Letter to William – Peterloo 2003

Letter to William

William Cookson, editor of Agenda,
champion of the work of David Jones, died in January 2003.
Like his mentor, Ezra Pound, he was passionate about the poetry of Dante.

William, your death signals an era ending: —
Gentlemen-editors who, their taste unquestioned,
Shepherded eager, though uncomprehending,

Readers with quiet, but insistent, suggestion
Through the selva oscura of modernism.
Behind your charm you were sheer steel, a bastion

Against today’s illiterate barbarism.
You were our link with that past generation
Who, gathered round their Muse’s ample bosom

In the Fitzrovia George, drank inspiration
From her milk, and, sometimes, droplets of liquor
More Bacchic — Muse who, with Nazi invasion

Threatening Britain, pressed her poetic trigger,
And fired Macneice’s, Connolly’s, and Dylan’s,
Words at the Hun Hitler’s jack-booted wreckers.

You are our Connolly. Like his, your villains
Were those who imposed slavery on language
Rather than populations. But his talents

Served a more literate age. Our undistinguished
Babble of poetasters — will they notice
Your passing? Will there be shivers of anguish

To shake dust from their magazines, whose bloated
Blandness squashes us with boredom? But no quarrels
Here, no niggles. Simply praise for the undoubted

Triumphs of your long, debt-dogged, editorial
Career — and you had very, very, many.
May I choose just one personal victor laurel

To bind round your forehead, my special penny-
worth of tribute: you were the first to publish
David Jones’s The Sleeping Lord. If any

Work of today survives, that will, to establish
Your place among the elite perceptive critics
Who can tell obscure gems from obscure rubbish.

So, William, are you now strolling the city
With David, or, guided by Ezra, panting
In childlike anticipation — infinity

Notwithstanding — indeed now nearly frantic
With excitement, as you meet, face to face,
The master of the masters — himself, Dante,
Servant of Him in whose will is our peace?