Deprived of the infinite, man has grow to be what he all the time was: a supernumerary. He hardly counts; he types a part of the troupe referred to as Humanity; if he misses a cue, he’s hissed; and if he drops by means of the trapdoor one other puppet is in readiness to take his place.
― Remy de Gourmont, Philosophic Nights in Paris, Being Selections from Promenades Philosophiques
“A name makes reading too easy,” Foucault remarked in his essay “The Masked Philosopher.” What the thinker was saying in his usually gnomic method was that our reputations typically converse louder than what we’re truly saying. Fame containers us in, with the general public projecting their collective fears and needs onto a person who has been remodeled right into a type of floating empty image. Opting to stay nameless in a 1980 interview with Le Mond, Foucault went as far as to say anonymity as a precondition for communication with a mass viewers, the one shot at a “chance of being heard.” As Biehl and Zucker discuss in “The Masked Anthropologist,” characters dominate our collective cultural consciousness “at the expense of truly hearing ideas and furthering critical thinking.” It’s a lot simpler to transcribe complexity into cliché moderately than wrangle with the usually complicated and paradoxical nature of one other human thoughts.
With all that mentioned, what would we learn if we had been to select up a replica of C.S. Lewis’s first revealed work Spirits in Bondage, a set of early poems not too long ago republished by Lexham Press, with out understanding the illustrious title of the amount’s writer? Perhaps all we’re left with on this hypothetical is a publication date and placement: 1919, London. With the poet masked, what will we see? Formally, the poetry is moderately easy. Alternate and Couple rhyme schemes dominate. The poems are lyrical, conveying strong however typically confused emotion. Influences are apparent: Thomas Hardy, Matthew Arnold, the 1890’s Decadents. On its face the work is kind of mediocre. Its saving grace is what appears to be its own dissatisfaction with itself, which it confuses for a dissatisfaction with the world. Within this vexed malaise sits a profound sense of eager for “wider oceans, breaking on the shore / For which the hearts of men are always sore” because the poet writes in “Dungeon Grates.” This starvation for the infinite provides the gathering greater than the spark of life. It redeems the complete work.
The “masked poet” experiment solutions the query of why we should always even care about Lewis’s pre-Christian work (when he was an atheist on the time of writing). But it additionally proves that in the end masking a poet is unimaginable. As the Spanish thinker Ortega y Gasset wrote, “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia,” (I’m myself and my circumstances). This encapsulation of the good tragedy of human existence, the tug between freedom and necessity, between need and the truth which “forms the other half of myself,” as Gasset wrote, is especially relevant when it types a phase of the drama of conversion. Every second presents a set sequence of choices. Every mistake is surely a part of a grander narrative of which we’re solely dimly conscious.
Before wanting on the poetry, it’s value mentioning that this version of Spirits in Bondage is gorgeous as a cloth object. Packaged in a slender, blueish-gray hardcover, the e book is transportable and sturdy. The cowl artwork, a human cranium set in entrance of leaves and vegetation, is an acceptable picture for a e book so influenced by the Gothic and the decadent. The design is apposite. There’s one thing virtually arcane about it, which is itself appropriate for a e book which was a bit dated even when it was revealed. This anachronistic high quality is frequent in immature work merely for the truth that the creating artist performs his influences with out having correctly digested them. As Karen Swallow Prior explains in her incredible introduction: “This heavy influence by earlier poets appears not only in the ideas of the poems, but in their form as well. In fact, the intricate style of many of the poems was already outdated when they were published—partially explaining the cool critical reception that helped turn Lewis from writing poetry to prose, which would become his legacy.” A becoming felix culpa for a person on the trail in direction of God. Nevertheless, lots of the by-product poems are fairly transferring. Take the ultimate two versus from quick poem “Spooks,” a few lover who wanders dwelling solely to comprehend that he has died way back:
Till immediately it got here into my head
That I used to be killed lengthy since and mendacity lifeless—
Only a homeless wraith that method had handed.
So thus I discovered my real love’s home once more
And stood unseen amid the winter evening
And the lamp burned inside, a rosy gentle,
And the moist avenue was shining within the rain.
Most of the language is muffled by conference, and the topic itself isn’t something new, however the accumulative impact of the poem is delivered to crescendo by that hanging final line. The moist avenue shining within the rain is such a incredible picture that it virtually acts as a promissory be aware in direction of future accomplishments.
Another mark of the novice is that their work is an excessive amount of concerning the poet’s own time. They can’t but see their method out of the current second. One comes throughout cases in Spirits, however they exist alongside brilliant flashes of perception which lower by means of the fog of faddishness. World War One performs a walk-on position within the assortment of poems, and Lewis impressively retains his poetic creative thought tuned past the same old cliches. The poem “French Nocturne (Monchy-Le-Preux)” is among the most spectacular within the assortment. In language that’s spare, virtually spectral, Lewis paints a surreal portrait of a warzone wherein the “jaws” of a “sacked village” have “swallowed up the sun.” A aircraft flies “straight into the moon,” which within the “vulgar eye” of the narrating soldier has misplaced its attract and decreased to “a stone that catches the sun’s beams.” The nightmare culminates within the closing stanza:
What call have I to dream of something?
I’m a wolf. Back to the world once more,
And speech of fellow-brutes that after had been males
Our throats can bark for slaughter: can not sing.
It’s harrowing, but additionally distinctive. Rather than writing a patriotic poem proudly extolling the virtues of the struggle lifeless, or like Pound lamenting a misplaced civilization, Lewis turns the struggle scene into an event to ruminate on man’s fallen nature. In some methods it anticipates British poet/painter David Jones’s biggest work, In Parenthesis. Lewis’s “French Nocturne” may lack the type and spectacular formal qualities of In Parenthesis however reworking g the struggle into what quantities to an ever-present state of human wrestle, the younger poet displayed a powerful imaginative and prescient and a profound sensitivity to the human soul wherein he didn’t fairly but consider.
Another affect of the time was the Decadent 1890’s, which supplies Spirits in Bondage an early-Yeatsian “pixies in the moonlight” high quality. Hence my opening quote from Symbolist poet and critic Remy de Gourmand. Symbolism, in fact, was a selected motion which in keeping with 90’s British Decadent poet Arthur Symons falls under the bigger umbrella time period “Decadent”. Both raged towards the usually harsh actuality of nature, however Symbolism used fragmentary and almost hallucinogenic pictures of the world to raise the thoughts of the reader right into a transcendent state. In Mallarmé’s poem “Flowers”, as an illustration, the picture of the flower is supposed to direct the reader in direction of an ersatz religious experience wherein the passing of time itself is felt as an “eternal snow of stars” throughout an ever-changing cosmos. Decadence then again takes a extra cynical and antagonistic view of nature and in the end of language itself. Nature is merciless and mysterious and our phrases usually are not a path to some greater fact, however merely novel creations of the human thoughts. The poems in Spirits partake on this Decadent conception of language and actuality. It’s a world of monsters and spirits, actually, however shorn of any suggestion of transcendence and with out the presence of divine Logos as an organizing precept. Lewis wrote to a pal in 1918, a yr earlier than the gathering was revealed, that “nature is wholly diabolical and malevolent and that God, if He exists, is outside of and in opposition to the cosmic arrangement.” As such, the tone of lots of the poems vacillates between a sorrowful paganism and a sort of irate Neo-Platonism, angered by the demiurge who created the unhappy world with out utterly believing in him. Take the primary stanza of “De Profundis” for instance:
Come allow us to curse our Master ere we die,
For all our hopes in infinite spoil lie.
The good is lifeless. Let us curse God most excessive.
The naïve anger at an absent or nonexistent God is fascinating in gentle of Lewis’s later work. The creepy supernatural imagery is attention-grabbing as well. Just a few strains from “The Witch,” for instance:
The lonely woodman half afraid
Far off her ragged type as seen
Sauntering down the alleys inexperienced,
Or crouched in godless prayer alone
At eve earlier than a Druid stone.
But now the bitter chase is received,
The quarry’s caught, her magic’s carried out,
The bishop’s introduced her strongest spell
To naught with candle, e book, and bell;
With holy water splashed upon her,
She goes to burning and dishonour
Too deeply damned to really feel her disgrace,
For, although beneath her hair of flame
Her considerate head be lowly bowed
It droops for meditation proud
The witch, whereas in some sense evil, can be made right into a hero or martyr, though what she dies on behalf of is unclear. Perhaps Lewis has her immolated as a martyr to his own need for transcendence and the re-sacularization of the world. As Lewis himself would later discuss in Surprised by Joy, “I was at this time [around the publication of Spirits] living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.”
Does having a context for this anger make the poems richer and extra complicated? It would appear so. If the poet had been masked, if all we had had been the phrases on the page of this particular e book, we would put it down pondering that it’s the immature manufacturing of a one-hit Decadent surprise. Just a few arresting strains right here and there, just a few poems that linger in your thoughts after studying, however nothing to match to extra celebrated work of the interval. Only by holding in thoughts Gasset’s conception of self– not an remote and untouched particular person node on the earth however an combination of roles and varied different influences– can we perceive the change that attends Lewis’s Christian conversion.
What makes these poems strong is understanding that their desolation and anger are a sort of nascent love awaiting transformation. Palpable all through Spirits in Bondage is Lewis’s not-so-well-hidden need for the everlasting. The e book is necessary for quite a lot of different causes—it’s the primary revealed work of probably the most preeminent Christian writers of the 20 th century being foremost amongst them—however what makes the presentation definitely worth the value of admission is to look at Lewis’s language try to fail to maintain up with the depth of his religious needs. These poems lengthy for the transcendent and the immanent directly, and so they exhaust themselves within the limitless pull in direction of God.