Buried hearts of mine to beat

Lewis the poet was a master of rhyme. He was especially good at internal rhyme: something your brain registers as you read, even if your eye and ear don't. Many of his poems are dense with rhymes, as dense as plumcake. Take, for example, the poem I just posted: “The Day with a White Mark." I read this poem many times without stopping to notice how much is going on besides the obvious ABCB pattern. This is my crude attempt to show the rhyme (italics) and alliteration (underlined), and I'm sure there's much I've missed, to say nothing of what those particular sounds do to the speed, the emotion, the sense of the lines. The more you look the more you see, and it all leads to the question: how on earth do you write a poem like this?

All day I have been tossed and whirled in a preposterous happiness:
Was it an elf in the blood? or a bird in the brain? or even part
Of the cloudily crested, fifty-league-long, loud uplifted wave
Of a journeying angel’s transit roaring over and through my heart?

Who knows if ever it will come again, now the day closes?
No-one can give me, or take away, that key. All depends
On the elf, the bird, or the angel. I doubt if the angel himself
Is free to choose when sudden heaven in man begins or ends.

My garden’s spoiled, my holidays are cancelled, the omens harden;
The plann’d and unplann’d miseries deepen; the knots draw tight.
Reason kept telling me all day my mood was out of season.
It was, too. In the dark ahead the breakers only are white.

Yet II could have kissed the very scullery taps. The colour of
My day was like a peacock’s chest. In at each sense there stole
Ripplings and dewy sprinkles of delight that with them drew
Fine threads of memory through the vibrant thickness of the soul.

As though there were transparent earths and luminous trees should grow there,
And shining roots worked visibly far down below one’s feet,
So everything, the tick of the clock, the cock crowing in the yard
Probing my soil, woke diverse buried hearts of mine to beat,

Recalling either adolescent heights and the inaccessible
Longings and ice-sharp joys that shook my body and turned me pale,
Or humbler pleasures, chuckling as it were in the ear, mumbling
Of glee, as kindly animals talk in a children’s tale

Who knows if ever it will come again, now the day closes?
No-one can give me, or take away, that key. All depends
On the elf, the bird, or the angel. I doubt if the angel himself
Is free to choose when sudden heaven in man begins or ends.

Fair Silence, fall, and set me free

This poem resonates with me today. It’s CS Lewis: ‘The Apologist’s Evening Prayer.’ As religion becomes more and more a public possession, we need reminding that the public square is not its natural home. The narrow gate and the needle’s eye are good correctives.  

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,     
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.     

Thoughts are but coins.  Let me not trust, instead     
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,     
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.     
Lord of the narrow gate and needle's eye,     
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

This inconstant stay

I rejoice immoderately in the coming of Spring. A change that is also a return; what CS Lewis describes as “that union of change and permanence that we call rhythm.”

I also notice my astonishment at the passage of time, at the turn of seasons that seems swifter every year.  Human being is being in time; we know no other. Yet we are also innately at odds with time.  The poets are full of this anomaly. Marvell’s rueful ‘Had we but world enough and time...’ Shakespeare’s sense of time’s inexorable march, its bending sickle, its fell hand, its war with us. Moses, a man who lived one hundred and twenty years, forty of them tending sheep in Midian, another forty wandering, still found life bafflingly brief. In spite of long years of exile and futility, he could write that human life is “like grass which sprouts anew. In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew; Toward evening it fades and withers away [...] soon it is gone and we fly away.”

If the arc of time is short, the character of time is blessed. Time is part of the created order: there was evening and morning, the first day. At the third hour, the sixth, the ninth. Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy. Eugene Peterson says he grew up thinking end time was the only sacred time. He learned later that all time is sacred, is created. The encompassing rhythms of weeks, lunar months, years “call forth regularities of spring births, summer growth, autumn harvest, winter sleep. Creation time is rhythmic. We are immersed in rhythms.” Hearing the beat and cadence of these rhythms makes us “internalise orderliness and connectedness and resonance.”

So the passage of time, if quick, is also life and breath to us. We know no other. Galileo found it lovely: “It is my opinion that the Earth is very noble and admirable, by reason of so many and so different alterations, mutations, generations &c which are incessantly made therein; and if without being subject to any alteration, it had been all one vast heap of sand, a mass of Jasper...wherein nothing had ever grown, altered, or changed, I should have esteemed it a lump...full of idleness...superfluous, and as if it had never been in nature...a dead creature.”

So time that makes us mutable makes us beautiful. It is time that brings spring at the death of winter, that marries change and permanence. Time that carries us round the sun, more swiftly every year. Time, which takes and kills all we know as life, is life as we know it.

We that are hedgerow folk

In the wake of alarm about Britain, here is CS Lewis with two alarming (and alarmed) poems. Lewis' poetry is little regarded now, but he produced some very clever and inventive verse, much of it celebrating what seems lost or leaving and lamenting what's arriving or arrived.

Lines During a General Election

Their threats are terrible enough, but we could bear
All that; it is their promises that bring despair.
If beauty, that anomaly, is left us still,
The cause lies in their poverty, not in their will.
If they had power ('amenities are bunk'), conceive
How their insatiate gadgetry by this would leave
No green, nor growth, nor quietude, no sap at all
In England from The Land's-End to the Roman Wall.
Think of their roads - broad as the road to Hell - by now
Murdering a million acres that demand the plough,
The thick-voiced Tannoy blaring over Arthur's grave,
And all our coasts one Camp till not the tiniest wave
Stole from the beach unburdened with its festal scum
Of cigarette-ends, orange-peel, and chewing gum.
Nor would one island's rape suffice. Their visions are
Global; they mean the desecration of a Star;
Their happiest fancies dwell upon a time when Earth,
Flickering with sky-signs, gibbering with mechanic mirth,
One huge celestial charabanc, will stink and roll
Through patient heaven, subtopianized from pole to pole.


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.