At a dinner party in Rapallo in January 1929, W B Yeats turned to his neighbour and said, ‘we are all just pebbles on the beach in the backwash of eternity.’ His wife, George, rolled her eyes. It was a cold evening and Yeats had arrived wearing woollen socks on his hands. There was always something a little absurd about Yeats. He is easy to parody. When Ezra Pound wanted to sound like an otherworldly bard, he read his poems in a hokey Irish lilt he borrowed from Yeats.
Lauren Arrington’s The Poets of Rapallo describes a group of poets and artists in the roaring Twenties and the gloomy, self-important Thirties. She quotes the writer Richard Aldington, looking back on these decades in 1941: ‘The 1920s formed a brilliant but anarchic period fully deserving in both a bad and good sense its favourite adjective, “amusing” … in reaction, the 1930s gave themselves up to political fanaticisms, and were consequently duller and less sincere – they all quacked what the big doctrinaire duck trumpeted.’ What changed was the tone, the sense of what mattered in art, and the setting for literary encounters. Instead of