Our dear Charles Williams

‘Our dear Charles Williams many guises shows:
the novelist comes first. I find his prose
obscure at times. Not easily it flows;
too often are his lights held up in brackets.
Yet error, should he spot it, he’ll attack its
sources and head, exposing ramps and rackets,
the tortuous byways of the wicked heart
and intellect corrupt. Yea, many a dart
he crosses with the fiery ones! The art
of minor fiends and major he reveals —
when Charles is on his trail the devil squeals,
for cloven feet have vulnerable heels.’

‘But heavenly footsteps, too, can Williams trace,
and after Dante, plunging, soaring, race
up to the threshold of Eternal Grace.
The limits of all fallen men, maybe,
(or mine alone, perhaps) explain why he
seems best to understand of all the three
Inferno’s dark involved geography.’

‘Geography indeed! Here he again
exerts a subtle mind and labouring pen.
Geodesy say rather; for many a ‘fen’
he wrote, and chapters bogged in tangled rhymes,
and has surveyed Europa’s lands and climes,
in her diving buttocks, breast, and head
(to say no fouler thing), where I instead,
dull-eyed, can only see a watershed,
a plain, an island, or a mountain-chain.
In that gynecomorphical terrain
History and Myth are ravelled in a skein
of endless interchange. I do not hope
to understand the deeds of king or pope,
wizard or emperor; beyond my scope
is that dark flux of symbol and event
where fable, faith, and faerie are blent
with half-guessed meanings to some great intent
I cannot grasp. For Mount Elburz to me
is but a high peak far beyond the sea
(and high and far I’d ever have it be).’

‘The Throne, the war-lords, and the logothetes,
the endless steps, the domes, the crowded streets,
the tolls, the taxes, the commercial fleets,
Byzantium, New Rome! I love her less
than Rome the Old. For War, I must confess,
Eagles to me no more than Ravens bless,
no more than Fylfot, or Chrysanthemum
blown to a blood-red Sun. Byzantium!
Praise her, ye slaves and eunuchs! I’ll be dumb.
To me she only seems one greater hive,
rotting within while outwardly alive,
where power corrupts and where the venal thrive;
where, leeches on the veins of government,
officials suck men’s blood, till all is spent.
If that is what by Law and Order’s meant,
then any empire’s over-lofty crown,
and vast drilled armies beating neighbours down
to drag them fettered through New Order’s town,
to me’s as good a symbol, or as ill,
of Rule that strangles and of Laws that kill,
of Man that says his Pride is Heaven’s will.
O, Buttocks to Caucasia!’

‘Tolkien, please!
What’s biting you? Dog in the Manger’s fleas?
Let others hear, although you have no mind,
or have not seen that Lewis has divined
and has expounded what you dully find
obscure. See here, some thirty lines you’ve squandered.
You came to praise our Charles, but now you’ve wandered.
Much else he wrote that has not yet been pondered.’

‘Quite true, alas! But still I’m rather puzzled.
There’s Taliessin — no, I’ll not be muzzled;
I’m writing this, not you; I won’t be hustled —
there’s Taliessin now: I’d always thought
that in the days of Cymbeline he wrought,
ere Rome was Old or New, and that if aught
is now preserved of what he sang or said,
’tis but an echo times have edited
out of all likeness to his tongue long dead,
the ancient British, difficult and dark,
of a minor minstrel in an Outer Mark.
But here, it seems, a voyage is some swift bark
to that Black Sea (which now is mainly Red)
has much enlarged him, both in heart and head;
but still I understand not aught he said!’

‘A truce to this! I never meant to do it,
thus to reveal my folly. Now I rue it.
Farewell (for now) beloved druid-poet!
Farewell to Logres, Merlin, Nimue,
Galahad, Arthur! Farewell land and tree
heavy with fates and portents not for me!
I must pass by all else you wrote:
play, preface, life, short verse, review or note
(rewarded less than worth with grudging groat).’

‘When your fag is wagging and spectacles are twinkling,
when tea is brewing or the glasses tinkling,
then of your meaning often I’ve an inkling,
your virtues and your wisdom glimpse. Your laugh
in my heart echoes, when with you I quaff
the pint that goes down quicker than a half,
because you’re near. So, heed me not! I swear
when you with tattered papers take the chair
and read (for hours maybe), I would be there.
And ever when in state you sit again
and to your car imperial give rein,
I’ll trundle, grumbling, squeaking, in the train
of the great rolling wheels of Charles’ Wain.’

Поема, посветена на Чарлз Уилямс.