Death, two days late

graveFriday marked 70 years since Charles Williams died. It’s an important milestone, an important date on which to examine his legacy–not least because some of his works come into the public domain now. There were a few posts about CW on that day or throughout last week by Inklings bloggers:

There Will Be No More Pints with Charles: An Astonishing Eulogy by Warren Lewis

On the Deaths of Charles Williams and Harold Ladoo

The Death of Charles Williams

and an older post from Ben Trovato: Charles Williams.

Do let me know of any others.

So here I am, the quasi-official Charles Williams blogger, and I didn’t post anything on the anniversary of his death. Because I am surrounded by death. Death, death, and more death. The death of my dear friend Judy, who took her own life. The deaths of my two cats, who filled a bit of the hole in my heart made by childlessness. The deaths of all my personal and professional dreams. I am plunged in the dark night of the soul, the desolation that I have often studied, written about, and talked about.

And at the same time, I’ve been reading CW’s work of literary criticism The English Poetry Mind , and it’s startlingly relevant. I’ll blog about it on its own soon, but the main theme is the Crisis of Schism that was so important to CW’s life and work–the idea that we come up against moments of Impossibility, when we say simultaneously that something cannot be, and yet it is.

That’s where I’m living, these days. It is impossible that Judy would kill herself; such a thing cannot be. And yet it is true. kittensI cannot believe that God would take away the two young, small, sweet beings who filled my days with joy. And yet He has. I cannot face the facts about my empty, desolate future, with all of my deep dreams killed and shattered on the floor of time. And yet they are. There is no more hope for what I have longed to do, what I have trained to do, what I have lived to do. I am trapped and fluttering in an ever-shrinking cage. 

This, Williams believed, was the condition that all poets had to confront, create, and conquer in their works. He claimed that only Shakespeare and Milton ever did this thoroughly, and that is what makes them the greatest poets in the English language. Wordsworth tried and didn’t quite get there. Hopkins, Patmore, and Arnold caught notes of it, as did the other Romantics.

It’s a fascinating, limited, narrow-minded interpretation given by one of the broadest minds I’ve ever read. But more on that anon.

Characteristically, it doesn’t seem that CW offers any solution to the Crisis of Impossibility. He lived in the midst of contradictions; he reveled in a state of Negative Capability, in which he held two apparently contradictory positions simultaneously. Faith and doubt. Magic and mysticism. Marital fidelity and emotional adultery. Obscurity and fame. Belief and unbelief. Depression and joy.

Two important articles have recently been published that relate to aspects of this topic. One in the Journal of Inklings Studies by Aren Roukema, entitled “A Veil that Reveals: Charles Williams and the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross,” and the other in VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review, by Andrew Stout, entitled “‘It Can be Done, You Know'”: The Shape, Sources, and Seriousness of Charles Williams’s Doctrine of Substituted Love. The first reveals new FRC material and talks about the reconciliation of Christianity and the occult. The second–well, the title is pretty clear. I hope to blog about these soon, unless you have read one of them and would like to write a summary review? Please contact me if you would.

Anyway, let me wrap up this scattered post by remarking what an important year this is in CW studies. After 70 years, we should stop and ask what legacy CW has. Lots of significant work is being done. There are the two articles I just mentioned. There’s my own edition of The Chapel of the Thorn. There’s Grevel Lindop’s official biography of CW, due out from Oxford University Press on October 29th of this year, and apparently going to be titled Charles Williams: The Third Inkling. Then there’s my collection The Inklings and King Arthur, which is pretty heavily weighted towards CW, due out late this year or early next. If you know of other publications in the works, please let me know.

In short, it is a year of death, but it is a year of important beginnings, too. Stayed tuned as I get back into blogging here and share more news and book reviews with you. May you walk Under the Mercy.

 ~ Sørina Higgins

 

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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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22 Responses to Death, two days late

  1. michaelhuggins2591 says:

    > The deaths of all my personal and professional dreams. I am plunged in the dark night of the soul…I am trapped and fluttering in an ever-shrinking cage.”

    I am very sorry to learn this and hope you will find some peace. Things seemed hopeless for me about 15 months ago, but everything eventually turns around, no matter how painful. Best wishes as you make your way through this terribly difficult time.

    Like

    • Thank you, Michael. I am starting to see just the smallest glimmering that all this suffering is purposeful. I suppose I’m starting to know God’s love again consciously, although not emotionally. Your kind words are helpful.

      Like

  2. tom hillman says:

    Sørina, as someone who is scarcely acquainted with you, I am uncertain whether I should even dare to respond to all the pain and confusion you’ve expressed here. But I hear you so clearly. I know those very deaths and doubts, too. We are so overwhelmed, bewildered, crushed, and we want someone to explain it all. Keep faith and keep going. That’s all you can do.

    Like

  3. But surely you, of all people, must know this passage by heart – a passage so near and dear to me… that startling, almost shocking statement of the doctrine of substitution, and the example of Peter Stanhope; leading one (well… me, anyway) to the impossible, yet impossible to deny conclusion that Williams knew all along exactly what he was talking about. And if there were any reservations on his part, they were more along the lines of artistic choices in the representation of the material, rather than any hesitancy about the idea itself.

    And now you…
    The death of personal and professional dreams… trapped and fluttering… surrounded by death.
    The despair I read in your words…

    But I don’t understand.
    You have the text for a course of action laid out before you.
    A roadmap to a breath-taking destination has been there all along.

    Have you no one whom you can ask to carry your pain?
    It’s surprisingly simple.
    And if there’s no one else you care to ask, why not use me?

    It can be done, you know…

    Like

    • Yes. I know. I know the facts of this better than almost anyone else. But I don’t know if I believe it.

      Like

      • But need that necessarily preclude the offer? As the author says… “it needs only the act.”
        If he said anything of worth – anything at all, at any time at all – then we must consider that this, too, is something about which he was, perhaps, ahead of the curve.
        I’m not sure that I know much of anything in this world. But if there are Doctors outside of those decreed by Rome, then I believe Williams is one of them.
        Oh, so many years ago, the passage in question struck me like a bolt of lightening, in much the same way as it struck Pauline. And I’ve been living with that ever since. It’s been made real for me so many times since – not because there have been those who have carried my burden, but because I have carried theirs. It is indeed a terrible good…
        I claim no special provenience, nor a mandate from Heaven, aside from the one we’re all commanded to. And so I ask again. Will you not let me carry your burden for you?

        Like

        • jubilare says:

          Surprisingly simple can sometimes be too simple. There are times when we can help each other and carry each other’s burdens. But there are also valleys that allow for no external help. The latter is frustrating to those watching, but as someone who has walked through such a valley, I will say that attempts to carry the burden for me would have been, to put it mildly, counter-productive.

          I’m not saying that is the case, here. I wouldn’t dare to presume. I’m also not saying that a loving offer of help is a bad thing. I just think that care needs to be taken. Offered help may be what is needed 9 times out of 10, but there is still that tenth case. And in that tenth case, refusal of such help might not be foolishness or blindness, but a clear recognition of the situation.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. sdorman2014 says:

    we have missed you.

    Like

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Dear Sørina,

    I was hoping you were merely very busy, and feared it might be ill health, and was shy of intruding, and more afraid to ask, and, oh, dear, it was and is such sorrows upon sorrows!

    As I remember it, very close to the grave of Charles Williams and Florence and Michael is the grave of Walter Pater and his sisters, marked by a cross inscribed, “In te Domini Speravi”. I hope you can know yourself “Under the Mercy” and “In Thee, Lord”, and praying, “In Thee, Lord, have I trusted, let me never be confounded”, and “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him”.

    Like

  6. Andrew Stout says:

    Sorina,
    So sorry to hear about these deaths. I am praying for you.

    Like

  7. jubilare says:

    As a chronic, and occasionally severe depressive, I’d like to say something. Depression and Joy are not contradictions. I used to think they were, but I’ve learned otherwise. Depression and the emotion of Happiness are opposites, depression and contentment, depression and wellness, these are opposites. Joy is something Other. Something scarcely explainable and utterly transcendent of all circumstances, something more solid and more real than emotion or psychological state. I learned that lesson after becoming so depressed that I stopped seeing color and could barely register taste and smell. When the world itself wasn’t real to me anymore and the only thing I ever felt was pain, that is when I first met Joy. I’m still learning, but I count this as something I have learned.

    I know that probably doesn’t resonate with you right now. It wouldn’t have resonated with me. But hopefully, eventually, it will.

    Like

    • Yes, that does make sense. I can glimpse it occasionally. Most of the time, I can acknowledge the existence of Joy even when I can’t feel it. I mean, it’s a pretty amazing world overall: just because I’m in darkness doesn’t mean there isn’t light on the other side of the planet.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jubilare says:

        Being able to acknowledge the existence of Joy, even sometimes, is a very good sign.

        The knowing never seems to affect my feelings when I am in a depression, but knowing does have its own kind of power. Knowing that the darkness is not reality, but merely my current perception of reality, helps me to keep going because I know that, however long the darkness lasts, it is finite. And when it is over, I will be able to look back and see it for what it is.

        Blessings on you, and strength to you.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: The Poetry of Crisis: “The English Poetic Mind” | The Oddest Inkling

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