Skip to main content

Of Legendary Time

ISSUE:  Winter 1939

There were times in Spain, moments only as a rule, when my vision of the world was suddenly purified. I mean that it seemed that the physical retina itself became more sensitive and that perception, often a mere result of sensation, really felt like a co-operation of the willing and loving mind in the work of the senses. In those moments perception put me in new touch with a world that was lovely, and itself pure. It is hard to describe this sensation but it is the origin of much poetry. I think now, as I thought then, of Thomas Traherne and his “immemorial wheat that never would be reaped.” George Herbert, I imagine, must often have felt the same. But it was not the permanence of things which I saw so much as the identity of things; their real nature, the glowing serenity that Cezanne could see in the tilt of vineyards and the heavy blue-gray mass of hills beyond the solid cube of a southern vat house. There was one morning on the Jarama front, when we were defending the Valencia road that fed Madrid, the noble heart. I have since written down my memory:

That morning the four poplars were standing up out of the mist like ship masts, and then, as I mounted the hillside, the other poplars came into view and the valley looked like a harbour into which Mediterranean ships had run. . . . How well I remember that morning. The air ran like invisible, cool water over my face. The light, still striking in beams over the Perales hills, was sharp, crystalline. It was a morning when one half believed the open sea lay over the hill. Often, in the old days, I had felt that unseen presence, and elated strangely, so that my heart beat fast, had turned a corner of tarred snacks . . . , half expecting to perceive, through derelict factories, the shining sea.

My memory of that morning is precise, as I walked up the gully path, past the telephonic dugout. The feeling of the sea’s nearness made me say aloud to myself, “The crack of an explosive bullet in a gully is like the smack of water in sea caves.” At that moment a covey of little brown partridges whirred up out of the red-brown rubble, and the beat of their wings sounded like a spent fragment of shell.

There were many occasions of this renewal of vision; the war and its violence did nothing to hinder their occurrence; on the contrary, they were more frequent than in peacetime. I remember one evening of somber clouds, walking along a still unshattered street in Madrid, amidst the wreckage of Cuatro Caminos. There was a gravity about the street which reminded me of the old steel engravings one meets in the travel books of the last century, in which solemn houses stand in mathematical perspective, like a demonstration in solid geometry, and in which two stiffly dressed gentlemen always confront one another in polite attitudes. There was peace in that street, though beyond the housetops black clouds of smoke ballooned slowly in the acrid breeze. It was a peace faintly touched with nostalgia, like that mood induced by old engravings and the frontispieces of lute books.

Sometimes a part of the landscape would so impress itself upon the imagination that it became a symbol. This was easy in Spain because of the very nature of that landscape. Edmund Blunden somewhere describes the brutal shock which he received, when, walking in a rear guard of apple orchards he came suddenly upon the ugly shapes of big guns. That contrast could barely exist in the austere, violent, or harsh landscape of the Castilian steppe. It may be that my nature is so different from his that I could not perceive the contrast. I remember an incident in Valencia. At the time of the International Congress of Writers last July I was allotted a hotel room that was already occupied. The city was so full of refugees that in two hours of search I failed to find a room and at last began to inquire in little cafes in back streets. At last, an old waiter offered to share his bed with me and led me off into the darkness, to arrive at the abandoned palace of some ancient and noble family. Next morning I spent some time wandering through the house, walking in stiff and creaking boots through dark, tapestried salons of the eighteenth century, whose walls were hung with solemn portraits, into rooms decorated in the trinket style of the last century. There were fans of mother-of-pearl filigree and cabinets of carved ivory and portraits of ladies painted in what appeared to be egg tempera, and the floors were of waxed parquet. Presently I came to a modern library, full of ancient classics, modern paper-backed books by Colette, and a fine edition of Mr. Jorrocks in English. Finally, I came to the Mother Hubbard quarters of the departed menials and, looking through a small square window into the courtyard, I saw a gleaming anti-aircraft gun in process of assembly, its bright, efficient steel shining happily. It was a pleasant excitement, this walking through the dead and silent past and coming upon violent but, in this case, merciful modernity.

Yet it cannot have been only a personal idiosyncrasy that I felt no contrast between landscape and the war. The fierce prussian-blue sky, the broken hills of red and ocherous rocks, or the deathly gray-green of the gouged valley walls, the monotony or the violence of the earth forms, offered no contrast to the starkness of war. It was a warlike landscape, but noble, as we all of us believed our resistance to be.

In this harmony of act and scene it was perhaps natural that one element of it should have become a symbol of man’s resistance. Our Jarama lines of the Fifteenth International Brigade ran through an olive field. Our trenches were a yellow scar upon the hill; over them the gray-green trees leaned. Beyond the sandbags a vineyard lay. In that No-Man’s Land throughout earlier spring the vines had been a cemetery of dead men, thrusting up their clenched fists through the soil, but as summer wore on the vine fists put out leaves. Untended, they became luxuriant, so that men crawled upon their bellies among the fluttering green and unloosed a hissing death upon one another.

The olive tree had always been a symbol to me. Its “immobility in the sapless winter had been a reproach to man’s embitterment”; its “sobriety of minute blossom had been a rebuke to license.” Its harvest at its richest was ever “a reproof to man avid of yield from the meager tillages he gives to life.” The olive tree was a symbol of austerity, of frugality; and once, I said, was a symbol of the fortitude of the samurai, awaiting without complaint the extinction of their order. Upon that Tajufia hill slope, defending the Valen-cian road, the olive field again became a symbol of fortitude, but also of men creating a new thing.

When I first visited the Jarama line the trees were just beginning to put on their fragile net of leaves, though the ungathered fruit, blue-black and wrinkled, still gleamed upon the boughs. And despite the bullet-bleak days of that February battle which had cost the brigade so dearly, our men were still in their springtime freshness. The men’s confidence even grew, as the trees shook out their little starry blossoms, yellow-green like lime honey. Then through the long weariness of the Hundred and Twenty Days, through which the brigade held the lines, the trees also were torn and splintered. The never-ending blight of bullets burned up their leaves and splintered the gray boughs, so that yellow wounds stared at the sky. Shells tore their branches away, and the men, seeking fuel, hacked them in pieces. Little by little, as our men became haggard with war, the olive field changed also, until, men and trees keeping pace, they stood shattered and torn, almost forlorn upon the sad hill. When our men were relieved and dragged themselves down into the valley, the trees suddenly became a symbol of desolation.

But the Jarama men never lost their individuality, despite their utter exhaustion. This was particularly true of the Spaniards. I remember talking to a peasant, and the thrill he gave me. I had been lecturing to them in the lee of the hill, when one came to me and asked for news of his village. He said, “I have three fields there, good fields; no, I will say that I have one good field—ah, how good it is—and two little fields not so good. But how they please me, my little fields. There is a brook at the bottom of one little field, and two fig trees, and I have a seat there. Ah, you should see that place, so fresh and cool it is.” Something of Garcilaso de la Vega sounded in his clear speech, but the factual mind of the Spanish peasant spoke also. When in the second book of Don Quixote, Teresa writes to her husband Sancho, governor of his island realm, she writes so of the things of her village. Sometimes, lying in my great gilded bed in the commissariat in Madrid, listening to the crackle and boom of the University City or the wabbling thrum of shells running through the flickering night clouds, I would read, taking a book from the cupboards outside my door. A part of the library of the department of philosophy had been stored there by the Fifth Regiment men.

Luis Vives was a Spanish philosopher of the sixteenth century. Living his old age in a poor apartment in Bruges, he wrote free Latin exercises, not to lose his mastery. He did not comment in stiff verse upon old campaigns, or celebrate tedious loves, or sing great causes. He wrote Latin dialogues, of a quarrel between husband and wife, because she has put a flower pot on the window sill, and the pot hinders his view of the public clock across the way. Their child cries the while. Or he translates the dialogue of two sisters, one the mother of a child, who have been invited out to eat milk curds and are leaving the house alone. Look at your marmoreal and conceited G6ngora. Don Pedro de Valencia, in a letter to Don Luis, says that he viciously imitates the Italians in his burlesque allusions, yet note how your G6ngora speaks in that romance, “En la pedregosa orilla.” He says that Big Teresa is a nymph who guards undignified animals on the banks of the Vecinguera, which was not, dear aesthete, the classic stream of the Eclogues, but a kind of sewer in the Cordova of that day. Gongora, the frozen, is full of folk elements, snatches of song, slang, popular ribaldries, and factual allusions wholly Spanish.

The digression must be checked. It serves as a protest against the very force of that olive tree symbol, for so powerful is that symbol that I almost think of our men upon that tiger hill as a company of anonymous men, standing without differentiation, treelike, against the mortal hail that still hisses over the vineyard of death.

Beauty is sensed not only in images and symbols. There are experiences, which are lovely in themselves. There are groups of experiences which from the very order and sequence in which they occur have a sharper impact than they would have in isolation. It is a device of writers to place their scenes in evocatory order. One such sequence occurred to me on the Jarama front.

It was an evening in June. The weary men had asked for an informal talk, and those off watch had gathered a little way behind the trenches on the slope of the hill. These talks, by the way, were something of an innovation, and a strange enough duty, though properly within the work of a commissar. Little by little the men recreated the role of bard, or public storyteller, and I was the officeholder. With a bare synopsis jotted down on the back of an envelope I used to improvise novellas and stories as a means of giving instruction on Spanish social life. I recall one such evening, spent after the Hundred and Twenty Days, in the village of Al-bares. We gathered in the square, on one side of which a low wall topped a steep little cliff. There, after dark, I told the men a story of the Mediterranean fishing coast, which was in effect a study of the Catalan family system.

But on this Jarama evening the Seventeenth Battalion (The Abraham Lincoln) proposed that I describe my wanderings in the great mountain chains of Spain. I stood beneath a torn olive tree facing the west, the men sprawled about the rear works of the line. It was a gorgeous evening. Huge cumuli reflected the fire that burned on the horizon, green and violet light mingled in the mid-sky, and away in the east, over the indigo hills of Perales, the red counterglow was deep and intense. It was like a High Mass of the Holy Ghost, or it was magic. It seemed so magical, that solemn splendour, that one half believed that at the pronouncing of a word it might vanish. As if one had pronounced such a word, the light drained out of the sky and the hills became black and encroached upon the imagination. Indeed, they appeared to edge in upon us. I talked quietly, for the enemy must not hear that we were gathered together. Then a hand was raised towards the east and the men sighed “Ah!” and swiftly the huge moon sailed up and grew white.

I was talking about a shepherd whom I had met on the summit of the Cordillera that walls in lovely Liebana, above the village of Aniezo. The shepherd had a piece of string tied to his foot, and this, he explained, was because he had been suffering an extremely painful toothache. He had cured it by tying the string to the tooth and to his ankle, so that the pain had passed into the ground. His speech had told me that he was not a hereditary shepherd, and as we sat drinking from his wineskin he said that he had been driven from his village by the parish priest for political heterodoxy. He was a Republican. The moon was now high and the silence unbroken even by a single rifle shot. A little breeze ran about among the vine leaves of No-Man’s Land.

I was saying: “He took me to a fountain and as we sat there he pointed around that vast amphitheater of vaporous domes and said, ‘Over there, just below that cliff, is a good sweet fountain but it gives little water, and over there is another that is copious, and yonder’—and he pointed to a red dome barely visible beyond the violet haze—’is a pleasant and very cold spring, and there are oaks which give a lot of acorns. . . .’ ” I was commenting on the Spanish reverence for sweet sources, when suddenly the front line broke into fire. Beginning upon the sector held by the British Battalion, it ran down the front to the Pasionaria’s on our left, like a wave that breaks from one end. Rifles and machine guns rattled and banged into the moonlit vines and trees. Battalion Commissar Lutz and I had no weapons, except the huge .45 Colt which the men called “Bates’s light artillery” and for which not even the plunderous forays of Albertini, the most efficient of piratic aides, had been able to find more than eleven rounds in all Madrid. The battalion commissar and I ran back to the battalion armory for rifles and as we entered the thickest part of the olive grove the air began to hiss with machine gun fire. A Verey light went up and I thought I saw the bullets flashing past like a school of silver fish disturbed by divers blundering into their deep sea grove. Actually, as the dust puffs showed, it was parabolic fire, and horribly intense. Suddenly the cone of fire swept off into the empty hollow of moonlight and impassible stones on our right, and by the most extraordinary luck we were unhurt. The cloak I carried on my arm was shot through in two places.

As we ran back with rifles the firing died down and all became silent. There had been no raid. “Some guy must have seen an olive tree move,” they said. Tired, overstrained senses frequently report such things. The off-watch men returned to their chabolas or “foxholes” and presently a group began to sing, “When Israel was in Egyptland. . . .”

Their voices swelled out upon the shining night and I say before God that music had never moved me so.

“Let my people go.” The voices throbbed out of the earth holes and that sad pleading was more significant than any supplication had hitherto been; it was the voice of the noble heart, giving out the meaning of that bitter fight.

A man came out, and as he approached me he took up the words “Let my people go.” He said, “The boys invite you to sleep with us,” but I answered, “Good night,” unable to say more. “Good night,” they called as I passed their foxholes. “Good night. Buenas noches. Sleep well.” I motored back, crawling without lights through the poplars of Dead Mule Lane, and by zigzag route to legendary Madrid, into which shells were crashing.

The word “legendary” as qualifying Madrid was not intended to have the obvious meaning that the city has become the rallying point, the Castillo famoso of contemporary freedom. I meant that all that vast landscape that unfolds upon the astonished mind as one tops the escarpment above Alcalil and gazes towards the Seven Peaks, seems to have its existence outside of time. That sense of the legendary about a present experience is hard to describe; it is in a certain manner, the sense of the present as past, as well as of the past as present. But the legendary quality is more complex than this, it must contain a sense of being simple, of that which overhangs a drama, or a tale of embodied good and evil, of love, hate, and treachery, of naive realism, of this man coveting that man’s land or his wife, and being slain and the people applauding, and swearing new fealty. No doubt “Morte d’Arthur,” “Huon of Bordeaux,” “The Knight of the Green Girdle,” all the chansons de gestes of early reading explain how I came by this sense of the legendary. Nevertheless, the landscape itself awakens that feeling, as does all that stupendous faery of the Pyrenees and the dazzling marches at their feet. From Torla, upon its headland below the vast red curtains of rock that hold up the Perdido, from Bielsa below its exalted pass, from any village that stands up on the edge of its cliff, from Benasque below the Cursed Mountains, from any arrogant castle that stares out over sweeping plains the knight of Master Pedro’s puppet show might any Monday or Thursday come riding down, his palfrey shying from time to time at a German tank, towards walled Zaragoza, where his long-tressed lady awaits the winding of a horn.

I often felt that the Castilian, backbone of our resistance, is exemplary in fortitude because his mind accepts legendary things as natural. Scraps of romance, old ballads, the tales that still linger, the mummers’ plays and their proverbs describe things in simple black and white. This tyrant arose and was grievous for the people and they rebelled and slew him; or this disaster afflicted the land and they carried the Virgin around the fields and the famine was at an end. This present struggle is nothing for which they were mentally unprepared, even if they were militarily so. The powers of evil have come again. That they should have marched down the road past our rest camp one day, singing: “The Great Miaja leads us on,” is not merely a tribute to the power of a piano-strumming ditty maker. The Castilian, even when he accepts liberalism, does not do so with the outlook of the liberal. He might some day canonize a new prophet and call him San Carlos Marx, but Mr. Mill, whom on the whole he defends in this war, would be to him Senor Profesor.

This sense of the legendary, frequently awakened in me during the war, only rarely brought with it that nostalgia which is the tribute most often paid to the past. But nostalgia is awakened most strongly in those who are divided in their loyalties, or who have no dominant loyalty, who are torn between reaction and experiment. They look back at the past with sighs that escape being affirmation, which also they will not give to the present. Again and again an un-nostalgic sense of the past was stirred in me. Often, upon the Jarama front, sitting upon a firestep in the midday blaze, or in darkness, there would move into my thought a silent procession of ships, of taut little frigates, or of the galleons of departed monarchies, sailing along the valley of San Martin de la Vega. I would deliberately play host to that imagining, hearing the lazy cries of Portuguese mariners and the creak of spars down there where the Fascist limber wagons rattled. The painted eyes of discolored figureheads would go staring around the Jarama River bends, peering across the unsheaved fields, wondering what uncommon fiesta in Madrid painted the sky with great bonfires. The origin of that imagining lay in a note I had made long ago. The Count-Duke of Los Olivares, pompous and squalid servitor of decadent Hapsburg regalism, had absurdly dreamed of bringing deep-sea ships to the gates of Madrid, by canalizing the River Jarama.

There was another intrusion of the past which caused me to marvel. I had been doing some organizing work with the Transport Column, composed principally of American volunteer mechanics and truck drivers. Your American mechanic, trained in Detroit and weathered on four-lane ways, is your Contemporary Man; far tougher than anything conceived by Mr. Cagney, and far more human. His aesthetic senses have perhaps been a little dulled by one hundred thousand miles of roadside hideousness; perhaps he has been made irascible by long hours at the wheel, the burden of his trade. Nevertheless, his brain seeks efficiency, clean driving, a sweet job of “fixing,” a masterly overhaul, as naturally as a compass needle swings to the north. I imagine that no man has so little sense of the past as he. 1933 is six models back, in the age of groping, and 1931 stares him into incredulous silence or into derisive uproar.

We were seated beneath an avenue of enormous pepper trees not far from Alcald. The River Henares ran muddily by, the hot night filled with its sticky, fetid vapour. Gusts of hot wind blew in from the steaming fields. Heaven had collapsed that afternoon and the pools gleamed along the churned-up road. Beneath the trees a party of Frenchmen never ceased to sigh and curse, out of profound French despair, as they splashed around a truck sunk axle-deep in mud. We had eaten and we were discussing the question whether tractors could be used upon the surrounding lands. The talk was burly with the Present.

A sheet of paper pitched little somersaults across the circle and I leaned forward and caught it. The glow of my cigarette showed that it was not a contemporary document and I splashed into the road and held it to the light of the truck, which had stuck again.

“It’s an old letter to a duke,” I said to the despairing Frenchman who came round to flash his torch upon the mud.

He sighed, and in his voice was the sadness of one who looked back upon Mud, and who looked forward to Mud, whose life would be spent in struggling with Mud. He leaned on the radiator and wiped the sweat from his sad and pallid face. He took the letter in his hand, as with futile deliberation of step his squad splashed forward and gathered around the melancholy truck.

“Ces messieurs,” he murmured, returning the letter. Cursing softly, with horrible significance, he began to wave the quite immobile truck forward with his hand torch.

It was a letter to a duke whose name I have forgotten, from a high palace official of the latter end of the seventeenth century. The archives of the palace near which we were encamped had been transferred to the National Library, I knew. This letter must have been part of that collection. That the life of courts in that epoch does not engage my emotions is not the consequence of political belief. Or rather, the true aristocrat of Spain is your peasant, your saddle maker, or the tender of olive trees. These preserve their tradition of the old ways, the old techniques and values. But this letter caused me to marvel. Through it I gazed upon a detailed landscape of past time. I had done a few easygoing researches into these fields and the picture was perfectly clear. I never remember a more sharply focused mental picture and one that engaged me less. So keen was that awareness that I walked about or sat there for a long time with an impression almost of double existence, or rather, of travel on two planes.

During the Brunete offensive of July, 1937 my brigade was heavily engaged in what was until then the fiercest battle of the war. One day towards the end of that battle I was approaching Villanueva de la Canada when a group of soldiers sheltering beneath a white wall, the cemetery wall I believe, waved to me. My chauffeur stopped and we were told that one or two Fascist shells had localized the road. I ordered my driver to continue and he demurred. There was some discussion which naturally ended when finally I said, “Just drive on.” As I spoke, the enemy put up one of the most extraordinary box fires I had yet seen. It covered, I should say, a strip about half a mile long and a quarter of a mile broad, just outside the town and lying across the road. We ran to the cemetery wall and watched it. It was magnificent; gradually it contracted until the shells appeared to plant their red crocuses according to a precisely drawn garden plan. It was splendid, and it was German, only it was put down in the wrong place. We ourselves had had occasion to speak ill of the badly drawn Spanish maps. Instead of wiping out the brigades that had just entered the town, the box fire lifted a gigantic brown curtain of dust high into the air above the fields of ploughed stubble. We settled down against the wall, cursing the soft dust which slowly drifted towards us. The box fire ceased, though a few shells plunked into the earth, unpleasantly near.

My thoughts, perhaps because of the dust, began to dwell on the word canada„ which means “a sheep track,” and then I felt the past as a living thing, the pastness of which I regretted. It was the second such occasion during the war. In the days before the war, in my room at Tossa del Mar, I had kept a sheet of paper pinned to my wall above my worktable. I expect it still hangs there. “Unless a theme is of birth, death, or procreation, unless it is of the passing of time, it is not worth writing.” The first part of that maxim had to be taken in a non-literal way, of course.

Looking through the angels that corbeled my window of that fourteenth century house, seeing only the battlements of the great walls of the Gothic town and the heaving cork hills beyond, it was sometimes difficult to believe that six centuries had passed since that house was built. Yet I felt then that the sense of the passing of time and of past time was one of the principal sources of poetry. “Ou sont les neiges d’antan?” I think of Tossa and my life there as a legend; it is something I try to recreate. The melancholy of past time gets into every image which occurs to me. In those days, whenever I could stir myself to get a little barrel of wine onto the flat roof, I used to hang out a lantern over the balustrade. My friends down at the shore tavern would catch sight of it and the night would be spent in monstrous yarnings, Andre Masson outdoing everyone. . . . Why did the Italians bomb my village of fishers?

Crouching against the cemetery wall in the haze of brown dust I thought of the immemorial sheep track that ran along the foothills of the Guadarrama, going down into brown Ex-tremadura and Andalucia. It had been under the jurisdiction of the Mesta, the corporation of sheep owners of wandering flocks, founded in the thirteenth century. Once the two and a half million sheep of the Mesta had gone every year from the winter pastures on the plains to the summer hills. The Mesta had been the ally of kings—the enemy of people —it had humbled great cities, its wanderings are still told in song. ” Ya se van los pastores,” they sing in high Le6n, and in the Pyrenees of Aragon. “The shepherds are going away.” The Mesta was at last changed into a mere association of stock owners and now its wool factories are still worked during war time by a co-operative in Sabadell. Spanish things endure. The Mesta has gone, though a few of that brotherhood of wandering shepherds still light their bonfires on the black slopes, still tell their tales in old speech of rich and precise vocabulary unknown to the city. Villa-nueva de la Cafiada! What fights between trespassing shepherds and indignant farmers had been fought here, what harshness of Mesta judges had been resented. As I crouched I heard the bleating and the cries. The cloud of dust, like that which old Alonso Quijano or Quixote saw, advanced along the ancient way. But now red crocuses sprang out of the powdered ground, men lay still, and mad metal harped and whined.

It was the second time I had felt an ache at the imagination of past time; the first time also had been because of sheep. We were in camp in the Enchanted Range of the Lerida Pyrenees, in a region where villagers still sing on feast days about a twelfth century count. Miguel the cowherd one day clambered up to the bluff above the Lake of St. Maurice where my tents were placed out, and he told me of the war that had begun. The day before I had seen the lake fishermen drag in their nets, in which were flashing trout. The fish had prompted me to begin a novel about sponge fishing, and that day, as we marched down the valley to our new enterprise, I imagined myself at the bottom of the sea upon a coral reef, and a cloud of rainbow fishes swimming over it, darting sideways like the shining planes over Madrid. There, above Espot, on the enormous arraslike walls of that valley, I counted six flocks, the tinkling of their bells mingling with the roar of streams. (In this city of New York, every morning between eleven and twelve, I remember Villa-nueva’s screaming cemetery and the flocks upon the steep wall of Espot. A junk merchant goes by my window with a sheep bell slung between two poles on his handcart, calling for old lumber with the sound of far-off enchanted hills.) That morning, I saw the six flocks distributed in windy, glittering space and because I had followed the old tracks with delight I was a little melancholy, sensing that a new life was beginning.

But one’s reactions were not only on these levels. There were moments of revelation into the nature of man’s heart and mind and there was one chilling experience that so completely transcended anything that I had ever known that I seemed to have walked into a vast and deliberately fashioned drama, or a religious rite.

I came down off the black hills one gale-swept night during the Brunete battle, into Villanueva. The town was under shellfire and it was burning. At one moment a blazing roof beam would be flung into the sky, describing a yellow scroll, or a huge inverted cone of sparks would soar up and illuminate the billowing smoke, or a column of flame would rush out and burst above the stubbled fields, sending wave after wave of sparks running down the valley. Within the town, stone and metal were tearing up the air. For safety I entered the church. It was an evacuation station and its floor was covered with wounded men, groaning and screaming. (All is not polite moaning; men scream in their agony.) Doctors were going among the men; the church was lit by a few acetylene flares placed in the ground. The long shadows writhed on the walls, like figures in a mobile El Greco. All the church was full of the echoing litany of death. I went up to the dismantled high altar to write my report. Suddenly my imagination, my mind, and my heart were frozen. Bowed over the center of the altar, his head upon his hands, was a wounded man, blood streaming from his head. He was standing as a priest stands when he murmurs: “Hoc est corpus meum.” The man was dying, I thought. He seemed to be pleading the sacrifice of Spain. I stood frozen in imagination, hearing that echoed wailing. Far off, the machine guns rattled.

Afterwards I went outside and was sick. I was not sick at the spectacle of pain, but because of the unaccepted sacrifice. That it would not be accepted by the Western democracies, I foresaw, for not one of those governments had the courage even to dispense with hypocrisy. That the Spanish resistance was a sacrifice for more than Spanish freedom can be seen by anyone now. For had not nobleness gone out of the world and had we not been abandoned, the dictators would not have been encouraged to demand Czechoslovakia and whatever else they next demand. And when we have defeated our enemy in Spain the peoples of the coward democracies may at last take heart. All that I felt in that moment, standing by the altar at Villanueva de la Canada.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading