William Langland (late fourteenth century). The work of this greatest English poet before Chaucer still bursts with the energy of a Brueghel wedding dance. Little is known about Langland himself (a hired church singer?), but he gives us the Creation Myth as seen from below-stairs. Like other single books by obsessed and isolated authors, Langland's narrative poem, The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman, aspires to contain merely everything: now allegory, now almanac, a list of cures, a compendium of low jokes slung alongside the purest silver-white religious aspiration. It still offers us scope, forgiveness, genuine animal laughs. As our present political reality darkens toward fundamentalist tribal warfare that can leave us feeling daily more medieval, this medieval poem illumines itself as a consolation. Permeable in its clear wishes, gorgeous in its humane and unapologetic belief, it reassures us that the Seven Sins aren't actually Deadly.
G. B. Edwards (1899-1976). Guernsey, one of Britain's Channel Islands, considers itself mainly French. Here Victor Hugo was exiled for fifteen years among fisher-folk speaking their Francophile patois. Here Gerald Basil Edwards was born, the son of quarry owners, proud of his gypsy blood. He earned a scholarship on the mainland, where he married, sired four children, then disappeared. Retiring from the civil service to that English port nearest his beloved Guernsey, Edwards planned devoting his last years to a trilogy of island novels. He finished only one, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page (1981), but it reads like Beethoven's Ninth. It charts island life from 1890 to 1970, including the German wartime occupation. In it, weather, darkness, hunger, blood-connectedness, shelter, and an almost painfully keyed-up sexual desire appear in odd, magical proportions never found in any novel conceived off-island. Coated with sea salt, its crannies spilling wildflowers, Edwards's book still roars like some huge shell held, cutting, against your ear.