Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Sleeping People and the Hedgehog



In T.H. White's long unpublished last Arthurian novel, The Book of Merlyn, the elderly Arthur, on the night before his final battle, accompanied only by his old friend from childhood, the Hedgehog (or Tiggy, or hedge-pig), climbs a hill. Arthur, betrayed by his people, his wife, his friends, and his son, climbs a hill, and muses:
England was at the old man's feet, like a sleeping man-child. When it was awake it would stump about, grabbing things and breaking them, pulling the cat's tail, nourishing its ego with amoral and reckless mastery. But in sleep its masculine force was abdicated. The man-child sprawled undefended now, vulnerable, a baby trusting the world to let it sleep in peace.

All the beauty of his humans came upon him, instead of their horribleness. He saw the vast army of martyrs who were his witnesses: young men who had gone out even in the first joy of marriage, to be killed on dirty battlefields like Bedegraine for other men's beliefs: but who had gone out voluntarily: but who had gone out because they thought it was right: but who had gone although they hated it. They had been ignorant young men, perhaps, and the things which they had died for had been useless. But their ignorance had been innocent. They had done something horribly difficult in their ignorant innocence, which was not for themselves.

He saw suddenly all the people who had accepted sacrifice: learned men who had starved for truth, poets who had refused to compound in order to achieve success, parents who had swallowed their own love in order to let their children live, doctors and holy men who had died to help, millions of crusaders, generally stupid, who had been butchered for their stupidity—but who had meant well

. . . .

They might be stupid, ferocious, unpolitical, almost hopeless. But here and there, oh so seldom, oh so rare, oh so glorious, there were those who would face the rack, the executioner, and even utter extinction, in the cause of something greater than themselves. Truth, that strange thing, that jest of Pilate’s.
And, as the King's thoughts darken again, the hedgehog offers him the comfort he once offered the old man when he was a boy known as Wart:
The hedgehog asked, “Dost tha mind as how us used to sing for un?”

“I minds un well,” said Arthur. “’Twas ‘Rustic Bridge’, and ‘Genevieve' and ...and..."

"‘Home Sweet Home’.”

The king quite suddenly bowed his head.

****

“Majesty,” the hedgehog mentioned shyly, “us gotter fresh un."

There was no reply.

"When us knowed tha was acoming us larned a fresh 'un. 'Twas for thy welcome, like. Us learned it off that there Mearn.”

"Sing it," gasped the old man. He had stretched his bones upon the heather, because it was all too much.

And there, upon the height of England, in a good pronunciation because he had learned it carefully from Merlyn, to Parry's music from the future, with his sword of twigs in on grey hand and a chariot of mouldy leaves, the hedgehog stood to build Jerusalem, and meant it.

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green and pleasant Land.
White wrote these words in the early days of World War II, as he prepared to, as he put it, "lay down his books to fight for his kind," meaning all those who strove, "in their own small way, to still the ancient brutal dream of Atilla the Hun."

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