The Ancient Modern
Periodical / Joshua Alan Sturgill
I’ve searched volumes and volumes of verse, of history, of biography, but cannot find again the story about Seferis and Hopkins meeting and arguing and drinking on a Parisian street. July, high summer, the night air humid and close. With great gesticulations, Seferis denounces the filioque and Hopkins, composed, almost timid in comparison, responds with particular reference to St. Thomas Aquinas.
“Aquinas had no understanding of Greek,” Seferis returns, “its precision and its poetry!” But then he suddenly laughs. He offers to buy Hopkins a glass of wine — he remembers Hopkins’ birthday — and he wants to hear Hopkins’ view of the place of literature in the modern world.
There was much more. A local man saw the exchange from his balcony. He wrote it down and it was later published in a literary journal popular at the time. But I can’t recall the title or volume number. Yesterday, I was here in the periodical aisle; I picked up the wrong journal by mistake (I was looking for something quite different) and opened to the anecdote of Seferis and Hopkins.
I enjoyed the story, but kept browsing the other books. I woke in the night with the story in my mind, thinking I needed to reread it. Somehow it struck me of a sudden as very important, and I left home early to be waiting at the door when the library opened.
But it’s gone. I mean, it must be here but I can’t find it. I’ve read many, many beautiful and interesting articles all day. And I have only one clue: I remember a year — 1895. The year of publication? Could be. It was an old journal. Or the year the encounter took place? I’ve searched. I can’t find it. I can’t even decide why it’s so important to me.
It’s grown in my mind; it’s become a symbol of something I won’t understand until I find it again, because I feel that I’ve forgotten some small, important detail. And the meaning, the importance, is there.
They passed by chance
going opposite ways along the same street
in a city far from their homes