Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Birthday C. S. Lewis


Chances are if you've read any one of the posts that I've written for this blog (or if you've just looked at the title of the blog itself) you've noticed my overwhelming prejudice in favor of C. S. Lewis. The very first of his books I ever read was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In that book, Aslan the lion returns to Narnia and breaks the spell laid upon it by the White Witch. But when I read that book, it cast an enchantment on me, and the spell has never been broken. C. S. Lewis' work remains the most heartfelt and truly real of anything I have ever read, and C. S. Lewis himself the most observant, gifted, and sincere of any author I have ever had the good fortune to discover.

Sunday marks the anniversary of C. S. Lewis' (or Jack, as he preferred to be called) birth in Belfast, Ireland, in 1898. If he were still alive, he'd be 117 years old. Sadly for the world, he died in 1963 in Oxford, just seven days before his sixty-fifth birthday. But he left behind a prodigious amount of writings: his lasting gift to us.

Writing this post, while listening to the film score of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (of course), is a tender experience for me. I am filled with wonder and with gratitude for this amazing, humble man who had such a deep understanding of life and the ability and courage to share it with the world. Words cannot express my debt to C. S. Lewis, so it seems vain to attempt it. In the end, I find all I can say that seems to me to truly resonate is, "Thank you."

Happy Birthday, Jack.

Take this quiz to show off how many C. S. Lewis books you've read; and/or comment below about the first C. S. Lewis book you read, or the C. S. Lewis book that first made you fall in love with his writings.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My poetry addiction

I get high off poetry.

Anyone else?

It's more potent, more lasting, and, in the long run, more dangerous, than alcohol, marijuana, or any other type of stimulant.

To prove to you the full extent of my condition, allow me to point out the fact that I wrote a poem to describe my addiction to poetry, the first stanza of which reads: 

I have been drunk with poetry
Reeling from a villanelle's symmetry
Stumbling through sonnets in ecstasy
I have been drunk with poetry
Things are that bad.

It's always exciting when I stumble upon another addict - usually between the pages of a book because, let's be honest, people don't talk about their poetry addictions in public. The event usually occurs much the same way: I suddenly go very still. And then a thrill runs slowly down from my head to my toes. I'm alive and all at once, I feel it. I'm quickened. I'm in love. And I'm rediscovering poetry - for the first time.

I recently ran into one of these old friends I'd never met before in the pages of A Shropshire Lad. The poet: A. E. Housman, born 1859, Bromsgrove, England, died 1936, Cambridge. And what a conversation we had.

C. S. Lewis said that friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, "What? You, too? I thought I was the only one!" If that isn't the definition of poetry, I don't know what is. Often, when I read a good poem, I feel sure that the poet knows me, impossibly and intrinsically. In A Shropshire Lad, A. E. Housman pours out, measuredly and eloquently, his soul. But as he confides his dreams, his longings, his sorrows, frustrations, and yearnings - the reader grows more and more certain that she's reading about herself. This is the paradox of poetry.

I picked up my copy of A Shropshire Lad in a rather impressive bookstore in Ashland, Oregon. For $3.50 I purchased the record of the poet's soul. The small, orange, hardback edition looks fairly old, but contains no copyright date, so I'll never know exactly when it was published. The penciled inscription on the inside of the cover reads, "To Kelly, on her 19th birthday, Tom Nash." I read Housman's poems every night before bed for about a week - maybe less - adrift on a sea of poetic delirium. This is poetry, pure and simple. It soothes and aches. Housman got it right.

The only downside to reading Housman is that it makes me despair of ever writing anything comparable.

To return, for a moment, to C. S. Lewis, the Narnia author quotes Housman in a passage about his (Lewis') experience with Joy - "Into my heart an air that kills / from yon far country blows." Whom C. S. Lewis quotes is worth reading.

One of the poems contained in A Shropshire Lad serves as an accurate representation of the collection. The poem embodies the major themes of the slim volume: beauty, youth, the brief nature of human life and the inevitability of death, with the determination to make the most of what little time we have.

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide. 
Now of my three score years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more. 
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

In the first line of the second stanza, the poet is referring to a biblical verse out of Psalms, which reads, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten" (Psalm 90:10). As you can figure out if you do the math (but who wants to do math when they're reading poetry), threescore years and ten add up to seventy years total.

This has been Poetry Appreciation with Erin. Thank you for joining me. If you or someone you love is struggling with a poetry addiction, please comment below.