Feast of St Kyriake the Great Martyr
ROY CAMPBELL was a South African poet educated at Oxford. There he met C. S. Lewis, but apparently made no impression on him at the time. Campbell traveled through his long dark night of agnosticism and found the wholeness of reality in backward Spain. There he shed not only his agnosticism, but also his childhood Calvinism, by swimming the Tiber: a double heresy for England’s literary elite.
From Tolkien’s letters we know that Campbell reacquainted himself with Lewis in the late 1930s; a meeting that inspired Lewis’s virulent antagonism, while making a favorable impression on J. R. R. Tolkien.
After the war, Campbell spent some years with the BBC interviewing various poets. During this time he made enough pilgrimages to the Eagle and the Child for Joseph Pearce to make a case for including him among the Inklings.
In the final scene of the Last Battle, that poignant scene of such sadness and beauty, we see the Pevensies going up and in, higher and higher to ever yet more real forms of England, of middle earth. In one sense, the mythopoetic allows us, through the imagination, to glimpse the true reality that faith reveals to us as greater than the one to which we are shackled to in the concrete here-and-now. Roy Campbell exemplified how the poet must burst those shackles by his imaginative sounding of words "to go up and in."
In Spain, Campbell composed a series of poems collected in the book Mithraic Embers, an allusion to the bull-worshiping cult that competed with Christianity in the third and fourth centuries. Pearce, who read the whole series, tells us they show the progression of Campbell’s conversion to the true faith that allows its acolyte to enter the Really Real.
Our earliest depiction of Christ is truly scandalous: it shows Him as the pagan god Helios. Ancient Christians (and Jews and pagans) prayed to the east: to the direction of the rising sun. For the Christians, in their vigil till sunrise on Easter morning, the rising sun bespoke the risen Son. At the end of the poetic series and at his journey’s end, Campbell weds this image to that of the matador, the terero. White, the color of the Sun, is one color and all colors: Campbell’s “seven hues."
We do not enjoy poetry today, because we have been sentenced to read it silently. But poetry must be read aloud to enjoy the sound. Much as we savor wine as we sip it, so too must we savor the sound as we hear it.
Try this poem aloud:
To the Sun (From Mithraic Embers)
by Roy Campbell
Oh let your shining orb grow dim,
Of Christ the mirror and the shield,
That I may gaze through you to Him,
See half the miracle revealed,
And in your seven hues behold
The Blue Man walking on the sea;
The Green, beneath the summer tree,
Who called the children; then the Gold
With palms, the Orange, flaring bold
With scourges; Purple in the garden
(As Greco saw it): and then the Red
Torero (Him who took the toss
And rode the black horns of the cross–
But rose snow-silver from the dead!)
After his "resurrection", Gandalf the Gray becomes Gandalf the White–the wizard of the true multicolor colored cloak unlike Saruman’s–wearing the color that reflects the divine perfection. Might Tolkien have gotten this image from Campbell?
Malcolm C. Harris, Sr. is Professor of Finance at Friends University. He has presented J. R. R. Tolkien and G. K. Chesterton, along with several other heroes, at the Hall of Men, a bimonthly event organized by Eighth Day Institute. He also organizes a Readers of First Things discussion group at Eighth Day Books.