Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

GRATITUDE for 1964

Over the holidays I found myself remembering earlier Christmases, and realising how important Christmas 1964 had been for me – and how grateful I am to my parents for making it so.

I was 16 then, and my parents had got into the way of asking me what presents I’d like for Christmas. Extremely kind of them, and kinder still not to turn a hair when I asked for some fairly unusual things – especially unusual in those days, I suspect!

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Threefold magic: here they are, battered but still in use

What they gave me, and what I must have asked for, though I don’t recall the asking, was: (a) a set of Tarot cards; (b) a copy of The Golden Bough; and (c) a copy of Robert Graves’s The White Goddess.

They gave me all of them, and with the enthusiasm of youth – and a youth still in the process of discovering, or making, a self, I wrote my name in all of them. Three different versions of my name, in fact. With the date. And that’s how I know that all these wonderful things arrived at that particular Christmas.

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Those gifts led to a great deal. I’ve been interested in Tarot ever since, and at some periods of my life reading Tarot on a regular basis. It helped me to appreciate Charles Williams’s novel The Greater Trumps far more deeply than I could otherwise have done. And I’ve just had the honour of reviewing Cherry Gilchrist’s excellent book Tarot Triumphs for Quest magazine in the US.


As for The White Goddess, I sat up reading it every night between Christmas and New Year, utterly enchanted and fascinated. It made me want to read Robert Graves’s poems. I hadn’t read any modern poetry before, but together with The White Goddess those poems got me hooked. I wanted to write poems too. Graves’s books made me a poet, setting me on course for a lifetime. And in the 1990s I edited The White Goddess, working at Graves’s former house and getting to know the wonderful Graves family, and many Graves scholars. Again, life-changing.

And Frazer? I have to admit that I’ve only read The Golden Bough right through once. It doesn’t quite have Graves’s verse and excitement. Nor do I wholly believe Frazer’s theories about the universal dying-vegetation-god cult any longer. With Ronald Hutton, I suspect that it’s our own secret religion, more than that of the ancient world. But how we need it! I’ve dipped into The Golden Bough many times to find details related to Graves, TS Eliot and other authors and things. And I really, really will try to read it once more in this life!

Nice to see that in 1964 you could buy a new 756-page hardback for thirty-five shillings! That’s £1.75p in today’s money, or about $2.15.

But what great foundations for an imaginative life! Blessings on my kind and understanding parents who listened to me and gave what Yeats might have called ‘the right twigs for an eagle’s nest’. I may be more of a jackdaw, but I’m still busy trying to build that nest, 42 years later. Happy New Year, all blessings to you, and may all your gifts prove as fruitful as these did for me!

The Moons: artwork & anthology

I’m very pleased to be able to include this beautiful graphic rendering of my poem by artist Linda Richardson(https://www.facebook.com/linda.richardson.942?fref=ts) with discussion by poet and priest Malcolm Guite (http://www.malcolmguite.com). Malcolm has included the poem in his very fine anthology Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany and it appears as one (untitled) section in my sequence ‘Silver’ in my recent book of poems, Luna Park.
I’m delighted with both Linda’s sensitive commentary on the poem and Malcolm’s discussion of it in his anthology. Lovely when a poem takes off like that into other minds and brings such rewarding responses!

The Moons by Grevel Lindop

Discussion by Malcolm Guite, artwork by Linda Richardson

The Moons, image by Linda Richardson

The Moons, image by Linda Richardson

Here is the poem set for the 2nd December in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, The Moons comes from Grevel Lindop’s  latest collection of poems Luna Park (which I highly recommend!) and is used with his permission.

You can read my brief essay on this beautiful poem in Waiting on the Word, and click on either the title or the ‘play button below to hear me read it. Linda Richardson writes about her image:

‘Here it is, distant gleam on the page of a book.’ These final words were the ones that jumped out for me as I responded to this poem, and also Malcolm’s comment, ‘offered to a companion in the darkness of our common journey’. So my starting point was night time, the soul’s time, when light gleams through our consciousness in dreaming. The poem spoke to me of memory and the sharing of life with someone, not the immediacy of sense experience. To paint a moonlight image was too immediate so I let the words literally gleam in white ink on black paper. In this way I felt that it was keeping the integrity of the poem, that our memories are uniquely our own, and we will recall them either for enriching or impoverishing our lives and the lives of those who are on our common journey.I noticed that it was she who saw and brought him to seeing. It was the feminine leading the masculine away from the desk of the intellect, to step out into the dark womb of the night and to apprehend a phenomenon of nature, the wonder of the reflected light of the sun at night. I am left with the wonder of the contrasts in our lives, the light and dark, the male and female, all the many different parts that form one body and one spirit.

 

The Moons by Grevel Lindop

Too many moons to fill an almanac:

the half, the quarters, and the slices between

black new and silvercoin full –

pearl tossed and netted in webs of cloud,

thread of light with the dull disc in its loop,

gold shaving afloat on the horizon of harvest –

How many times did you call me from the house,

or from my desk to the window, just to see?

Should I string them all on a necklace for you?

Impossible, though you gave them all to me.

Still some of their light reflects from memory.

Here it is, distant gleam on the page of a book.

A Weekend at Cockley Moor

I spent the weekend at Cockley Moor, in the fells above Ullswater. The excellent Norman Nicholson Society had organised a Study Weekend and I was delighted to be asked to give a talk – not just because I love and admire Nicholson’s poetry but because I’ve always longed to get inside Cockley Moor, a house with a wonderful history.

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Cockley Moor, an old farmhouse with many extensions – so that it now runs along the top of the fell for quite some way – was the centre, in the 1940s, 50s and early 60s, of an amazing circle of artists, writers and musicians. Helen Sutherland, a wealthy patron of the arts, moved there in 1939 and invited a galaxy of creative people to visit and stay, sometimes for long periods.

These included Ben Nicholson and his wife the painter Winifred Nicholson; sculptors Naum Gabo and Barbara Hepworth; poets Kathleen Raine, TS Eliot, and Norman Nicholson (no relation to the other Nicholsons); David Jones, who was both poet and artist; and the pianist Vera Moore, amongst others.

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Norman Nicholson

Helen Sutherland also had a fine art collection including Seurat, Hepworth, Jones, both Nicholsons, Brancusi (and Picasso, whose work she decided she didn’t like, so his two paintings were kept in a cupboard!).

 

The art collection has now been dispersed: Helen Sutherland died in 1965 and the house was later lived in by the astronomer and sci-fi novelist Fred Hoyle. But the house is still beautiful and atmospheric. And the weather was perfect: golden sunshine giving a warm radiance to the views across the fells.

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Lively discussion on the terrace at Cockley Moor

It was lovely to be there with almost thirty lively, knowledgeable poetry enthusiasts to discuss Nicholson and the artistic heritage of Cockley Moor, with excellent talks by Val Corbett, photographer and author of the splendid book A Rhythm, a Rite and a Ceremony: Helen Sutherland at Cockley Moor; Philip Houghton on Norman Nicholson’s poem ‘Cockley Moor, Dockray, Penrith’; and Caroline Watson on Kathleen Raine. Also taking part was my friend Kathleen Jones, poet and biographer of Norman Nicholson. (I’ve borrowed this picture of the terrace discussion from her Facebook page – I hope you don’t mind, Kathy!).

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After the closing session at Cockley Moor, Caroline Watson and I made a pilgrimage to the other side of Ullswater to visit Martindale Vicarage, where Kathleen Raine had lived during the war. The little house under the fell is still as beautiful, quiet and mysterious as Kathleen describes it in her memoir The Land Unknown.

Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016)

Geoffrey Hill, who died last Thursday, was a magnificent poet – and sometimes a difficult one. He produced lines that haunted you, perhaps because they contained so much questioning, as well as so much music.

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Sir Geoffrey Hill

His early books, King Log and For the Unfallen, contained poems that were truly haunting. The very first poem of his first collection was – perhaps – about the difficulty of religious belief but also about the fact that we need myth and see miracles all around us. Its lines and rhythms enacted what they talked about:

 

Against the burly air I strode,

Where the tight ocean heaves its load,

Crying the miracles of God.

Reading that, you can feel the battering of the wind against your face. You can feel the mass of the sea sliding and beating against the land. And then you notice the questions too: is it ‘I’ who am ‘crying the miracles of God’? Or is it the ocean?

There are lines that fascinate, full of magic even if you don’t understand them:

…And made the glove-winged albatross

Scour the ashes of the sea

Where Capricorn and Zero cross…

It was years before I realised that this referred to the Tropic of Capricorn and longitude zero, an actual place (it’s a remote spot in the South Atlantic). But what magical lines!

My favourite book was perhaps Tenebrae, and its sonnet sequence An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England. A sequence full of the most beautiful images: ‘Where wild-eyed poppies raddle tawny farms’ ‘horseflies siphon the green dung’; ‘the crocus armies of the dead/rise up…’ Hill combined a profoundly questing intellect with a wonderful gift for phrases and images; and yet he questioned and reflected on the meaning of every word he used. He used language so well because he didn’t trust it.

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Geoffrey Hill at the grave of Charles Williams in Oxford

 

When he heard I was writing a life of Charles Williams, a writer about whom he was enthusiastic whilst clearly also seeing his faults, he was immensely encouraging, but he didn’t stop at encouragement. He laboriously copied out – by hand – all of Williams’s annotations in a copy of Kierkegaard he owned, and sent them to me. He heralded the book in the opening words of his valedictory lecture as Professor of Poetry at Oxford; and when it came out he reviewed it in the TLS – a quirky, impartial review, whose opening words were ‘I welcome the appearance of this book though not unreservedly.’ – a sentence that made me laugh aloud, it was so characteristic.

And he sent me the wonderful photograph I reproduce here, of himself at Charles Williams’s grave. He looked like Merlin, whose voice he had used in one of his earliest poems: ‘I will consider the outnumbering dead:/For they are the husks of what was rich seed…’

I met him two or three times. He was kind, genial, funny, and quite without self-importance. As great a man, I think, as he was a poet.

CHARLES WILLIAMS: Restoring a Lost Poet

For too long, the major poetry of Charles Williams has been hidden away – obtainable only in expensive or rare second-hand editions. But that is about to change. I’ve just finished working through the proofs of The Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams – which I’m editing with Arthurian and Celtic scholar John Mathews.

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The book will contain the full texts of Williams’s two major collections – Taliessin Through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944) – together with all the other poems on Arthurian themes that Williams published during his lifetime.

At last, readers new to Charles Williams (1886-1945), or those who know only his remarkable spiritual thrillers (War in Heaven, The Place of the Lion, All Hallows Eve and the rest) will be able to sample these remarkable, deeply original and thrillingly vivid poems on the Arthurian world and the Grail, which have been almost unobtainable for so long.

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‘The Damsel of the Sanct Grael ‘ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The poems are deeply original. Portraying Logres – Arthurian Britain – as an autonomous kingdom within the Byzantine empire, they depict the establishment of the kingdom, many of the most dramatic events of its history (Merlin’s summons to Arthur to become king; the Battle of Mount Badon; the achievement of the Grail; the madness of Lancelot; the Table’s fall through the treachery of Mordred; and much more) in a wholly original modern style.

The poems are challenging at times – they use a modernist style as demanding as that of T.S. Eliot or the late W.B. Yeats – both of whom admired Williams’s writing, though Yeas probably knew only his prose. But they open world of magic and vision to the reader. As critic Naomi Royde-Smith wrote at the time, the poems, if you let them work on your imagination,

become at once lucid and alarming. They take on the concrete value of a popular ballad…the efficacy of a rune. The mind cannot escape from them. In sleep they return, not with the echoes and remembered imagery of their own themes, but evoking other shapes and other associations. It is as if, steeped in the lore of Taliessin, the poet had acquired a bardic gift and, whether he knew it or was involuntarily possessed by it, had exercised it in the physical inspirations and respirations proper to the full exercise of his manifestly occult prosody.

The Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams will be published first as an e-book, and later, we hope, as a physical volume. It won’t be available for some months yet but we are moving on steadily towards publication. It’s another step, following my biography Charles Williams: The Third Inkling, towards bringing Williams back into the mainstream as an important and indeed central twentieth-century writer.