Several weeks ago, I bought Poems by C. S. Lewis from Amazon for about $14.00. When I received the small book of verse in the mail and realized that it was only about 140 pages long, I began to wonder if I had wasted my money. I’m here to tell you that it certainly was not a waste–at least, not for me.
I haven’t read the entire book yet (which is why I’m not framing this post as a proper review), but what I have read has been wonderful. Lewis, as it turns out, was a man after mine own heart when it comes to poetry: he fell in love with the old masters when he was a young boy and insisted on following their model, no matter what the literary norms of the 1930’s, ’40’s, and ’50’s dictated. For this reason, his poetry gained little or no traction in its own day. Even today, Lewis’s poetry is still widely ignored. I’ve been told that this has to do partly with the quality of the work, not just with the format; that might be true, but nevertheless, I still enjoy his verses immensely. Perhaps that makes me uncouth. I don’t really care. And anyway, these days, aren’t poets often judged mainly by their ability to make their readers feel as they do? To either delight them or break their hearts? If they are, Lewis certainly does the job. Several times while reading these poems, I had to remind myself that this was the same guy who wrote Narnia and Mere Christianity. Of course, his poems still sound like him, but Lewis writing poetry is very different from Lewis writing anything else: in his poems, we get a deeper and fuller picture of how he thought, what he thought about, and how he responded to the world. He no longer seems like a stuffy old academic or even like an eccentric fantasy author ministering to the world one chapter at a time: he seems passionate, playful, antiquated maybe, but still sharp and imaginative.
Another thing that I like about this book is the variety of poems it contains. Some, like “The Late Passenger,” are silly and lighthearted, while others, like “Science Fiction Cradlesong,” are world-weary and cynical, while still others, like “Joys that Sting,” are beautiful but heartbreaking. I have to say, I think the best one that I’ve read so far is “As the Ruin Falls,” a sonnet that Lewis wrote after his wife Joy died of cancer. I think most people tend to think of Lewis as being staid and stodgy, but he was a lot more than that: he was a romantic too.
Poor Jack grew up dreaming that he would become the next great English poet, but sadly, he was born in the wrong time. He had no patience for what was then modern poetry and the poetry world had no patience for him. Even today, when poetry has become even less formal and more experimental than it was in Lewis’s day, few if any people would embrace a poet whose forms were as strict and traditional as Lewis’s. But nevertheless, I enjoy him and I’m very glad I bought this book.