Et in Sempiternum Pereant

It was a very deserted part of the country through which he was walking. He had been careful to follow the directions given him, and in fact there were only two places where he could possibly have gone wrong, and at both of them Lord Arglay was certain he had not gone wrong. But he seemed to be taking a long time--a longer time than he had expected. He looked at his watch again, and noted with sharp disapproval of his own judgment that it was only six minutes since he had looked at it last. It had seemed more like sixteen. Lord Arglay frowned. He was usually a good walker, and on that morning he was not conscious of any unusual weariness. His host had offered to send him in a car, but he had declined. For a moment, as he put his watch back, he was almost sorry he had declined. A car would have made short time of this road, and at present his legs seemed to be making rather long time of it. 'Or,' Lord Arglay said aloud, 'making time rather long.' He played a little, as he went on, with the fancy that every road in space had a corresponding measure in time; that it tended, merely of itself, to hasten or delay all those that drove or walked upon it. The nature of some roads, quite apart from their material effectiveness, might urge men to speed, and of others to delay. So that the intentions of all travellers were counterpointed continually by the media they used. The courts, he thought, might reasonably take that into consideration in case of offences against right speed, and a man who accelerated upon one road would be held to have acted under the improper influence of the way, whereas one who did the same on another would be known to have defied and conquered the way.

Lord Arglay just stopped himself looking at his watch again. It was impossible that it should be more than five minutes since he had last done so. He looked back to observe, if possible, how far he had since come. It was not possible; the road narrowed and curved too much. There was a cloud of trees high up behind him; it must have been half an hour ago that he passed through it, yet it was not merely still in sight, but the trees themselves were in sight. He could remark them as trees; he could almost, if he were a little careful, count them. He thought, with some irritation, that he must be getting old more quickly, and more unnoticeably, than he had supposed. He did not much mind about the quickness, but he did mind about the unnoticeableness. It had given him pleasure to watch the various changes which age tended to bring; to be as stealthy and as quick to observe those changes as they were to come upon him--the slower pace, the more meditative voice, the greater reluctance to decide, the inclination to fall back on habit, the desire for the familiar which is the first skirmishing approach of unfamiliar death. He neither welcomed nor grudged such changes; he only observed them with a perpetual interest in the curious nature of the creation. The fantasy of growing old, like the fantasy of growing up, was part of the ineffable sweetness, touched with horror, of existence, itself the lordliest fantasy of all. But now, as he stood looking back over and across the hidden curves of the road, he felt suddenly that time had outmarched and out-twisted him, that it was spreading along the countryside and doubling back on him, so that it troubled and deceived his judgment. In an unexpected and unusual spasm of irritation he put his hand to his watch again. He felt as if it were a quarter of an hour since he had looked at it; very well, making just allowance for his state of impatience, he would expect the actual time to be five minutes. He looked; it was only two.

Charles Williams
[From: "The London Mercury", 1935]

'Et in Sempiternum Pereant’ by Charles Williams (1886-1945)... here is a story in which virtually nothing appears to happen. A retired Lord Chief Justice, out walking in the country, enters a burning empty house and encounters a troubled spirit on its way to Hell. The setting is vague and the material details scanty. Not until it is over does the story have the power to frighten: it gains its effects through implication. The only tale of its kind its author wrote, in its substitution of spiritual for material terror it epitomizes his approach to the writing of supernaturalist fiction.

(Glen Cavaliero)

The Proverbs of Middle Earth

Entering Ithilien, the Hobbits are for the first time in Gondor (albeit in land occupied by the Enemy). The great Kingdom of the Dunedain of the South has been liberally referred to throughout the Quest, yet until now it has had only Boromir to represent it. It would have been reasonable to presume him as an archetype for his people, yet with the entrance of his brother Faramir, a wiser, more thoughtful head on younger shoulders, that thought must be discarded.

Wise man trusts not to chance-meeting on the road in this land.

We meet no one else, with the obvious exception of Gandalf, for whom proverbs are so natural a part of speech. Very often they are unquoted, utilised but not emphasised, and thereby often unnoticed.

War must be,
while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all;
but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness,
nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory.
I love only that which they defend.

We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor.
We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt.

Moreover, we receive from Faramir one of the few explicit references to the means by which learning and knowledge has been passed down amongst men of one era to another, and to him in particular:

'Much is still preserved of ancient lore among the Rulers of the city that is not spread abroad... We in the house of Denethor know much ancient lore by long tradition, and there are moreover in our treasures many things preserved: 'Books and tablets writ on withered parchments, yea, and on stone, and on leaves of silver and of gold, in divers characters.'

©& ® David Rowe 2010

Talking about Bicycles

[Outside the Bodleian Library in Oxford]

"Talking about bicycles," said my friend, "I have been through the four ages. I can remember a time in early childhood when a bicycle meant nothing to me: it was just part of the huge meaningless background of grown-up gadgets against which life went on. Then came a time when to have a bicycle, and to have learned to ride it, and to be at last spinning along on one's own, early in the morning, under trees, in and out of the shadows, was like entering Paradise. That apparently effortless and frictionless gliding -- more like swimming than any other motion, but really most like the discovery of a fifth element -- that seemed to have solved the secret of life. Now one would begin to be happy. But, of course, I soon reached the third period. Pedalling to and fro from school (it was one of those journeys that feel up-hill both ways) in all weathers, soon revealed the prose of cycling. The bicycle, itself, became to me what his oar is to a galley slave."

"But what was the fourth age?" I asked.

"I am in it now, or rather I am frequently in it. I have had to go back to cycling lately now that there's no car. And the jobs I use it for are often dull enough. But again and again the mere fact of riding brings back a delicious whiff of memory. I recover the feelings of the second age. What's more, I see how true they were -- how philosophical, even. For it really is a remarkably pleasant motion. To be sure, it is not a recipe for happiness as I then thought. In that sense the second age was a mirage. But a mirage of something."

"How do you mean?", said I.

"I mean this. Whether there is, or whether there is not, in this world or in any other, the kind of happiness which one's first experiences of cycling seemed to promise, still, on any view, it is something to have had the idea of it. The value of the thing promised remains even if that particular promise was false -- even if all possible promises of it are false."

C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns, "Talking About Bicycles"
(1st published in Resistance, October 1946)


On the other hand, all those doubts which I had felt before I entered the cottage as to whether these creatures were friend of foe, and whether Ransom were a pioneer or a dupe, had for the moment vanished. My fear was now of another kind. I felt sure that he creature was what we called ‘good’, but I wasn’t sure whether I liked ‘goodness’ so much as I had supposed. This is a very terrible experience. As long as what you are afraid of is something evil, you may still hope that the good may come to your rescue. But suppose you struggle through to the good and find that it also is dreadful? How if food itself turns out to be the very thing you can’t eat, and home the very place you can’t live, and your very comforter the person who makes you uncomfortable? Then, indeed, there is no rescue possible: the last card has been played.

C.S. Lewis ~ Voyage to Venus (Perelandra) (Ch. 1)

Voyage to Venus

"... now, by some transition, which he did not notice, it seemed that what had begun as speech was turned into sight, or into something that can be remembered only as if it were seeing. He thought he saw the Great Dance. It seemed to be woven out of the intertwining undulation of many cords or bands of light, leaping over and under one another and mutually embraced in arabesques and flower-like subtleties.

Each figure as he looked at it became the master-figure or focus of the whole spectacle, by means of which his eye disentangled all else and brought it into unity--only to be itself entangled when he looked to what he had taken for mere marginal decorations and found that there also the same hegemony was claimed, and the claim made good, yet the former pattern thereby disposed but finding in its new subordination a significance greater than that which it had abdicated.

He could see also ( but the word "seeing" is now plainly inadequate)wherever the ribbons or serpents of light intersected minute corpuscles of momentary brightness: and he knew somehow that these particles were the secular generalities of which history tells--people, institutions, climates of opinion, civilizations, arts, sciences and the like--ephemeral coruscations that piped their short song and vanished. The ribbons or cords themselves, in which millions of corpuscles lived and died, were the things of some different kind. At first he could not say what. But he knew in the end that most of them were individual entities. If so, the time in which the Great Dance proceeds is very unlike time as we know it.

Some of the thinner more delicate cords were the beings that we call short lived: flowers and insects, a fruit or a storm of rain, and once (he thought) a wave of the sea. Others were such things we think lasting: crystals, rivers, mountains, or even stars. Far above these in girth and luminosity and flashing with colours form beyond our spectrum were the lines of personal beings, yet as different from one another in splendour as all of them from the previous class. But not all the cords were individuals: some of them were universal truths or universal qualities. It did not surprise him then to find that these and the persons were both cords and both stood together as against the mere atoms of generality which lived and died in the clashing of their streams: But afterwards, when he came back to earth, he wondered.

And by now the thing must have passed together out of the region of sight as we understand it. For he says that the whole figure of there enamored and inter-inanimate circling was suddenly revealed as the mere superficies of a far vaster pattern in four dimensions, and that figure as the boundary of yet others in other worlds: till suddenly as the movement grew yet swifter, the interweaving yet more ecstatic, the relevance of all to all yet more intense, as dimension was added to dimension and tat part of him which could reason and remember was dropped further and further behind that part of him which saw, even then, at the very zenith of complexity, complexity was eaten up and faded, as a thin white cloud fades into the hard blue burning of sky, and all simplicity beyond all comprehension, ancient and young as spring, illimitable, pellucid, drew him with cords of infinite desire into it’s own stillness. He went up into such a quietness, a privacy, and a freshness that at the very moment when he stood farthest from our ordinary mode of being he had the sense of striping off encumbrances and awaking from a trance, and coming to himself. With a gesture of relaxation he looked about him".

C.S. Lewis ~ Voyage to Venus (Perelandra)

An atheist's faith?

Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. You must not do, you must not even try to do, the will of the Father unless you are prepared to "know of the doctrine." All my acts, desires, and thoughts were to be brought into harmony with universal Spirit. For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion. Of course I could do nothing - I could not last out one hour - without continual conscious recourse to what I called Spirit. But the fine, philosophical distinction between this and what ordinary people call "prayer to God" breaks down as soon as you start doing it in earnest. Idealism can be talked, and even felt; it cannot be lived.

C.S. Lewis - Surprised by Joy (XIV Checkmate)


Iron will eat the world's old beauty up.
Girder and grid and gantry will arise,
Iron forest of engines will arise,
Criss-cross of iron crotchet. For your eyes
No green or growth. Over all, the skies
Scribbled from end to end with boasts and lies.
(When Adam ate the irrevocable apple, Thou
Saw'st beyond death the resurrection of the dead.)

Clamour shall clean put out the voice of wisdom,
The printing-presses with their clapping wings,
Fouling your nourishment. Harpy wings,
Filling your minds all day with foolish things,
Will tame the eagle Thought: till she sings
Parrot-like in her cage to please dark kings.
(When Israel descended into Egypt, Thou
Didst purpose both the bondage and the coming out.)

The new age, the new art, the new ethic and thought,
And fools crying, Because it has begun
It will continue as it has begun!
The wheel runs fast, therefore the wheel will run
Faster for ever. The old age is done,
We have new lights and see without the sun.
(Though they lay flat the mountains and dry up the sea,
Wilt thou yet change, as though God were a god?)

'Poems' (Geoffrey Bles, 1964)
C.S. Lewis

Of Fingolfin and Morgoth

[Image: Ted Nasmith]

In that vast shadow once of yore
Fingolfin stood: his shield he bore
with field of heaven's blue and star
of crystal shining pale afar.
In overmastering wrath and hate
desperate he smote upon that gate,
the Gnomish king, there standing lone,
while endless fortresses of stone
engulfed the thin clear ringing keen
of silver horn on baldric green.
His hopeless challenge dauntless cried
Fingolfin there: 'Come, open wide
dark king, our ghastly brazen doors!
Come forth, whom earth and heaven abhors!
Come forth, O monstrous craven lord,
and fight with thine own hand and sword,
thou wielder of hosts of banded thralls,
thou tyrant leaguered with strong walls,
thou foe of Gods and elvish race!
I wait thee here. Come! Show thy face!'

Then Morgoth came. For the last time
in those great wars he dared to climb
from subterranean throne profound,
the rumour of his feet a sound
of rumbling earthquake underground.
Black-armoured, towering, iron-crowned
he issued forth; his mighty shield
a vast unblazoned sable field
with shadow like a thundercloud;
and o'er the gleaming king it bowed,
as huge aloft like mace he hurled
that hammer of the underworld,
Grond. Clanging to ground it tumbled
down like a thunder-bolt, and crumbled
the rocks beneath it; smoke up-started,
a pit yawned, and a fire darted.

(lines 3,538 – 3,573)

The Geste of Beren and LĂșthien
by J.R.R. Tolkien