For award-winning, internationally-acclaimed author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). By Anthony Lawton: godson, cousin & literary executor. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote historical fiction, children's literature and books, films, TV & radio, including The Eagle of the Ninth, Sword at Sunset, Song for a Dark Queen, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, Blue Remembered Hills.
2 thoughts on “Interview in 1991 with Rosemary Sutcliff by John Withrington about Sword at Sunset and Arthurian legend”
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)
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