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Cecil Woolf Publishers
Novelist, poet and playwright
(1886-1963) was born at Montacute in Somerset, the ninth of eleven
children in this multi-talented family. She had no formal education
and much of the knowledge she acquired in youth was self-discovered.
Her early adult life was spent farming, but in a family of
prodigious writers it was no surprise that her own creative energies
were channelled into literature from an early age.
1924 she moved into Chydyok, an isolated farmhouse near the majestic
Dorset coastline, with her sister, the artist Gertrude Powys. A few
years later her brother, Llewelyn Powys, and his wife, Alyse
Gregory, joined them to occupy the adjacent cottage.
Despite never achieving the success of her literary brothers she
wrote at least two novels at Chydyok that were never published –
The Tragedy of Budvale and Joan Callais – as well as a
play, The Quick and the Dead. Subsequent novels included
The Path of the Gale and Further West, but these too
never saw the light of day. In 1930, she had a collection of poems
published titled Driftwood, and three short pamphlets of
poems appeared thereafter (many of them republished in 1992 in
Driftwood and Other Poems). That year also saw her only success
as a novelist with The Blackthorn Winter, published by
Constable in London and by Richard R. Smith in New York: featuring
an Introduction by Glen Cavaliero, it was
reissued in 2007 by
The Sundial Press.
Two previously unpublished novellas by PHILIPPA POWYS
& THE TRAGEDY OF BUDVALE
Two previously unpublished
With an Introduction by Cicely Hill
and Editor's Note by Louise de Bruin
in a limited edition hardback with
coloured endpapers, silk ribbon & dustjacket
The Sundial Press
'A FEW evenings later Zola found herself once more
fetching water. The sun had set, but darkness still held
aloof from the fields. The winds were cold, though the
primroses crowded the woods, and violets lay concealed
between their new leaves; a great part of the fallow
land remained bare. Through a border of trees to a field
below Zola followed the little foot-path, where behind a
big walnut there lay hidden among a network of bushes a
clear spring of water. Having first leant over to drink
from the rising bubbles themselves, she filled her
pails, then turned to leave the well as she found it – a
temple for the birds. But almost as quickly she dropped
them as she could not resist the desire to pick the
primroses which clustered yellow at different points on
the banks beside her. What joy they gave her, with their
fragrance and their delicacy!' (From
In these two West Country novellas, never before
published, Philippa Powys pursued a theme that was
central to all her fiction - the entanglement of human
passions caused by unrestrained desire.
In The Tragedy of Budvale, written in the 1920s,
the love of Christopher Cary for his cousin Mary is set
against her own attachment to her curious suitor, the
mild-mannered artist Wilfred Wurton, as well as the
unreciprocated feelings of the milk-maid Hazel Lee for
the broody and impulsive Cary himself, whose jealousy
culminates in acts of violence that seal the fate of all
is the tale of an outsider – the vivacious Romanian Zola
– and her struggle to adapt to English country life with
her boorish husband Frank and the initially unnerving
attentions of his employer, the farmer John Marsh,
himself the object of desire of a shy local girl. This
more mature work, finished at some point in the 1930s,
centres on the anguish of a passionate woman trapped in
a passionless life, depicting loves denied, embraced and
In both stories, against the backdrop of vividly
realised rural scenes and landscapes, Philippa Powys
paints some memorably unsentimental portraits of
individuals isolated in their private sufferings.
DRIFTWOOD and other poems by
original 1930 edition (24 poems). Plus: POEMS (1930);
SOME POEMS (1937); FOUR POEMS (1939); OTHER PUBLISHED
POEMS (3) and UNPUBLISHED POEMS (8).
Forty-nine poems in total
Available to buy online (despatched within 48
hours by The Sundial Press)
DRIFTWOOD by Philippa Powys
£6.00 (£5.00 + £1.00 P&P)
featured in POTTED HERRING
The Blackthorn Winter
Blackthorn Winter a band of gipsy travellers in the West Country
catch the eye of a restless, young woman, Nancy Mead, in particular
the seductive Mike. Leaving behind her dull blacksmith lover, Walter Westmacott, she elopes with him for a life of adventure on the road.
Soon enough the powers of desire and passion set off bitter
conflicts that bring remorse, revenge and death in their wake.
The Blackthorn Winter is an ardent and uncompromising portrayal
of life in rural England in the 1920s, and of one woman’s battle
with her own emotions.
‘A sense of immediacy informs The Blackthorn
The prose swerves from the abrupt to
the naive; it is full of inversions, as though the author were quite
unaware of the kind of language employed by her literary
contemporaries. But she is not writing for a conventional
novel-reading public … The book is alive with textures and smells;
it is not written about country life but out of direct experience of
it, the kind of life a rural readership would recognise.’ – From the
Introduction by Glen Cavaliero
is a distinctive energy and wildness to this work; its scenes of the
harsh and peripatetic Gypsy life of the period are compelling and
memorable.’ – The Times Literary Supplement
‘The charm of the book lies in its atmosphere – a heavy, slow,
earthy atmosphere – and in the power of the author to conjure up
country sounds and scents and scenes to such an extent that we
almost cease to be readers and become participants in the story.’
the first pages of The Blackthorn Winter seem unremarkable
enough, the Introduction will have given a foretaste of how unusual
and original a book it is. Not a difficult story to read, it is an
easy story to misread. Like her brother, John Cowper, Philippa Powys
has a great sense of drama. Her plot is dramatically simple, her
dialogue spare, and the visual beauty of The Blackthorn Winter
has a cinematic quality. How interesting to imagine its author
making a film!' - Cicely Hill from The Powys Society Newsletter
Review of the new edition
The Blackthorn Winter by
with an introduction by
The Sundial Press, hardback
"A Wholly Separate Thing"
If the first pages of
The Blackthorn Winter
seem unremarkable enough, the Introduction will have
given a foretaste of how unusual and original a book it
is. Not a difficult story to read, it is an easy story
Like her brother, John Cowper, Philippa Powys has a
great sense of drama. Her plot is dramatically simple,
her dialogue spare, and the visual beauty of The
Blackthom Winter has a cinematic quality. How
interesting to imagine its author making a film! Her
profound sensitivity to the nature (the "life'") of
creatures and things would have been recognized by John
Cowper as his '"elementalism". Associated with it and
very present in her book is his "Homeric sense" -- a
certain way of looking at things, happenings and rituals
and a certain way of recording them.
Nancy Mead is a passionate, restless young woman who
works on a Dorset farm and is set to marry Walter, the
worthy son of the village blacksmith. Instead she elopes
with a young gypsy. It is a story of enthralment and
betrayal. Nancy, in her early twenties, fits the pattern
of romantic heroines in her wilfulness and changes of
mood, but Philippa Powys characteristically avoids
cliche and makes her heroine pretty, fair-haired and
rounded -- a wood pigeon to her creator's "sea-eagle".
On the day the gypsies arrive Nancy sets off to explore
their caravan quarters, "dauntless" and "caring for
no-one". Struck by the young gypsy's beauty she feels
"strangely taken aback". She is dismayed not only to
have been struck by his beauty but to find that she is
physically moved by it.
Her heart trembled within her, as the leaves
of an aspen when the breath of wind is first upon it.
The sensation was new; Walter had never stirred it...
She dared not observe closer […]
He glances at her and she "leaps" to help him attach the
newly-shod horse to the cart. Their fingers meet and he
asks her, "Can I see thee tonight?" His hand covers hers
and, again, she is dangerously moved.
The two meet later in the lane and, when Mike crosses
toward Nancy, her apprehension amounts to terror. Her
misgivings are real but fleeting; we are left in no
doubt as to which way her promptings will lead her. When
he asks her what she is afraid of, her answers are a
quaint and touching mixture of school-playground
challenge and flirtation. There is no reason to suppose
that his "But I loves thee's pretty face" is not
perfectly genuine but, though a beautiful young man, he
is not at all a pleasant one and, with her
countrywoman's knowledge, Philippa Powys has this feral
wooer linger around the farmyard for three days without
food in the hope of a meeting with Nancy. He is rewarded
with food and Nancy's company in the hay loft. Soon
after that she joins the gypsies.
Her new companions are not, like gypsies in most of the
stories and paintings of the time, particularly
decorative or wholesome. Nancy has to share sleeping
quarters with Mike's old grandmother: "... the limited
space of her present abode was stifling hot, and was
pervaded by a clinging and unwholesome smell which met
her at every indrawing of her breath". Writing of a
woman in love, Philippa Powys is no sentimentalist. One
or two of the women treat Nancy kindly, but she is
lonely, and in the days that follow, though she comes to
enjoy life in the open, times are hard. Mike is volatile
and unfaithful; others among the male gypsies are worse.
Walter comes to fetch her back but, under Mike's spell,
she remains. A child is born and various troubles in the
camp force Mike and Nancy to leave. Nancy is ill after
walking long in the rain and later, abandoned by Mike,
she arrives near the village she left just after her
baby has died in her arms. She meets her faithful Walter
again but, consistent with her truthfulness to life,
Philippa Powys leaves the story with a doubtful ending.
The name "blackthorn winter" is given to that time of
year, usually at the end of March, when the sloe is in
bloom and Spring is halted by a second brief very cold
spell. It arrives symbolically for Nancy after a day
when she wakes to the feel of pure air and the sound of
lark song above the cliffs and rejoices in her life.
Drenching rain and cold bring an end to her short-lived
Louis Wilkinson writes of the "stammer" in Philippa
Powys's writing. "Unless its stammer can be cured, her
work will never be generally received; but it has
already been received by more than a few as a thing of
value, a wholly separate thing." 
Not surprisingly, she is most free of her "stammer" when
she is writing of the country, which she does in fine
and loving detail, always correctly: she knows how
clouds are likely to look at a certain time of day in a
particular place and season; that blackberry leaves go
purple in autumn. She writes not out of a world of her
imagination, but from the world she sees, knows and
describes with imagination and startling exactness,
calling actual places to readers' minds and senses --
heathland with bilberries, wasteland with ragwort; the
sound of cartwheels, the feel of the shaking cart; the
touch of a gate hasp under the hand, of turf underfoot.
Her actuality is magical.
Nancy is not only at home in the outdoor world and the
elements, she is part of nature. Governed largely by her
instincts and seeming, at times, hardly an agent -- any
more than a rainbow or a waterfall could be said to be
an agent. She courts disaster. Her folly is utter and
her creator describes it all with a degree of honesty
still not yet entirely usual in the fiction of the time.
More rare even is Powys's refusal to idealize or defend.
Nancy is not placed in a predicament which might seem to
pardon her waywardness. The company of her good man
Walter is unsatisfying, but her escape is not presented
as a bid for some idealized freedom. She goes with the
gypsy because she wants the gypsy.
Whether in company or on her own, Nancy is always alone.
All the events are focused on her and the story is told
consecutively. Secondary characters are sketchy or
absent. We know nothing of her parents. But for the
difficulty of language and dialect, the book could well
have been written in the first person. The author
identifies closely with the heroine, freeing the story
from an omnipotent narrator's voice. Alone with grief,
hunger, bad weather and downright cruelty, Nancy is
totally without self-pity and she is not meant to invite
Words beloved of former writers -- "wronged",
"betrayed", "seduced", "ruined" -- apply to Nancy. She
is, wittingly though unwarily, seduced; wronged by ill
treatment and abandonment. Not "ruined" -- she is what
would now be called "a survivor". More significantly,
she is, like all her fictional predecessors, a victim;
not the victim of villains, nor a plaything of the gods
or of God, but, in the tradition of great tragedy, the
victim of her own folly.
There are terrible events and terrible images in The
Blackthorn Winter and it is hard not to believe that
more of them than we might like to think must have been
known, in some way, at close hand, to Philippa Powys --
who never writes about what she doesn't know. The story
of Nancy Mead is told proudly, directly, classically,
and the teller offers no verdicts.
"Sea-Eagle": John Cowper Powys's nickname for Philippa
Welsh Ambassadors (Bertram Rota, London 1971), page
*** The Blackthorn Winter was first published by in
Philippa Powys belonged to one of the most distinguished
families in modern literature. Among her brothers were
the novelists John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) and Theodore
Francis Powys (1875-1953) and the essayist Llewelyn
Powys (1884-1939) as well as Littleton Powys, headmaster
of Sherborne Prep School, and the architect A. R. Powys
who was Secretary of the Society for the Protection of
Ancient Buildings and published several books on
architecture. Of her sisters, Gertrude Powys was a
painter of striking portraits and powerful landscapes,
Marian Powys an authority on lace and lace-making.
Philippa Powys was the ninth of eleven children in the
Powys family's largest and most talented generation and
was known to relatives and friends as ‘Katie’.
‘Katie is the most delightful person to show over
anywhere - so enthusiastic.’ Llewelyn Powys, her most
beloved brother, wrote of his teenage sister in 1903
after a visit to Sherborne with her. Over 60 years later
his widow Alyse Gregory wrote of Katie, 'I have wondered
who has ever really known her heart where so many
turbulent battles have raged, so many bitter
disenchantments been brought to terms.' Between these
extremes of time and mood was a life of rare sensibility
and emotional intensity, of who was, as Alyse Gregory
wrote, 'so delicately balanced, combining so vigorous an
egoism with so burning a capacity for love and so great
a need for reassurance.'
Catharine Edith Philippa Powys was born on 8 May 1886
at Montacute in Somerset, where her father had been
installed as vicar the previous year. She received some
schooling from governesses at the rectory, in the manner
of the day, but had no formal education, and most of the
knowledge she acquired in her youth was self-discovered
or taught by her brothers and sisters. Imaginative,
inquisitive, adventurous, living in a part of rural
England idyllic in its beauty and growing under the
tutelage of affectionate and liberal-minded parents,
they were a self-sufficient breed, indeed a happy one.
Not for the Powys children the miserable tedium of
Victorian rectory life or the stifling Christian
severities that so affected a Samuel Butler or an Edmund
But when Katie was only seven, this idyll was
shattered by the death of her 14-year-old sister Nelly.
Perhaps the very closeness of the brothers and sisters
helped them recover from this devastation; but it must
have struck Katie in later years that it was a harbinger
of the irreparable process of loss which often seemed to
characterise her life.
Perhaps, too, the death of an elder sister encouraged
in Katie an especially protective affection for her
younger one, Lucy, with whom she developed in
adolescence a particularly close relationship and on
whom she became increasingly dependent for companionship
and emotional support. She spent the summer holiday of
1909 with her at Sidmouth in Devon, and there became
friendly with two local fishermen brothers, Bob and Tom
Woolley, and with their lodger, Stephen Reynolds, a
handsome, well-educated young socialist. He discussed
literature and politics with Katie, and encouraged her
opinions. He gave her his own newly published book to
read - A Poor Man's House, about his life among
the Sidmouth fishermen - and read to her from Walt
Whitman, her favourite poet. John Cowper had recently
introduced her to Whitman and she was to maintain an
almost mystical devotion to him throughout her life,
rarely travelling without a copy of Leaves of Grass to
hand. Reynolds introduced her to Nietzsche too, bringing
to life her dormant intellect and also, unbeknown to him
at first, a romantic and soon obsessive passion. But the
few letters he wrote to her, one of which she forever
kept in her copy of Whitman, began 'Dear Miss Powys' and
did not exceed the bounds of propriety and tact. Her
veneration was not reciprocated.
In 1910 she moved with Lucy to join her younger
brother Will at the farm their father had purchased for
him at Witcombe, near Montacute. But her imagined life
of happy companionship with her youngest sister ended
almost as soon as it began. In May, a friend of Will's —
Hounsell Penny — visited them. By August he and Lucy
were engaged, and by the spring of next year married.
Katie was secretly inconsolable. The crossroads were
reached where Lucy and I parted,' she confided in the
diary she had started in 1903, and was to keep on and
off for the next 60 years. 'She crossed the bridge and
now we can only talk over it.'
As if to cushion the emotional blow of Lucy's
departure, Katie's fantasies homed in again on Stephen
Reynolds. She had seen him in the summer of 1910, and
briefly after Lucy's marriage in 1911, but that was to
be their last meeting. In that year she broke off her
diary, and over the next year her simmering emotional
tensions boiled over into a nervous breakdown. Brought
back to Montacute Vicarage, she had to be constantly
nursed, threatening suicide if not allowed to see
Reynolds - who kept his distance. By September 1912 she
was in such a serious condition that her father finally
submitted to pressure within the family and agreed to
have her admitted to a sanatorium in Bristol, where she
recovered in good time. In 1913 she began training at an
agricultural college in Warwickshire and spent the
summer of 1914 on a women's co-operative farm in Sussex.
That year her mother died and Katie returned to
Montacute, renting a small dairy, 'Roper's Farm', there
where she lived with a few cows, making butter and
Stephen Reynolds died in the influenza epidemic of
1919, but he remained the great love of Katie's life.
She is still recording his birthday and her feelings in
her diary 20 years later. She made frequent pilgrimages
to his grave in Sidmouth, noting in one entry, 'I ran to
Steve's grave with mackerel from the sea and bay leaves
and Walt Whitman as well.’ After a visit to the house
where they had last met (about 16 years earlier), she
reflects on her fate 'to have seen so little of him and
then at the last only to have a memory - a memory which
brings tears, for longing of what cannot be.' The
painful experience of her passion for Reynolds she
evoked in a 'prose-poem' The Phoenix, an excerpt from
which was published in The Dial in 1928. She remained
lifelong friends with the Woolleys and the fishermen of
Sidmouth, and wrote about them both a play, The Quick
and the Dead, and later a novel, Further West, neither
of them ever published. In later years she rented a
cottage near the sea-front in Sidmouth, to be near them
and share in their lives as he had done, dispensing cups
of tea to the fishermen returning from their all-night
catches and going out with them sometimes on their early
Katie worked on her farm for several years, living
there with Emily Clare, the children's old nanny, until
1923, when a fall from her horse necessitated having her
teeth extracted - a painful and humiliating experience
which may have precipitated her decision to give up
farming. She went to Paris to visit Gertrude (trying to
pick up the threads of her career as an artist), and in
November 1923 arrived in New York to visit John Cowper
and Llewelyn, both now living there with Phyllis Playter
and Alyse Gregory. The four months she spent in America
were among the happiest of her life, capped perhaps by a
visit to Walt Whitman's house where, in an act of
devotional vandalism, she secretly carved her initials
on the chair in his study.
Katie returned to England in April 1924 and with
Gertrude, herself back from Paris and freed from the
care of looking after their father, who had died the
year before, moved into Chydyok, an isolated house on
the headland between the sheer Dorset cliffs and the
village of East Chaldon in the rolling green downlands
where Theodore Powys had also settled. And it was
largely through Theodore's encouragement that, in April
1927, after a trip to Ireland where she met 'AE' (George
William Russell), who discoursed on Whitman for her, she
took up her diary again. 'Now I am so old as 40 I feel
less and less inclined towards strangers and towards
ordinary teaparty conversation,' she wrote, and life at
Chydyok suited her accordingly. She rode her pony
Josephine, grew vegetables in the garden and combed the
beach for driftwood, recording her happiness in finding
one day a box bearing the word STEPHEN washed ashore.
She sat on it for a while, then carried it up the cliff
and buried it under a clump of elders.
Another diary entry of this time gives a fleeting
indication of her struggle with her emotions. 'I
achieved today the feeling that I used to have,' she
notes, in a particular mood of peace and security after
a visit to her brother Theodore. Emotions, for Katie,
were not only to be felt; they were something to be
achieved. A few months later she is admonishing herself
over her feelings for Llewelyn, on the verge of a return
visit to America - 'I must learn not to love.' And when
his departure is imminent, she falls into a heightened,
psalm-like prose, wanting to feel more important to her
brother than she felt she was: 'Oh my God, my God why
hast thou made me so. My life is like a spring that
flows over rough stones and fertilizes no pastures.
Where I would have it warmed by a sun, instead the frost
covers it with cold ice...' She was depressed too by her
lack of achievement: 'I have done some writing but my
farming has failed; and as I am slow and uncertain in
my writing it is of no commercial value. Thus the good
my life is to mankind, is NIL.'
Out of this spiritual impasse - and promptly into
another - Katie was led by the enticingly androgynous
figure of the young Valentine Ackland, who had settled
in East Chaldon in 1925 to escape an unhappy marriage
and who offered her encouragement with her writing,
being herself a budding poet. It was not long before
Katie was hoping she might offer something more, and
found herself overtaken by new but familiarly intense
and frustrating passions. But Valentine was 20 years her
junior and was often up in London. She also attracted,
and was attracted to, a variety of other women—and Katie
was not emotionally equipped to interpret or deal with
For several years she was preoccupied with her
feelings for Valentine. She visited her in London early
in 1929, but noted how she 'was screened from me after
the usual manner of lovers, thus stirring that love to
wilder force.' Valentine excited and depressed her more
than anyone in the world. 'How I wished she loved me as
I love her but it can't be so . . .' She visited her
there again the following year and felt again
self-conscious of her 'clumsy body' and frustrated by
their 'inability to surmount the last barrier of our
friendship.' But 1930 had its compensations. After her
failure to find a publisher for two previous novels —
Budvale and Joan Callais — her novel The
Blackthorn Winter was published, quickly followed by
Driftwood, an aptly-named volume of 24 poems,
some of which Valentine had helped her with, and which
Katie dedicated to her accordingly. This must have done
much to restore Katie's self-esteem. But in the autumn
of that same year, the novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner,
a friend of her brother Theodore, arrived in East
Chaldon and it was soon common knowledge that she and
Valentine had become lovers — a knowledge which produced
some hysteria from Katie and some violent imagery in her
To be continued ,,,
'The only "real
poet" in the Powys Family.'
- John Cowper Powys
John Cowper Powys
the only 'real
the family, even when it had long become apparent that the bulk of
her literary output would never see the light of day. In this,
though, he was not insincere. He was not alone in detecting in his
sister's work qualities to be admired, and he never ceased to
encourage and advise, praising her for successes, consoling her for
disappointments, and characteristically playing down his own
achievements. He helped in the practical business of the correcting
and typing of her manuscripts and in communicating with publishers,
and her ultimate failure to achieve a popular profile or stature
equivalent to those of her three literary brothers did not dampen
his faith in her potential or alter the fact of her own
achievements. Was it not rather the public, or the publishers, who
had failed to appreciate her qualities?
In the year that saw
the publication of The Blackthorn Winter, Philippa Powys’s
main collection of poems, Driftwood, was also published, by
E. Lahr in the Blue Moon Booklets series.
aptly-named volume of
was 'Dedicated to
"Valentine.",' the poet Valentine Ackland
who offered her
encouragement with her writing.
In addition to the
ordinary trade edition of Driftwood, a hundred numbered
copies were printed on large paper and ten numbered and signed
copies bound in white buckram.
pamphlets were published, Poems (Sidmouth, 1932), Some
Poems (Sidmouth, no date), and Four Poems (no place of
publication or date).
In 1992, The Powys
Society issued a collected edition of Philippa Powys’s poems,
Driftwood and Other Poems, which gathered together all her
published poems as well as eight previously unpublished poems and
included a portrait of the poet by Gertrude Powys.
SONG OF THE WIND
Blessed is the wild rough weather,
Blessed is the whistle of the wind.
Blessed indeed is the wind that hath the breath of life:
Blessed is the Spirit that joins its voice to that of the wind;
Blest again is the Spirit that hears the voice and cannot reach it.
Blessed above all are they, for they suffer not alone but in
Blow, blow thou harder, thou inspirer of wishes,
Blow, O, Blessed Friend that consoles,
Blow thou on, until unspoken wishes are scattered as a cloud,
Blow, till more pass on, ere they shall drop or not as thy force
Blow, blow until they shall fall on some unwatered field.
Blow thou on, thou wind, Inhabitant of heaven and earth.
Thou that canst appease the suffering and yet augment:
Blessed still art thou, thou unembodied spirit.
Blow thou Consoler of prisoners:
Blow thou envy of freedom,
Blow that the bitterness of the thoughts that are towered within,
May be shattered.
Then shall the fragments be covered with the weeds of the earth,
The bramble shall twine around and bear fruit;
The gorse shall bloom and become the golden symbol of
The nettle shall shelter the home of the brown hedge-sparrow.
Blow, blow thou great Consoler.
Rise and curse the fate which runs through this sad and battered
Blow, blow and stir the emotions deeper till men gather the truth
and make bold in thought.
Blow thou over the wilderness, then shall we see beyond;
the mists, so that sight may pierce the ether above.
Blessed indeed art thou,O Wind !
Scatterer of the wild desires;
Appeaser of the desperate;
Rousing the seas to anger, so that man's great brain is foiled
While in thy might, joined with that of the waves, men become
as autumn leaves.
Play on them, play on them faster,
Put fear about them, till they fall before thee,
O ! thou Great Omnipotent Power.
Winds of the fells and the sea, join and become one, so
that man may tremble again.
Thou art the boon of my Spirit, the healing of my broken sores
Thou Confessor ! How shall I tell ?
I am a prodigal: with wishes that are intensified, but must be kept
Whirl them further from me, O, Blessed Deliverer !
Toss them above me, disperse the belt of thought which follows.
Bitter are the clouds of remembrance.
Away with the despairable droppings of the rain,
Hurl them away as thou wouldst that craft upon the water,
Race behind them that they do not take dominion over me.
Blow, blow for ever, O, Blessed Messenger of Heaven !
Blessed is the cry of the wind that fore-runs the rushing gales.
LOVED AND LOST
'Seagull! Seagull! Why so fast ?'
'O Child of Fate, I cannot stay.'
'Speak, O Seagull ! Speak to me
Flying there over high white cliffs.
'My heart is sore, my heart is torn,
Thy cries re-echo my broken soul.
Hover near and comfort me,
Who in thee findeth a soothing hope.
My love is dead, I wander far,
To find him whom I so much love.
My cries ring sharp like the moaning winds,
My tears are salt like thy own sea-waves.
I cannot find him, even though,
Tis only to see him from afar.
O Bird of Space ! Bring him to me,
Surely he will hear thy call.'
'Never, never will my cry break upon his listening ears,
Never, never will my wings brush awake those lids of sleep.
He is dead, no more to rise, lying
Where buttercups and daisies grow.'
'Stay, O Seagull, Stay with me;
Tell me how to pass these days
Reft of passion and of joy,
Starved of sunshine and of hope.'
'Hearken now, though not in life, you'll hear his voice
In the whirl of the wind; in the changing of clouds;
And in the blackness of night the foaming breakers shall
declare his spirit.
By day the sands shall mark his name,
And the sight of boats shall testify
That you knew him, and he knew you.'
'O Bird of Sky, it is not enough.
I want him, himself; in body, in life,
To walk these hills and hear the lark
And smell the scent of the golden gorse,
And you too say, he lies stiff-cold
Under clods of earth . . .
O ! God forbid ! O ! Miserable day !'
Copyright © The Estate of Philippa
POWYS TO SEA EAGLE
The Letters of John Cowper Powys
to Philippa Powys
Collected here for the first time are more than 200 letters from
the tireless pen of John Cowper Powys to his sister Philippa, whom
he dubbed his 'Sea Eagle'. The period they span, from his early days
of lecturing in the United States during the First World War to his
88th year in 1961, is greater than any volume of Powys's letters
published so far. Catharine Edith Philippa Powys, known in the
family as Katie, had a novel and a volume of poems published in
1930. "Write, write, write, O Sea Eagle!' says Powys, 'write with a
great flying feather from your own strong wing — for only you only
you alone — can write books like this.'
But despite such encouragement, none of her half dozen other novels
was ever to find a publisher, while the works of her famous literary
brothers — John Cowper, Theodore and Llewelyn — continued to appear
and attract admirers. How crushing that must have been in one so
sensitive and passionate, but how alive to her griefs and struggle
with life these letters show John Cowper to be, how consolatory to
her restless spirit. Whether writing from hotel rooms across the
States or from his tiny house in the Welsh mountains, these letters
to Katie, at home in the Dorset countryside, brim with humour,
wisdom and zest for life that were Powys's own, from observations of
wayside flowers to reflections on the atom-bomb. As always, the
presence of literary spirits is everywhere felt — Dostoievsky,
Nietzsche, Tennyson, Pater, Charles Lamb and Shelley, and Walt
Whitman in particular, Katie's favourite poet. The widely-scattered
but tight-knit Powys family haunt these pages too, replete with
nostalgia for a shared Victorian childhood, as the world lurches
from one catastrophe to another. How lovingly John Cowper wrote
these letters; how eagerly must Katie have awaited them.
214mm x 133mm, 368 pp. and 4 pp. of illustrations.
Cecil Woolf Publishers ISBN 0-900821-51-5 £35.00
frail thou art –
as the gossamer webs
thread the upland grass,
the pallid mists
Copyright © The Estate of Philippa