Roy Campbell (October 2, 1901–April 22, 1957) was a South African poet and essayist. T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and Edith Sitwell praised Campbell as one of the best poets of the inter-war period. Unfortunately, his conservatism, Nietzscheanism, and Catholicism, as well as his open contempt for the Bloomsbury set and his participation in the Spanish Civil War on the Fascist side have led his works to be consigned to the memory hole. Campbell died in Portugal in 1957 in a car crash. Below is a selection of his poems. Also see Kerry Bolton’s “Roy Campbell” on this site and Roger Scruton’s “A Dark Horse.” When time permits, we will make more of Campbell’s poems available on this site.
I love to see, when leaves depart,
The clear anatomy arrive,
Winter, the paragon of art,
That kills all forms of life and feeling
Save what is pure and will survive.
Already now the clanging chains
Of geese are harnessed to the moon:
Stripped are the great sun-clouding planes;
And the dark pines, their own revealing,
Let in the needles of the noon.
Strained by the gale the olives whiten
Like hoary wrestlers bent with toil
And, with the vines, their branches lighten
To brim our vats where summer lingers
In the red froth and sun-gold oil.
Soon on our hearth’s reviving pyre
Their rotted stems will crumble up:
And like a ruby, panting fire,
The grape will redden on your fingers
Through the lit crystal of the cup.
From the dark woods that breathe of fallen showers,
Harnessed with level rays in golden reins,
The zebras draw the dawn across the plains
Wading knee-deep among the scarlet flowers.
The sunlight, zithering their flanks with fire,
Flashes between the shadows as they pass
Barred with electric tremors through the grass
Like wind along the gold strings of a lyre.
Into the flushed air snorting rosy plumes
That smoulder round their feet in drifting fumes,
With dove-like voices call the distant fillies,
While round the herd the stallion wheels his flight,
Engine of beauty volted with delight
To roll his mare among the trampled lilies.
The Making of a Poet
In every herd there is some restive steer
Who leaps the cows and heads each hot stampede,
Till the old bulls unite in jealous fear
To hunt him from the pastures where they feed.
Lost in the night he hears the jungles crash
And desperately, lest his courage fail,
Across his hollow flanks with sounding lash
Scourges the heavy whipcord of his tail.
Far from the phalanxes of horns that ward
The sleeping herds he keeps the wolf at bay,
At nightfall by the slinking leopard spoored,
And goaded by the fly-swarm through the day.
The Georgiad (excerpt)
Dinner, most ancient of the Georgian rites,
The noisy prelude of loquacious nights,
At the mere noise of whose unholy gong
The wagging tongue feels resolute and strong,
Senate of bores and parliament of fools,
Where gossip in her native empire rules;
What doleful memories the word suggests -‘
When I have sat like Job among the guests,
Sandwiched between two bores, a hapless prey,
Chained to my chair, and cannot get away,
Longing, without the appetite to eat,
To fill my ears, more than my mouth, with meat,
And stuff my eardrums full of fish and bread
Against the din to wad my dizzy head:
When I have watched each mouthful that they poke
Between their jaws, and praying they might choke,
Found the descending lump but cleared the way
For further anecdotes and more to say.
O Dinners! take my curse upon you all,
But literary dinners most of all . . .
His naked skin clothed in the torrid mist
That puffs in smoke around the patient hooves,
The ploughman drives, a slow somnambulist,
And through the green his crimson furrow grooves.
His heart, more deeply than he wounds the plain,
Long by the rasping share of insult torn,
Red clod, to which the war-cry once was rain
And tribal spears the fatal sheaves of corn,
Lies fallow now. But as the turf divides
I see in the slow progress of his strides
Over the toppled clods and falling flowers,
The timeless, surly patience of the serf
That moves the nearest to the naked earth
And ploughs down palaces, and thrones, and towers.