9/11 Memorial: Charles Williams on War

I decided to post something short today in remembrance of 9/11. The previously announced post on CW’s writing style will appear tomorrow.

Charles Williams was deeply affected by war and public tragedy. He was unable to serve in World War I due to medical problems (poor eyesight and a neurological disorder), but his best friends went to war and died. He felt that they died in his place, and he was wracked by that agony for years. This grief and guilt were perhaps partial catalysts for the development of his signature doctrine, co-inherence. He taught that all people were intimately connected, and that we could all carry one another’s burdens, regardless of distance of space or time.

Later, Williams lived through World War II. He was evacuated from London along with his employer, Oxford University Press, while his wife stayed there. Thus he lived through six years of tension and suspense, suffering from rationing, curfews, and crowded conditions, as she endured the falling bombs of the London Blitz.

He would have been both deeply hurt and unsurprised by 9/11. On the one hand, he took the pain of every disaster upon himself. He would feel that each of those people in the planes and towers died for him–but the positive side of that was how they lived on in him, eternally simultaneous in each other.

On the other hand, no human atrocity could shock him. A character in one of his novels thinks back on a murder discovered that day and realizes “that the shock which he undoubtedly had felt was the result of not expecting people to murder other people. ‘Whereas they naturally do,’ he said to himself.”

Naturally, people fly planes into buildings. Supernaturally, they love and serve and save one another.

Here is a poem CW wrote in honor of his two best friends, killed in the trenches of WWI.

In Time of War
IV. In Absence

Think not, although no more you walk
In English roads or with us talk,
That we and English roads are free
From you continual company.

For, since on that last enterprise
Were closed your tired and bloody eyes,
On some new expedition gone,
Though your souls leave our souls alone;

Yet now, those seasons to retrieve
Which they some while were loath to leave,
And by our sharpened sense discerned,
Your bodies are themselves returned;

Or, being held still in their place,
With strong desire turn backward space,
Make England France, and draw us through
To be environed there with you.

So we, ‘neath strangers’ footsteps, hear
Your heavy marches sounding near;
And in your silent listening post
Are their confused noises lost.

To walls and window-curtains cling
Your voices at each breakfasting,
As the cups pass from hand to hand,
Crying for drink in No Man’s Land.

Through all the gutters of the town
Your blood–your ghostly blood!–runs down,
Spreads in slow pools, and stains the feet
Of all who cross your ancient street.

On hills and heaths, where once you lay
Reading beneath the hot noonday,
Now if we lie, how near you keep–
But still, but frozen, but asleep!

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About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is a writer, English teacher, and Inklings scholar. Sørina serves as Chair of the Department of Language and Literature at Signum University and teaches English at King's College and Lehigh Carbon Community College. She has published two books of poetry, "The Significance of Swans" and "Caduceus."
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3 Responses to 9/11 Memorial: Charles Williams on War

  1. Reblogged this on A Pilgrim in Narnia and commented:
    For today’s Feature Friday I thought I would post something on 9/11. Best wishes to Americans as they remember, and remember. Here is a poem about war and lost from Charles Williams.

    Like

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    In line 31 ‘hear”>”near”

    For the context of the other five poems grouped under the general title, “In Time of War”, see Divorce (1920):

    https://archive.org/stream/divorcewil00willuoft#page/10/mode/2up

    Like

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Something of Blake’s ‘London’, here:

    And the hapless Soldiers sigh
    Runs in blood down Palace walls

    and more generally making me think of Edward Thomas’s ‘The Owl’, though more, as well as differently, intense.

    Like

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