It was not altogether that, he decided. His horrible feeling he had was deep foreboding, which weighed on the bones of his body like dead weight--a nightmare he could not shake, not even in the daytime or in the busiest capitals.
He smiled as he thought of his daughter, forgetting she was now a matron with grown children. How she had wept when she carried to him the dead chick of a crake she had found fallen from a hedgerow nest, perhaps thrown out by a cowbird jostling for more lebensraum! The unfathomable grief of a child, it was so deep, yet so easily forgotten, precisely because it was so particular and couldn’t be related by the child to anything else. How different from his own grief! His related to everything around him, and to the past, the whole, cake-layered experience of mankind, since the earliest Neolithic cultures delved out prototypes of Stonehenge and the temples on Malta and went on to build pyramids and Grecian temples and Roman arenas and aqueducts and baths. The demise of a crake chick, the demise of a world, the particular and the universal--the grief was the same, only his was vastly extended in space and time, and there was no sure and quick remedy, such as he once gave his daughter by drying her tears with the promise of an ice cream from the street vender.
Carrying his grief as he carried his portmanteau, it was a good thing he could go about as he wished, even with the reputation he had built up. Well known in England because of his appearances, reading his Crazy Jane ballads and portions of his one-act plays to a radio audience of millions, he was hardly ever recognized when he went out on foot, which he preferred to chauffeur and limousine, supposedly the proper transport for renowned and wealthy Nobel laureates. In his old thread-bare brown herringbone tweed jacket and dusty bowler, he looked like any working tabloid journalist from Britain would look, who might have been sent over to check on Fascist trade unionism, or some such fool thing.
Yeats was glad when he could walk around such madness, and slip into some quiet museum or art gallery or library or monastery and for a few hours at least shut out the deafening circus that Mussolini and Shickelgruber and Franco had made of grand old Europe.
“Italia is being ruined with Mussolini and his black shirted supporters in power,” he thought. But what could be done? Since the moribund king had handed over the powers of state to him, Mussolini had held firm control over the military, and he had managed to keep it since the early twenties, and still wasn’t showing any sign of aging or slowing down his reconstruction of Italia into his own image. And what an image! Bullish face of a cruel, thoughtless butcher, the massive thighs and rib carriage of an ox, the strut of a peacock or an ostrich, his political platforms treated as stages, with flags, priceless tapestries stolen from Medici palaces, and loudspeakers everywhere shouting how great a leader he was--this barbarian proclaimed to the world that he was going to restore single-handedly all of ancient Roma’s glory before their very eyes! And the good people of Great Britain and France watched and did not intervene as he boldly set out to force his fantasy on the entire Mediterranean world, from Roma to Libya and Albania (which he had just invaded), taking time out to attack and gobble up Ethiopia, which had been a civilisation long before Rome’s, a relic of imperial rule allied with an ancient Christian faith that was no threat to Italia nor wished any confrontation. Let the League of Nations protest all it wanted! Mussolini withdrew from the League and kept Ethiopia, meanwhile thumbing his nose at the world body of statesmen and every rule of international justice as he joined Shickelgruber in intervening on Franco’s behalf in the Spanish Civil War.
With the Italians hopelessly demoralized and subservient to him, intoxicated by his own insane dreams of glory, his enemies beaten, imprisoned, and intimidated into silence, Mussolini was well on his way to erecting a ramshackle, papier mache caricature of the Roman Empire, with Shickelgruber and his Huns in the north as a firm ally. Libya, Ethiopia, Albania--what sort of empire was that. Libya had been described as a “collection of deserts,” Ethiopia the Sick Old Man of Africa, and poor, backward Albania in the Balkans the hapless plaything of King Zog’s harem. With such rag-tag possessions, Italia’s economy could not hope to reap any benefit but would be saddled with huge deficits in trying to govern so much nothingness!
“Who is man enough to drag this silly, bombastic creature in gold braid and ostrich plumes down off his gaudy stage and return poor, old Italia to her proper senses?” Yeats wondered as he encountered yet another rally and had to make a wide detour.
Opening his portmanteau, he got out pen and paper, and some ancient books. Using his portmanteau as his secretary, the next hour he spent reading, writing a few lines, then returning to his reading. The old writings really belonged in libraries like the Bodleian or the British Museum Library, but he couldn’t bear to part with them. They were part of his own people’s patrimony, written in Latin, but copied by Irish monks--books on philosophy, the arts, religion, and with some theorems describing propulsion and design systems of “star carriages” drawn from apocryphal editions of Euclid and Indian sages.
Padova came too quickly, he hadn’t prepared himself for the rude jolt back into Mussolini’s Fascist utopia. He stepped, blinking, off the train, hugging his suitcase with the manuscripts. He had an hour to look about, then could reboard and use the rest of his fare to reach Venetia. Venetia! Alas, no longer a great sovereign nation and free republic, but, nevertheless, a semi-autonomous region of Italia that even Mussolini the bully could not push whichever way he wished. In Venetia, at least, the free, old, well-mannered Italia lingered on amidst the lagoons, cathedrals, and palaces of the former queen city of the Adriatic and Eastern Mediterranean. There he could always find a hotel near the museums and art galleries he favored, and watch the children play in the fountains of the squares and the people gather in the markets, and enjoy all the rest of it as he read and wrote and rested. This, after all, might be his last opportunity. The dogs were barking, everywhere the dogs of Europe were disturbed. Animals retained their sense, even when brutalized humanity lost it. The barking was a tocsin, warning of war. He knew he wasn’t imagining things. War was again in the air, and once again Civilization was seemingly going to be destroyed--maybe this time for good. Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany and his ally, the corrupt, effete Austro-Hungarian Empire, had started the self-destruction of Civilization, and now Franco, Mussolini, and Shickelgruber evidently intended to finish where they left off!
Overcome with a sense of doom, he paused in a little gated park dedicated to St. Michael--it even had a statue of the sainted warrior-angel by a Florentine sculptor of the late Renaissance--and there he happened to look up and catch a glimpse of a hawk. It circled high above the city, widening its slow circles on the wind, while someone’s voice called to it, as if vainly trying to call it back. Seeing the bird and hearing the call, the poet in the old man awoke wide-eyed. What had the seer in him seen? He saw the falcon flying in widening cicles, unable to hear the falconer's call. He saw seams split and fall apart. He saw a tide flecked with human blood surge in from the coast and flood into every city, town, hamlet and farmstead. He saw the dregs of manhood stand up with powerful conviction and preach their misbegotten, evil thoughts while good men sat timidly silent. He sat down and quickly scribbled on a paper he snatched from his pocket verses of poem that would soon be be printed in books spread across the world.
The traffic roared by the little park, people shouting Fascist slogans as they hung on to the doors of over-crowded lorries, private cars of young fashionable people jostling with trucks loaded with farm produce for the market, and military troop transports full of laughing, boyish, careless youth going off to ports in transit to the hells of Albania or Libya or the Horn of Africa, but the poet continued to scribble with all his might. Before it was expressed in a final form, it took some crossing out of certain words and substituting others, along with changing the wording here and there. He read the result, but he still didn’t feel he had finished, but nothing more came, and he would have to wait on it, he knew. So he put the scribbled verses away in his pocket, where they joined some other scraps of poems in progress.
He had been working for at least an hour. His feet felt very sore and tired when he rose. His legs were painful too, though he hadn’t been walking all that much. He knew it was just old age. After all, he was over seventy now, and his health was frail, so frail that these trips to the warmth of Italia was a necessity if he intended to extend his life. One more cold, very cold spring and summer in Eire would finish him, he knew. He had never fully recovered from pneumonia, and consumption ran in the family. Though he wanted more than anything to remain close as possible to Coole’s wild swans, it was no longer a healthy place for anyone susceptible to damps and chills. Had Ireland always been so cold in the summers? Of course not! He had known a much different climate. In his youth it had still been a fair and pleasant, green land, and they called it the Emerald Isle. But the last two decades had been disastrous, as if Scotland had crossed the Irish Sea, and now there was nothing but yellow, coarse Caledonian furze and fern bracken that would grow. Sheep could not eat it and starved, their pastures overgrown by the foreign shrub. Farmers and shepherds gave up trying to dig out invading roots of the prickly evergreen and abandoned their ancestral paddocks. Except for Dublin and the other big towns, it was a national disaster for his country, forcing his countrymen to emigrate to America or Great Britain’s warmer dependencies.
As the deluge of alpha-point time plunged from the canyon’s lip and roared down into a vast, salt-pillared cavity that led in turn toward a more horrific canyon of Z-Point, Yeats felt the drumming pressure of all human endeavor and disaster in his ears draining away temporarily, and knew the respite would be short, the night was coming on, not only for him, but for all Europa. But his train? Even a philosopher-poet needed a train in the meantime. Well, he had clean forgotten it.
Business, pleasure outings, and war-making spent for the day, the traffic was combing thin in the nearby square like hair on an aged, wrinkled stone skull. He could walk the street again without being run to the curbside by military troop transports. Trying hard not to limp on the cobblestones, he turned toward the King Victor Immanuel, despite its name a good, grand old matriarch of a hotel he knew wasn’t far off down the street from the square. In the morning he could go and seek out Padova’s chief Benedictine monastery, St. Giovanni Luccavito d’ Angelini. The brothers knew him from previous visits, and he would have no difficulty getting access to the jewel of their establishment, library, which not only held many rare manuscripts but was housed in a chapel with Romanesque apse frescoes that equaled the best that Barcelona’s Catalan churches and cathedrals could boast.
There he knew he could sit down behind the four-feet-thick stone walls and forget, for a time, the strutting martinets and skull-heaping Atillas of the “New Europa.” Idilco, Attilla's wife, was the new Europe giving birth, but it was no human infant but a monster that crawled from between her legs! If only he could put the image from his mind, he might find a few moments of peace!
All this--fire and pillage, treachery and rapine, faith and terror and then a long decay and decadence followed by the present rise of a new barbarism--Yeats felt as he passed the unguarded, sentry-less gate and went to knock on the big wooden door that had long replaced the portcullis and opened to the outer world, the only barrier now between the cloistered life of the monks and the antics and delirium of Benito Mussolini.
A nodding brother first peered at him through a Judas, then the door creaked and swung partway, and Yeats was let in. The gatekeeper shut and bolted the door. There was little to say, since silence was observed anyway, and the brother recognized him, saying, “You are welcome, Monsignor.”
The darkness enveloped them, even with the candle the brother carried.
They came to the entrance of the library, the ornate brass door was open, and Yeats went in. The brother followed, left the candle, and departed.
One candle would not be much help, but the dawn was breaking over the city, and within minutes there would be enough light to read. The library was not electrified, but the many windows let in more than sufficient light once the sun’s rays reached it, and the elevation of the monastery afforded it the first light of each new day.
Yeats, letting the candle burn, sat down and listened to the sounds of the monastery, the muted chanting of brothers in the basilica, which carried only vaguely to him through the thick walls, and the scurry of feet on the stone flags outside the library.
His nerves worn raw by all he had just seen in Italia, Yeats let the time-worn rituals and peace soak into his soul and body. He breathed more deeply and felt better. Glorious light shone in high above him, and then began to pour down into the building, illuminating the valiant youth David and his slingshot and next the fallen Philistine giant, Goliath, his forehead pierced by David’s stone. Suddenly, the shining day broke on his head and around him, and it was too dazzling for him to see anything more for a moment.
David! he mused. Little Ephratah’s champion! “Where are the noble youths like David when they are sorely needed to smite the Philistine giants of today, these Benito Mussolinis and Adolf Shickelgrubers?”
But he had not come to see David. Israel’s giant-slayer had his slingshot, well, he had his portmanteau, for no writer ever went anywhere without his manuscript in progress, and his suitcase carried everything he needed, besides his treasured old books. He would never leave such a thing behind in a hotel--locked or otherwise. Friends of his had lost their manuscripts of epic poems, and collections of essays, and whole novels, that way--and not been able to rewrite them as they had been originally.
Opening it, he removed pencils and some paper, just in case he needed to make any notes, and then he went to look at the books he had only glanced at times before when he was visiting. How many thousands of books there were, the monks and their library “superior” could not tell him. No inventory had ever been taken, being thought unnecessary and a worldly thing to do with sacred books. If they knew the true number, he was told, they might become vain and proud about it, and think their collection and themselves superior to the other houses of the holy brethren--and that would never do! Collecting books was one thing--that they were prepared to do--but take a worldly census? Out of the question!
They only required that he not wander about the buildings by himself, and always seek a brother for his guide. Not that he was not trusted, but they feared he might slip from one of the high places, for the views were the best in the city from their “servant-house of God.” Besides, they had not been able to do all the repairs needed, and some places were quite unsafe to tread. At some points parts of the walls could collapse, it was thought, so the brothers took visitors only where it was most safe to tread. The library, of course, was safest of all for a visitor from the world, and here he was left quite alone and undisturbed.
Yeats was rummaging about when he paused over a collection he had glimpsed but not explored. How the monastery had come to acquire Gaelic literature, he could not guess. It was not only in Old Erse, but portions were Latin and also Greek. The copyists were quite learned in languages, obviously. Then he pulled out a book that made his eyes widen--The Venerable Bede of Wearmouth and Jarrow, was the author’s name. This was no Irish monk, of course, but an Anglo-Saxon Benedictine schooled in the dogma and monkish ritual of the Roman Church. What was it doing here, a thousand miles from its home in the North of England? Had the Anglo-Saxon monks ever read the book? From the looks of it, the binding had never been creased since it was first put together--a brand-new manuscript, only many centuries old!
Eagerly, he began reading the Latin. Chronicles! Chronicles of “End-Times”--Ragnarok? British king-lists were included. He read one chronicle after another, reaching what appeared to be his own era, which described a “singer” or minstrel who journeyed to a far land and found a long hidden oracle!
Yeats lay the book down, utterly dumbfounded. How could this 9th century monk have envisioned the bawling, gesticulating, "intense" hyenas of Mussolini and Shickelgruber so accurately? And he had gone on to portray an ice-ringed 21st Century civilisation of the greatest sophistication and cruelty, which vaunted itself as “The Crystal Age.” How splendid was its technical achievements, mocking the bad weather by setting agricultural stations high up over the earth where they could catch the sun without any barrier between, and building crystal domes over all the major cities, which swarmed with tens of millions of inhabitants! Yet, for all this glitter and splendor, the world emperor ruling from London, whose scepter reached to the stars, brought only a terrible enslavement of the human spirit. A single red star had engendered all this, the Anglo-Saxon chronicler claimed. Now the “red dragon-star” dealt the world emperor and his system a mortal blow that brought the Crystal Age crashing down, smashed to pieces by the star’s thunderbolts, which were all the more effective because civilisation had achieved its greatest level of fragility and vulnerability.
But that was not the end. The world turned backwards into barbarism, sinking into old ways just as the world had sunk into squalid barbarism after imperial Roma had fallen. Era by era, the world turned back in development until--Yeats was exhausted. He could not think or handle what he had read. His thoughts spun round and round in his head, widening their circuits without connecting because the mainspring had snapped.
He grasped his head and tried to make the useless spinning stop.
“Are you feeling ill, Monsignor?”
The kind, gentle voice startled Yeats, and he reared up, knocking over his portmanteau and scattering books and papers.
Yeats, still disoriented, stared at the apologizing monk, and gradually realized who it was.
Together, they began to gather his things.
When that was done, the Nobel laureate, feeling clarity of mind restored, turned to go. The book of the ancient seer?
He put it back in its place, knowing full well it would lie forgotten there for centuries to come, if the library’s obscurity continued as it had for centuries already.
“People who consider themselves civilized, modern and scientific will refuse to believe it,” the poet thought, as he was shown out. “I believe it, but the world is blind, blinded by the brutes they have leading them. Truth that would set them free from tyrants in the mind is far too dazzling for human eyes to comprehend at this time. Perhaps, there will come a generation whose eyes can adjust to that brightness. But now--”
He stepped forth from the monastery gate, and the full light struck him in the face, not as light would but the kind of darkness that drove mercilessly and pitilessly inside a man like a sword, cutting off life to the roots of his being.
Feeling dizzy, his thoughts scattering once again on the rising wind, Yeats stumbled on the broken pavement, and he nearly fell. A Gypsy boy saw the foreigner’s difficulty, laughed, and ran over to offer his services as a guide to the city.
“Yes, please help, I’m going to Victor Immanuel Hotel for a little rest,” he told the boy with a faint voice, who took his portmanteau without asking when the useless, old hand could hold it no longer and let it drop onto the street.
Together, the poet and a glowing-limbed boy, they walked down toward the hotel. There the old man, his legs unsteady and his gait weaving uncertainly, passed through up the entrance steps into into a cave’s deep shadow, and he shuddered--he had just walked in on the ancient seer’s worst imaginings. It was appalling enough to make weary, aged blood run cold and even stop in a human heart and veins.
A Shape lurched in the gloom ahead--no joyous Second Coming and a Glorious Kingdom but instead a coarse, half-hewn Colossus, vast, man-headed, lion-bodied!
Even as the singer paused aghast, heedless of shocked, whispering people bending over a stick covered with rags someone had dropped on the polished marble floor, he watched the huge Thing tear itself from the imprisoning rock and sands. Its gaze as it swung its head was terrible to behold, it was so pitiless and blank. Unable to move, the poet watched transfixed as the monster flexed its limbs and raked the cave floor with clawed feet before it began a slouching walk, leaning heavily to one side and the other as it moved determinedly toward the outside world, crushing underfoot whatever was in its way.
Unpaid by the foreign gentleman for guiding him to the hotel, unable to get near him after he fell to the floor and wouldn’t get up, the Gypsy boy was thrust back out of the hotel by indignant doormen in suits black as magpies and crows, and he was still holding the gentleman’s portmanteau.
What should he do? He knew he had earned his money, and the portmanteau might hold something valuable, even if it looked old and worn out. He opened the portmanteau, but was very disappointed. He dumped out the paper and the books in a gutter, but kept the pencils, pens, and ink which he stuffed in his pockets. His papa knew how to pawn such paltry items for a little money, and so the boy hurried off toward his family’s postcard waggon, which he couldn’t miss, since it was set in a square nearest a small park, the one with the golden-winged gorgio standing on a dragon’s snout.
Clementino’s arms and shoulders were powerful, though the rest of him was puny and doll-like. Pulling himself along on his two-wheeled barrow, he knew his route well, avoiding the worst places in the road up the Hill of the Angels. He carried the usual delivery from his mother’s shop, the simple vegetables the holy fathers preferred to eat rather than meat and pasta like everyone else.
This day was like any other until he saw something in the gutter--trash he thought at first.
Getting the books was easier than taking a good look. One hand swung far out, and by degrees he got it to drop into the gutter where it rummaged about until he got a good grip, and out it came with a clutch of books--maybe all of them. The hand shoved them straight up into the sky, then brought them down suddenly, right on his nose. He smelled mold immediately. These books were old, even very old!
And the odd script--it looked all done by hand--like books the monks on the hill kept in their big library chapel. Now he was happy he had found such books, for he knew just what to do with them.
Stashing the books with the vegetables, he grabbed the wheels and began the slow ascent of the Hill of the Angels until he gained the summit and then was able to rest at the lion gate.
A robed father slipped out the gate, and Clementino saw it was Father Sebastien, who did not shut his eyes at the sight of him, nor hold his nose like others did. In fact, he ushered Clementino into the monastery compound as if he were an honored visitor from abroad.
Clementino, awed and respectful as always, insisted on leaving his cart temporarily and kneeling in the great holy place.
Now Clementino was no child, he was thirty years old, maybe thirty and four, but his head remained a boy’s, while his arms and shoulders grew hairy and powerful like a man’s. Man and child, the brain was good enough, and he enjoyed the father’s humorous ways, and being his child when everybody knew Clementino was a bastard, calling him so countless times.
The monk picked up one book, read a few lines, and his eyes widened as he gazed at Clementino’s wagging head and one good eye. “Are they yours? Or are they dropped by the British gentleman who was just visiting here?”
He might have been talking to himself, for there would be no reply from Clementino, though he was capable of producing some sign language.
“No, “ the father thought aloud, “the gentleman would not drop and leave them in the street. These must not be his. But whose are they, my child? Are they really yours, and why are they laid with the vegetables?”
The father thought a moment silently, then nodded his head. “Oh, you wish to sell them to me! You clever boy! You know we have books like these in our library, don’t you? You were let in once, and your memory has held good, hasn’t it? Well! I will take one and go and see if we will buy them. Please wait.”
Taking the vegetables in a sack he had brought, the father vanished back into the mysterious, shadowy recesses of the great monastery.
He reappeared out a few minutes later. “We will buy them from you,” the father informed the deliveryman. “Only we are short of cash, so will sweets do?”
Clementino’s good eye shone. Indeed, he much preferred sweets to money.
The priest caught the eye’s gleam, and then handed over a small bag of sweets, tucking it along with the payment for the vegetables into Clementino’s front pocket,which was vast and held almost everything he needed--pencils for clientele to use to write, twine for holding newspaper packages together, and such things.
But Father Sebastien was a clergyman of great heart. He did not fail to unwrap a sweet and put it in Clementino’s mouth, making sure he got his tongue over it so it wouldn’t slide out the open, perpetually drooling side.
Then Clementino was very, very happy. He pushed off and fairly sailed down the hill, bouncing and jerking about as if he was suicidal, but somehow he always reached the bottom safely. Next to the sweet, it was the best part of his day, that flying trip down the hill at breakneck speed.
Even as Clementino rocketed toward what looked like seeming destruction against a wall at the bottom of the hill, the father and the librarian were opening the books in the library, and Father Sebastien began reading about Celts employed by Ptolemy II Philadelphus centuries before the birth of Christ, who, among other exploits, observed a certain embassy to the king from a country called Othrys, which brought the king a special gift, plans for a Destroying Eye of God--that he or his descendants might employ against their enemies. The only thing the ambassadors requested was peaceful trade in slaves from time to time--due to their need for blood oblations for their gods, they said.
“This is amazing!” the librarian whispered. “Cardinal Mai discovered the lost manuscript of Cicero’s De Republica, but these--these are far more valuable. I doubt even the Vatican has anything of this age in Celtic manuscripts! Where did the crippled boy come upon them? Perhaps there are more!”
Father Sebastien shook his head slowly. “He sold them for a bag of sweets, since we had no extra money. Perhaps, we ought to pay him more when we are able.”
The librarian put the manuscript down that was describing a sort of “Limerick the Second”, where a Deliverer would come again and set everything right, and where the people would live holy lives instead of being slaves to idols and dark rituals, warcraft and priestcraft. “You are right, my brother! We must take advantage of him, though he is so simple-headed. Unfortunately, he cannot tell us where he got them. We must wait and see if he brings any others. Hopefully, someone will make a contribution to the library, a donation we can use for paying him something modest but respectable.”
It was a good thought, and was carried out after a donor presented himself by way of a bequest of 500,000 lire. Clementino was paid nearly all of it, and retired from his delivery work, his green-grocer employer happy to find someone else who didn’t bring so many complaints from customers about his body odor and slow deliveries.
In retirement, Clementino went and hung about the parks, gaining the reputation of being rich, since he was always treating himself to sweets and ice cream. He carried on most happily this way, in fact, until the day a bomb from a British plane found the park where Clementino happened to be, naturally unable to run to safety with the rest at the sound of the sirens of Ragnarok.