Monday, July 26, 2010

C.S. Lewis

“Jack” Lewis (1898-1963) wanted most of all to be known as a poet. Today we know C.S. Lewis as a great literary scholar, for works such as The Allegory of Love and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, including his scholarship on such poets as John Milton and Edmund Spenser — as a Christian apologist for dozens of titles including Mere Christianity and Miracles — for his fiction, including the seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia, and his critical success, Till We Have Faces. He was also famous for his Oxford lectures, and for his skilful debates against prominent atheists — but he is not well known for his poetry.

Too often Lewis is trying to win an argument — something that just doesn’t work in a poem. He had developed such a love for the form and subject matter of medieval narrative verse, that he could not relate to the poetic techniques of the twentieth century. In one poem he mocks the famous opening of Eliot’s “Prufrock” with the lines:
-------------For twenty years I’ve stared my level best
-------------To see if evening—any evening—would suggest
-------------A patient etherized upon a table;
-------------In vain. I simply wasn’t able...

Despite this short-coming Lewis understood medieval poetry better than perhaps anyone. He wrote many beautifully poetic passages in his other writings, and did successfully (though little acknowledged) write some fine poems.

The following poem captures his desperation, like a trapped animal — as he describes himself in Surprised By Joy as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England” — when he realized the truth of Christ. I find the honesty he permits himself here — perhaps because it was written for a character in his book The Pilgrims’ Regress — most refreshing.

Caught

You rest upon me all my days
The inevitable Eye;
Dreadful and undeflected as the blaze
Of some Arabian sky;

Where, dead still, in their smothering tent
Pale travellers crouch, and, bright
About them, noon's long-drawn Astonishment
Hammers the rocks with light.

Oh, but for one cool breath in seven,
One air from northern climes,
The changing and the castle-clouded heaven
Of my old Pagan times!

But you have seized all in your rage
Of Oneness. Round about,
Beating my wings, all ways, within your cage,
I flutter, but not out.

To read my blog about why C.S. Lewis had such a timeless quality in so much of his writing (other than his poetry) visit: Canadian Authors Who Are Christian

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about C.S. Lewis: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, July 19, 2010

John Milton

John Milton (1608–1674) is one of the major figures of English literature. He is best known for his masterpiece the great epic Paradise Lost (1667). His great poem is written in blank verse, and is reminiscent of the epics of Homer and Virgil. Milton, however, was a Puritan and was greatly influenced by scripture and by the reformation.

Paradise Lost outlines its subject in the opening lines:

-----Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
-----Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
-----Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
-----With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
-----Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
-----Sing Heav’nly Muse...

By line 25 he explains that the purpose of his argument is to “assert Eternal Providence, / And justify the ways of God to men.” The story is told in twelve books, which are hundreds of lines each. It would be hard to overstate the influence of this poem on theology and English literature. Many poets have been greatly influenced by Milton, including William Blake and John Keats.

In 1651 he became blind, and was only able to write his masterpiece with the aid of others, such as the poet Andrew Marvell. It has been said that Milton’s blindness contributed to his strong verbal richness.

On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) was a major German writer between the wars, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, whose books — such as The Cost of Discipleship — remain influential. In 1939 he refused to take the oath of loyalty to Adolph Hitler. In 1943, he was arrested for his participation in a plot to assassinate the Nazi leader.

In his cell in Flossenburg Prison, where he awaited execution, Bonhoeffer wrote the poems which appear in Voices in the Night (translated by Edwin Robertson). Sympathetic guards smuggled out his letters, and even offered to help him escape; he declined because he felt his family would be punished. He was executed by hanging on April 8, 1945 — just three weeks before Soviet forces captured Berlin.

Christians and Others

1. All go to God in their distress,
seek help and pray for bread and happiness,
deliverance from pain, guilt and death.
All do, Christians and others.

2. All go to God in His distress,
find him poor, reviled without shelter or bread,
watch him tormented by sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand by God in His agony.

3. God goes to all in their distress,
satisfies body and soul with His bread,
dies, crucified for all, Christians and others
and both alike forgiving.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, July 5, 2010

Anne Porter

Anne Porter is a poet who has not received the attention her verse deserves. She was born in 1911, and is perhaps best known as the widow of the American painter Fairfield Porter. She did not try to have her poetry published until well after Fairfield’s death in 1975. She had dedicated herself to the raising of their five children, and to hospitality. Theirs was a stormy marriage, and Anne Porter had only dabbled with her own art in rare moments of spare time.

David Shapiro, a poet and family friend, encouraged her to seek publication. When her first collection, An Altogether Different Language (1994) appeared, it was a finalist for the National Book Award. Subsequently, several of Porter’s poems have appeared in Commonweal. In 2006 she published Living Things — her collected poems. Her poetry is deeply reflective, and often springs from her own Christian faith.

The Pasture Rose

Rosa humilis
The rose of the pastures
A small peasant rose

Free and for nothing
Gives us her prickles
Her five translucent petals
And her golden eye

And so to thank her
I try to learn
That dialect of silence
Which is her language
And then translate it
Into human words

As if the Lord had told me
Listen to the rose
Be the voice of the rose.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca