin.

RT: Do you invent any figures in Artorius?

JH: No, I rarely invent figures. I gave Latin names to some of the traditional figures. I tried to avoid using Welsh names as much as possible, because they're reverberative. They appear in the Zennor section, however, for that very reason. I try often to use alternative names. For instance, Taliesin I always called Gwion, because Taliesin would set up associations with Tennyson, Charles Williams, and others. Gwion, you'll remember, was his previous incarnation.
   An important influence on the poem was the article on Arthur in Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. This maintained, I think with plausibility, that the most authentic tradition was Britanno-Roman, and that the names of most of the principal figures could be derived from Latin forms: Kay, obviously from Caius; Urien from Urbanus or perhaps Urbigena; Arthur, of course, was a Roman name.
   One that I particularly used was Flaccus, who appears in Culhwch and Olwen as Arthur's son Llacheu. I created Flaccus at a late stage. I am, by temperament, conservative, mostly with a small c, and I felt that, in the debate in the Libra book on law and government, I hadn't really given the left wing a proper crack of the whip. Thus in the second edition I added Flaccus, a son of Arthur. Modred is a man who exploits radicalism and revolution, whereas Flaccus I tried to make an honest radical. That's how he came into being.
   The character of Cerdic I took largely from Alfred Duggan's historical novel Conscience of the King which I think is brilliant. It was Collingwood, in Roman Britain, who suggested that the name Cerdic is not Anglo-Saxon, and therefore that he must have been a Celt. He had a brother called Mul which means mule, or half-cast. This is very suggestive. I made Cerdic almost a Marxist.

RT: Have you read Roman Go Home by Adam Fergusson, who equates the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain with the withdrawal of the British from their colonies in this century?

JH: No, but it did strike me that the kind of names that the Hastings author suggests are very much like the kind of names the Anglo-Indians have. Names like Gerontius suggest Roman and patrician descent, and this reminds me of Bhowani Junction, where the girl is called Victoria.
   There was a book published after I'd written Artorius, which suggested that there was tension in this period between Roman Logres and Celtic Wales, and that the reason why Arthur receives such a bad press in the Welsh Lives of the Saints was that Logres stood for Romanization, and Wales for the resurgence of Celtic civilization. I think that's quite a plausible theory, actually.

RT: Well, the two forces were bound to be in conflict, weren't they?

JH: Yes, quite. The Welsh have never really taken to Arthur, and he's not nearly as important to them as he is to the English. Owen Glendower is much more important to the Welsh. I think that John Cowper Powys' Porius gives an awfully plausible picture of the sixth century, with these people of Roman descent living on in their ruined palaces, surrounded by resurgent paganism. I think it must have been very like that.

RT: You obviously read extensively as background for the poem?

JH: I had the idea of writing about Arthur very early on, when I was about eighteen or nineteen. I had read Count Belisarius by Robert Graves, and it aroused my interest in the sixth century. In his preface Graves says that if Arthur had been recorded by a historian like Procopius, instead of by romancers, we would get a picture of a Roman general trying to preserve Roman civilization in southwest Britain, rather like Belisarius. This caught my imagination, and from then on I read systematically what I could find on the history of sixth-century Britain. Two other historical novels that I read were Edward Frankland's The Bear of Britain and Thomas Love Peacock's The Misfortunes of Elphin. I also read Lady Guest's translation of The Mabinogion. I read Geoffrey of Monmouth much earlier on, when I was about fourteen, and it had captured my imagination. At the age of five or six, I went to a little private school in a village. These schools don't exist anymore, but no middle-class boy went to a state school in my day. It was kept by a lady who taught, in her house, about two or three boys and two or three girls, aged five or six. She taught us history from a book called Our Island Story, which started with Brutus the Trojan, then moved on to real history. I think it's quite a good way of teaching, to capture the imagination of children.
   Furthermore, my father's family had Welsh connections, and my father was partly brought up in Wales. Although Stubbs is an English name, they married into Welsh families. On my fourth birthday, which is the first birthday that I remember, we were living in Brittany, and my father was fond of reciting the nursery rhyme:  
When great King Arthur ruled this land,
He was a goodly king.
He stole three pecks of barley meal
To make a bag pudding
A bag pudding the king did make,
And stuffed it full with plums,
And in it put great lumps of fat,
As big as my two thumbs.
The King and Queen did eat thereof,
And serving men beside,
And what they could not eat that night,
The Queen next morning fried.
Sweet puddings were a great thing in our family, and we used to have them fried next day, too. When we were walking in the Breton country, my father said, now this is one of the countries where King Arthur was. That caught my imagination, I remember very clearly. My interest in the legend started very early.

RT: Did you read Malory early on?

JH: No, only the summaries for children. That's why Malory, or indeed Tennyson, didn't influence my imagination as did Geoffrey of Monmouth and The Mabinogion.

RT: Have you always been more interested in the historical than the romance side of the legend?

JH: Yes, although Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott was one of the first poems that I ever heard. It was recited to us by Miss Barnes, the lady who taught us in the village.

RT: In Artorius the references to romance are linked to illusion, aren't they?

JH: Yes, quite. I do like Malory very much, however. Actually, modern writers on the Arthurian legend, and there are a good many in recent years, fall into two groups: the Galfridians and the Maloro-Tennysonians. Among the latter is T. H. White whom I like very much, but I haven't used him at all. In 1960-61 I taught in America, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and my students enjoyed my lectures on the eighteenth century so much that they very kindly decided to give me a presentation. When one of them asked what I would like, I said, The Once and Future King. I took it on holiday that summer to Mexico, but when I reached Mexico City, I found that my luggage had disappeared. I was in a hotel without much luggage or money for a couple of days, sitting on my bed, waiting for a message from the airport, and reading The Once and Future King. I'd lost my razor too, and so I was growing wilder in appearance. I thought, good Lord, I'm turning into a character out of Graham Greene. Of course, White's book fed my nostalgia for home tremendously. It's so English, especially the early part which is the best, I think.

RT: You talk about Ceridwen and the cauldron, which you equate with sovereignty in one section, do you not?

JH: That occurs at the end of the Cancer book. You realize that there's an allusion somewhere in that poem to almost all the principle Arthurian poems in English literature? One of them is Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath's Tale." I'd read an article by Ananda Koomeraswami in Speculum on the story of the Loathsome Lady and the Fearful Kiss, of which Chaucer's tale is a late version, and it pointed out that, whereas in Chaucer the answer to the riddle, "What do women love most?", is sovereignty, in the Irish sources the woman IS Sovereignty. The meaning, which I've accepted, of the fearful kiss and the renewal of the hag's youth, is the ritual sacral marriage of the king to his land, which restores its youthful fertility.
   I identified Ceridwen with the figure of Sovereignty, largely because Robert Graves maintains she is the goddess in The White Goddess. That's an extremely dodgy book, by the way. I reviewed it for The New English Weekly. Actually, T. S. Eliot, whom I met shortly before it appeared, said that he was publishing it and that I should review it. I did, and I sent a copy to Graves because I thought he might be annoyed. I thought it best to take the bull by the horns, to say, I've criticized your book, but I wouldn't have reviewed it if I hadn't thought it interesting and important. He wrote back a very nice letter. In consequence, we became quite good friends although we didn't meet very often.
   I followed Graves in perceiving all the goddesses as one goddess, so to speak. They always are in mythology. She's both Ceridwen and the Morrigan. Although most scholars don't seem to accept the equation of the Morrigan with Morgan le Fay, it seems to me fairly obvious that they're the same person. The Morrigan has an ambiguous relationship with Cuchulainn, rather like Morgan's relationship with Arthur.

RT: So basically, what you've done is to create a figure that fuses a number of different traditions?

JH: Yes. The iconography is there. The horrible appearance of the goddess at the end of that book is taken directly from the statue of Coatlicue in the National Museum in Mexico City. It is a quite extraordinary work of art. The name means "serpent skirt." If you look closely, you see that the statue is a female form, but is also a collage of terrifying images. Two serpents, necks curving up and face to face, form the outline of her head. She has a necklace of severed hands and skulls hanging at her breasts; she has claws like a bird of prey; and she has a skirt of serpents. It's a wonderful piece of art, really, but terrifying. I took that as a symbol of absolute nature, red in tooth and claw, because that's what it is.
   There is this basic pagan goddess, and then there's a further cycle of references that are more peripheral: Venus as ruler of Libra and Taurus is important; and the Marian feasts are referred to because Nennius tells us that Arthur carried the image of Our Lady on his shoulders at the Battle of Fort Guinnion.

RT: Would you say that when you were writing Artorius, you wanted to show the relationship of Arthurian legend to universal myth?

JH: Well, I'd accept the view that there was a common culture from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age. I visited Teotihuacan in Mexico, where there are great pyramids and a temple of Quetzalcoatl with serpent heads. When I took an American friend to Stonehenge, I felt very strongly that, in a certain sense, they were part of the same culture. Avebury, which I visited later, is even more impressive, I think. When I was in Egypt for three years I visited the pyramids there, but I thought them less impressive.
   Another influential book was Gertrude Rachel Levy's The Gate of Horn: A Study of the Religious Concepts of the Stone Age, and Their Influence upon European Thought (London: Faber, 1948), which also suggests continuity of traditions. It examines the descent into the underworld as portrayed in medieval and modern, as well as ancient, literature. She also wrote The Sword from the Rock: An Investigation into the Origins of Epic Literature and the Development of the Hero (London: Faber, 1953), which examines the ritual origins of epic poetry, from Gilgamesh and Homer, right down to modern times. She divides epics into three classes: creation epics, quest epics, and battle epics. She maintains that they arise in that order, though in Greek that order is reversed: The Iliad is a battle epic, The Odyssey a quest epic, and The Theogony a creation epic. Still, it's a useful classification. There are elements of all three in Milton.

RT: Did you organize the structure of the poem from the outset, or did it develop as you proceeded with the writing?

JH: I planned the poem rather carefully. Where I feel that most modern attempts at a long poem have gone wrong is that they tend to turn into novels in verse. To preclude this, I chose an elaborate schema which was cyclical. In this I was influenced by Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Almost arbitrarily, the schema is the twelve signs of the Zodiac, to which the twelve Olympians and the Twelve Labors of Hercules are related.
   I didn't write the poem from the beginning to the end, however, because I had this circular schema in mind. In traditional astrology, four equilateral triangles, which correspond to the four elements, are inscribed in the circle of the Zodiac: Aries is a fiery sign, as are Leo and Sagittarius; Taurus is an earthy sign, with Virgo and Capricorn; air are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius; Cancer is watery, along with Scorpio and Pisces. I didn't actually restrict myself to one specific element in each book. Pisces, however, which is a watery sign, is the one that happens by the sea.
   What I did do, though, was write the books in a sequence that follows this pattern. I started with the Aries book, then moved to the next fiery sign, which is Leo, and so on, so that there wasn't a linear plan. I felt that precluded the danger of the poem turning into a historical novel in verse. What was actually written last was Gemini, the comedy. I deliberately arranged that it would be last, because that was the one I was most frightened of writing. To sit down deliberately to write a comedy might be courting disaster, but it worked all right. It's an Aristophanic comedy.

RT: You wrote them then, not in sequence that they follow in the Zodiac, but in these groupings?

JH: In groupings, according to four equilateral triangles inscribed within the signs. There's a little rhyme which I always teach my students. I learned it as a boy and find it very helpful.
   The Ram, the Bull, the Heavenly Twins,
   And next, the Crab, the Lion shines.
   The Virgin, with the Scales,
   The Scorpion, Archer, and he-goat--or sea-goat--
   The man who carries the Watering Pot,
   And the Fish with glittering tails--or scales, in some versions.
The Taurus book, which is placed second in the poem, does explain exactly how the seven planets relate to the twelve signs, which is not difficult. You have one each for the sun and the moon, and two each for the other five. It also indicates how Manilius apportions the twelve signs to the twelve Olympian deities. Modern astrologers have ruined this pattern by trying to bring in Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. If you do include them my schema will still work, but basically I use the traditional schema.
   I also had in mind medical astrology whereby the twelve signs of the Zodiac are related to different parts of the body: the head is Aries, the shoulders Taurus, the hands Gemini, the spine and back Virgo, the stomach and womb Cancer, the bowels Leo, the kidneys Libra, the genitals Scorpio--that's quite important in my scheme--the thighs Sagittarius, the knees Capricorn, the legs Aquarius, and the feet Pisces. It would be difficult to make this work exactly, but it does work roughly.
   For example, the Cancer book is the descent into the underworld which is the womb. The Leo section, which is the coronation ode, corresponds, in the Labors of Hercules, to the cleansing of the Augean stables, because the king has to cleanse his realm--hence the bowels. Actually, one that I didn't really realize would work, was the link between the kidneys and Libra which is the sign of justice. Then someone told me that the kidneys preserve the chemical balance of the body. I hadn't that in mind, but it works perfectly. The Nine Muses and the Zodiac of the twelve Olympians are all explained in the text. The Twelve Labors of Hercules aren't quite, but the reference is there.
   I don't actually believe in astrology. I do find it extremely interesting, however, and I've been studying it in relation to medieval and Renaissance poetry. I have a paper coming out on the astrological structure of Spenser's "The Shepheardes Calendar." [Since published in Clio and Urania Confer, ed. Annabella Kitson, 1989.]

RT: Another interesting aspect of your poem is the satire on learning, isn't it?

JH: Oh, yes. There are many contemporary references. The poem was written in the late sixties when there was much talk of revolution. This disturbed me considerably. It wasn't a very easy time to be middle-aged, in the sixties. The young seemed to be completely alienated from their elders.

RT: Why did you decide to bring such contemporary references into a poem about King Arthur?

JH: Well, why not? Spenser does, and Spenser is one of the poets I used as a model. So does Tennyson in a way. He certainly finds a moral for his own time, and he hints at a link between King Arthur and Prince Albert. Any attempt at a long poem, if it's not going to be dead, really must have contemporary significance. One of the books I read, out of curiosity, was Sir Richard Blackmore's Prince Arthur. It's not as bad as people say, actually, if you like Augustan verse, and it's quite interesting. King Arthur is William III who is invading England from the continent in order to get rid of a pagan usurper (James II).

RT: When you were writing the poem, did you consider that certain parts of the legend were important to include?

JH: Well, not consciously, but I suppose certain parts were important for me. In The Island of the Mighty John Arden makes Palug's Cat a clan totem. That was a good idea which I wish I'd thought of. I brought in all the main elements of the legend, but I played down those most strongly associated with Victorian, Tennysonian, and Pre-Raphaelite sentimentality. I omitted the story of Guinevere and Lancelot, reducing it to the seizure of Guanhumara [Guinevere] by Modred, which is what you find in the earlier sources. I also played down the Holy Grail, not wishing to take on the challenge that it presents. Tennyson, I think, treats it rather badly, whereas Robert Stephen Hawker and Charles Williams treat it very well. I didn't want to be compared with them, and so I reduced the Holy Grail to no more than a kind of luck cup.

RT: Speaking of Modred and Guinevere, you do have Modred fetching the bride, a task traditionally assigned to Lancelot, don't you?

JH: Yes, I did, and I had also, I suppose, Dante's Paolo and Francesca in mind a little bit. The model for that book of the poem is Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh, which places a number of oriental stories, told in verse, within a prose frame. The frame relates the journey of a Persian princess, Lalla Rookh, who is being sent to India to marry the Prince of Cashmere. She's attended on her journey by a young poet and by the chief eunuch. The young poet entertains her on the way by telling stories which are criticized by the chief eunuch in the style of Jeffrey, The Edinburgh Review critic. Actually, the frame is much better than the stories. As you might expect, she falls in love with the young poet, who turns out to be no other than the Prince of Cashmere. This allows for a happy ending. In my poem the form of each book is dictated by the presiding Muse. The presiding Muse for the Virgo book is Erato, and so the form is a prose romance with verses---of which Lalla Rookh is a good example.

RT: When you were creating the poem, did you encounter any difficulty choosing between different versions of the Arthurian tradition?

JH: No, I don't think so. The choice came quite naturally, and I would alter the story if I wanted to. From a feminist perspective, I now feel a bit guilty about my treatment of Guinevere. She is imprisoned in the Tower of London by Modred, then rescued, because I was conflating Modred's abduction with that by Meleagant. In Malory she isn't a passive figure at all. She retreats to the Tower of London, fortifies it, then withstands a siege by Modred. I think if I were writing it now, I would probably have her do that. Some aspects of the feminist movement irritate me, but they might have a point.
   Somebody suggested that the rather positive part played in Geoffrey of Monmouth by women like Cordelia, for example, are compliments to the Empress Matilda, because Geoffrey's patron was Robert of Gloucester, her main supporter.

RT: Could I ask you about the process of writing?

JH: Well, I had gone blind by the time that I wrote Artorius. I had it planned out, and I actually had made a false start upon part of the first section in a kind of blank verse. Then a friend's wife, who had time free in the evenings, offered to type for me. I eventually gave the typescript with the corrections to the Pen Club, which was asking for manuscripts to sell in aid of a fund for imprisoned and persecuted writers. It is now in the Brotherton Library at Leeds University, I have discovered.

RT: Did you work on other projects at the same time?

JH: No, not really. I did incorporate into the poem two lyrics that I'd written earlier and published separately. One is "The Song of the Birds," sung by Modred to Guanhumara--not the song of the Stymphalian birds at the end of the same book. I'd actually included another stanza, originally, about the collared dove, but then I realized that this bird had become a resident of Britain only recently: it invaded in the fifties. I had to cut it out because there obviously weren't any collared doves around in the sixth century. The other lyric was in the tragic or Aquarius section, presided over by the Muse Melpomene. It is the song of the chorus about the birth of Venus and the castration of Uranus, which I'd written originally as an independent poem and published in the magazine Agenda.

RT: You have revised Artorius?

JH: Yes, there are three editions, the third of which appears in my Collected Poems. Flaccus was invented for the second edition, but otherwise the changes are confined to small corrections, like spelling the name of Sinora right.

RT: Did you ever feel tempted to add to the poem?

JH: Yes. I've sometimes thought of writing the whole story over again from the point of view of Modred, perhaps in prose. I profited so much from the present organizational schema that I wondered about finding another one, but that wasn't easy.

RT: Since the long poem is not a popular literary form in the twentieth century, why did you choose it for Artorius?

JH: It's true that the long poem is not a popular form, and those who try it are usually shipwrecked on the fact that they write a novel in verse. Many do essay it, nevertheless, particularly in America. Somebody observed that there have been more poems with epic pretensions written in America in the present century than almost anywhere, because it appears we're still searching for the American myth.
   As for Artorius, while it is a long poem, it is also, in a certain sense, a sequence, and the sequence is the characteristic twentieth-century poetic form as at least one critic has pointed out. My poem is comparable in organization to T. S. Eliot's Waste Land, for example. I do dispense with a great deal of narrative link. Forerunners in the nineteenth century include Tennyson's Maud, Thomson's The City of Dreadful Night, and Meredith's Modern Love.
   Charles Williams' Arthurian sequence is about as long as mine, taken as a whole. C. S. Lewis rearranged it into a chronological order of events in his Arthurian Torso. I'm not sure whether that was quite the right thing to do because it's not narrative verse, but it makes as much a long Arthurian sequence as mine does, really. Mind you, that is not a popular poem, either.
   For Artorius I had a particular schema in my mind's eye all the time that I was writing, and I realized, about half way through, that it was a mandala, to use Jung's term. This in itself, perhaps, helped to release things. I even began to suspect--this may sound fanciful--that some latent, extrasensory powers were being released. The point when I realized this, and where the cyclical structure is at its most powerful, is in the Capricorn book which expressed some of my anxieties about the revolutionary talk of this time. It corresponds to Christmas, and somehow the images of Christ crucified in the Zodiac and crucified in the centre of history both came out, I think almost without my willing it. It had been an image I had used in my very first longish poem--my first published poem, in fact--Wounded Thammuz, which I wrote when I was at Oxford.

RT: There were times, then, when you felt that the material was welling up from within?

JH: Yes. When I came to the typist in the evening, perhaps two or three times a week, I often had quite a large number of lines already prepared in my mind, just like Milton, perhaps a hundred or so at a time.

RT: You had them clearly in your mind and then recited them, did you?

JH: Yes. The last part that I wrote, which was the comedy, came extraordinarily spontaneously once I was ready, and it turned out to be fun. It's a very unfair attack on F. R. Leavis, but one has a right of retaliation, Dryden says. If you look at his review of George Every's Poetry and Personal Responsibility, and I quote that review there, you will see that I have a right of retaliation.

RT: When did you go blind?

JH: Well, it was a long process. My eyesight was always very bad. It was detected at the age of three, and I had to wear glasses. It got very much worse when I was about nineteen, and I had to have an operation because I lost the sight of one eye. I went to a school for the blind before going up to Oxford, but I've never used the braille that I learned there. I had tunnel vision, but it didn't really inhibit me much. I never had any difficulty in reading and writing until 1960. I went to America, to Ann Arbor, for a year, and I first began to notice difficulties in reading when I got a book to read on the plane coming back in 1961. After I returned, I went one day to the London Library to look up a reference in a periodical, and I suddenly found that the print was fading in front of my eyes. For about a year after that, it was a very black tunnel I passed through, struggling to cope. By the end of that year, I couldn't read at all, but people read to me. In 1978 my other eye became infected, and I lost all remaining sight. In a way, after that it was much easier because I no longer had to fight. Also I'm very lucky in having people come and read to me. I get books on tape, and I work on a tape recorder now.

RT: Do you think that any of that darkness that you talked about came through in the poem?

JH: No, I don't believe so. Most of the time, I'm hardly aware of the blindness. The imagination creates the outer world, you see. When I go to plays and operas, somebody's only got to indicate what the stage set is like, and I recreate it. Indeed, it's sometimes quite difficult for me to remember that I haven't actually seen it.

RT: I certainly read the poem without any awareness that you were blind.

JH: People tend to exaggerate the effects of blindness. There's a kind of very primitive fear of it. It's the punishment of Oedipus. Blind people don't spend all their time wishing they could see, however; they've got more important things to do.

RT: Thank you.