Louis Stettner.Times Square Sailor, c. 1952

‘A man leaves a dockside tavern in the early morning, the smell of the sea in his nostrils, and a whisky bottle in his pocket, gliding over the cobbles lightly as a ship leaving harbour’

quell’uomo si chiama Bill Plantagenet ed è un pianista jazz e un ex marinaio sopravvissuto alla guerra. Un poeta maledetto, alla maniera di Baudelaire, nostalgico, alla maniera di Rimbaud. Uno scrittore alcolizzato, e romantico, l’alter Ego letterario di Malcolm Lowry nel breve romanzo autobiografico Lunar Caustic, del 1968.
Lo scrittore inglese, già apprezzato dalla critica per il romanzo Under the Volcano ( del 1947, undicesimo nella classifica dei cento romanzi migliori votati dalla Modern Library, dal quale è stato tratto l’omonimo film del regista John Huston, nel 1984), racconta di un uomo in rovina, approdato a New York e confinatosi, di propria volontà, presso il Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, il più antico manicomio newyorkese (fondato nel 1736), dove effettivamente lo scrittore chiede ricovero per un breve periodo a causa di un crollo nervoso; la biografia dello scrittore fa nota di un evento tragico, all’origine dell’inquietudine di Lowry: ancora ai tempi del college, nel 1931, il compagno di stanza Paul Frite, innamoratosi di lui (e da Lowry mai corrisposto), si suicida,  lasciandolo preda di un senso di colpa onnipresente e tale da consumarlo nello spirito.
Finito il college, Lowry si rifiuta di lavorare per il padre e a una carriera manageriale preferisce il mare, arruolandosi come marinaio; gira il mondo, subisce gli orrori della guerra, va a caccia di storie (in buona parte contenute nel romanzo di debutto Ultramarine, del 1933). Insegue la propria stella.
In Lunar Caustic, Lowry, figlio della luna, si scopre un uomo vinto dalle passioni, tanto sensibile quanto irrequieto; un eroe romantico e dimesso, decadente e smanioso d’avventure in mare; Bill Plantagenet sembra barcollare tra realtà e sogno, flashbacks e finzione, in uno stato febbrile di oscena lucidità e delirio; dentro il manicomio realizza l’orrore della follia, le deprecabili condizioni in cui vivono i pazienzi ricoverati nell’ospedale. La vita non è un baccanale, e il mare, quel mare d’inquietudine e sregolatezze, notti di whisky e jazz,  non è che una sfida senza vincitori, nè gloria.

‘Darkness was falling through the clearing haze the stars came out. Over the broken horizon the Scorpion was crawling. There was the red, dying sun, Antares. To the south-east, the Retreat of the Howling Dog appeared. The stars taking their places were wounds opening in his being, multiple duplications of that agony, of that eye. The constellations might have been monstrosities in the delirium of God. Disaster seemed smeared over the whole universe. It was as if he were living in the preexistence of some unimaginable catastrophe, and he steadied himself a moment against the sill, feeling the doomed earth itself stagger in its heaving spastic flight towards the Hercules Butterfly’

Questi i links a un sito dedicato a Lowry e un articolo, nel quale si racconta della vita dello scrittore
Malcolm Lowry @ The 19th Hole
Life and Letters: Day of the Dead : The New Yorker.
Sotto, il primo capitolo del libro
A man leaves a dockside tavern in the early morning, the smell of the sea in his nostrils, and a whisky bottle in his pocket, gliding over the cobbles lightly as a ship leaving harbour.
Soon he is running into a storm and tacking from side to side, frantically trying to get back. Now he will go into any harbour at all.
He goes into another saloon.
From this he emerges, cunningly repaired; but he is in difficulties once more. This time is serious: he is nearly run over by a street car, he bangs his head on a wall, once he falls over an ashcan where he has thrown a bottle. Passers- by stare at him curiously, some with anger; others with amusement, or even a strange avidity.
This time he seeks refuge up an alley, and leans against the wall in an attitude of dejection, as if trying to remember something.
Again the pilgrimage starts but his course is so erratic it seems he must be looking for, rather than trying to remember something. Or perhaps, like the poor cat who had lost an eye in a battle, he is just looking for his sight?
The heat rises up from the pavements, a mighty force, New York groans and roars above, around, below him: white birds flash in the quivering air, a bridge strides over the river. Signs nod past him: The Best for Less, Romeo and Juliet, the greatest love story in the world, No Cover at Any Time, When pain threatens, strikes-
He enters another tavern, where presently he is talking of people he had never known, of places he had never been. Through the open door he is aware of the hospital, towering up above the river. Near him arrogant bearded derelicts cringe over spittoons, and of these men he seems afraid. Sweat floods his face. From the depths of the tavern comes a sound of moaning, and a sound of ticking.
Outside, again the pilgrimage starts, he wanders from saloon to saloon as though searching for something, but always keeping the hospital in sight, as if the saloons were only points on his circumference. In a street along the waterfront where a bell is clanging, he halts; a terrible old woman, whose black veil only partly conceals her ravaged face, is trying to post a letter, trying repeatedly and falling, but posting it finally, with shaking hands that are not hands at all.
A strange notion strikes him: the letter is for him. He takes a drink from the bottle.
In the Elevated a heavenly wind is blowing and there is a view of the river, but he is walking as though stepping over obstacles, or like Ahab stumbling from side to side on the careening bridge, ‘feeling that he encompassed in his stare oceans from which might be revealed that phantom destroyer of himself.’
Down in the street the heat is terrific. Tabloid headlines: Thousands collapse in Heat Wave. Hundreds Dead. Roosevelt Raps Warmongers. Civil War in Spain.
Once he stops in a church, his lips moving in something like a prayer. Inside is cool: around the walls are pictured the stages of the cross. Nobody seems to be looking . He likes drinking in churches particularly.
But afterwards he comes to a place not like a church at all.
This is the hospital: all day he has hovered round it; now it looms up closer than ever. This is objective. Tilting the bottle to his mouth he takes a long, final draught: drops run down his neck, mingling with the sweat.
‘I want to hear the song of the Negroes,’ he roars.’Veut-on que je disparaisse, que je plonge, à la recherche de l’anneau…I am sent to save my father, to find my son, to heal the eternal horror of three, to resolve the immedicable horror of opposites!’
With the dithering crack of a ship going on the rocks the door there was grass growing down to the East River. But between
taken from Lunar Caustic, cap 1, by Malcolm Lowry, (1968)