From "Flora and Old Pan" to Human Agonies
---Faulkner's Early Literary Career---


                         First the realm I'll pass
Of Flora, and old Pan: sleep in the grass,
Feed upon apples red, and strawberries,
And choose each pleasure that my fancy sees.
And can I ever bid these joys farewell?
Yes, I must pass them for a nobler life,
Where I may find the agonies, the strife
Of human hearts...(John Keats, "Sleep and Poetry," 53-4)

    Though he called himself a failed poet in his later years, Faulkner never gave up poetry and "L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune" published for the first time in The New Republic (Aug. 1919) earmarks a salient prelude to his succeeding literary work. The poem apparently delineates a faun's pursuit of a nymph after Mallarme's "L'Apres-Midi D'un Faune" and "A Faun's Holiday" by Robert Nichols. However, it does not follow the pastoral consummation of the faun and nymphs playing by the river, or the faun who is finally left alone as "poor half-god and half-beast" in his holiday wanderings in the forest. Faulkner's faun is trying to find his own identity as an artist as well as a lover.
    The poem in iambic tetrameters is rhymed with surprisingly accurate 'abab' patterns and contains some skillful instances of alliteration, assonance and consonance. The faun follows, with these rhythmic cadences, the erotic nymph who "whirls and dances through the trees" (EPP, 39) and soon they wander hand in hand in the forest. There is, however, no love fulfillment between them. There appears, instead, a sudden cleavage in the rhythmic cadence between the former 24 lines and the latter 16 lines. The melancholic faun says in the first line of the latter part, "I have a nameless wish to go/To some far silent midnight noon." (39) 1 Furthermore, Faulkner differentiates the last five lines markedly from the rest and the faun hears some great sound which is the earth's great heart broken:

Then suddenly on all of these,
A sound like some great deep bell stroke
Falls, and they dance, unclad and cold---
It was the earth's great heart that broke
For springs before the world grew old. (40)

    It is to be noted that these last five lines are Faulkner's modification of Robert Nichols' lines in "A Faun's Holiday": "It is his [Pan's] sudden heart that breaks/For springs before the world grew old." ("A Faun's Holiday," 119)2 Faulkner changed "Pan's heart" into "the earth's great heart" and the past tense into the present as well. The change from Pan to the earth tells a great deal about what Faulkner was going to eventually explore in his literary works. What Faulkner tried to express in the poem must have been the faun's melancholic bemoaning of the disappearing Arcadia, which is repeated in The Marble Faun written at around the same time. In the long poem, the motionless faun grieves over the declining Arcadia together with Pan3 who reigns in the forest. The earth's great broken heart resounding in the faun's ears seems to be heralding Faulkner's sense of doom which he was going to grapple with.
     Faulkner presented, in his other early works as well, a clear contrast between the old declining world and Arcadia where fauns and nymphs used to romp about. For example, in The Marionettes (1920) the First Figure bemoans, "But all things must grow old, we grow old alone; the earth is already old, the earth is like an aged woman gathering fagots in a barren field." (The Marionettes, 38) Death of winter is coming in the garden. Also in the garden of The Marble Faun the ancient serpent is free to come and go, and the faun is in deep grief in front of the Great Pan's bemoaning of the disappearing Arcadia. Soldiers' Pay which bequeaths these poetic heritages presents a clear contrast between the world growing old and a new one. In the rector's garden full of beautiful flowers, we find Januarius Jones whose "face was a round mirror before which fauns and nymphs might have wontoned when the world was young." (SP, 58) His "eyes were clear and yellow, obscene and old in sin as a goat's." (67) On the other hand, Donald Mahon has "a cheap paper-covered 'The Shropshire Lad.'" (68) Once he was "thin faced, with the serenity of a wild thing, the passionate serene alertness of a faun" (82-3) but he got wounded in the War and his face is now "young, yet old as the world, beneath the dreadful scar." (29) Jones takes a copy of "Paradise Lost" from the rector's bookcase.
     Faulkner's clear contrast between a young world and an old one tells us why he was first enamored of Swinburne and the fin de siecle, and then of A. E. Housman and John Keats. After a brief involvement in the modernistic movements in the 1910s and 20s, Faulkner returned to Keats who was one of his most influential poets as he created his literary works like "L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune," The Marble Faun and many other significant pieces. It is, then, worthwhile to explore Faulkner's early literary career under the influence of Keats.

     Keats was at first a romantic poet who attracted Faulkner in a general way as he mentioned in his essay "Verse Old and Nascent: A Pilgrimage": "True, I dipped into Shelley and Keats---who doesn't, at that age?---but they did not move me." (EPP, 114) After the frantic wandering in the modernistic literary movements, however, he rediscovered the beauty of Keats. "I read," he continues, '''Thou still unravished bride of quietness' and found a still water withal strong and potent, quiet with its own strength, and satisfying as bread." (117) And when Faulkner says that "young John Keats wrote 'Endymion' trying to gain enough silver to marry Fannie Brawne and set up an apothecary's shop," (118) he must have had his lost Estelle in mind, but he meant more than that. He would pursue, as his predecessor did, a nobler life and art, and his determined question concludes his essay: "Is not there among us someone who can write something beautiful and passionate and sad instead of saddening?" (118) This was, in a sense, Faulkner's manifesto as an artist who was going to embark on a new literary career.
     It is true then that Faulkner found "the spiritual beauty, entrails and masculinity" in Keats' "odes to a nightingale or to a Grecian urn," but it is also worth remembering that he found some enlightenment in Keats' earlier poem "Sleep and Poetry." In particular, Faulkner's short piece "Carcassonne" seems to have been written with this poem in mind.
     Keats starts his iambic pentameter lines of "Sleep and Poetry" with an Arcadian scene where pastoral atmosphere dominates. But soon the poet comes to the realization that "life is but a day" and wishes that "O for ten years, that I may overwhelm/Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed/That my own soul has to itself decreed." ("Sleep and Poetry," 53) To do the deed decreed, he thinks first that he will pass the realm "Of Flora and old Pan: sleep in the grass,/Feed upon apples red, and strawberries,/And choose each pleasure that my fancy sees." (53) And then after he asks himself, "And can I ever bid these joys farewell?," he is finally determined that "Yes, I must pass them for a nobler life,/Where I may find the agonies, the strife/Of human hearts...(54)
    Faulkner must have wanted to do just what Keats tried to do and it was, as Faulkner said, after reading Housman that he came to be able to seek Keats in a more creative light. From the time when he discovered Housman,

the road is obvious, Shakespeare I read, and Spenser, and the Elizabethans, and Shelley and Keats. I read "Thou still unravished bride of quietness" and found a still water withal strong and potent, quiet with its own strength, and satisfying as bread. That beautiful awareness, so sure of its own power that it is not necessary to create the illusion of force by frenzy and motion. (EPP, 117)

The road was "for a nobler life" where Keats tried to find "the agonies, the strife of human hearts" which are indeed the very "human heart in conflict with itself" that Faulkner strove for throughout his literary career.

     In "Sleep and Poetry," Keats criticized the conventional 18th century poetry for its lack of imagination and it was in "Carcassonne" that Faulkner challenged the similar agonies for higher imagination. The story was probably written not long after the essay in 1924 when Faulkner says he found the two poets, Housman and Keats. Faulkner seems to have derived much of his poesy in the story from their artistry and philosophy. The old man in "Carcassonne" is identical with the "farn," Wilfred Midgleston, in "Black Music" who destroyed Mrs. Van Dyming's unique design of building a big community house. She had planned to build the community house, showing other rich Park Avenue folks "how here would be the community house built to look like the Coliseum and the community garage yonder made to look like it was a Acropolis." (CS, 807) For one day in his life Wilfred became a "farn" chosen "to do something beyond the lot and plan for mortal human man." (809) He disappears after he has destroyed the millionaire's phony art design.
     The "farn" in "Black Music" is now the old man in "Carcassonne" who sleeps now "in that attic over that cantina yonder" in Rincon south-east of Havana and whose "bed is a roll of tarred roofing paper." (896) He lives in the garret owned by Mrs. Widdrington, the Standard Oil Company's wife, who thinks that "if you were white and did not work, you were either a tramp or a poet." (897) He is a poet resisting his own skeleton who tries to convince him that "the end of life is lying still. You haven't learned that yet." (899) The old man himself is enamored of the "bones knocking together to the spent motion of falling tides in the caverns and the grottoes of the sea," (897) but he sees across the twin transparencies of the glassy floor,

the galloping horse filled his mind again with soundless thunder. He could see the saddlegirth and the soles of the rider's stirruped feet, and he thought of that Norman steed... maddened with heat and thirst and hopeless horizons filled with shimmering nothingness, thundering along in two halves and not knowing it, fused still in the rhythm of accrued momentum." (898)

When Faulkner referred to the galloping horse, the Norman steed or the buckskin pony galloping and thundering, it is most probable that he had in mind Keats' steeds in "Sleep and Poetry": "I see afar,/O'er-sailing the blue cragginess, a car/And steeds with streamy manes--the charioteer/Looks out upon the winds with glorious fear." ("Sleep and Poetry," 54)

Faulkner also likely took advantage of Keats' Imagination which can fly freely.

Is there so small a range
In the present strength of manhood, that the high
Imagination cannot freely fly
As she was wont of old? prepare her steeds,
Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds
Upon the clouds? Has she not shewn us all?
From the clear space of ether, to the small
Breath of new buds unfolding?" (55)

     Faulkner's old man also rides on "a buckskin pony with eyes like blue electricity and a mane like tangled fire, galloping up the hill and right off into the high heaven of the world." (CS, 895) And Faulkner's "[s]teed and rider thunder on, thunder punily diminishing: a dying star upon the immensity of darkness and of silence within which, steadfast, fading, deepbreasted and grave of flank, muses the dark and tragic figure of the Earth, his mother." (900) Now the steeds of both Keats and Faulkner go up for a nobler life on the wings of Imagination beyond the small range and skeleton.
     It is also probable that Faulkner created the old man resisting the skeleton by appropriating the man in Housman's "The Immortal Part" in The Shropshire Lad. The immortal part in "me" warns that the flesh and soul will die soon and that the bones alone will remain. He tries to persuade "me" back into the comfortable state of lying still. But the man of flesh and soul decides that "Therefore they shall do my will/To-day while I am master still,/And flesh and soul, now both are strong,/Shall hale the sullen slaves along." The great affinity both between the old man in "Carcassonne" and "me" in "The Immortal Part" and between Keats' "Sleep and Poetry" and Faulkner's "Carcassonne" proves that Faulkner rediscovered, as he said in his 1924 essay, the spiritual beauty in Keats after his reading of The Shropshire Lad and shows that Housman and Keats are the two great poets who have exerted tremendous influence on Faulkner's early literary career.
     What the old man thinks about in "Carcassonne" is exactly what Faulkner questioned in the essay:

Can one still hope? Or is this age, this decade, impossible for the creation of poetry? Is there nowhere among us a Keats in embryo, someone who will tune his lute to the beauty of the world? .... Is not there among us someone who can write something beautiful and passionate and sad instead of saddening? (EPP, 118)

The old man who said that "I want to perform something bold and tragical and austere" would be soon followed by the sculptor Gordon in the succeeding novel Mosquitoes. Gordon, who sculptures his artistic passion into "the headless, armless, legless torso of a girl, motionless and virginal and passionately eternal" (Mos, 280), hears "The centaurs' hooves clash, storming; shrill voices ride the storm like gusty birds, wild and passionate and sad." (279) We find here the portrait of a young artist as well as the "faun" in both "Black Music" and "Carcassonne." And Dawson Fairchild finds "a thing wild and passionate, remote and sad" (278) and "that Passion Week of the heart, that instant of timeless beatitude." (280) No one would deny that Gordon is a direct descendant from the old man who rode on a buckskin pony in his imagination for nobler life and agonies. Faulkner's passionate desire for art shown in these people is also apparent in his statement that "I myself am inclined to think it was because of the bareness of the Southerner's life, that he had to resort to his own imagination, to create his own Carcassonne." (FU, 136) Faulkner was a Southerner who had been always conscious of the North, and he was a young artist who said, "I was still writing about a young man in conflict with his environment.... To use fantasy was the best, and that's a piece that I've always liked because there was the poet again. I wanted to be a poet, and I think of myself...a failed poet who had to take up what he could do." (FU, 22)

     The failed poet began to create, soon after these portraits of "young" artists, his own Carcassonne focusing on his environment. It was after the completion of the artist Gordon in the second novel that Faulkner began to write, with all his might, Flags in the Dust and The Sound and the Fury. We can read his struggle to write the two novels from their Introductions. The Introduction to Flags in the Dust is incomplete and undated, but we can see his underlying motive and intention behind it. The Introduction to The Sound and the Fury written in the summer of 1933 delineates Faulkner's sharp sense of creation with an acute consciousness of the South in mind.
     Faulkner starts "The Introduction to Flags in the Dust" with his initiative motive:

One day about 2 years ago I was speculating idly upon time and death when the thought occurred to me that doubtless [with years] as my flesh acquiesced more and more to the standardized compulsions of breath, there would come a day on which the palate of my soul would no longer reach to the simple bread-and-salt of the world..... (Critical Essays on William Faulkner, 118)

Then he realizes that writing "must be personal to make it truly evocative," and likens his writing to mammalian reproduction, saying, "the aesthetic is still the female principle, the desire to feel over the bones spreading and parting with something alive begotten of the ego and conceived by the protesting unleashing of flesh." And he asks himself, "What can be more personal than reproduction, in its true way, the aesthetic and the mammalian?"(119) What Faulkner likely meant here is that both the creation of literary work and female reproduction are personal, from which he has to start his creation.
     The Introduction to The Sound and the Fury is both personal and social with some emphasis on the geographical conflicts between the North and the South. "New young since alive," while "the South is old since dead." ("An Introduction to SF," 157) Faulkner says, then, that he has tried, by writing The Sound and the Fury, to both escape from and indict traditional Southern writing. In Southern writing, he argues, "We need to talk, to tell, since oratory is our heritage" and

We seem to try in the simple furious breathing (or writing) span of the individual to draw a savage indictment of the contemporary scene or to escape from it into a makebelieve region of swords and magnolias and mockingbirds which perhaps never existed anywhere. (158)

The Southern writer is, therefore, "forced to choose, lady and tiger fashion, between being an artist and being a man." (157) And Faulkner confesses that he seems to have "tried both of the courses. I have tried to escape and I have tried to indict." (158) In other words, he has indicted the male principle of the Southern oratory or "a makebelieve region of swords and magnolias and mockingbirds which perhaps never existed anywhere," and escaped into the female principle of reproduction. It is his recapturing of the female principle for the reshaping of Southern writing, protesting against it as an adjunct of the Southern aristocracy. "One day," Faulkner says, "it suddenly seemed as if a door had clapped silently and forever to between me and all publishers' addresses and booklists and I said to myself, Now I can write" (158) and he wrote "the symbology of the soiled drawers, for here again hers was the courage which was to face later with honor the shame which she was to engender." (159)
     Besides the escape and indictment, what Faulkner had to do as well was how to keep aesthetic distance and control writing. Faulkner accused Southern oratorical rhetoric, saying, "That cold intellect which can write with calm and complete detachment and gusto of its contemporary scene is not among us; I do not believe there lives the Southern writer who can say without lying that writing is any fun to him." (158) Calm and completely detached writing that portrays its contemporary scene with gusto is what Faulkner found in one of Keats' letters: "[Poetical Character] has no self---it is everything and nothing---It has no character---it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto...." (The Letters of John Keats, 387)

     It is also to be noted that Faulkner learned of aesthetic detachment and impersonality from T. S. Eliot as much as Keats. Eliot was a great poet who had exerted a disturbing influence on Faulkner in terms of artistic control before he rediscovered Keats. What shocked Faulkner most was Prufrock at the end of 1910s, and he must have found in Prufrock the sense of impersonality as well as the acute sense of time and history. Faulkner repeatedly wrote Prufrockian portraits in his poems around 1920. He must have sensed the importance of what Eliot wrote in his essay that "poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality," (Eliot, 58) or that "The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done." (59) This idea of Eliot's reflects Faulkner's escape from the Southern oratory which has been pointed out, and Faulkner would have to surpass Prufrock for his own world of art.
     Eliot's Prufrock in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" mutters to himself, "I grow old, grow old," which echoes his general anxiety over the barren modern world. This worldview is followed by "Gerontion" and The Waste Land which starts with "April is the cruellest month." In a decadent poem "Prelude," Eliot also expressed, "The worlds revolve like ancient women/Gathering fuel in vacant lots," which was modified in Faulkner's The Marionettes into "the earth is like an aged woman gathering fagots in a barren field." (The Marionettes, 38) Eliot's hollow men and Faulkner's marionettes share the same poignant consciousness of the world growing old and a similar sense of time and history. We might also remember that the old man in "Carcassonne" who is festered by the skeleton hears the rattle of bones in the sea which most likely came from Eliot's The Waste Land. A few years later, Faulkner used a similar bone image to represent death in The Sound and the Fury.
     It is clear then that Faulkner's Prufrockian sense of "growing old" was markedly intensified around 1920 when the former fauns and old Pan evolved into Prufrocks and Pierrots. A young Prufrock appeared at first in Vision in Spring in 1921, but he was soon replaced by a young Pierrot who was mentally "old and weary and lonely" (Vision in Spring, 4) That is, Faulkner reshaped Prufrock into Pierrot, who was then eventually changed into an actual human figure. The quick reshaping of these characters tells how much Faulkner had matured in terms of his artistry. When Faulkner reused the parodied Prufrock in "Don Jovannni" and Mosquitoes, it was mainly for the enhancement of aesthetic distance. This was a finishing touch on the parodic Prufrock.

     Faulkner focused, after the completion of the Gordon figure, on his environment, the South, to complete Flags in the Dust. This time he shaped his two main figures contrapuntally: Horace Benbow and Bayard Sartoris. Horace is the successor of both the former faun and Prufrockian artist, and Bayard is of Faulkner's Southern environment. Horace, the Prufrockian artist, tries to behave both as a Southern artist and an actual lawyer. He blows the glass into a vase and dubs his sister Narcissa Keats' "Thou still unravished bride of quietness." He repeats "the meaning of peace" and wishes to get into "an intersecting street narrower but more shady and even quieter, with a golden Arcadian drowse." (FD, 151) There is, however, no Arcadia anymore and even Narcissa, the unravished bride of quietness, will turn into a realistic woman, and Horace will find himself vulnerable and helpless.
     In a sense, Horace was both "[a] terrific figure on an urn" caught between his two horizons (The Marble Faun and A Green Bough, 30) and the old "farn" in "Carcassonne" who rode on a buckskin pony for a noble life. He should have been an artist who could cope with reality, but Faulkner could not accomplish the contrapuntal plots of Bayard and Horace who was to be both an artist and lawyer. The failed figures come partly from the loose structure of the novel and partly from the lack of aesthetic distance. Indeed there was much poesy in the work, but Faulkner could not fuse it with his environment for a truly artistic achievement. One of Faulkner's friend told him, "The trouble is that you have about 6 books in here. You were trying to write them all at once, " and this was true. It can be said that to reach the artistic refinement of Keats and Eliot, and to make the marble dream come true, Faulkner needed a little more time.
     Faulkner's literary career by the time of the completion of Flags in the Dust was how to pursue the artistic dream dreamed by figures like fauns, Gordon and Horace. Faulkner persisted with the marble dream of creating great pieces of art and believed in his imagination like Keats who wrote,

I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination--What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth --whether it existed before or not--for I have the same Idea of all our Passions as of Love they are all in their sublime, creative of essential Beauty--(The Letters of John Keats, 184)

As is shown in the Introduction to The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner would soon make his own piece of art, the girl Caddy, with impersonal intellect escaping from the Southern oratory. Faulkner said, "After five years I look back at The Sound and The Fury and see that that was the turning point." ("An Introduction to SF," 158)
     Next he created Lena going "through a succession of creak-wheeled and limpeared avatars, like something moving forever and without progress across an urn," (LA, 5) and then the Prufrockian Reporter appeared in Pylon in 1934. Then it was in Go Down, Moses in 1942 that Faulkner reshaped Isac McCaslin to let him find himself in Keatsian human agonies. He tried to find an answer for the sinful heritage of the old McCaslin and found it in Keats' truth and beauty. It was still too early, however, for Ike to solve the biggest problem with the answer. No final solution is given to Ike, but both Keats' negative capability and Ike's endurance will hold true for further judgement.


1 Faulkner made some changes when the poem was published in The Mississippian on October 29, 1919: "I have a sudden (nameless) wish to go/To some far silent midnight moon (noon)." (italics mine)
2 This abruptness is, as Kreisworth points out, partly because Faulkner quoted these lines almost wholly from Robert Nichols' "A Faun's Holiday."
3 The faun's grief over the disappearance of Arcadia is resonant with a sailor's cry of "Great Pan is dead" depicted in Plutarch's Morals.


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