30 May 2009


Robert Stephen Briffault (1876-1948), British anthropologist and novelist, was born in London and educated privately in Florence, Italy. He later studied medicine at the University of London. After World War I, Briffault began to establish his reputation as an anthropologist. His most notable anthropological work is The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions (1927), a controversial attempt to prove that all simply structured cultures are basically matriarchal. Briffault's other anthropological writings include The Making of Humanity (1919; revised, Rational Evolution, 1930) and Sin and Sex (1931).
Robert Briffault is also the author of The Decline and Fall of the British Empire; Breakdown: The Collapse of Traditional Civilization; Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions; Europa: The Days of Ignorance (novel); Europa in Limbo (novel); Marriage Past and Present; and Troubadors.

THE BIOGRAPHY OF ROBERT BRIFFAULT is an iambic dramatic radio play by the current editor of Ulysses' Friezes.
An excerpt:

They had not known death had undone so many.
A marling hook, a rusted spike held pike aloft,
brandished threats for skyward nothing for no men.
How ached the hollow stares cast over flandrin champs,
rods of faces, leagues of worms and rats clutching talis amulets sweat-close,
papers in the muddy brook,
and a word ist spake,
fogged backwards and downwards folded curled,
and lost with skin, lost with eyes, lost with blood will tell,
blood to sing and chant and wail,
how ached the fevers and the dreams,
as Martin called out a hail of supplication,
and knew not dawn from blackest nighttime clots of clay
leavened with the stab’s pour, the rich red draught of breath and breathing,
ye na hafter, childe, there is work to do.

Broken souls in the wrappings screamed,
bloods rushed to lakes, made a mixture rich and gristled,
streaked with bile and renal paste,
then baked by lightning rain and storm,
some afterthought of Judas born,
a modern spirit swells and mashes down the dream of picnics,
cruelly stacks the boys like logs,
swaddled in briny kerosene,
left to brighten and enrich the soil of Ypres,
a long-forgotten stagecraft of primal hells and ever-unpaid debts.

This accident of narcissistic, futile fancy
writ cross flatlands reaching towards the sea,
desert, jungle, woodland, steppe and Transvaal, forest, scapeful cities of the plain;
had not thought but to look up and see the arrows seeking flesh,
had not thought to lay Willie on the charted tables,
or swill his blood from glass bowls.
Threw they spears and hammers, bolts and axes,
swords and daggers, mace and cannon,
lance and pike; pikestaffs, spears, arrows:
throats burst like fountains:
this was the sport of eastern frontmen and western frontmen;
who had milked cows,
and carpentered bridges,
and bartered grapes,
and who had simply minèd other ores.

Rosebushes planted like cemetery crosses in a chosen grove or hillside pierced the ground;
stay fast the dug-men, hold close the walls,
step twelve inches fling the dagger,
keep your own, sump of Manchester, cess of London.
Ripped to pieces by artillery,
shredded like the lamb; mown from grass to chest,
pierced by bullets, sprayed to arching mist gristle red and stringy,
by mortar called home directly true and callous,
in dawnlight Jack and John,
a pink rainbow for your thousand dreams.

Three years here, four seasons thrice.
Only minor improvements in military science improved the campaigning.
British tanks crushed hundreds of German installations,
and provided important cover for French and ANZAC, Brit advances.
Strategic Command ruled these enhancements only marginally effective,
and consequently, efforts were returned in full to the tactic of the gruesome trench stalemate
that had gained nothing and nothing and nothing.

Fetishes and talismen, amulets, and photographs
were assembled in bags for sure return or were lost to grave’s mud,
or the conflagration of ignition.
Casualties displayed themselves as outrageous spectacle:
faces burned off, feet and hands,
all the mash of abandon and pity;
mad slashes through the trunk, scooping gouges scattered cuts.
He had waited every minute for the moment,
and when the moment came, he was unaware of time passing
or the edgèd danger askulk.
Some slime had fastened onto his thigh, and his boot was drying cold within,
Rob is asking for...he didn’t hear couldn’t make it out.
Without surcease, ever standing hard by the holes, palm on the wall unwakened,
ever starved for the claiming attestation,
the clamoring for testimony,
fine e’en a word of grace,
the true grains fired and panned for fest,
visioning a danse chere cheer a danse of murrayed grem,
bestirs a fashion of Solent bread,
the lessening shore and the dimming sun betrothed.

Riven souls in the bandages cried,
torrents of mud slurry and bloods coursed as they would,
forgiven their flooding of the deltas,
merged as by an alchemist’s false formule.
Bereft new oversouls dark in the buttered wounds wept,
unmercied ‘pon the scarrèd lands of Flanders rent and fired with scabrous tears,
and men were dried only in the rains’ feeble counterpane itself.

No comments: