Monday, January 12, 2015

Psyche Usurps the Outward Eye

by Roy Campbell

My thought has learned the lucid art
By which the willows lave their limbs
Whose form upon the water swims
Though in the air they rise apart.
For when with my delight I lie,
By purest reason unreproved,
Psyche usurps the outward eye
To trace her inward sculpture grooved
In one melodious line, whose flow
With eddying circle now invests
The rippled silver of her breasts,
Now shaves a flank of rose-lit snow,
Or rounds a cheek where sunset dies
in the black starlight of her eyes.

Roy Campbell was a South African poet, and a controversial figure. Jorge Luis Borges regarded his English translations of the verse of St. John of the Cross as masterpieces, and he is often considered one of the best poets writing in English between the two World Wars. He wrote scathing attacks on the Bloomsbury Group, whom he regarded as parasites, calling them 'intellectuals without intellect'. He supported Franco. Very famously he met C. S. Lewis at an Inklings meeting once, and they got along awfully; Lewis had written a poem attacking Campbell's work and insisted on reading it aloud to Campbell -- although Campbell's good-natured handling of it seems to have helped keep things calm, and he met up with the Inklings several more times. Tolkien, however, liked him, and it is sometimes suggested that some aspects of Aragorn were based on him; Tolkien thought that Lewis's dislike was mostly his prejudice against Catholics. He led a very eventful life; one of his feats was saving the archives of a Carmelite library from being destroyed by the republican forces in Spain -- an archive that included letters by St. John of the Cross.

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