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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lewis as Brilliant Poet


I pour a cup of blueberry tea and settle in to write.  I have still one exam to take in two hours that will seal the semester….I should be studying.  But I make it a point not to overstudy for exams.  20 minutes tops for this one.  And I can't NOT write at this moment.  I’m bursting with thoughts and feelings—words are oozing out of me today like sweat off a hockey player.  It’s not pretty.  I spend much of my day alone, which is torture!  And now I know why it is so dangerous ever to write anything down.  You galvanize words when you write them.  And if you write them in haste or thoughtless passion, you’ve just etched that mistake in stone.  I feel this pity for my favorite writer, Lewis.  He’s the reject of many conservative Christian circles merely because he wrote honestly and without the chains of orthodoxy.  He did so because he wasn’t saved in the little boxes we know of today.  He was saved out of utter atheism.  Let’s cut the man some slack.  His theology improves the older he gets...like most of ours does.  Read discerningly.  He changed his views a million times before he died.  Haven’t I?  Oh yes.  I wrote things in my journal before I knew Christ that I no longer believe.  I wrote things last week that I no longer believe.  Did I go back and correct each of those things?  No.  Thankfully, I didn’t publish them.  Lewis couldn’t unpublish himself.  If we judged all theologians with the same stringency with which we slam Lewis, we wouldn’t read most of our systematic theologies.  We also shouldn't read ANY secular poetry if we have issues with Lewis’s views.  He left much to the imagination and even more the implication.  Have I made my point to myself yet?  Enjoy Lewis!  He was a genius and a believer.  His poetry is unequalled, though he's better known for his prose.  (And, might I add, he would NOT appreciate the Disney Narnia movies..)  
And are we even aware of his poetry before we judge him? Ah!  I shall have to post it.  Below I've posted what works I can find in no particular order.  Keep in mind…he was mere earth-dweller and liable to fail.  Make your lists of his theological flaws if you wish…just try to enjoy the beauty of his earthly scribbling.  

 

Scanzons
Passing to-day by a cottage, I shed tears
When I remembered how once I had dwelled there
With my mortal friends who are dead. Years
Little had healed the wound that was laid bare.

Out, little spear that stabs, I, fool, believed
I had outgrown the local, unique sting,
I had transmuted away (I was deceived)
Into love universal the lov'd thing.

But Thou, Lord, surely knewest Thine own plan
When the angelic indifferences with no bar
Universally loved but Thou gav'st man
The tether and pang of the particular.

Which, like a chemic drop, infinitesimal,
Plashed into pure water, changing the whole,
Embodies and embitters and turns all
Spirit's sweet water to astringent soul.

That we, though small, may quiver with fire's same
Substantial form as Thou — not reflect merely,
As lunar angel, back to thee, cold flame.
Gods we are, Thou hast said: and we pay dearly.


The Meteorite

Among the hills a meteorite
Lies huge; and moss has overgrown,
And wind and rain with touches light
Made soft, the contours of the stone.

Thus easily can Earth digest
A cinder of sidereal fire,
And make her translunary guest
The native of an English shire.

Nor is it strange these wanderers
Find in her lap their fitting place,
For every particle that's hers
Came at the first from outer space.

All that is Earth has once been sky;
Down from the sun of old she came,
Or from some star that travelled by
Too close to his entangling flame.

Hence, if belated drops yet fall
From heaven, on these her plastic power
Still works as once it worked on all
The glad rush of the golden shower



The Country of the Blind
Hard light bathed them-a whole nation of eyeless men, 
Dark bipeds not aware how they were maimed. A long 
Process, clearly, a slow curse,
Drained through centuries, left them thus.

At some transitional stage, then, a luckless few, 
No doubt, must have had eyes after the up-to-date, 
Normal type had achieved snug
Darkness, safe from the guns of heavn;

Whose blind mouths would abuse words that belonged to their 
Great-grandsires, unabashed, talking of light in some 
Eunuch'd, etiolated,
Fungoid sense, as a symbol of

Abstract thoughts. If a man, one that had eyes, a poor 
Misfit, spoke of the grey dawn or the stars or green-
Sloped sea waves, or admired how
Warm tints change in a lady's cheek,

None complained he had used words from an alien tongue, 
None question'd. It was worse. All would agree 'Of course,'
Came their answer. "We've all felt
Just like that." They were wrong. And he


Knew too much to be clear, could not explain. The words --
Sold, raped flung to the dogs -- now could avail no more;
Hence silence. But the mouldwarps,
With glib confidence, easily

Showed how tricks of the phrase, sheer metaphors could set
Fools concocting a myth, taking the worlds for things.
Do you think this a far-fetched
Picture? Go then about among

Men now famous; attempt speech on the truths that once,
Opaque, carved in divine forms, irremovable,
Dear but dear as a mountain- 
Mass, stood plain to the inward eye. 

The Condemned
There is a wildness still in England that will not feed 
In cages; it shrinks away from the touch of the trainer's hand,
Easy to kill, not easy to tame. It will never breed 
In a zoo for the public pleasure. It will not be planned.

Do not blame us too much if we that are hedgerow folk 
Cannot swell the rejoicings at this new world you make -
We, hedge-hogged as Johnson or Borrow, strange to the yoke 
As Landor, surly as Cobbett (that badger), birdlike as Blake.

A new scent troubles the air -- to you, friendly perhaps
But we with animal wisdom have understood that smell. 
To all our kind its message is Guns, Ferrets, and Traps, 
And a Ministry gassing the little holes in which we dwell. 
Science Fiction Cradlesong

By and by Man will try
To get out into the sky,
Sailing far beyond the air
From Down and Here to Up and There.
Stars and sky, sky and stars
Make us feel the prison bars.

Suppose it done. Now we ride
Closed in steel, up there, outside
Through our port-holes see the vast
Heaven-scape go rushing past.
Shall we? All that meets the eye
Is sky and stars, stars and sky.

Points of light with black between
Hang like a painted scene
Motionless, no nearer there
Than on Earth, everywhere
Equidistant from our ship.
Heaven has given us the slip.

Hush, be still. Outer space
Is a concept, not a place.
Try no more. Where we are
Never can be sky or star.
From prison, in a prison, we fly;
There's no way into the sky. 

Re-adjustment

I thought there would be a grave beauty, a sunset splendour
In being the last of one's kind: a topmost moment as one watched
The huge wave curving over Atlantis, the shrouded barge
Turning away with wounded Arthur, or Ilium burning.
Now I see that, all along, I was assuming a posterity
Of gentle hearts: someone, however distant in the depths of time,
Who could pick up our signal, who could understand a story. There won't be.

Between the new Hembidae and us who are dying, already
There rises a barrier across which no voice can ever carry,
For devils are unmaking language. We must let that alone forever.
Uproot your loves, one by one, with care, from the future,
And trusting to no future, receive the massive thrust
And surge of the many-dimensional timeless rays converging
On this small, significant dew drop, the present that mirrors all. 



Prelude to Space

An Epithaliamium

So Man, grown vigorous now,
Holds himself ripe to breed,
Daily devises how
To ejaculate his seed
And boldly fertilize
The black womb of the unconsenting skies.

Some now alive expect
(I am told) to see the large,
Steel member grow erect,
Turgid with the fierce charge
Of our whole planet's skill,
Courage, wealth, knowledge, concentrated will,

Straining with lust to stamp
Our likeness on the abyss-
Bombs, gallows, Belsen camp,
Pox, polio, Thais' kiss
Or Judas, Moloch's fires
And Torquemada's (sons resemble sires).

Shall we, when the grim shape
Roars upward, dance and sing?
Yes: if we honour rape,
If we take pride to Ring
So bountifully on space
The sperm of our long woes, our large disgrace. 

On Being Human

Angelic minds, they say, by simple intelligence
Behold the Forms of nature. They discern
Unerringly the Archtypes, all the verities
Which mortals lack or indirectly learn.
Transparent in primordial truth, unvarying,
Pure Earthness and right Stonehood from their clear,
High eminence are seen; unveiled, the seminal
Huge Principles appear.

The Tree-ness of the tree they know-the meaning of
Arboreal life, how from earth's salty lap
The solar beam uplifts it; all the holiness
Enacted by leaves' fall and rising sap;

But never an angel knows the knife-edged severance
Of sun from shadow where the trees begin,
The blessed cool at every pore caressing us
-An angel has no skin.

They see the Form of Air; but mortals breathing it
Drink the whole summer down into the breast.
The lavish pinks, the field new-mown, the ravishing
Sea-smells, the wood-fire smoke that whispers Rest.
The tremor on the rippled pool of memory
That from each smell in widening circles goes,
The pleasure and the pang --can angels measure it?
An angel has no nose.

The nourishing of life, and how it flourishes
On death, and why, they utterly know; but not
The hill-born, earthy spring, the dark cold bilberries.
The ripe peach from the southern wall still hot
Full-bellied tankards foamy-topped, the delicate
Half-lyric lamb, a new loaf's billowy curves,
Nor porridge, nor the tingling taste of oranges.
—An angel has no nerves.

Far richer they! I know the senses' witchery
Guards us like air, from heavens too big to see;
Imminent death to man that barb'd sublimity
And dazzling edge of beauty unsheathed would be.
Yet here, within this tiny, charmed interior,
This parlour of the brain, their Maker shares
With living men some secrets in a privacy
Forever ours, not theirs. 


On A Vulgar Error
No. It's an impudent falsehood. Men did not 
Invariably think the newer way Prosaic
mad, inelegant, or what not.

Was the first pointed arch esteemed a blot 
Upon the church? Did anybody say How 
modern and how ugly? They did not.

Plate-armour, or windows glazed, or verse fire-hot 
With rhymes from France, or spices from Cathay, 
Were these at first a horror? They were not.

If, then, our present arts, laws, houses, food 
All set us hankering after yesterday, 
Need this be only an archaising mood?

Why, any man whose purse has been let blood 
By sharpers, when he finds all drained away 
Must compare how he stands with how he stood.

If a quack doctor's breezy ineptitude 
Has cost me a leg, must I forget straightway 
All that I can't do now, all that I could?

So, when our guides unanimously decry 
The backward glance, I think we can guess why. 

An Evolutionary Hymn


Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice, joy or sorrow,
In the present what are they
while there's always jam-tomorrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
'Goodness = what comes next.'
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

On then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present,
Standards, though it may well be). 

Cliché Came Out of Its Cage

1

You said 'The world is going back to Paganism'. 
Oh bright Vision! I saw our dynasty in the bar of the House 
Spill from their tumblers a libation to the Erinyes, 
And Leavis with Lord Russell wreathed in flowers, heralded with flutes, 
Leading white bulls to the cathedral of the solemn Muses 
To pay where due the glory of their latest theorem. 
Hestia's fire in every flat, rekindled, burned before 
The Lardergods. Unmarried daughters with obedient hands 
Tended it By the hearth the white-armd venerable mother 
Domum servabat, lanam faciebat. at the hour 
Of sacrifice their brothers came, silent, corrected, grave 
Before their elders; on their downy cheeks easily the blush 
Arose (it is the mark of freemen's children) as they trooped, 
Gleaming with oil, demurely home from the palaestra or the dance. 
Walk carefully, do not wake the envy of the happy gods, 
Shun Hubris. The middle of the road, the middle sort of men, 
Are best. Aidos surpasses gold. Reverence for the aged 
Is wholesome as seasonable rain, and for a man to die 
Defending the city in battle is a harmonious thing. 
Thus with magistral hand the Puritan Sophrosune 
Cooled and schooled and tempered our uneasy motions; 
Heathendom came again, the circumspection and the holy fears ... 
You said it. Did you mean it? Oh inordinate liar, stop.

2

Or did you mean another kind of heathenry? 
Think, then, that under heaven-roof the little disc of the earth, 
Fortified Midgard, lies encircled by the ravening Worm. 
Over its icy bastions faces of giant and troll 
Look in, ready to invade it. The Wolf, admittedly, is bound; 
But the bond wil1 break, the Beast run free. The weary gods, 
Scarred with old wounds the one-eyed Odin, Tyr who has lost a hand, 
Will limp to their stations for the Last defence. Make it your hope 
To be counted worthy on that day to stand beside them; 
For the end of man is to partake of their defeat and die 
His second, final death in good company. The stupid, strong 
Unteachable monsters are certain to be victorious at last, 
And every man of decent blood is on the losing side. 
Take as your model the tall women with yellow hair in plaits 
Who walked back into burning houses to die with men, 
Or him who as the death spear entered into his vitals 
Made critical comments on its workmanship and aim. 
Are these the Pagans you spoke of? Know your betters and crouch, dogs; 
You that have Vichy water in your veins and worship the event 
Your goddess History (whom your fathers called the strumpet Fortune).

An Expostulation

Against too many writers of science fiction 

Why did you lure us on like this, 
Light-year on light-year, through the abyss, 
Building (as though we cared for size!) 
Empires that cover galaxies 
If at the journey's end we find 
The same old stuff we left behind, 
Well-worn Tellurian stories of 
Crooks, spies, conspirators, or love, 
Whose setting might as well have been 
The Bronx, Montmartre, or Bedinal Green?

Why should I leave this green-floored cell, 
Roofed with blue air, in which we dwell, 
Unless, outside its guarded gates,
Long, long desired, the Unearthly waits 
Strangeness that moves us more than fear, 
Beauty that stabs with tingling spear, 
Or Wonder, laying on one's heart 
That finger-tip at which we start 
As if some thought too swift and shy 
For reason's grasp had just gone by? 

After Prayers, Lie Cold

Arise my body, my small body, we have striven
Enough, and He is merciful; we are forgiven.
Arise small body, puppet-like and pale, and go,
White as the bed-clothes into bed, and cold as snow,
Undress with small, cold fingers and put out the light,
And be alone, hush'd mortal, in the sacred night,
-A meadow whipt flat with the rain, a cup
Emptied and clean, a garment washed and folded up,
Faded in colour, thinned almost to raggedness
By dirt and by the washing of that dirtiness.
Be not too quickly warm again. Lie cold; consent
To weariness' and pardon's watery element.
Drink up the bitter water, breathe the chilly death;
Soon enough comes the riot of our blood and breath.


As the Ruin Falls
All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love --a scholar's parrot may talk Greek--
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.


I.
You think that we who do not shout and shake
Our first at God when youth or bravery die
Have colder blood or hearts less apt to ache
Than yours who rail. I know you do. Yet why?
You have what sorrow always longs to find,
Someone to blame, some enemy in chief;
Anger's the anesthetic of the mind,
It does men good, it fumes away their grief.
We feel the stroke like you; so far our fate
Is equal. After that, for us begin
Half-hopeless labours, learning not to hate,
And then to want, and then (perhaps) to win
A high, unearthly comfort, angel's food,
That seems at first mockery to flesh and blood. 
II.
There's a repose, a safety (even a taste
Of something like revenge?) in fixed despair
Which we're forbidden. We have to rise with haste
And start to climb what seems a crazy stair.
Our Consolation (for we are consoled,
So much of us, I mean, as may be left
After the dreadful process has unrolled)
For one bereavement makes us more bereft.
It asks for all we have, to the last shred;
Read Dante, who had known its best and worst –
He was bereaved and he was comforted
--- No one denies it, comforted – but first
Down to the frozen center, up the vast
Mountain of pain, from world to world, he passed.
III.
Of this we're certain; no one who dared knock
At heaven's door for earthly comfort found
Even a door – only smooth, endless rock,
And save the echo of his cry no sound.
It's dangerous to listen; you'll begin
To fancy that those echoes (hope can play
Pitiful tricks) are answers from within;
Far better to turn, grimly sane, away.
Heaven cannot thus, Earth cannot ever, give
The thing we want. We ask what isn't there
And by our asking water and make live
That very part of love which must despair
And die and go down cold into the earth
Before there's talk of springtime and rebirth.
IV.
Pitch your demand heaven-high and they'll be met.
Ask for the Morning Star and take (thrown in)
Your earthly love. Why, yes; but how to set
One's foot on the first rung, how to begin?
The silence of one voice upon our ears
Beats like the waves; the coloured morning seems
A lying brag; the face we loved appears
Fainter each night, or ghastlier, in our dreams.
"that long way round which Dante trod was meant
For mighty saints and mystics not for me,"
So Nature cried. Yet if we once assent
To Nature's voice, we shall be like the bee
That booms against the window-pane for hours
Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers.
V.
'If we could speak to her,' my doctor said,
'And told her, "Not that way! All, all in vain
You weary out wings and bruise your head,"
Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,
"Let queens and mystics and religious bees
Talk of such inconceivables as glass;
the blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,
Look there – ahead, ahead – the flowers, the grass!"
We catch her in a handkerchief (who knows
What rage she feels, what terror, what despair?)
And shake her out – and gaily out she goes
Where quivering flowers and thick in summer air,
To drink their hearts. But left to her own will
She would have died upon the window-sill.

The Planets

Lady LUNA, in light canoe,
By friths and shallows of fretted cloudland
Cruises monthly; with chrism of dews
And drench of dream, a drizzling glamour,
Enchants us--the cheat! changing sometime
A mind to madness, melancholy pale,
Bleached with gazing on her blank count'nance
Orb'd and ageless. In earth's bosom
The shower of her rays, sharp-feathered light
Reaching downward, ripens silver,
Forming and fashioning female brightness,
--Metal maidenlike. Her moist circle
Is nearest earth. Next beyond her
MERCURY marches;--madcap rover,

Patron of pilf'rers. Pert quicksilver
His gaze begets, goblin mineral,
Merry multitude of meeting selves,
Same but sundered. From the soul's darkness,
With wreathed wand, words he marshals,
Guides and gathers them--gay bellwether
Of flocking fancies. His flint has struck
The spark of speech from spirit's tinder,
Lord of language! He leads forever
The spangle and splendour, sport that mingles
Sound with senses, in subtle pattern,
Words in wedlock, and wedding also
Of thing with thought. In the third region
VENUS voyages...but my voice falters;
Rude rime-making wrongs her beauty,
Whose breasts and brow, and her breath's sweetness
Bewitch the worlds. Wide-spread the reign
Of her secret sceptre, in the sea's caverns,
In grass growing, and grain bursting,
Flower unfolding, and flesh longing,
And shower falling sharp in April.
The metal copper in the mine reddens
With muffled brightness, like muted gold,
By her fingers form'd. Far beyond her
The heaven's highway hums and trembles,
Drums and dindles, to the driv'n thunder
Of SOL's chariot, whose sword of light
Hurts and humbles; beheld only
Of eagle's eye. When his arrow glances
Through mortal mind, mists are parted
And mild as morning the mellow wisdom
Breathes o'er the breast, broadening eastward
Clear and cloudless. In a clos'd garden
(Unbound her burden) his beams foster
Soul in secret, where the soil puts forth
Paradisal palm, and pure fountains
Turn and re-temper, touching coolly
The uncomely common to cordial gold;
Whose ore also, in earth's matrix,
Is print and pressure of his proud signet
On the wax of the world. He is the worshipp'd male,
The earth's husband, all-beholding,
Arch-chemic eye. But other country
Dark with discord dins beyond him,
With noise of nakers, neighing of horses,
Hammering of harness. A haughty god
MARS mercenary, makes there his camp
And flies his flag; flaunts laughingly
The graceless beauty, grey-eyed and keen,
--Blond insolence--of his blithe visage
Which is hard and happy. He hews the act,
The indifferent deed with dint of his mallet
And his chisel of choice; achievement comes not
Unhelped by him; --hired gladiator
Of evil and good. All's one to Mars,
The wrong righted, rescued meekness,
Or trouble in trenches, with trees splintered
And birds banished, banks fill'd with gold
And the liar made lord. Like handiwork
He offers to all--earns his wages
And whistles the while. White-feathered dread
Mars has mastered. His metal's iron
That was hammered through hands into holy cross,
Cruel carpentry. He is cold and strong,
Necessity's song. Soft breathes the air
Mild, and meadowy, as we mount further
Where rippled radiance rolls about us
Moved with music--measureless the waves'
Joy and jubilee. It is JOVE's orbit,
Filled and festal, faster turning
With arc ampler. From the Isles of Tin
Tyrian traders, in trouble steering
Came with his cargoes; the Cornish treasure
That his ray ripens. Of wrath ended
And woes mended, of winter passed
And guilt forgiven, and good fortune
Jove is master; and of jocund revel,
Laughter of ladies. The lion-hearted,
The myriad-minded, men like the gods,
Helps and heroes, helms of nations
Just and gentle, are Jove's children,
Work his wonders. On his white forehead
Calm and kingly, no care darkens
Nor wrath wrinkles: but righteous power
And leisure and largess their loose splendours
Have wrapped around him--a rich mantle
Of ease and empire. Up far beyond

Goes SATURN silent in the seventh region,
The skirts of the sky. Scant grows the light,
Sickly, uncertain (the Sun's finger
Daunted with darkness). Distance hurts us,
And the vault severe of vast silence;
Where fancy fails us, and fair language,
And love leaves us, and light fails us
And Mars fails us, and the mirth of Jove
Is as tin tinkling. In tattered garment,

Weak with winters, he walks forever
A weary way, wide round the heav'n,
Stoop'd and stumbling, with staff groping,
The lord of lead. He is the last planet
Old and ugly. His eye fathers
Pale pestilence, pain of envy,
Remorse and murder. Melancholy drink
(For bane or blessing) of bitter wisdom
He pours out for his people, a perilous draught
That the lip loves not. We leave all things
To reach the rim of the round welkin,
Heaven's heritage, high and lonely.

~C.S. Lewis, "The Planets", Poems (1st pub. May 1935)


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