Arthurian Poets: Charles Williams by Charles Williams; edited by David Llewellyn Dodds
(Boydell Press, 1991, 302 pages)
This volume collects Charles Williams’ two published volumes of Arthurian poems, Taliessin Through Logres and Region of the Summer Stars, in addition to a large selection of other Arthurian poems, both published and unpublished. The introduction by David Llewelyn Dodds provides excellent background to this rather obscure writer. Dodds highlights Williams’ significance as a poet and charts the textual history of the unpublished poems that he has included in the collection.
Williams’ poetry is dense and carries a reputation of being difficult to decipher. It is often obscure, and some significant familiarity with Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur is very helpful. However, there is much in the quality and imagery of Williams’ verse to be enjoyed. His reimagining the Arthurian legends is unique and places the quest for the Grail at the center of the myth. The kingdom of Logres, with its capital in Camelot, is conceived of as the western most outpost of the Byzantium Empire. Byzantium functions as a metaphor for Christendom, with the Emperor as a divine figure and the achievement of the Grail functioning as the means through which the Empire is to be brought into full unity.
Williams deserves a place alongside Malory and Tennyson as a major Arthurian writer. Unfortunately, his obscurity, along with the fact that an early death prevented him from completing the entire cycle, has kept him from being recognized as such. This edition from Dodds does much to promote Williams’ cause and to aide those who would take the time to appreciate him.