Lee and Gerald Durrell
Although it is Lawrence, and not Gerald Durrell who is known for his poetry, Gerald also had a talent for verse.
On Corfu, one of his tutors, Pat Evans (a friend of Lawrence’s) taught the young Gerald literature and the boy wrote several poems that show some talent. At the tender age of eleven, Gerald wrote a poem, ‘Death’, which Lawrence included in a letter to Henry Miller:
On a mound a boy lay
While a stream went tinkling by.
Mauve irises stood round him as if to
Shield him from the eye of death
Though as an adult Gerald never wrote poetry and said that his many books were written only for money, his writing talents still shone through and one of the most beautiful pieces he wrote was perhaps a love letter to Lee McGeorge, who would become his second wife. In a 1992 interview, Gerald described in rather prosaic terms how, in 1977, he met McGeorge, then a PhD student at Duke University.
I’d been married before and was on the point of getting divorced. I kept my ex-wife waiting a couple of years because I refused to be divorced on grounds of cruelty. If I’d known I was going to meet Lee I would have hurried the whole procedure through much more quickly.
I was very disappointed with my first marriage. I’m not pointing fingers at anybody. But we were married for 25 years, which is a long time.
After my wife left me, I thought: ‘Well, OK. Now let’s play the field. To hell with it. I don’t want anything more to do with women except in bed.’ I suppose it was rather an arrogant attitude to adopt. But it was the result of being hurt. But then, of course, I met this creature, and made the fatal mistake of falling in love with her.
Here’s the text of Gerald’s beautiful and moving letter – it was published in Douglas Botting‘s official biography of Durrell. It’s long, but it’s worth reading:
I have seen a thousand sunsets and sunrises, on land where it floods forest and mountains with honey coloured light, at sea where it rises and sets like a blood orange in a multicoloured nest of cloud, slipping in and out of the vast ocean. I have seen a thousand moons: harvest moons like gold coins, winter moons as white as ice chips, new moons like baby swans’ feathers.
I have seen seas as smooth as if painted, coloured like shot silk or blue as a kingfisher or transparent as glass or black and crumpled with foam, moving ponderously and murderously.
I have felt winds straight from the South Pole, bleak and wailing like a lost child; winds as tender and warm as a lover’s breath; winds that carried the astringent smell of salt and the death of seaweeds; winds that carried the moist rich smell of a forest floor, the smell of a million flowers. Fierce winds that churned and moved the sea like yeast, or winds that made the waters lap at the shore like a kitten.
I have known silence: the cold, earthy silence at the bottom of a newly dug well; the implacable stony silence of a deep cave; the hot, drugged midday silence when everything is hypnotized and stilled into silence by the eye of the sun; the silence when great music ends.
I have heard summer cicadas cry so that the sound seems stitched into your bones. I have heard tree frogs in an orchestration as complicated as Bach singing in a forest lit by a million emerald fireflies. I have heard the Keas calling over grey glaciers that groaned to themselves like old people as they inched their way to the sea. I have heard the hoarse street vendor cries of the mating Fur seals as they sang to their sleek golden wives, the crisp staccato admonishment of the Rattlesnake, the cobweb squeak of the Bat and the belling roar of the Red deer knee-deep in purple heather. I have heard Wolves baying at a winter’s moon, Red Howlers making the forest vibrate with their roaring cries. I have heard the squeak, purr and grunt of a hundred multi-coloured reef fishes.
I have seen hummingbirds flashing like opals round a tree of scarlet blooms, humming like a top. I have seen flying fish, skittering like quicksilver across the blue waves, drawing silver lines on the surface with their tails. I have seen Spoonbills flying home to roost like a scarlet banner across the sky. I have seen Whales, black as tar, cushioned on a cornflower blue sea, creating a Versailles of fountain with their breath. I have watched butterflies emerge and sit, trembling, while the sun irons their wings smooth. I have watched Tigers, like flames, mating in the long grass. I have been dive-bombed by an angry Raven, black and glossy as the Devil’s hoof. I have lain in water warm as milk, soft as silk, while around me played a host of Dolphins. I have met a thousand animals and seen a thousand wonderful things… but –
All this I did without you. This was my loss.
All this I want to do with you. This will be my gain.
All this I would gladly have forgone for the sake of one minute of your company, for your laugh, your voice, your eyes, hair, lips, body, and above all for your sweet, ever surprising mind which is an enchanting quarry in which it is my privilege to delve.