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Amber Paulen

A photograph of my hand holding John Cowper Powys' Porius.

John Cowper Powys


8 July 2008


The forests of Edeyrnion, Ynys Prydein, were of the ancient mythical sort. Ancient even in Porius’s time, 499; trees already brought dust to dust, trees whose liquid properties extended so far beyond the usual solid wooden type, trees that spoke, trees that moved more than swayed, trees whose leaves whispered by the wind from the south particularly. The earth of the forests had history and in certain places, history made itself known. Porius ab Einion ab Iddawc complacently plodded through such forests; through such forests Porius’s subtle mind-butterflies fluttered.

As it is with most good trips through the forest, in Porius the novel, there is never any rush. “All in good time,” creator and character seem to say. “There is time upon time for all.”

. . .the condition of Time is the inner subjective condition, within which every conceivable ‘I am I’ has to function once it asserts its living existence.

The genius that is John Cowper Powys excels—within Porius as I read it—in that he has managed to secure a place for this book in the very bosom of Time itself. The Time of Porius is so unlike any other time in any other book I have read. What John Cowper Powys did was elongate it, dissect it, dove into it, almost unnaturally, so that the reader is given an obscene sense that this book could very well go on forever!

But it won’t and it can’t! Half the illusion lies in that, that the whole novel but brief histories is the present course of one week. This astounds me! Blows my socks off, as they say! Perhaps by part effect of the medieval setting and its uncanny reality; how John Cowper Powys has displaced himself almost 1450 years with a perfection that only comes when one eats, breathes, lives the words one writes.

Back to Time, whose discourse is related on a rest during the unhurried ascent up Eyri mountain. Porius seems to be taking forever to arrive at the top, in no desperate hope of saving the crooked-counseling Chronos or Myrddin Wyllt. “All in good time,” he mumbles under his caught breathe. Porius pulls up a rock and as quickly discovers the craving to prove “the dynamic importance of Time compared to the cumbrous necessity of Space.”

After some minor interruptions and change of locale, Porius stumbles upon the conclusion—far from ‘Space the devourer of Time’ and ‘Time the begetter of Space‘—that “one of the deities Medrawd’s God-Devil, life-death, chip-chop, see-saw, one-is-three-and-three-is-one vision of things leaves out entirely is Uncle Brochveal’s bitch queen of the dice, the great goddess Chance!” That we are all locked into Time and Space is perhaps enough—‘enjoy to the end’ or ‘endure to the end‘—but what drama is wrought within them!

Isn’t it better to be creatures dependent on Chance than creatures pulled in half all the time between good and evil and God and the Devil, especially when you’re always catching the same expression whether under the crown or under the horns?

. . . that for all the beautiful, hollow-staring, world-despairing eyes of the emperor’s nephew [Medrawd], neither his God nor his Devil, neither his good nor his evil, were mysterious enough to correspond with the multitudinous waves of the ocean of being that washes us up and sucks us down along the shores of the boundless.

Instinctively I turn back to the forests through which Porius plods at his dullard’s pace. By which the forest is mysterious, through which Nature operates on Chance and refuses to follow any kind of duality’s logical laws. Was it Porius’s outstanding use of the invented verb, ‘to cavoseniargize’, that brought him “into the inner existence of all natural entities,” which revealed to him the wordless, thoughtless, inner-workings of such mysteries? Mysteries enough to warrant no explanation but as such.

What John Cowper Powys attests to with this invention, ‘to cavoseniargize’ is what I expect to be his own experiences in Nature, something I think he called elementalism. He ‘flung’ himself out into the things he enjoyed; as boring as a rafter of Brother John’s cell, as sweeping as the minutiae muscular chest of a swallow in a head-long dive, the water that ripples due to unpredictable winds, anything, he claims, has a spirit into which we may climb.

In the very beginning of the book, relatively, Porius caught Nineue, the seductress, with the very same far-off dreamy look on her face. She was also ‘cavoseniargizing’ he supposed. Many pages later, in Brother John’s cell, as they sat quietly side-by-side: “She was enjoying herself just like I [Porius] was. . . she draws into herself the things she enjoys. . . But that’s only because she’s a woman and I’m a man. Otherwise our enjoyment’s the same.”

When I read this sentence I stopped reading and I thought, “Is this true? Is my ‘cavoseniargizing’ not a big exhale but a big inhale instead?” So I imagined myself standing on the sentinella or better yet, an Alpine peak, of which I climbed alone at the brave age of eighteen. I decided what Mr. Powys claims is true; and that whatever end of the breathing process it is, it is breathing all the same. I also decided, that by John Cowper Powys giving name to this most personal of explorations was a way of getting to know it better.

‘To cavoseniargize’ is something all writers must do to write well, all artists must do to create well. I ‘cavoseniargize’ daily from behind my typewriter and my keys. I’ve been doing it since youth, I would say, walking through the forests all the same. I do think there is spirit in the rafters; I do think that by joining it with my own I at once become less, a mere rafter, and more. . . “souls and bodies, of worlds and creators of worlds, of dreams within dreams within dreams within dreams, of multiverses beyond multiverses, it seems to me. . . “

Porius is a novel to span dimensions. Because of this I can’t agree with the tagline, “A romance of the Dark Ages.” I just don’t like it. When I first began to conjure up images of this book from short descriptions found online, it became this unwieldy dark bulk set in old-world forests. But Porius’s darkness is a very natural darkness as its light is a very natural light. There is something about this book that defies other books, almost spits in their faces by the sheer delight it takes from itself. As I said in the beginning, John Cowper Powys has set Porius into the bosom of the Earth herself.

I don’t know. I guess I’m going to use this book as a bible of sorts from now on. Maybe that makes me as nuts as Mr. Powys himself, but I truly believe that no great writer comes out of the usual. A great writer must be accustomed to living out their own worlds, worlds like Porius walks through, worlds of the mind, worlds back and forward in Time and Space; where Time and Space become something like a leaf, something we can hop into or fling ourselves out into, as much as anything else.

In a very hard-mannered kind of way, Porius has brought me hope, more hope than any tree-hugging manifesto ever has. A hope dark and light all the same, weighted and weightless; for John Cowper Powys has seen through the spirits of the dirt as well as the spirits of our souls. A life always there. That’s probably why I don’t like that tagline: Porius is more than medieval: Porius is Time-less.

Oh, how long it takes us all to learn the trick of ‘laying down the law’, as they say, ‘each for himself,’ and of carrying about with us the responsibility for ourselves like a good slice of bread to feed upon! That’s the thing to do—live upon the stuff of your conscience and see to it that you keep it fresh and wholesome!



Commentary for Porius


1 On Saturday 08 November 2008 John Sandbach wrote:

I love your article. I believe this book contains a lot of “subliminalism,” in that the very detailed alchemical symbolism is not meant to be intellectually cognized, but is taken in by the subconscious, actually is digested by the subconscious as a kind of nourishment. This novel “works on” one’s mind, and rather than trying to compel a person to think or believe a certain thing, helps one to be more aware of what is going on within onesself. It could be called an experiential textbook on cavosenargizing. And it also makes me aware of how bleak and dreary, ultimately, Joyce’s (bless his heart) “Ulysses” is.

2 On Saturday 08 November 2008 Amber wrote:

Thanks so much John! I’ve heard much about the alchemical innuendoes, but alas! I couldn’t pick them out of the text if I tried. I would have to agree with you then, on how Porius acts as “nourishment,” which is a pretty awesome observation. I wouldn’t put it beyond the ability of John Cowper Powys, and his pen!

3 On Tuesday 13 April 2010 Borris wrote:

Very nice to see such enthusiasm for this much neglected monster of a writer who has so few of the virtues that are admired in a Modern writer.


“…only comes when one eats, breathes, lives the words one writes.”
Powys really throws his consciousness into his books they are an experience, they warp and pervert ones mind. I don’t think it is possible to read Powys casually. There is surely some deep alchemy here. Powys captivated me, his works started spreading across my bookshelves and only stopped when i couldn’t find any more. I was captured by his earthy mysticism, the way he plunges his mind into the invisible streams of nature, grotesque & powerful.

His enthusiasm & penetration are unmatched.

Thank you for showing me that he is lighting up others as he did me.

His works after Porius aren’t so well thought of, but I in many ways love them more, they get even more fantastic, more eccentric, the inanimate not only has consciousness as in his early books but it speaks.

Good stuff!

I actually did an audio book of his early confessions for Librivox, I think it’s still their only Powys, had to be an early one as most of his work is still in copyright, it was fun to do.

4 On Monday 05 July 2010 Amber wrote:

Thanks for the comment Borris—it came when I was travelling and have forgotten about it until now. There is certainly no reading Powys casually. Though I would love for more people to get into his books, I always recite a warning: Beware, not for the faint spirited. Yet what can be more rewarding?

Here is the Confessions of Two Brothers, thanks for pointing it out to me!


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