The Song Of Arthur - Preface
by S. Fowler Wright
Note: Foreword after Preface 'Arthur'.
Return to Contents
An ancient tale may later words retell,
Time's sure oblivion somewhat to delay;
Though in the shadows of a faithless day,
For one bright moment somewhat to repel
The meaner voices that themselves betray.
A tale of far dim days, vital with youth,
Of earliest Britain first as empire deemed.
No man may part the legend from the truth,
Nor say who lived, nor whom romance hath dreamed.
Through fluctuant clouds the enchanted dawn appears,
Red with the rose of honour: blind with tears.
A tale believed in earlier times; but say
No sun these heroes' deeds beheld, nor they
Lived, or lived only in the thoughts of men,
A dream that waking days reject. What then?
Shall ocean or the founded land remain?
Cloud-like they change. And who but God shall say,
Are dreams less real, are songs less worth, than they?
For this beyond the reach of doubt is sure:
The substance changes, and the dreams endure.
Illusion all? Yet those who heed shall hear
The noise of chargers, and the breaking spear,
And breathe the air of battle. They shall learn
Of deaths, and valours, and strong chastities;
Of violenced rights down-thrown to more return:
Of dungeons, and the weight of hopeless days:
Of wonders of waste ways where few men trod:
Of faiths child-eyed, that held the hand of God
As few men now: and of that sinless one
Who from her veins the wine of life spilled red
To save the worthless; and the vengeance done
By angered Heaven therefor.
Through winters, and the fresh delights of spring:
Of sportive loves in summer days and kind:
Of treasons of foul sorts that strike behind:
Of rapes and rescues. Of a dream that died
When Heaven to sinful man the Grail denied.
Of wide night-waters, shadowed deep and still,
Clothed in starless dark from hill to hill,
Where those who only at their wills we see,
Transient as earth, whose immortality
Is of the sun from which their lives derive,
More than ourselves and less, who fail or thrive
As the sun's system thrive or fail; for they
The bounded laws of Nature's life obey,
Nor any further life is theirs to be.
Of spells and charms a long-dead learning knew:
Of fastings, and the veil of flesh worn thin:
Of Hell's deep snares, and those who rode therethrough:
Of sin, and of the bitter doles of sin,
Avoidless, till the toll of life was past,
And only at God's feet was peace at last.
Swords reap: death garners. Races fail and die;
Or harbour in close hills to strife renew.
But still the light of Britain lifts more high
As tribe with tribe their strengths unite, and through
The healing of the reconciling years,
From these, than any of these, a hardier race
Is born of Britain and the sea's embrace,
To raise through transient mists a deathless star.
Till came at last the later Lancelot, he
The thunder of whose guns at Trafalgar
Should echo freedom to the utmost sea.
And we who now, beneath an equal sky,
In freedom's twilight, watch that greatness die,
By envious voices to its end misled:
A fallen hope behind, a doubt ahead,
Who more than life have loved that loveliest star,
May we not backward gaze to whence it sprung,
And gain some impulse of their light from far
Dream-dawns of other days, when life was young?
As mentioned, in Brian Stableford's synopsis of Sydney Fowler Wright's literary achievements, this is his life's work.
S. FW worked on this new rendering, of the Arthurian Legends in verse, for over 30 years; only to have, the only, nearly completed manuscript destroyed - along with his Fetter Lane offices and much else of importance - by a bomb in May 1941. Despite his advanced years (67) - and being bombed out of home twice - he largely re-wrote the 332,500 words - stopping only in 1956 on his 82nd birthday.
The 'Literary notes' give a flavour of his frustrations; and one insignificant dramatic loss in what was so much carnage. The War Damage Commission paid for his smaller losses but refused compensation for this work - needed to finance the re-writing - after an Oxford professor described it as 'a work of art'. As such it was beyond their scope. Being required to be secured in government vault... for protection.
S. FW's youngest son Nigel (1932-1987) had read the original, and having lived through part of its creation, it's destruction (and the attempts to re-write) was of the opinion that the 're-write' did not achieve the original greatness through its entire length. S.FW. ran out of time. It was Nigel's hope to use his understanding of its proper construction to prepare the work for publication when he retired. The available manuscripts being damaged, with sections missing and areas with which S.FW. was clearly unhappy. Particularly in vol. 4. Sadly this was not to be.
I have published the work in the hope that it will inspire others - and in the immensity of time the right person to re-work the original magic.
I have marked chapters that incorporate the sections from his 1919 work 'Scenes From The Morte d'Arthur' accordingly. 'The Riding of Lancelot' being self-evident.
Slight differences exist between versions - mostly 'linking lines' - this version is the 'Song of Arthur'.
His publication 'The Ballad of Elaine' is a short alternative version of 'Elaine of Astolat' (Chap. XVI). This was published in The Empire Poetry League's subscription Quarterly 'Poetry' July 1921 edition as 'Elaine and Lancelot'.
'Poetry' 1918-1931 (From Vol 8. No. 72 (June 1925) re-titled 'Poetry & The Play' - was also edited by S.FW from Vol. 3. No. 6. Aug. 1920 (as Alan Seymour) - also published other sections and articles by S.FW. on 'Arthur'.
End of Preface and Foreword