Friday, April 27, 2018

Roy Campbell's "Toledo, July 1936"

There is a scene in the film Shadowlands in which Joy Gresham recites to C. S. Lewis a poem she wrote which is narrated from Madrid during the Spanish Civil War.  She asks, rhetorically, the question she assumes Lewis is thinking: when were you in Madrid?  The answer: she wasn't.  The joke, so to speak, is that fighting in Spain was so vogue among the literati of the day that someone like Gresham might affect such an experience just to blend in.

The South African poet Roy Campbell really did fight in Spain, though as Thomas P. McDonnell puts it, "Liberal poets and academicians of the thirties and forties have never forgiven Roy Campbell for his robust participation on what they presumed was the 'wrong side' of the Spanish Civil War."

That having been said, Campbell not only participated, but in the course of events rescued the Carmelite archives of Toledo from destruction, a detail he omits from his poem about the siege there.

Toledo, July 1936 
Toledo, when I saw you die
And heard the roof of Carmel crash,
A spread-winged phoenix from its ash
The Cross remained against the sky!
With horns of flame and haggard eye
The mountain vomited with blood,
A thousand corpses down the flood
Were rolled gesticulating by,
And high above the roaring shells
I heard the silence of your bells
Who've left these broken stones behind
Above the years to make your home,
And burn, with Athens and with Rome,
A sacred city of the mind.

Hat tip to A Literary Blog of Twentieth-Century and Beyond Poetry in English for the transcription of this poem.

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