Interview in 1991 with Rosemary Sutcliff by John Withrington about Sword at Sunset and Arthurian legend

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I have found a new (to me) interview snippet and will be chasing the full interview. (Any of you readers and contributors got access?)

Sutcliff snippet of interview

Source: Quondam et Futurus, Vol. 1, No. 4, Winter 1991

2 comments

  1. I found this when I wanted to update my remembering of this wonderful poem which, although about Arthur, actually seems to me to relate to Britain in WW2 – and, bizarrely, to Brexit – because the EU doesn’t seem to have caught onto the fact that if it had changed, to be fair to all, then the UK would never have voted to leave (my opinion, but very carefully considered)

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  2. Just thought it might be of interest to add the evocative poem mentioned in this interview, which Rosemary Sutcliff used to preface “Sword at Sunset”.
    (The title translates “Here Lies Arthur, the Once and Future King”)

    HIC JACET ARTHURUS REX QUONDAM REXQUE FUTURUS

    Arthur is gone … Tristram in Careol
    Sleeps, with a broken sword – And Yseult sleeps
    Beside him, where the Westering Waters roll
    Over drowned Lyonesse to the outer deeps
    Lancelot is fallen … The ardent helms that shone
    So knightly and the splintered lances rust
    In the anonymous mould of Avalon:
    Gawain and Garath and Galahad – all are dust!

    Where do the vanes and towers of Camelot
    And tall Tintagel crumble? Where do those tragic
    Lovers and their bright eyed ladies rot?
    We cannot tell, for lost is Merlin’s magic.

    And Guinevere – Call her not back again
    Lest she betray the loveliness time lent
    A name that blends the rapture and the pain
    Linked in the lonely nightingale’s lament

    Nor pry too deeply, lest you should discover
    The bower of Astolat a smokey hut
    Of mud and wattle – find the knightliest lover
    A braggart, and his lilymaid a slut;

    And all that coloured tale a tapestry
    Woven by poets. As the spider’s skeins
    Are spun of its own substance, so have they
    Embroidered empty legend – What remains?

    This: That when Rome fell, like a writhen oak
    That age had sapped and cankered at the root,
    Resistant, from her topmost bough that broke
    The miracle of one unwithering shoot

    Which was the spirit of Britain – that certain men
    Uncouth, untutored, of our island brood
    Loved freedom better than their lives; and when
    The tempest crashed around them, rose and stood

    And charged into the storm’s black heart, with sword
    Lifted, or lance in rest, and rode there helmed
    With a strange majesty that the heathen horde
    Remembered after all were overwhelmed;

    And made of them a legend, to their chief,
    Arthur, Ambrosius – no man knows his name –
    Granting a gallantry beyond belief
    And to his knights imperishable fame.

    They were few … We know not in what manner
    Or where or when they fell – whether they went
    Riding into the dark Christ’s banner
    Or died beneath the blood-red dragon of Gwent.

    But this we know; that when the Saxon rout
    Swept over them, the sun no longer shone
    On Britain, and the last lights flickered out;
    And men in the darkness murmured: Arthur is gone…

    Francis Brett Young

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