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Re: [eldil] Charles Williams and The City

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  • 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 1 of 3 , Sep 23, 2008
      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

      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
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