Wednesday, April 18, 2012

38. Those vanished hours of the rich Vale

The poet Gordon Bottomley (1874-1948) admired Ricketts and Shannon and collected their works, which he donated to the Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery in Carlisle. He  dedicated one of his plays (Gruach) to Ricketts and Shannon and reprinted the dedicatory poem in a collection, Poems of thirty years (1925).

Earlier, Bottomley had written four poems 'after the design of Mr. C.H. Shannon, R.A.'. This referred to a lithograph, 'The white watch' (1894) that was listed by Ricketts in his Catalogue of Mr. Shannon's lithographs as number 27: 'Two girls sleep side by side lit by splashes of moonlight falling from a casement outside the picture. On the right a third girl in her night-shift looks out into the night. A small lantern is fastened to her wrist.'

Charles Shannon, 'The white watch', lithograph, 1894
The first two poems with the title 'The white watch' were published in Bottomley's book The gate of Smaragdus (1904), p. xii-xiii and p. lx-lxi. Only the first one was reprinted in his Poems of thirty years, with an additional sub-title, 'Opus Juvenis' (p. 47-50); the first line is: 'I do not know how I came here'. It was undated in The gate of Smaragdus, but dated in Poems: 1900. The second poem in The gate of Smaragdus is sub-titled 'Op. 24, No. 3' and here the first line reads: 'The lonely house was down large trees'. Three women are described:

They brooded many a faint design
Charles Shannon some day will divine
to paint if he lives long enough.

In Chambers of imagery (1907) Bottomley published two further poems with the same title. The first one (p. 14-18), sub-titled 'Opus 28. No. 3', began with the words: 'Apple boughs lie in the eaves'. It was reprinted in Poems (p. 41-44) and there dated: 1904. The last poem in this series had yet another sub-title, 'Opus 27. No. 2' (p. 31-33) and the opening line read: 'O lifeless garden of the moon'. It was reprinted in Poems (p. 45-47), also dated 1904. The opus numbers probably refer to the music of Frédéric Chopin.

Bottomley's play Gruach was dedicated to Ricketts and Shannon, and published in 1921, together with Britain's daughter. Paul Delaney pointed out that Ricketts asked Bottomley to use only initials ('To C.H.S. and C.S.R.'), 'so that the dedication would be obvious only to the initiated'. In the dedicatory poem, dated, 'August 16th, 1919', Bottomley remembered his visits to the artists in their house in The Vale, Chelsea, where he found 'assurance that romance is wisdom and truth'. The modern reader of Bottomley's poems will have to conjure up the patience, as the poet is slow in coming to the point. In the fourth part of his long poem, he expresses what he expects from art, and what he learned from Ricketts and Shannon, and in the fifth part he expresses his friendship and remembers the mutual friends from the 'Paragon' (Michael Field).

To C.H.S. and C.S.R.

Now, when my life is more than half consumed,
And my yet steady flame gathers its force
More to aspire before the vague, last flare
(That lightens nothing) gutters in the night-wind,
Upon the midway ridge of my short days
I turn; I would not know what is to come,
Down the far slope of the withdrawing wave;
I would remain at this conspiring height,
Whose upward motion seemed my own, and keep,
Keep mine the swift doscoveries of life,
The passionate, the unexpected moments
That now, as I look back, are all I have,
And I have longed for, all I have to lose,
All, all I shall regret when I must leave them.

And first, after the daily use of love
That is not to be told, the common joy
Of life shared with the natural, earth-born forces,
I think of him who from Italian seed
Was born an English man, him who renewed
By moody English ways, at English tension,
For English unilluminated hearts like mine,
The lost Italian vision, the passionate
Vitality of art more rich than life,
More real than the day's reality.
Before I knew his name and his great acts
Of true creation done on God's behalf,
Within himself the assurance of a God,
I lived in the stale darkness of my kind;
And it was his sole deed that I have known
The power of loveliness, the power of truth,
And of imagination that concentres
Life into more than one life ever gave.
By nameless lovers, lovers with great names,
By fabulous ladies dreamed and almost seen,
By Dante's lost love Beatrice and his own
More wonderful and more desireable
Lost love Elizabeth, created once
For him, and once by him in recollection;
And by his rarer light; I learned to live.

The first amazement as of a spirit seen,
When in the arts that man has perfected
Beauty is known, is not maintained. The past
Must be resumed in each of us, to each
Deliver its attainment and its hope;
But every man to his own generation
Nearer approaches than to father or child,
And apprehends more intimately by it
The reality of vision and life; and it
More certainly divines the truth of him:
And so, when I had turned the last bright page
Of that dead painter of a keener life,
And felt that the dark mirror of his vision
Was broken, and knew I should not see again
Any new shape of that mysterious beauty
(Which by a heart-ache still brings back my youth),
I kindled with more life because I came
Of the same miracle of enhanced life
Continued and renewed in acts of yours.

Upon the Dial of the vanished Vale
Were counted chosen fortunate hours alone;
And there began the invention and the mood
That by the shapes of colour and air and light
Has made a life men might begin to-day,
yet fit for a lovelier earth that is to be,
Out of the England that is here and now -
A region better than dreams, a drawn-lit state,
Wherein the daily Greece Theocritus
Through his half-open door in the same way
Shews us is mingled with succeeding life,
Siena, Avalon, and the Western place
Where Deirdre learned to move and look at men,
And with the garden of living ladies where
A silvery bearer of a cyclamen
Looked at her painter and shall be remembered
With the Gioconda; and in this state I found
Assurance that romance is wisdom and truth.
And in those vanished hours of the rich Vale
One in whose birth England and Italy
A second time had kissed was also known;
One who received my first enchanter's force
Of vision to create a keener life;
In whom the knowledge of materials
Leads to design as form leads into colour.
Wherever human days and acts have burned
By breeding and great race to salient height
Of suffering or rapture or quivering
Domination they are subject to his mind:
He has made manisfest the shape of Silence:
By beings that never were, centaur and sphinx,
He has made clear the composition of life,
The nature of vitality: and by him
I have understood that I desire from art
And from creation not repeated things
Of every day, not the mean content
Or discontentof average helpless souls,
Not passionate abstraction of loveliness,
But unmatched moments and exceptional deeds
And all that cannot happen every day
And rare experience of earth's chosen men
In which I cannot, by my intermitting
And narrow powers, share unless they are held
Sublimated and embodied in beauty.

Dear Masters, in the acknowledgement of debt
There may be grace; but not enough for payment.
I write your names before this meditation
On an old theme, a birthright of our race,
Because I have put theirin all that is mine;
And so I give it to you, as I would give
All that is mine to you, recognisance
Of what I owe and have no means to pay.
You love the arts so well that you preserve,
Within your treasure-house that seems to rise
In clarity and in tranquillity
Above the impermanence of time, true works
That still are less than those you do yourselves:
Content me by receiving this among them
For your own sake and that of certain dead -
And, most for the two friends of Paragon
Who sought perfection and achieved far more;
And by my poem's admittance recognise
The duty that I offer, I too your friend.