Thursday 28 September 2023

Bedside Books

Hope Mirrlees, ‘Bedside Books’ in Collected Poems (Manchester: Fyfield Books, 2011; 1928), pp. 102-10 (p. 102):

 Above all, they must not be dull, Dullness (pace Pope) is not a soporific. If it were, it would have its uses, and serious modern novels might live as lullabies. But dullness per se has never yet put anyone to sleep, and when we nod in church, the poppies tangled in garnered piety are the cause and not the parson’s homily, and if Jeremy Taylor himself were preaching on Christmas Day, and his text was Nevertheless the Dimness, we should not be a wink less drowsy. Even a detective story is more soothing than a dull book. Suave mari – a detective story may sometimes be read in bed. To extract the last drop of sweetness from this delightful hour, we must be conscious of our bed as well as of our book, and a detective story emphasises the conceit that our bed is a hare’s form, a warm secret refuge from hunters and hounds – while outside our sanctuary there is terror and flight and the surging enemy, mute and terrible.
         Suave, mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis,
         E terra magnum spectare laborem.