Grevel Lindop

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

CHARLES WILLIAMS: Restoring a Lost Poet

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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.

Holygrail[1]

‘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.

5 comments to “CHARLES WILLIAMS: Restoring a Lost Poet”

  • David Llewellyn Dodds

    04.05.17

    “For too long, the major poetry of Charles Williams has been hidden away – obtainable only in expensive or rare second-hand editions.” Too true!

    How’s it coming along (swifter, I hope, than my poor neglected editions of the Arthurian Commonplace Book and the hitherto unpublished Arthurian poetry!)?

  • Sarah Thomson

    11.08.19

    How is it coming along? Will you be able to publish it?

  • Grevel Lindop

    14.11.19

  • Dean Wiegert

    07.11.20

    Hi. I bought your biography of CW when it first was published but only recently started reading it. I’m on about page 300. I’m trying to find good editions of his Arthurian poems and I found this page of your blog. I read the notes from the other who commented here and see you posted a link to the published edition of his Arthurian poems with John Matthews. But the book is no longer available except as a Kindle edition. I don’t have a Kindle and actually want a book. There are no used copies available that I can find either. When you click on the used copies advertised on Amazon, they actually bring up a 1982 edition of the poems published by Brewer. I want it as much for your and John Matthews commentary as for the poems. Any possibility this will be reprinted? Or do you know of another way to purchase a copy?

  • Grevel

    27.04.21

    I think the book is still available from John Matthews at Mythwood Books. Sadly sales thgrough amazon etc have been discontinued because thanks to Brexit the paperwork involved in sending it overseas (where many orders came from) made it uneconomic to keep on. I hope you can find it.

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