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Charles Williams and The City

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  • Steve Hayes
    Lewis s commentary on Williams s poem The Vision of the Empire Quote: The image of the Empire is the final form of something that had always haunted Williams
    Message 1 of 3 , Sep 22, 2008
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      Lewis's commentary on Williams's poem The Vision of the Empire

      Quote:
      The image of the Empire is the final form of something that had always
      haunted Williams and which he often referred to simply as "the City". The
      word is significant. Williams was a Londoner of the Londoners; Johnson and
      Chesterton never exalted more than he at their citizenship. On many of us the
      prevailing impression made by the London streets is one of chaos; but
      Williams, looking on the same spectacle, saw chiefly an image -- in
      imperfect, pathetic, heroic, and majestic image-- of Order. Two passages from
      among many in his novels may be quoted. One of from War in Heaven (Chapter V)
      where he is describing the decline of what had once been a residential
      street. At least, one end of the street shows mere decline, but at the other
      end new life is beginning for there "a public house signalized the gathering
      of another code of decency and morals which might in time transform the
      intervening decay". The proletarian courtesy and community of a public house
      (with all the mutual forbearance and observance of unwritten law which they
      imply) are a manifestation of "the City". The other passage comes from The
      Greater Trumps. It comes from Chapter 4 and the reference to "the Emperor" is
      explained by the fact that Henry and Nancy have just been studying the Tarot
      cards. They are in a car and have come to a traffic block;

      'A policeman's hand held them up. Henry gestured towards it. "Behold the
      Emperor!" he said to Nancy. "You're making fun of me," she half protested.
      "Never less," he said seriously. "look at him"... She saw in that heavy
      official barring their way the Emperor of the Trumps, helmed, in a white
      cloak, stretching out one sceptred arm, as if Charlemagne or one like him
      stretched out his controlling sword over the tribes of Europe pouring from
      the forests... The noise of all the passing street came upon her as the roar
      of many peoples; the white cloak held them by a gesture: order and law were
      there.'

      Such is Byzantium -- Order, envisaged not as a restraint, not even as a
      convenience, but as a beauty and splendour. Perhaps no element in Williams's
      imagination separates him so wildly as this from other writers. The modern
      world has planners and orderers in plenty but they are not often poets: it
      has poets not a few, but they seldom see beauty in policemen.

      Source: Lewis & Williams 1974:289

      Comments, anyone?


      --
      Steve Hayes
      E-mail: shayes@...
      Web: http://hayesfam.bravehost.com/litmain.htm
      http://methodius.blogspot.com
    • Yvonne Aburrow
      I m guessing Lewis is drawing on imagery both of the heavenly city of Jerusalem and of Plato s ideal republic. Also, among the Norse, Byzantium was known as
      Message 2 of 3 , Sep 23, 2008
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        I'm guessing Lewis is drawing on imagery both of the heavenly city of Jerusalem and of Plato's ideal republic.  Also, among the Norse, Byzantium was known as Mickleburg, great city, the centre of the world.  Would Williams have known this? (I expect Tolkien would have done but he wasn't keen on Williams.)  The city seems important in Christian symbolism (all those popes called Urban) as a symbol of order.  The head that moves the limbs of Brisen, perhaps.  I noticed also the references to Logres and other inner ideal countries (I like the idea of these, even if I don't believe in the the world of Platonic forms on which they are based).

        I hadn't read the poem before but Googled and found it on your coinherence list:
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coinherence-l/message/6715

        The last stanza (iota) seems to refer to the mystical body of the church, but a lot of the symbolism is opaque to me.  The tone seems quite similar to Blake.

        Yvonne

        On Tue, Sep 23, 2008 at 12:17 AM, <eldil@yahoogroups.com> wrote:

        ________________________________________________________________________
        1. Charles Williams and The City
           Posted by: "Steve Hayes" hayesstw@... hayesstw
           Date: Mon Sep 22, 2008 11:18 am ((PDT))

        Lewis's commentary on Williams's poem The Vision of the Empire

        Quote:
        The image of the Empire is the final form of something that had always
        haunted Williams and which he often referred to simply as "the City". The
        word is significant. Williams was a Londoner of the Londoners; Johnson and
        Chesterton never exalted more than he at their citizenship. On many of us the
        prevailing impression made by the London streets is one of chaos; but
        Williams, looking on the same spectacle, saw chiefly an image -- in
        imperfect, pathetic, heroic, and majestic image-- of Order. Two passages from
        among many in his novels may be quoted. One of from War in Heaven (Chapter V)
        where he is describing the decline of what had once been a residential
        street. At least, one end of the street shows mere decline, but at the other
        end new life is beginning for there "a public house signalized the gathering
        of another code of decency and morals which might in time transform the
        intervening decay". The proletarian courtesy and community of a public house
        (with all the mutual forbearance and observance of unwritten law which they
        imply) are a manifestation of "the City". The other passage comes from The
        Greater Trumps. It comes from Chapter 4 and the reference to "the Emperor" is
        explained by the fact that Henry and Nancy have just been studying the Tarot
        cards. They are in a car and have come to a traffic block;

        'A policeman's hand held them up. Henry gestured towards it. "Behold the
        Emperor!" he said to Nancy. "You're making fun of me," she half protested.
        "Never less," he said seriously. "look at him"... She saw in that heavy
        official barring their way the Emperor of the Trumps, helmed, in a white
        cloak, stretching out one sceptred arm, as if Charlemagne or one like him
        stretched out his controlling sword over the tribes of Europe pouring from
        the forests... The noise of all the passing street came upon her as the roar
        of many peoples; the white cloak held them by a gesture: order and law were
        there.'

        Such is Byzantium -- Order, envisaged not as a restraint, not even as a
        convenience, but as a beauty and splendour. Perhaps no element in Williams's
        imagination separates him so wildly as this from other writers. The modern
        world has planners and orderers in plenty but they are not often poets: it
        has poets not a few, but they seldom see beauty in policemen.

        Source: Lewis & Williams 1974:289

        Comments, anyone?


        --
        Steve Hayes
        E-mail: shayes@...
        Web:    http://hayesfam.bravehost.com/litmain.htm
        http://methodius.blogspot.com




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        --
        Yvonne
        ~~
        http://yaburrow.googlepages.com/
      • Steve Hayes
        ... In explaing the basis of his commentary on Williams s poems and his unfinished manuscript of The Figure of Arthur , and what qualifies him to comment at
        Message 3 of 3 , Sep 23, 2008
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          On 23 Sep 2008 at 10:46, Yvonne Aburrow wrote:

          > I'm guessing Lewis is drawing on imagery both of the heavenly city of
          > Jerusalem and of Plato's ideal republic. Also, among the Norse, Byzantium was
          > known as Mickleburg, great city, the centre of the world. Would Williams have
          > known this? (I expect Tolkien would have done but he wasn't keen on Williams.)
          > The city seems important in Christian symbolism (all those popes called
          > Urban) as a symbol of order. The head that moves the limbs of Brisen,
          > perhaps. I noticed also the references to Logres and other inner ideal
          > countries (I like the idea of these, even if I don't believe in the the world
          > of Platonic forms on which they are based).

          In explaing the basis of his commentary on Williams's poems and his
          unfinished manuscript of "The Figure of Arthur", and what qualifies him to
          comment at all, Lewis sets the scene in which he first heard them:

          "The first two chapters had been read aloud to Professor Tolkien and myself.
          It may help the reader to imagine the scene; or at least it is to me both
          great pleasure and great pain to recall. Picture to yourself, then, an
          upstairs sitting-room with windows looking north intonthe 'grove' of
          Magdalen College on a sunshiny Monday morning in vacation at about ten
          o'clock. The Professor and I, both on the chesterfield, lit our pipes and
          stretched out our legs. Williams in the armchair opposite to us threw his
          cigarette into the grate, took up a pile of extremely small, loose sheets on
          which he habitually wrote --- they came, I think, from a twopenny pad for
          memoranda, and began as follows:- "

          So I'm pretty sure that if Williams didn't know that Byzantium was known as
          Mickleburg, Tolkien would have informed him. Perhaps he even mentions it, and
          I've forgotten. Perhaps that's even where I first heard it. The poems are
          fairly dense, and without Lewis's explanations a lot would simply go over my
          head.

          Concerning Logres: Taliessin jorenys to Byzantium, and on the way as Lewis
          puts it,

          "Here he is met by two luminous forms. They are Merlin and Brisen. They have
          come out of Broceliande because they are the son and daughter of Nimue. They
          are called respectively 'Time and space, duration and extentions.' : all the
          works of Nimue, except where Grace intervens, are subject ot these two. They
          call to Taliessin and tell him their present business. They are sent to set
          up in Logres a kingdom which shall be like the hoply kingdom of Pelles at
          Carbonek. It is to be the kingdom of a comple and balanced humanity, for 'The
          Empire and Broceliande shall meet in Logres"'. It is not yet time to exhibit
          the nature of the Empire, but this line is our first hint. That man would be
          complete in whom Byzantium and Broceliande were wholly at one --- the wood
          wholly informed by the city, the city fully energized by the wood."

          I won't type the whole poem, but snippets. Perhaps you'll be able ti find it
          on the web -- maybe its even in the Coinherence list:

          Dangeroust to men is the wood of Broceliande.
          Hardly the Druid, hardly a Christian priest,
          pierced it ever; it was held, then as now,
          by those few who ritain study the matter of the marches
          that there the divine science and the grand art,
          if at all below the third heaven, know
          their correspondence, and live in a new style --
          ---

          Between the anarchy of yet unmade Logres
          and the darkness of secret-swayed Broceliande
          Taliessin took his way; his way curved
          one that stormy day so near the wood that he saw
          a dark rose of sunset between tree and tree
          lie on the sea, the antipodean ocean

          ---



          > I hadn't read the poem before but Googled and found it on your coinherence
          > list: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coinherence-l/message/6715
          >
          > The last stanza (iota) seems to refer to the mystical body of the church, but
          > a lot of the symbolism is opaque to me. The tone seems quite similar to
          > Blake.

          I've dipped into the poems vefore, but find they make much more sense to me
          with Lewis's commentary.

          But I've read William's novels several times, and it is in "All Hallows Eve"
          that Williams seemed to say more about "the City", so Ifound it interesting
          that Lewis quoted from two of his more rural novels in talking about
          Williams's view of the city.


          --
          Steve Hayes
          E-mail: shayes@...
          Web: http://hayesfam.bravehost.com/litmain.htm
          http://methodius.blogspot.com
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