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Editorial 25 – Kenneth Morris

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Kenneth Morris

kennethmorris

This editorial is composed at the opportunity of putting his book The Secret Mountain and Other Tales online on this site. However we begin today with the publication of one of his poems, which he typed and illustrated for one of his friends. His poetic work is vast, and often difficult to get at. Occasionally we will publish poems and other writings of his hand.

The Welsh Theosophical poet and writer Kenneth Vennor Morris, or Cennyd Morus to use the Welsh form of his name, was born on July 31, 1879 on a hill near Pontamman, Carmarthenshire, Wales, in a house called Wernelou. He went to London in 1887 for a thorough English classical education. In 1895 he acquired the degree of Senior Deputy Grecian. When he was eighteen he spend a few weeks in Dublin, where he joined a group of the most prominent Irish thinkers and authors of these days, among which were Standish O’Grady[1], Æ[2] (George W. Russell[3], the later Nobel Laureate William Butler Yeats[4], the Irish poet Charles Weekes and others. They studied Gaelic myth, Celtic traditional knowledge en the philosophy of Eastern literature. While in Dublin Kenneth came in contact with Theosophy and the Theosophical Society. Among the Irish poets he met was also Ella Young who would in the nineteen thirties become lecturer on Celtic Literature at the University of California. Thirty later after their first meeting, in 1927, they exchanged correspondence about Chinese literature – their common interest.

Shortly after his visit to Ireland Kenneth began to write poems – on instigation of Æ. His first poem was Ceridwin in Ystrad Tywi[5] Ceridwin is a Welsh enchantress or goddess who was in possession of the cauldron of poetic inspiration. Shortly after he wrote an essay named Holy Ground about the beauty of the mountains, which was published in The International Theosophist of December 15, 1898. From 1899 on he wrote his famous short stories. His works were published in the magazines The Crusader, Universal Brotherhood Path, The International Theosophist (Dublin), The International Theosophical Chronicle (London), The Century Path (Point Loma, California), The Theosophical Path and other Theosophical publications.

How much he felt connected with the Celts was expressed by some of his friends. A Theosophical student and writer, Charles Ryan, remembered that Kenneth, when immersed in the great silences of shadow-rich spots in the open places in the English woods among old oaks and beach trees jumped up in joy, exclaiming he ‘felt a piece of Celtic land in England!’ – so much did he feel the mystical spirit of Wordsworth[6] there. Another friend, the English later Californian Walther J. Renshaw (1873 – 1973), then chairman of the Manchester Lodge of The Theosophical Society, once told that they used to remove their shoes and socks and playfully bathed their feet in a brook, Kenneth used to tell him Celtic stories, some of which he later used for his book The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed, which is a most beautiful and truly Bardic re-telling by Morris of the Mabinogion the sacred mystical book of the Welsh.

In 1907 Kenneth Morris met Katherine Tingley, then Leader of the Theosophical Society in Point Loma near San Diego, while she was on a European tour, and in early 1908 Kenneth settled at Lomaland – as the property of the TS was called, where he would stay until 1929. Immediately on his arrival he fell in love with Lomaland and gave utterance to his perception that this spot was a magical location. This did not at all sever his connection with Wales and the Bardic Druid tradition. He gave a cycle of eleven lectures about the Celtic literature at Point Loma. These were also printed in The Century Path (March-November 1908)[7]. Kenneth wrote numerous poems and articles related to Wales, Welsh literature and Welsh legend. In 1910-11 he worked on his first book The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed, which was published in 1914 and is now available free online.

During the writing of this book he felt himself inspired by Llywarch Hen[8], Taliesin[9] and the scriptures of Iolo Morganwg (Galmorgan)[10]), Iolo Morganwg was an influential Welsh antiquarian, poet, collector, and literary forger. Despite the last fact he was and is of great influence of the philosophy of Welsh culture. He should ‘always be honored’ said Morris. Morris appreciated the bards of Glamorgan (Morgannwg). Iolo’s Barddas is important because it contains, according to Morris, the philosophy of Druidism. Morris’ The Fates one could call ‘Druidic-Theosophical Hymns’.

In the foreword of The Fates Morris shows in exalted terms his admiration for the Leaders of the Theosophical Society: “We owe it to Madame H. P. Blavatsky, the Foundress of the Theosophical Movement of modern times, and to William Q. Judge and Katherine Tingley, her successors in the Leadership of that Movement, that the criterion exists effective for this work: that there is accessible a compendium, an explanation, a correlation and explicit setting forth of those inward laws: the knowledge, the purpose, and the discipline out of which all religions drew their origin, and which are the heart of all true religion; which proclaim this to be the end of all existence: that that which is now human should be made more than human, divine. We may call this Druidism, we may call it Theosophy; it is also Christian and Buddhist; whatever name may be applied to it, it is a trumpet-call to the Divine in each of us, the Grand Hai Atton of the Immortals; it is the Dragon Warshout of the ages: “Y Ddraig Goch a Ddyry — Gychwyn!” — The Flamebright Dragon has arisen — the Dragon that of old was the symbol of spiritual wisdom, spiritual courage, of mastery of the forces of the lower world — Go forward!”
When Æ received The Fates he thanked him for his beautiful book, adding that such beauty he had rarely encountered “I can see that you have had your vision and the book is yours and that of the Great Inspirer … You are one of the few in the modern world who has the old imagination of a bard” and he wishes that Morris might keep up this imagination for long times to come. He added that while he continued to read the book the beauty and value of Morris’ ideas were again and again confirmed, and Æ prophesied that Morris would certainly find recognition for his work: “Perhaps not now: The world needs time to recognize spiritual beauty, but that it will happen, is sure.” He supposed that Morris would not be much worried about his recognition, because “the joy of the work is the true reward.”

Later Kenneth wrote a kind of continuation of The Fates, based on his own imagination and named it Book of the Three Dragons, published – regrettably in abbreviated form – in 1930[11]

During his stay in Point Loma he wrote 28 stories, ten of which he selected for his book The Secret Mountain and Other Tales, published in 1926. These ten stories we are now publishing in pdf and jpg format on this website. We are also working on a new Dutch translation. After a considerable period of health problems he wrote, from 1929 on, a number of other stories.

In 1915-19 he gave three extensive lecture cycles which were published in The Theosophical Path (TTP). The first series, of 1915-16, were published in book form in 1975 as Golden Threads through the Tapestry of History. De other lecture cycles were The Three bases of Poetry: A Study of English Verse (TTP Jan-Dec. 1917) and The Crest Wave of Evolution (TTP March 1919-July 1921).

One of the characteristics of Morris’ history writing is that he is continuously conscious of the spiritual background of the history of humankind and links cultures which flourished on different parts of the planet and he brings them in relation with the Theosophical law of cycles. In The Tapestry he focuses in the first place on the history of China and Japan and that of the Islamic world of the Middle East. In The Crest Wave he writes, among others, about Homer, the Greeks and the Persians, Socrates, Plato, de Indian Mauryas, Confucius, Daoism, China and Rome, and about the Celtic world of Ireland.

He also made a number of handwritten poems decorated with beautiful drawings and symbols, besides a number of handwritten collections of poems for friends that nowadays only survive in the archives of The Theosophical Society in Pasadena. He also helped Katherine Tingley with her book The Wine of Life (1925).

On first Christmas day 1925 Katherine Tingley asked Kenneth Morris to write something about a pre-Columbian subject. This resulted in a splendid and very mystical book about the period before the coming of the great spiritual leader Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, of Mexico and the coming into contact of the unspoiled people of the South who still lived with the gods and the more worldly powerful people from the North. The Chalchiuhite Dragon – literally ‘the jade dragon’ paints the tropical atmosphere of the forested parts of Southern Mexico in such a splendid way that I personally felt like being there and almost could feel and smell the atmosphere while reading. Even though the story plays in ancient times, it is as if even today we can sense the difference between matter and spirit between different peoples. As in his other works, Morris has again succeeded to unite a unique drawing of atmosphere and an enticing story with an elevating and refined sense of universal ethics – something that is a very rare accomplishments in our days. The book was finished after even years, but had to wait for its publication until 1992.

Morris had great interest in and knowledge of the history and literature of China – the land of dragons. Three of his Chinese stories has been combined with a long Daoist poem in a work published in 1980 under the title Through Dragon Eyes. Since the time he corresponded with Ella Young in 1927 he sent her a great number of his translations from the Chinese and he lent her his ‘most precious treasure’, a booklet he had composed of his prose translations. To write his personal reviews, the poems in which he tried to translate the refined music of the Chinese poetical form into English verse, he relied on his prose translations. For Morris, meaning and sound were tightly and intricately interwoven. He liked the strict poetical forms of both the Welsh and Chinese poetry, and it demands special skillfulness to interweave sound and meaning. Ella Young cited several of Morris’ translations in their entirety in her own books. Regrettably, efforts to publish Morris’ translations have so far not been successful and it is hoped that one day this will be done. Remarkably I have not been able to trace form any biography how Morris acquired his knowledge of the Chinese language.

After Katherine Tingley’s death in 1929 and also due to the economic crisis of that time, Morris returned to Wales – which he loved as never before. In Wales he became very active in Theosophical work – until his too early death in 1937. He lived in Cardiff and befriended a young poet named Cyril Hodges (1915-1974). Hodges’ first book, China Speaks was a collection of 21 poems based on Morris’ prose translation from the Chinese.

Morris wrote articles for the Welsh Outlook and the daily Western Mail. When Morris accepted the responsibility for the Welsh section of The Theosophical Society in 1930 it had only a few members. Before he died he had founded seven Theosophical lodges in seven cities and issued a magazine called Y Fforwm Theosophaidd of which he was the editor and for which he wrote most of the articles.

In the beginning his health improved, but his hard work and his many lectures demanded their tribute. After an unsuccessful medical treatment he left this life. He hoped and wished that, if his work would ever be discovered, this would happen about a hundred years after his death.

List of Publications:

The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed, 1914, 1978 (also online)

The Secret Mountain and Other Tales, 1926 (online on this website)

Book of the Three Dragons, 1930 (2 Vols.) 1978 (Arno Press), 2004

Golden Threads through the Tapestry of History, Point Loma Publications, 1975

The Crest Wave of Evolution, Serialized in The Theosophical Path in 27 Chapters from
March, 1919 through July, 1921.

Through Dragon Eyes, 1980

The Chalchiuhite Dragon, A Tale of Toltec Times, 1992 (also online):

The Dragon Path: The Collected Tales of Kenneth Morris, 1995 – Tor Books

The dailytheosophy.net website will in due time also republish some of his poems and short articles.

  1. Standish James O’Grady (Irish: Anéislis Séamus Ó Grádaigh; 18 September 1846 – 18 May 1928) was an Irish author, journalist, and historian. O’Grady was inspired by Sylvester O’Halloran and played a formative role in the Celtic Revival, publishing the tales of Irish mythology, as the History of Ireland: Heroic Period (1878), arguing that the Gaelic tradition had rival only from the tales of Homeric Greece. O’Grady was a paradox for his times, while proud of his Gaelic heritage, he was also a member of the Church of Ireland, a champion of aristocratic virtues, particularly decrying bourgeois values and the uprooting cosmopolitanism of modernity (Wikipedia. [<<]
  2. Æ” is derived from an earlier “Æon” signifying the lifelong quest of man, subsequently abbreviated. [<<]
  3. George William Russell (10 April 1867 – 17 July 1935) who wrote with the pseudonym Æ, was an Irish writer, editor, critic, poet, artistic painter and Irish nationalist. He was also a writer on mysticism, and a personage of a group of devotees of Theosophy in Dublin for many years. For further easy access info see Wikipedia. [<<]
  4. William Butler Yeats, 13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939) was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms. Yeats was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival. More online info: Wikipedia. [<<]
  5. Ystrad Tywi was in what now known as the county of Carmarthenshire in Wales. [<<]
  6. William Wordsworth 1770-1850 was no doubt one of the greatest English poets ever. [<<]
  7. recently reprinted: The Century Path; A Magazine Devoted to the Brotherhood of Humanity, the Promulgation of Theosophy and the Study of Ancient and Modern Ethics, Philosophy, Science, and Art. So far volumes up to 12 are available in print at “Books Group” (‘author’), published by Rarebooksclub.com. [<<]
  8. Llywarch Hen (meaning ‘Llywarch the Old’) was a 6th-century prince and poet of the Brythonic kingdom of Rheged, a ruling family in the Hen Ogledd or ‘Old North’ of Britain (modern southern Scotland and northern England). Along with Taliesin, Aneirin and Myrddin, he is held to be one of the four great bards of early Welsh poetry. For more information online see Wikipedia. [<<]
  9. Taliesin was a sixth century Brythonic poet of Sub-Roman Britain whose work has possibly survived in a Middle Welsh manuscript, the Book of Taliesin. Taliesin was a renowned bard, ‘the chief of bards’, who is believed to have sung at the courts of at least three Brythonic kings. More details online see Wikipedia. [<<]
  10. Iolo Morganwg is the bardic pseudonym for Edward Williams (1747 – 1826) – (Wikipedia [<<]
  11. reprinted in 1978 by Arno Press. [<<]