Et in Sempiternum Pereant

[Holywell Cemetery, Oxford, just behind St. Cross Church - the large white stone in the centre marks the grave of Charles Williams]

But as Arglay bent, he was aware once more of that effluvia of heat risen round him, and breaking out with the more violence when suddenly the man, if it were man, cast his arm away, and with a jerk of movement rose once more to his feet.  His eyes, as the head went back, burned close into Arglay's, who, what with the heat, the eyes, and his sickness at the horror, shut his own against them, and was at the same moment thrown from his balance by the rising form, and sent staggering a step or two away, with upon his face the sensation of a light hot breath, so light that only in the utter stillness of time could it be felt, so hot that it might have been the inner fire from which the pillar of smoke poured outward to the world.

He recovered his balance; he opened his eyes; both motions brought him into a new corner of that world.   The odd black coat the thing had worn had disappeared, as if it had been a covering imagined by a habit of mind.  The thing itself, a wasted flicker of pallid movement, danced and gyrated in white flame before him.  Arglay saw it still, but only now as a dreamer may hear, half-asleep and half-awake, the sound of dogs barking or the crackling of fire in his very room.  For he opened his eyes not to such things, but to the thing that on the threshold of this place, some seconds earlier or some years, he had felt and been pleased to feel, to the reality of his hate.  It came in a rush within him, a fountain of fire, and without and about him images of the man he hated swept in a thick cloud of burning smoke.

The smoke burned his eyes and choked his mouth; he clutched it, at images within it - at his greedy loves and greedy hates - at the cloud of the sin of his life, yearning to catch but one image and renew again the concentration for which he yearned.  He could not. The smoke blinded and stifled him, yet more than stifling or blinding was the hunger for one true thing to lust or hate.  He was starving in the smoke, and all the hut was full of smoke, for the hut and the world were smoke, pouring up round him, from him and all like him - a thing once wholly, and still a little, made visible to his corporeal eyes in forms which they recognized, but in itself of another nature.  He swung and twisted and crouched.  His limbs ached from long wrestling with the smoke, for as the journey to this place had prolonged itself infinitely, so now, though he had no thought of measurement, the clutch of his hands and the growing sickness that invaded him struck through him the sensation of the passage of years and the knowledge of the passage of moments.  The fire sank within him, and the sickness grew, but the change could not bring him nearer to any end.  The end here was not at the end, but in the beginning.  There was no end to this smoke, to this fever and this chill, to crouching and rising and searching, unless the end was now. 

Charles Williams
Et in Sempiternum Pereant
From: "The London Mercury", 1935

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