Saturday, April 8, 2017

C. S. Lewis's Poetry

Common consensus seems to be that Lewis's poetry couldn't hold a candle to his prose, so imagine my surprise when I randomly began reading several poems in The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis: A Critical Edition and saw 3 absolute gems out of the first 4 poem I read. The three poems: "Heart-breaking School," "And After This They Sent Me to Another Place," and "Old Kirk, Like Father Time Himself." After that, I quickly began to see the rationale behind the common consensus, but I wanted to take a moment and discuss "Heart-breaking School" at least. Here is the poem (parts highlighted for emphasis:

    Heart-breaking school
Received me, where an ogre hearted man held rule,
Secret and irresponsible, out of the cll
Of men's reproach, like Cyclops in his savage hall:
For at his gate no neighbour went in, nor his own
Three fading daughters easily won out alone,
Nor if they did, dared wag their tongues, but, in a trice
Their errand done, whisked home again, three pattering mice,
Pale, busy, meek: more pitiable far than we
From whom he ground the bread of his adversity,
Himself a theme for pity: for within him boiled
The spirit of Gengis Khan or Timur, ever foiled
And forced back to the dogs-eared Virgil and the desk
To earn his food: ridiculous, old, poor, grotesque,
A man to be forgiven. Here let him pass, by me
Forgiven: and let the memory pass. Let me not see
Under the curled moustaches on the likerous, red,
Moist lips, the flat Assyrian smile we used to dread
When in the death-still room the weeping of one boy
Gave the starved dragon inklings of ancestral joy,
Antediluvian taste of blood.


  1. lines 1-2. I really liked the "heart-breaking school" / "ogre hearted man" pairing. Man, really nice.
  2. Really liked the disjunction between a schoolmaster's life and such figures, although I suppose might not strike someone more well-read in poetry as so original.
  3. "ancestral joy" -- again, I liked the effect.
It's easy enough to see C. S. Lewis as old-fashioned -- the theme of a cruel schoolmaster does seem 19th-century (although it's not), mixed with classical allusions and whatnot, but I appreciated this one, as well as the other poems mentioned above.




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