I am the ancient hunter of the plains
The world goes by: I am the dreamer who remains,
the man, net against the last horizon.
An ancient man, of a vigorous expressive power. Classic and revolutionary, original and modernist. It's Roy Campbell, the most important South African poet of the twentieth century, an unforgivable teacher, infrequent for those "Intellectuals without intellect" that crowded the academies of his time, and not only. An author between magical and sublime suggestions and images, harsh and violent. In his verses the word explodes with a wild vitality, between the techniques of poetic modernism and the schemes of the more sober British tradition. Campbell (myth and work), is currently a forgotten one, an outlaw of literature. His disagreements with the progressive circles of the time contributed to this curse, mocked in his "The Georgiad" (1931), the fistfights with civilized and organic poets like Spender. His position as a spoiler of British colonialism in South Africa, while everyone was silent. Much of his sentence is due to his Spanish period, where Campbell shows the more apocalyptic and sensual side of his work. He rediscovers Christianity and takes part in the civil war, both recurring themes of his later collections. It is tainted by the proximity to Francoism, despite its anti-fascism and its ideological proximity rather than the movement of the caudillo to Carlism (the Spanish Catholic reactionaries). Despite the ideological ambiguities, the Spanish period produces the most interesting poems of the Afrikaners poet, comparable only to his "Flaming Terrapin", sister work of Eliot's Waste Land. A period too full of ideas and masterpieces to be forgotten in the name of bad politics.
Campbell moves to Spain after his stay in Provence, traveling to Zaragoza, Barcelona, settling in Toledo in 1935. The author came from a period of confrontation with Baudelaire's lyrics, the suggestions of symbolism(“the flowering reeds”), with much of his collection "Mitraic emblems" already written. In the collection you can see the evolution of the writer's thought and poetics. We pass, in fact, from a magical and mythical nature in which the Mithraic mystery, embodied by the sun and its rays(o swords), it is the medium of the natural secret, to a sun that becomes the gateway to a religious dimension. The sun becomes a bridge to Christ, which does not deny, but that mysterious and enchanting nature is full of meaning and nuances. A poetics influenced by conversion, his and his wife Mary, to Catholic Christianity, that fueled by the timeless atmospheres of the Toledo of the thirties create in Campbell's Spanish works an intersection of violence and sensuality, of almost Pascalian religiosity reviewed under the lens of vitalism. Pierce will tell his biographer "Spain saved my soul". It is in Spain that he finds that original and wild world, in settings of bewitching Hispanidad, come in “After the Horse Fair”.
Spain as in Hemigway and Jean Cau becomes an edenic place where man rediscovers himself in his full authenticity. Becoming a second home of the poet. Similarly to Hemingway, Campbell is also bewitched by the bullfight. From his delightful cruelty in which man becomes the protagonist of the latest manifestation of the tragic in modern society. The poems "The dead Bull" and "The dead Torero" will be dedicated to it. Right in The dead Torero, the bullfighter becomes a link between man and that wild and eternal world. In his death the end of a tragedy in which human destiny is reflected. His grace as an actor and symbol:
It was the bee, with danger for his rose!
He died from the sudden violence of the kings,
And he goes from the arena to the Virgin
Floating his cloak. It doesn't need wings.
Roy CampbellAn apotheosis of the bullfighter that is reflected in the fate of the soldiers of the civil war.
The beloved is an absolute experience for the poet, which marks its life and posthumous oblivion. At its outbreak it takes no positions, remaining in his accommodation in Toledo. War will enter his life, like an apocalypse. A revelation of the horrors of totalitarianism, secular religions with their torturers and their persecutions. Persecutions affecting Christians and places of worship in the Spanish town. Toledo in flames coughs dark flames, embers of libraries and churches burn in ideological fires. Persecutions of monks and burning of sacred books. The Christian icons destroyed and replaced by the icons of Marx and Stalin. Fleeing from this violence, a group of Carmelites pursued by bloodthirsty militiamen, who scour civilian homes in search of religious and their sacred texts, ready for the stake. These Carmelite monks are the last custodians of the manuscripts of San Giovanni della Croce. These manuscripts will be entrusted to Campbell, which will protect them from searches by the republican militias. During a search, a probable execution escapes, relying on the saint who, according to him, performed "a miracle". By vote he will translate the work into English. Less fortunate fate will befall the Carmelites. trucidati. Near their corpses the signature of the cheka, made with their blood.
He then decides to join the Carlist troops, catholic and monarchical, against the militiamen. War will become the setting for an apocalyptic battle between spirit and matter, between god and nothingness. The center of this Armageddon is Toledo, "Sacred city" and "of the mind", protagonist of his “toledo, july, 1936”:
Toledo, when I saw you die
And I heard the Carmel roof crash
The Cross remained against the sky!
The mountain spewed with blood,
A thousand corpses in the flood
And it burns, with Athens and Rome,
sacred city of the mind.
In the scenes of the civil war the inspirations of the fallen cities and biblical symbolism mix. Come in “to the survivors”, where war Spain seems to be the scene of the plagues of Egypt, among the locusts and the rivers of blood that water the "steel fields". Biblical image that is taken up in "the alcazar mined", where the fortress- monastery becomes "the rock of faith" which shows a clash already seen in the "vahalla" and Olympus, whose stone is light when lifted by the strength of courage and faith. The war itself is represented by the metaphor of rust in "rust", where war is a cruel purification. Man faced with the fragility and violence that "already gnaws at the next swarm":
A race of weary men will die -
And all to make the delicate flower sprout
That, grazing on that devastated land,
A cowboy chews through his teeth.
From violence and devastation, man measures by the yardstick of death what is most essential and what matters most. To the religious sensuality scenes of "to the sun", of vitalism, compassion for the dead of the civil war alternates. Girls and boys who died beyond the last "horizon of fire". In their sacrifice Campbell sees an identity with the divine, victims who like Christ sacrificed themselves for the sins of the world. In Campbell's poems, Christ is also in uniform, he is with them when the bullet arrives, as the shot goes off in their body.
As if the Christ, our Solar Sire,
A lot of blood, of so much desire,
To weld a single heart of fire.
Beyond the crosses, the monasteries, the civil war is shown in its mechanical power. A power written in lead, told between the air clashes and urban warfare. These are the cases of "hot rifles" and "the fight". In "hot rifles" snipers on their knees as in prayer begin litanies of lead:
Our rifles were too hot to hold them
The night was made of tearing steel,
And along the way the gusts rolled
Where as in prayer the snipers kneel.