Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Battle of Sedgemoor Plain

I've been reading along in A Year of the Hunter (The Noonday Press, 1994) by Czeslaw Milosz, using it as something of a day book. I found his entry for January 13, 1988, instructive, in light of recent commentary. Here, Milsosz is talking about his friend and compatriot, the poet Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz (1894-1980), one of the founders of the Skamander group of experimental poets, a school of poetics that competed for attention in pre-war Poland with adherents of the (by then, aging) Young Poland movement and the Awarngarda Krakowska movement. The Battle of Sedgemoor Plain (more often referred to as the Battle of Sedgemoor) took place on July 6, 1685, when the Duke of Monmouth was defeated by the Royalist forces of James II, in the second-last battle to be fought on English soil.

Miloscz writes:

"One time Jaroslaw invited several people to a reading of his new work, 'The Battle of Sedgemoor Plain.' That he would write such a story at that time (1942) gave me a lot to think about. It also illuminated many later events when he chose an open, programmatic collaboration with the Communists. Does anyone today remember what those religious-political factions that we learn about only by studying the bloody history of seventeeth-century England were actually fighting about? The author, not without reason, took the time of 'troubles' as his theme––actually a time of frenzied murders in the name of a faith that was equally strong on both sides and that excluded compromise. The characters in this story about Monmouth's rebellion are capable of every sacrifice; they refute the image of man as a being who is concerned above all with his own interests. The true name of their theories, however, is futility. Nothing remains of their faith, their yearnings; time carries everything away, ashes cover their traces. In old age, the heroine views her own youthful steadfastness as pointless; she cannot even remember why she acted one way and not another. Looked at from the perspective of some future time, the author seems to be saying, won't our cruel era lose the clear boundaries which now appear to delineate irreconcilable oppositions but which, for later generations, will be a matter of utter indifference?"

"In one of my conversations, Jaroslaw mocked the work of historians who rife through centuries in search of great syntheses; he quoted from a history of the Far East: 'From the seventh to the thirteenth century there was continual turmoil in China.' Then I remembered his 'Battle of Sedgemoor Plain.'"


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