Tuesday, August 11, 2009

An Absurd Name


FROM SEPTEMBER 2006

Word that Bob Dylan has done a little creative borrowing from – of all people - Henry Timrod, the “Poet Laureate of the Confederacy,” brings to mind another obscure poet of the South, Thomas Holley Chivers (1807-1858). Like Chekhov and Walker Percy, Chivers was a physician by training who turned to literature as his true calling. Unlike them, he probably should have stuck to medicine:

As an egg, when broken, never
Can be mended, but must ever
Be the same crushed egg for ever—
So shall this dark heart of mine!


Chivers spent his last years in Decatur. A small monument next to the Decatur library marks the spot of his house. Today he is best-remembered for accusing his sometime friend and collaborator in mystic schlock, Edgar Allan Poe, of plagiarism: “Poe stole ‘The Raven’ from me!”

My favorite thing about Thomas Holley Chivers is that the creators of one of the best films ever, The Third Man, borrowed his name for one of the story’s main characters, the American writer of pulp westerns, Holley Martins, who is stranded in postwar Vienna looking for his scoundrel of a pal, Harry Lime. As screenwriter Graham Greene explained it, “The name had to be an absurd one, and the name Holley occurred to me when I remembered that figure of fun, the American poet Thomas Holley Chivers.”

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