“There’s A Mohawk In The Sky!”
Discussion of Chapter 12 of JCP’s Autobiography
Notes by Chris Thomas
“I play the zany”, says JCP in Autobiography. Throughout his autobiography JCP refers to himself in a variety of ways confessing his “shifts, subterfuges, coilings and mole like burrowings”. He calls himself a scarecrow Don Quixote, a nympholept, a puppet showman, inspired Pantaloon, charlatan, fetishist, imaginative sensualist, magician, ninny, a born clown, a Simple Simon, and Pulchinello. In Chapter 12 he also calls himself the Old Man of the Hills and in the last two triumphant paragraphs of the Autobiography he presents himself in touch with “other dimensions” echoing his earlier declaration he is “porous to the mysterious magic of the cosmos”. What is the reader to make of these contradictory self-images? Are they illusions, projections or self-created masks? How seriously should we take him? He declares he has romanticized and idealized his life. His deepest “I am I” appears elusive. In Chapter 12 he continues to draw on powerful memories of the past – the childhood memory of an image of his father standing on the pebbles on Weymouth beach holding a copy of the Spectator or, more recently, the day he received news of the burial of his father, are moving and memorable. Our discussion of Chapter 12 will enable us to consider the role that JCP’s retirement to a house called Phudd Bottom in up-state New York played in his creative life, (it gave him the freedom, isolation and emotional stability which enabled him to write his most important works to date), his appreciation of the local landscape – “the country of the Mohawks” - (the landscape of rivers, streams and hills he discovered on his rambles with his Druidic cudgel, accompanied by his dog, reminded him of Derbyshire and Shropshire), his reflections on the debt he owed to living in America, his inner spiritual growth, the development of his personal Taoist philosophy, his daily mental rituals, and his friendship with his neighbors, Mr Krick and A D Ficke. The four years he spent at Phudd Bottom he says “have been very nearly the happiest of my life.” Autobiography is surely one of JCP’s greatest and most magnificent books. Chapter 12 is basically a summa of JCP’s life experiences in America but also provides a glimpse forward into the future to Wales, Merlin and Welsh mythology.
JCP commenced writing Autobiography on 15 August 1933. It was first published in the UK in October 1934. Autobiography is available in a modern edition published by Overlook, as well as by Faber Finds, and is available as an eBook.
Readers may also wish to consult two contemporary essays by JCP:
- Farewell to America (from the Powys Review No 6, Winter/Spring1979/1980)
- An Englishman Upstate (from Philobiblon, No 8 Winter 1966
Other recommendations for further reading covering the same period as Chapter 12 of Autobiography are