Thursday, 10 May 2012

Roy Campbell

With the divinest Word, the virgin
Made pregnant, down the road                                                           
Comes walking, if you’ll grant her                                                                          
 A room in your abode. 

Concerning the Divine Word
St John of the Cross - translated by Roy Campbell

There's an interesting piece in the Catholic Herald [here] by Joseph Pearce on Roy Campbell, the poet, translator, and Catholic convert, and his role in saving the letters of St John of the Cross in the early days of the Spanish Civil War.
Not that long ago, because of  the literary establishment's fatal fascination with the totalitarian left , Campbell was both overlooked and despised in fairly equal measure, having had the bad taste to fight on the 'wrong' (i.e. Nationalist, Franco-ist) side in the Spanish Civil War. 
We still tend to view that conflict unrealistically as a simple clash between fascism and democracy, and because of the intervention of Hitler and Mussolini (turning a blind eye to the equally sinister part played by Stalin), as merely a rehearsal for World War II rather than in terms of Spanish history and politics itself. As someone has written, "history is the propaganda that sticks" *
Most things in Spain are far more complicated than Northern Europeans believe - even today...
"Hostilities broke out between Anarchists and other Republicans simultaneously with their persecution of Christians, Royalists, and Nationalists. That was one of the typical paradoxes of Spanish history during the last twenty years. It was because I saw this fission, so often, at first-hand, on the spot, that I knew and said, repeatedly, and without ever hypocritically turning in my tracks, that the mutual loathing of the various factions of "republicans" would eventually preponderate over their hostility to the common adversary, and the so called "loyalists" would collapse on account of mutual disloyalty. When the elections had come and I had been hauled into a lorry on the road to Getafe with a dead man's ticket and a shot gun at my kidneys, to vote Red, I took it as a joke: but shortly after, I began to see red, too. Except under compulsion, I had never voted in my life, and now I have twice seen a majority of Red members get in on a minority vote - I have lost all faith in that sort of thing. Voting has become obsolete since (as in England) the minority usually wins most seats. I had been persuading my wife and kids to leave Toledo, but it seemed the civil war would never reach us from Madrid, in spite of a Red Mayor, since the Province was loyal to Spain, in spite of unpunished murders. The wicked are always the first to act and the good are slow."                                      
 Roy Campbell: Light on a Dark Horse (1951)

I dropped my sail and dried my dripping seines
Where the white quay is chequered by cool planes
In whose great branches, always out of sight,
The nightingales are singing day and night.
Though all was grey beneath the moon’s grey beam,
My boat in her new paint shone like a bride,
And silver in my baskets shone the bream:
My arms were tired and I was heavy-eyed,
But when with food and drink, at morning-light,
The children met me at the water-side,
Never was wine so red or bread so white. 
Mass at Dawn
Roy Campbell

* Ironically it was Franco's (authoritarian nationalist rather than fascist) victory - the victory of some kind of Catholic Spain - and his subsequent neutrality which helped ensure the survival of Britain during World War II and the Allied victory itself. It's curious how fashionable opinion almost always advocates doing the wrong thing for the best possible reasons..

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