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Title: Arthur Machen - A Novelist of Ecstasy and Sin
Author: Starrett, Vincent, 1886-1974
Language: English
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ARTHUR MACHEN

A Novelist of Ecstasy and Sin

by

VINCENT STARRETT

With Two Uncollected Poems by

ARTHUR MACHEN



Chicago
Walter M. Hill
1918



NOTE


With singular unanimity critics for thirty years have slighted the work
of Arthur Machen. A line suffices for him in Holbrook Jackson's "The
Eighteen Nineties," and Mr. Blaikie-Murdoch ignores him completely in
"The Renaissance of the Nineties"; yet those are the standard works on
the period to which, chronologically, at least, Machen belongs. Mr.
Turquet-Milnes, with greater appreciation, gives him a half-chapter in
his scholarly work, "The Influence of Baudelaire," but even that is made
up largely of quotations from "The Hill of Dreams," to prove Machen a
descendent of Baudelaire--an error to which I subscribed until Machen
himself disillusioned me, although the assertion is still partially
true.

Because, in my opinion, Arthur Machen is the outstanding artist of his
time, and one of the great masters of all time, I wrote the following
paper, which first appeared in Reedy's _Mirror_ for October 5, 1917.
That issue is not now obtainable, and, as calls for it continue to come
to me and to the publisher, I find ground for a belief that Machen may,
at length, be coming into his own, a tardy phenomenon which I am happy
to hasten so far as it lies within my power. Mr. Walter M. Hill shares
this feeling and this brochure is the result.

I am indebted to Mr. William Marion Reedy for permission to reprint
those parts of the article which appeared in his journal.

V.S.



ARTHUR MACHEN


Some thirty odd years ago a young man of twenty-two, the son of a Welsh
clergyman, fresh from school and with his head full of a curiously
occult mediaevalism, privately acquired from yellowed palimpsests and
dog-eared volumes of black letter, wrote a classic. More, he had it
published. Only one review copy was sent out; that was to _Le Livre_, of
Paris. It fell into the hands of Octave Uzanne, who instantly ordered
Rabelais and Boccaccio to "shove over" on the immortal seats and make
room by their side for the author. The book was "The Chronicle of
Clemendy"; the author, Arthur Machen.

Three years ago, about, not long after the great war first shook the
world, a London evening newspaper published inconspicuously a purely
fictional account of a supposed incident of the British retreat from
Mons. It described the miraculous intervention of the English archers of
Agincourt at a time when the British were sore pressed by the German
hordes. Immediately, churchmen, spiritualists, and a host of others,
seized upon it as an authentic record and the miracle as an omen. In the
hysteria that followed, Arthur Machen, its author, found himself a
talked-of man, because he wrote to the papers denying that the narrative
was factual. Later, when his little volume, "The Bowmen and Other
Legends of the War," appeared in print, it met with an extraordinary and
rather impertinent success.

But what had Machen been doing all those long years between 1885 and
1914?

In a day of haphazard fiction and rodomontade criticism, the advent of a
master workman is likely to be unheralded, if, indeed, he is fortunate
enough to find a publisher to put him between covers. Mr. Machen is not
a newcomer, however, as we have seen; no immediate success with a "best
seller" furnishes an incentive for a complimentary notice. He is an
unknown, in spite of "Clemendy," in spite of "The Bowmen," in spite of
everything. For thirty years he has been writing English prose, a period
ample for the making of a dozen reputations of the ordinary kind, and in
that time he has produced just ten books. In thirty years Harold
Bindloss and Rex Beach will have written one-hundred-and-ten books and
sold the moving picture rights of them all.

Of course, it is exactly because he does not write books of the ordinary
kind that Arthur Machen's reputation as a writer was not made long ago.
His apotheosis will begin after his death. The insectial fame of the
"popular" novelist is immediate; it is born at dawn and dies at sunset.
The enduring fame of the artist too often is born at sunset, but it is
immortal.

More than Hawthorne or Tolstoy, Machen is a novelist of the soul. He
writes of a strange borderland, lying somewhere between Dreams and
Death, peopled with shades, beings, spirits, ghosts, men, women,
souls--what shall we call them?--the very notion of whom stops vaguely
just short of thought. He writes of the life Satyr-ic. For him Pan is
not dead; his votaries still whirl through woodland windings to the mad
pipe that was Syrinx, and carouse fiercely in enchanted forest grottoes
(hidden somewhere, perhaps, in the fourth dimension!). His meddling with
the crucibles of science is appalling in its daring, its magnificence,
and its horror. Even the greater works of fictional psychology--"Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," if you like--shrink before his astounding
inferences and suggestions.

It is his theory that the fearful and shocking rites of the Bacchic
cultus survive in this disillusioned age; that Panic lechery and
wickedness did not cease with the Agony, as Mrs. Browning and others
would have us believe.

Of Hawthorne, Arthur Symons wrote: "He is haunted by what is obscure,
dangerous, and on the confines of good and evil." Machen crosses those
perilous frontiers. He all but lifts the veil; himself, indeed, passes
beyond it. But the curtain drops behind him and we, hesitating to
follow, see only dimly the phantasmagoria beyond; the ecstasies of vague
shapes with a shining about them, on the one hand; on the other the
writhings of animate gargoyles. And we experience, I think, a distinct
sense of gratitude toward this terrible guide for that we are permitted
no closer view of the mysteries that seem to him so clear.

We glimpse his secrets in transfiguring flashes from afar, as Launcelot
viewed the San Graal, and, like that tarnished knight, we quest vainly a
tangible solution, half in apprehension, always in glamour. But it is
like Galahad we must seek the eternal mysteries that obsess Arthur
Machen. There is no solution but in absolution, for it is the mysteries
of life and death of which he writes, and of life-in-death and
death-in-life. This with particular reference to Machen's two most
important books, "The House of Souls" and "The Hill of Dreams," in which
he reaches his greatest stature as a novelist of the soul.

There are those who will call him a novelist of Sin, quibbling about a
definition. With these I have no quarrel; the characterizations are
synonymous. His books exhale all evil and all corruption; yet they are
as pure as the fabled waters of that crystal spring De Leon sought. They
are pervaded by an ever-present, intoxicating sense of sin, ravishingly
beautiful, furiously Pagan, frantically lovely; but Machen is a finer
and truer mystic than the two-penny occultists who guide modern
spiritualistic thought. If we are to subscribe to his curious
philosophy, to be discussed later, we must believe that there is no
paradox in this.

But something of what we are getting at is explained in his own pages,
in this opening paragraph from his story, "The White People," in "The
House of Souls": "'Sorcery and sanctity,' said Ambrose, 'these are the
only realities. Each is an ecstasy, a withdrawal from the common life.'"
And, a little later, in this: "'There is something profoundly unnatural
about sin ... the essence of which really is in the taking of heaven by
storm.'"

One gathers from a general vagueness on the subject that sin is not
popular in these times. There are, of course, new sins and advanced sins
and higher sins, all of which are intensely interesting. The chief
puzzle to the lay mind is why they should bear these names, since they
are usually neither new, advanced and high, nor particularly sinful. I
am speaking of sin as an offense against the nature of things, and of
evil in the soul, which has very little to do with the sins of the
statute book. Sin, according to the same Ambrose I have quoted, is
conceivable in the talking of animals. If a chair should walk across a
room, that would be sinful, or if a tree sat down with us to afternoon
tea. The savage who worships a conjurer is a far finer moralist than
the civilise who suspects him--and I use the name moralist for one who
has an appreciation of sin.

This is not the sin of the legal code. _Ambrose_ I conceive to be Arthur
Machen. There are only two realities; sorcery and sanctity--sin and
sainthood--and each is an ecstasy. Arthur Machen's is the former.

Perhaps his most remarkable story--certainly I think his most terrible
story, is "The Great God Pan," at first published separately with "The
Inmost Light"; now occurring in "The House of Souls." It is the story of
an experiment upon a girl, as a result of which, for a moment, she is
permitted a sight of the Great God, beyond the veil, with shocking
consequences. Yet it is told with exquisite reticence and grace, and
with a plausibility that is as extraordinary as it is immoral. Here is
the conclusion of that story:

     "What I said Mary would see, she saw, but I forgot that no human
     eyes could look on such a vision with impunity. And I forgot, as I
     have just said, that when the house of life is thus thrown open,
     there may enter in that for which we have no name, and human flesh
     may become the veil of a horror one dare not express.... The
     blackened face, the hideous form upon the bed, changing and melting
     before your eyes from woman to man, from man to beast, and from
     beast to worse than beast, all the strange horror that you
     witnessed, surprises me but little. What you say the doctor you
     sent for saw and shuddered at, I noticed long ago; I knew what I
     had done the moment the child was born, and when it was five years
     old I surprised it, not once or twice, but several times, with a
     playmate, you may guess of what kind.... And now Helen is with her
     companions."

There is the very quintessence of horror in the unutterable suggestion
of such passages. As for "The Hill of Dreams," I have found its reading
one of the most desolate and appalling experiences in literature.
Reading it, himself, years after publication, its author decided that it
was a "depressing book." That is undoubtedly true, but spiritually as
well as technically it marks to date the topmost pinnacle of his
tormented genius. It reaches heights so rarefied that breathing
literally becomes painful. To the casual reader this sounds absurd;
hyperbolical if not hypocritical rant; but in a day when a majority of
critics find it difficult to restrain themselves in speaking of Harold
Bell Wright, and place Jeffery Farnol beside Fielding and Thackeray, one
cannot go far wrong in indulging a few enthusiasms for so genuine an
artist as Arthur Machen.

Of the reviewers into whose hands fell this remarkable book, in the year
of its publication, 1907, only one appears to have valued it at its real
worth--the editor of _The Academy_, who, carried away by the tale and
its telling, turned out a bit of critical prose which might have been
lifted from the book, itself. "There is something sinister in the beauty
of Mr. Machen's book," he wrote. "It is like some strangely shaped
orchid, the colour of which is fierce and terrible, and its perfume is
haunting to suffocation by reason of its intolerable sweetness. The
cruelty of the book is more savage than any of the cruelty which the
book describes. Lucian shuddered at the boys who were deliberately
hanging an ungainly puppy; he had thrashed the little ruffian who
kicked the sick cat, before he wrapped himself away from the contact of
such infamy in the shelter of his own imaginings. For in 'The Hill of
Dreams' you seem to be shown a lovely, sensitive boy who has fashioned
himself a white palace of beauty in his own mind. He has had time only
to realize its full beauty when disease lays its cold touch upon him,
and gathers him into her grasp, until he lies decaying and horrible,
seeing his own decay and seeing that his decay makes the white palace
foul. The boys did not chant songs as they looped the string round the
neck of the uncouth puppy. Mr. Machen fashions prose out of the
writhings of Lucian, who is dear to him: and his prose has the rhythmic
beat of some dreadful Oriental instrument, insistent, monotonous,
haunting; and still the soft tone of one careful flute sounds on, and
keeps the nerves alive to the slow and growing pain of the rhythmic
beat. Lucian in ecstacy of worship for the young girl whose lips have
given him a new life, pressed his body against sharp thorns until the
white flesh of his body was red with drops of blood. That, too, is the
spirit of the book. It is like some dreadful liturgy of self-inflicted
pain, set to measured music: and the cadence of that music becomes
intolerable by its suave phrasing and perfect modulation. The last long
chapter with its recurring themes is a masterpiece of prose, and in its
way unique."

After that, there would seem to be no need for further comment on "The
Hill of Dreams." But there is--there is!

Quite as important as what Mr. Machen says is his manner of saying it.
He possesses an English prose style which in its mystical suggestion and
beauty is unlike any other I have encountered. There is ecstacy in his
pages. Joris-Karl Huysmans in a really good translation suggests Machen
better, perhaps, than another; both are debtors to Baudelaire.[1]

The "ecstasy" one finds in Machen's work (of which more anon) is due in
no small degree to his beautiful English "style"--an abominable word.
But Machen is no mere word-juggler. His vocabulary, while astonishing
and extensive, is not affectedly so. Yet his sentences move to sonorous,
half-submerged rhythms, swooning with pagan color and redolent of
sacerdotal incense. What is the secret of this graceful English method?
It is this: he achieves his striking results and effects through his
noteworthy gift of selection and arrangement. I had reached this
conclusion, I think, before I encountered a passage from "The Hill of
Dreams," which clinched it:

     "Language, he understood, was chiefly important for the beauty of
     its sounds, by its possession of words resonant, glorious to the
     ear, by its capacity, when exquisitely arranged, of suggesting
     wonderful and indefinable impressions, perhaps more ravishing and
     further removed from the domain of strict thought than the
     impressions excited by music itself. Here lay hidden the secret of
     suggestion, the art of causing sensation by the use of words."

Was it ever better expressed? He defines his method and exhibits its
results at the same time. And dipping almost at random into the same
volume, here is a further example of the method:

     "Slowly and timidly he began to untie his boots, fumbling with the
     laces, and glancing all the while on every side at the ugly,
     misshapen trees that hedged the lawn. Not a branch was straight,
     not one was free, but all were interlaced and grew one about
     another; and just above ground, where the cankered stems joined the
     protuberant roots, there were forms that imitated the human shape,
     and faces and twining limbs that amazed him. Green mosses were
     hair, and tresses were stark in grey lichen; a twisted root swelled
     into a limb; in the hollows of the rooted bark he saw the masks of
     men.... As he gazed across the turf and into the thicket, the
     sunshine seemed really to become green, and the contrast between
     the bright glow poured on the lawn and the black shadows of the
     brake made an odd flickering light in which all the grotesque
     postures of stem and root began to stir; the wood was alive. The
     turf beneath him heaved and sunk as with the deep swell of the
     sea...."

And:

     "He could imagine a man who was able to live on one sense while he
     pleased; to whom, for example, every impression of touch, taste,
     hearing, or seeing should be translated into odor; who at the
     desired kiss should be ravished with the scent of dark violets, to
     whom music should be the perfume of a rose garden at dawn."

This is not prose at all, but poetry, and poetry of a high order. And it
is from such beautiful manipulation of words, phrases, and rhythms that
Machen attains his most clairvoyant and arresting effects in the realms
of horror, dread, and terror; from the strange gesturings of trees, the
glow of furnace-like clouds, the somber beauty of brooding fields, and
valleys all too still, the mystery of lovely women, and all the terror
of life and nature seen with the understanding eye.

So much for Arthur Machen as a novelist. It is a fascinating subject,
but it is also an extensive one, and the curious, tenuous quality of his
work may lead one into indiscretions.

       *       *       *       *       *

The peculiar philosophy of Arthur Machen is set down in "Hieroglyphics"
and in "Dr. Stiggins: His Views and Principles." The first chapter of
the latter work is a scathing satire on certain foibles and
idiosyncracies of the American people--such as lynching, vote-buying,
and food-adulteration--but as it is, on the whole, a polemical volume
which, by the nature of the subjects it treats, can have less permanent
interest than the author's other work, it may be put to one side;
although as a specimen of Machen's impeccable prose it must not be
ignored.

In "Hieroglyphics" he returns to those ecstasies mentioned in "The White
People" and gives us further definitions. The word ecstasy is merely a
symbol; it has many synonyms. It means rapture, adoration, a withdrawal
from common life, the other things. "Who can furnish a precise
definition of the indefinable? They (the 'other things') are sometimes
in the song of a bird, sometimes in the whirl of a London street,
sometimes hidden under a great, lonely hill. Some of us seek them with
most hope and the fullest assurance in the sacring of the mass, others
receive tidings through the sound of music, in the color of a picture,
in the shining form of a statue, in the meditation of eternal truth."

"Hieroglyphics" is Arthur Machen's theory of literature, brilliantly
exposited by that "cyclical mode of discoursing" that was affected by
Coleridge. In it he promulgates the admirable doctrine that fine
literature must be, in effect, an allegory and not the careful history
of particular persons. He seeks a mark of division which is to separate
fine literature from mere literature, and finds the solution in the one
word ecstasy (or, if you prefer, beauty, wonder, awe, mystery, sense of
the unknown, desire for the unknown), with this conclusion: "If ecstasy
be present, then I say there is fine literature, if it be absent, then,
in spite of all the cleverness, all the talents, all the workmanship and
observation and dexterity you may show me, then, I think, we have a
product (possibly a very interesting one) which is not fine literature."

Following this reasoning, by an astonishing sequence of arguments, he
proceeds to the bold experiment of proving "Pickwick" possessed of
ecstasy, and "Vanity Fair" lacking it. The case is an extreme one, he
admits, deliberately chosen to expound his theory to the _n_th. degree.
The analytical key to the test is found in the differentiation between
art and artifice, a nice problem in such extreme instances as Poe's
"Dupin" stories and Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," as Mr. Machen
points out. By this ingenious method the "Odyssey," "Oedipus," "Morte
D'Arthur," "Kubla Khan," "Don Quixote," and "Rabelais" immediately are
proven fine literature; a host of other esteemed works merely, if you
like, good literature.

"Pantagruel" by a more delicate application of the test becomes a finer
work than "Don Quixote," and in the exposition of this dictum we come
upon one of the mountain peaks of Machen's amazing philosophy.

He begins the discussion with a jest about the enormous capacity for
strong drink exhibited by _Mr. Pickwick_ and his friends, and reminds us
that it was the god of wine in whose honor Sophocles wrote his dramas
and choral songs, who was worshipped and invoked at the Dionysiaca; and
that all the drama arose from the celebration of the Bacchic mysteries.
He goes on to the "Gargantua" and "Pantagruel," which reek of wine as
Dickens does of brandy and water.

The Rabelaisian history begins: "_Grandgousier estoit bon raillard en
son temps, aimant à boire net_," and ends with the Oracle of the Holy
Bottle, with the word "_Trinch ... un mot panomphée, celebré et entendu
de toutes nations, et nous signifie, beuvez_." "And I refer you,"
continues Machen, "to the allocution of Bacbuc, the priestess of the
Bottle, at large. 'By wine,' she says, 'is man made divine,' and I may
say that if you have not got the key to these Rabelaisian riddles, much
of the value--the highest value--of the book is lost to you."

Seeking the meaning of this Bacchic cultus, this apparent glorification
of drunkenness in all lands and in all times, from Ancient Greece
through Renascent France to Victorian England, by peoples and persons
not themselves given to excess, he finds it again in the word ecstasy.

     "We are to conclude that both the ancient people and the modern
     writers recognized ecstasy as the supreme gift and state of man,
     and that they chose the Vine and the juice of the Vine, as the most
     beautiful and significant symbol of that Power which withdraws a
     man from the common life and the common consciousness, and taking
     him from the dust of earth, sets him in high places, in the
     eternal world of ideas ... Let us never forget that the essence of
     the book ('Pantagruel') is in its splendid celebration of ecstasy,
     under the figure of the Vine."

At this point Mr. Machen places the "key" in our hands and declines
further to reveal his secrets. In _Mr. Pickwick's_ overdose of milk
punch we are to find, ultimately, "a clue to the labyrinth of mystic
theology."

By his own test we are enabled to place Arthur Machen's greatest works
on the shelf with "Don Quixote" and "Pantagruel"; by his own test we
find the ecstasy of which he speaks in his own pages, under the symbol
of the Vine, and under figures even more beautiful and terrible. For
minor consideration he finds in Rabelais another symbolism of ecstasy:

     "The shape of gauloiserie, of gross, exuberant gaiety, expressing
     itself by outrageous tales, outrageous words, by a very cataract of
     obscenity, if you please, if only you will notice how the obscenity
     of Rabelais transcends the obscenity of common life; his grossness
     is poured out in a sort of mad torrent, in a frenzy, a very passion
     of the unspeakable."

In Cervantes he finds the greater deftness, the finer artifice, but he
believes the conception of Rabelais the higher because it is the more
remote. _Pantagruel's_ "more than frankness, its ebullition of grossness
... is either the merest lunacy, or else it is sublime." And the
paragraph that succeeds this one in the book, perhaps it is part of the
same paragraph, sums up this astonishing philosophy with a conclusion
calculated to shock the Puritanic. Thus:

     "Don't you perceive that when a certain depth has been passed you
     begin to ascend into the heights? The Persian poet expresses the
     most transcendental secrets of the Divine Love by the grossest
     phrases of the carnal love; so Rabelais soars above the common
     life, above the streets and the gutter, by going far lower than the
     streets and the gutter: he brings before you the highest by
     positing that which is lower than the lowest, and if you have the
     prepared, initiated mind, a Rabelaisian 'list' is the best preface
     to the angelic song. (!) All this may strike you as extreme
     paradox, but it has the disadvantage of being true, and perhaps you
     may assure yourself of its truth by recollecting the converse
     proposition--that it is when one is absorbed in the highest
     emotions that the most degrading images will intrude themselves."

And so on.... The sense of the futility almost of attempting to explain
Machen becomes more pronounced as I progress. You will have to read him.
You will find his books (if you are fortunate) in a murky corner of some
obscure second-hand bookshop.

Arthur Machen was born in Wales in 1863. He is married and has two
children. That is an astonishing thought, after reading "The Inmost
Light." It is surprising indeed to learn that he was _born_. He is High
Church, "with no particular respect for the Archbishop of Canterbury,"
and necessarily subconsciously Catholic, as must be all those "lonely,
awful souls" who write ecstasy across the world. He hates puritanism
with a sturdier hatred than inspires Chesterton; for a brilliant
exposition of this aversion I commend readers to his mocking
introduction to "The House of Souls." That work, "The Hill of Dreams,"
and "Hieroglyphics" were written between 1890 and 1900, after which
their author turned strolling player and alternated for a time between
the smartest theatres in London and the shabbiest music halls in
London's East End. For the last six years or so he has been a
descriptive writer on the London _Evening News_.

His works not before mentioned comprise a translation (the best)
of the "Heptameron"; "Fantastic Tales," a collection of mediaeval
whimsies, partly translated and partly original and altogether
Rabelaisian and delightful; "The Terror," a "shilling shocker" (his own
characterization), but a finer work withal than most of the "literature"
of the day, and "The Great Return," an extraordinary short tale which
may find place some day in another such collection as "The House of
Souls."

I have mentioned "The Chronicle of Clemendy," calling it a classic, and
something further should be said about that astonishing book. It is the
Welsh "Heptameron," a chronicle of amorous intrigue, joyous drunkenness,
and knightly endeavor second to none in the brief muster of the world's
greatest classics. In it there is the veritable flavour of mediaeval
record. Somewhat less outspoken than Balzac in his "Droll Stories," and
less verbose than Boccaccio, Machen proves himself the peer of either in
gay, irresponsible, diverting, unflagging invention, while his diction
is lovelier than that of any of his forerunners, including the nameless
authors of those rich Arabian tapestries which were the parent tales of
all mediaeval and modern facetiae.

The day is coming when a number of serious charges will be laid against
us who live in this generation, and some severe questions asked, and the
fact that we will be dead, most of us, when the future fires its
broadside, has nothing at all to do with the case.

We are going to be asked, _post-mortem_, why we allowed Ambrose Bierce
to vanish from our midst, unnoticed and unsought, after ignoring him
shamefully throughout his career; why Stephen Crane, after a few
flamboyant reviews, was so quickly forgotten at death; why Richard
Middleton was permitted to swallow his poison at Brussels; why W.C.
Morrow and Walter Blackburn Harte were in our day known only to the
initiated, discriminating few; their fine, golden books merely rare
"items" for the collector. Among other things, posterity is going to
demand of us why, when the opportunity was ours, we did not open our
hearts to Arthur Machen and name him among the very great.


[Footnote 1: I have let this last assertion stand as part of the original
article, although Mr. Machen writes me that I am in error. "I never read
a line of Baudelaire," he says, "but I have read deeply in Poe, who, I
believe, derives largely from Baudelaire." Of course, it is the other
way 'round, Baudelaire derives from Poe, but my own assumption is
rendered clear.--V.S.]


       *       *       *       *       *


    THE REMEMBRANCE OF THE BARD


    In the darkness of old age let not my memory
      fail:
    Let me not forget to celebrate the beloved land
      of Gwent.
    If they imprison me in a deep place, in a house
      of pestilence,
    Still shall I be free, remembering the sunshine
      upon Mynydd Maen.
    There have I listened to the song of the lark,
      my soul has ascended with the song of the
      little bird:
    The great white clouds were the ships of my
      spirit, sailing to the haven of the Almighty.
    Equally to be held in honour is the site of the
      Great Mountain.
    Adorned with the gushing of many waters--
      sweet is the shade of its hazel thickets.
    There a treasure is preserved which I will not
      celebrate;
    It is glorious and deeply concealed.
    If Teils should return, if happiness were restored
      to the Cymri,
    Dewi and Dyfrig should serve his Mass; then a
      great marvel would be made visible.
    O blessed and miraculous work! then should my
      bliss be as the joy of angels.
    I had rather behold this offering than kiss the
      twin lips of dark Gwenllian.
    Dear my land of Gwent: _O quam dilecta tabernacula_.
    Thy rivers are like precious golden streams of
      Paradise, thy hills are as the Mount Syon.
    Better a grave on Twyn Barlwm than a throne
      in the palace of the Saxons at Caer-Ludd.

    ARTHUR MACHEN



    THE PRAISE OF MYFANWY


    O gift of the everlasting:
    O wonderful and hidden mystery.
    Many secrets have been vouchsafed to me,
    I have been long acquainted with the wisdom
      of the trees;
    Ash and oak and elm have communicated to me
      from my boyhood,
    The birch and the hazel and all the trees of
      the greenwood have not been dumb.
    There is a caldron rimmed with pearls of whose
      gifts I am not ignorant;
    I will speak little of it; its treasures are known
      to the Bards.
    Many went on the search of Caer-Pedryfan,
    Seven alone returned with Arthur, but my spirit
      was present.
    Seven are the apple-trees in a beautiful orchard;
    I have eaten of their fruit which is not bestowed
      on Saxons.
    I am not ignorant of a Head which is glorious
      and venerable;
    It made perpetual entertainment for the warriors,
      their joys would have been immortal;
    If they had not opened the door of the south,
      they would have feasted for ever,
    Listening to the song of the fairy Birds of
      Rhiannon.
    Let not anyone instruct me concerning the Glassy
      Isle;
    In the garments of the saints who returned from
      it were rich odours of Paradise.
    All this I knew, and yet my knowledge was
      ignorance.
    For one day, as I walked by Caer-rhiu in the
      principal forest of Gwent,
    I saw golden Myfanwy as she bathed in the
      brook Tarogi,
    Her hair flowed about her; Arthur's crown had
      dissolved into a shining mist.
    I gazed into her blue eyes as it were into twin
      heavens,
    All the parts of her body were adornments and
      miracles.
    O gift of the everlasting:
    O wonderful and hidden mystery:
    When I embraced Myfanwy a moment became
      immortality.

    ARTHUR MACHEN





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