The artist and writer Wyndham Lewis, born Percy Wyndham Lewis, styled The Enemy, was born on 18th November 1882 and is still very much alive, even if a cross-section of his brain has been dunked in a perspex case of formalin and stored in the Pathology Museum now in Hammersmith. A naturally rather antagonistic chap, he hit the London art scene like a dishevelled brick upon his arrival from Canada in 1908, and, while his effect on mainstream culture was extremely limited in his own time, his influence on the modernist movement from the 1910s onward has transformed contemporary art both in terms of succession and reaction to his life, politics, and work.
His political quotations read like they have been taken from an Alt Right webzine: “In the democratic western countries so-called capitalism leads a saturnalia of ‘freedom’, like a bastard brother of reform,” is one such famous example.
I do not wish to explore his politics here, nor his art, but merely to offer this tribute to the man, the artist on his 134th birthday. I share Lewis’ belief that culture should come from a living tradition, that is to say, a tradition that is renewed, readapted and reinterpreted for each new age. In this spirit, I have taken Edgar Allan Poe’s short story A Descent into the Maelström and readapted and reconfigured it as a poetic memorial to Wyndham Lewis.
EYE OF THE MAELSTRÖM
You must suppose me older than I am:
Above my belt of furrowed barren crags
And battlements like ramparts of the world
Was once a crown of copper coloured cloud
Now black and white made through eddies and
The fury of the winds that blow the fogs,
Thick frets and mists out of sight, out of mind,
Out of the violence of vast vortices
That start with increasing velocity
To whirl in the most dreadful cataracts
To haze, obscure the eyes again with seas
Of tall colliding waves that ebb and flow
At fall and uprise, at flux and reflux
A splash of paint hits canvas, is followed
By other floating fragments—shapes are formed,
So inky blue a hue, where blazing forth
From a circular rift of clear blue sky,
The lustrous moon is an artist’s glistening eye:
“I am the vortex! I the vortex! I! I!”