Bits & pieces served with Coffey
The University of Delaware has Coffey’s correspondence. Alas, any letters from me to him aren’t extant and I don’t have anything I ever wrote to him. However, I kept what he wrote to me and his letters really bespeak of the man’s brilliance and his humanity. We exchanged a number of letters mostly dealing with French literature and, specifically, with the Symbolists. But one letter in particular moved me more than any of the others. It was a transitional time for me when I was at the confluence of deciding what exactly to do with my life (to write OR to teach) and I expressed that anxiety to him. On 14:viii:78 and again on 21:x:78, he wrote me letters, excerpts of which had a major effect on me:
Thank you for your letter. Don’t try to separate human activities into real and non-real ones. Whatever men or women do is real in so far as being what they do. So earning one’s living in a university as lecturer is a real activity which may also be a means to a further end. One is just earning one’s keep by lecturing, which one can do badly, or well or if one attends to the opportunity very well. It is when a person attempts to pull rank or to see themselves not as other men/mss and to expect to be taken as speaking with authority that an element of unreality (=lies) appears.”
And following: “Don’t forget that Dante was both poet and scholar, and that scholarship, scientific study, poetry and statesmanship proceed from the personal centre of a human being, the intelligence preceding the specifications. The only problems that arise are those one makes for oneself and those one sets up barriers and obstacles to the doing and to the making. The imperative of choice disarms, no doubt, but it is choose or die on any plane and slipping into working and then choosing to go on is a good path. The Muses also are a reality.” Hadn’t ever thought of myself in the company of Dante whether in this hell or any other hell, but the point was well taken.
Years lapsed. I returned to the United States, finished my doctorate and took a position at Chapman College in 1990. I wrote to Coffey extending an invitation to come to Chapman which he politely declined. The letter, written on 26:ix:90, only a few months after Beckett’s death, included a poem he wrote titled, “One Way” from the collection Third Person.
“Giving what he has not given
he sees what he has not seen
Taken what he has not taken
he hears what he has not heard
No worst fear
no best fight
to work himself out”
At the bottom of the page he wrote, “poem, written in 1937, with S.B. in mind, is a kind of pre-view of the man to come. He was a faithful friend. From our first meeting, in 1935, to the end. R.I.P.”
Alas, I never met Coffey. It was one of those encounters that never happened and that one regrets not happening and when he died I felt that I had missed yet another moment in time that could never be regained. All I had to remember were the phone conversations and the voice from his letters, which I return to frequently as a measure of his insight, his intellect and the gentle measure of his hand.
- An open letter in strong defence of capitalism.
- Sarah Palin is saving Christmas
- Racist incidents in Ireland up by 85 percent...
- Gay teacher fired from Catholic school after...
- Irish drugs mule to escape full trial and...
- Virginia governor slammed by doctor over...
- Nelson Mandela was against IRA decommissioning.
- Top Christmas Irish ads that will be bring...
- Irish radio presenter suspended after anti-Isra
- Hollywood star Gabriel Byrne brands new Pope...