May 15 marks the death of Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis’ good friend and literary inspiration. He is certainly the Oddest Inkling, and you can follow much of his work at Sørina Higgins’ blog. Lewis and Williams met through a providential fan letter exchange, and I believe that The Place of the Lion was an inspiration for Lewis to begin writing speculative fiction seriously. During WWII, Williams moved to Oxford, deepening their friendship and including him in the Inklings literary club.
On May 15, 1945 suddenly died. This is where I am in my chronological reading of Lewis, and he writes sensitively about the loss in a number of letters to folk like Owen Barfield, Dorothy Sayers, T.S. Eliot, and Sr. Penelope. To Penelope–both a literary penpal and a mentor by letters–he says,
“You will have heard of the death of my dearest friend, Charles Williams….” (May 28, 1945)
“Death has done nothing to my idea of him, but he has done–oh, I can’t say what–to my idea of death. It has made the next world much more real and palpable.”
C.S. Lewis immediately began working on a collection of Williams’ Athurian work, as well as a collection of essays in his honour. In a more personal way, he wrote a poem to Charles Williams. Sørina has included it in her memorial blog on Thursday. Let me include a transcription of a handwritten copy of the poem, with some slight differences. It was included with an almost illegible note to Fr. Denis:
On the Death of Charles Williams
Your death blows a strange bugle call, friend, and all is hard
To see plainly or record truly. The new light imposes change,
Re-adjusts all a life-landscape as it thrusts down its probe from the sky,
To create shadows, to reveal waters, to erect hills and deepen glens.
The slant alters. I can’t see the old contours. It’s a larger world
Than I once thought it. I wince, caught in the bleak air that blows on the ridge.
Is it the first sting of the great winter, the world-waning? Or the cold of spring?
A hard question and worth talking a whole night on.
But with whom? Of whom now can I ask guidance? With what friend concerning your death
Is it worth while to exchange thoughts unless—oh unless it were you?
When Walter Hooper gathered Lewis’ poems together (see Collected Poems, 119), his method was to include only the final version. I don’t know if this version is a previously unpublished early draft, a revision of what we have in the Collected Poems, or written out by memory. Poets will want (of course) to compare the drafts and decide which is the best final version, but don’t lose the evocative imagery of friendship in the evening air.