Happy 450th birthday, Shakespeare!
This past Wednesday–23 April 2014–was the traditional date on which we mark the Bard’s birthday. We don’t really know what day he was born on, but he was christened on this date, April 25th, and died on April 23rd, 1616, so marking his birth on the 23rd has a kind of symmetry about it. Here is a poem that Charles Williams wrote, published in Windows of Night (1925), entitled “On Meeting Shakespeare.” One explanatory note: Sax Rohmer (the pseudonym of A.H. Ward) was an English writer and friend of Williams: he was a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn member and most noted for his Fu Manchu novels. Check out his wikipedia page and the official Fu Manchu page. You also may want to read some of CW’s reviews of Sax Rohmer’s books in The Detective Fiction Reviews of Charles Williams, 1930-1935, edited by Jared Lobdell. Now, here’s the poem–don’t miss that last line:
On Meeting Shakespeare
I saw Shakespeare
In a Tube station on the Central London:
He was smoking a pipe,
He had Sax Rohmer’s best novel under his arm
(In a cheap edition),
And the Evening News.
He was reading in the half-detached way one does.
He had just come away from an office
And the notes for The Merchant
Were in his pocket,
beginning (it was the first line he thought of)
‘Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins,’
But his chief wish was to be earning more money.
Joe Christopher wrote a very interesting article C.W. and the Fu Manchu books in the Williams Society Quarterly.
It seems typical Williams teasing humor that he does not say which is “Sax Rohmer’s best novel”!
It is worth adding that the Williams Society site now features an archive of issues of the Newsletter which became the Quarterly, from 1976-2008: Joe Christopher’s article comes in an issue after that year and so is not yet available there (which, of course, applies to my sort of addendum to it, in a subsequent issue, too).
This was the first poem of CW’s I encountered, in Humphrey Carpenter’s The Inklings.
While enjoyable, it seem an extremely atypical piece of work both in terms of sentiment and technique – it reminds me of nothing so much as the 1960s English ‘beat poets’ such as the ‘Mersey Sound’ Liverpool authors Roger McGough, Brain Patten and Adrian Henri.
This sort of thing:
AlIen stumbling walk guide to the nightworld
buying egg creams at the allnight Gem Spa
dirty faded sign FIVE-SPOT
trashcans car engines mattresses
meeting a man carrying a shining bikewheel
in dark wiremesh Tomkins Square
strange beautiful cracked voice
autoharp dulcimer songs of Innocence and Experience
lambs dancing on the hillsides
poet burying his face in the rainsoaked grass
dark streets distant glass breaking
home in a yellow taxi
the girl who sits next to me in the hotel coffeeshop
furcoat worrying about her acne eating a hot fudge sundae
– Of course, CW was a much greater writer than any of these; but, just in this particular Shakespeare poem there is a stylistic and even thematic similarity.
It is extremely atypical of the forms of verse he favoured up to that time, and after. As to technique in another sense, I have in the past tossed out the suggestion that it might be a scene in a Williams novel – but that he had not written any, yet, when this was published. Perhaps one might also compare Taliessin’s vision of Virgil at work, in a still later piece of writing than the first five novels, the poem “Mount Badon”.