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Posts Tagged ‘spirits in bondage’

Another interesting parallel between Spirits in Bondage  and Lewis’s more general biography actually tied into Narnia, particularly The Magician’s Nephew.  It is clear that Lewis did not consider his conversion grounds to discard the vividness of his earlier imagination.  In fact, he mined his own unChristian period for Truth much like he did other non-christian authors.

Consider his description of the “Land of the Lotus” from “XXV. Song of the Pilgrims”:

Land of the Lotus fallen from the sun,
Land of the Lake from whence all rivers run,
Land where the hope of all our dreams is won!

Shall we not somewhere see at close of day
The green walls of that country far away,
And hear the music of her fountains play?

[…]

But we shall wake again in gardens bright
Of green and gold for infinite delight,
Sleeping beneath the solemn mountains white,
While from the flowery copses still unseen
Sing out the crooning birds that ne’er have been
Touched by the hand of winter frore and lean;

This compares very favorably to what Polly, Digory, and Fledge encounter in the quest for the golden apple at the end of The Magician’s Nephew .  There, they find an isolated, magical garden set high on a huge green hill:

All round the top of the hill ran a high wall of green turf.  Inside the wall, trees were growing. Their branches hung out over the wall:  their leaves showed not only green but also blue and silver when the wind stirred them.  When the travelers reached the top they walked nearly all the way round it before they found the gates:  high gates of gold, fast shut, facing due east. […] [Digory] went in very solemnly, looking about him.  Everything was very quiet inside.  Even the fountain which rose near the middle of the garden made only the faintest sound.  The lovely smell was all around him:  it was a happy place but very serious.  (157-58)

Many of the same specific elements are the same–the green walls, the fountains, the colors green and gold, the brilliant rivers (referenced just a few pages earlier in The Magician’s Nephew).  Of course, the expression of the conception is separated by years, and so it isn’t an exact correspondence, but it is close enough to think that, perhaps, they are one and the same.

Perhaps what we’re seeing here is really Lewis’s fleshing out of the toy garden that his brother Warnie had brought into their nursery many years before.  In Surprised by Joy, he described the feeling evoked by that “biscuit tin filled with moss” as similar to “Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden” (16).  That does seem to be what Lewis was attempted to capture in both his poem and his book.  Without more specific context, we’ll probably never know for sure.

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Arthur Rackham Dwarfs

Arthur Rackham's "subliming" of dwarfs.

As I mentioned before, as I passed through Spirits in Bondage, I came across a number of very interesting parallels to points from Lewis’s biography–most of which I’ll share here as we move along.  I thought I might start with a poem that seems to be one of the better ones from the book:  “XXI. The Autumn Morning.”  There, Lewis is describing the magic of a stroll through the countryside in the late fall and the magical creatures one can encounter.  Interestingly, in Surprised by Joy, he references a very personal “encounter” with something similar.

First, the poem.  Pay particular attention to the last three stanzas:

See! the pale autumn dawn
Is faint, upon the lawn
That lies in powdered white
Of hoar-frost dight

And now from tree to tree
The ghostly mist we see
Hung like a silver pall
To hallow all.

It wreathes the burdened air
So strangely everywhere
That I could almost fear
This silence drear

Where no one song-bird sings
And dream that wizard things
Mighty for hate or love
Were close above.

White as the fog and fair
Drifting through the middle air
In magic dances dread
Over my head.

Yet these should know me too
Lover and bondman true,
One that has honoured well
The mystic spell

Of earth’s most solemn hours
Wherein the ancient powers
Of dryad, elf, or faun
Or leprechaun

Oft have their faces shown
To me that walked alone
Seashore or haunted fen
Or mountain glen

Wherefore I will not fear
To walk the woodlands sere
Into this autumn day
Far, far away.

There are two themes worthy of note for our current purposes:  First, the there is the idea of encountering some of the “ancient powers.”  The second is the fact that one need not be afraid of them. In Surprised by Joy, Lewis has the following to say:

Curiously enough it is at this time [while living at Campbell College], not earlier in my childhood, that I chiefly remember delighting in fairy tales.  I fell deeply under the spell of Dwarfs–the old bright-hooded, snowy-bearded dwarfs we had in those days before Arthur Rackham sublimed, or Walt Disney vulgarized, the earthmen.  I visualized them so intensely that I came to the very frontiers of hallucination; once, walking in the garden, I was for a second not quite sure that a little man had not run past me into the shrubbery.  I was faintly alarmed, but not like my night fears.  A fear that guarded the road to Faerie was one I could face.  No one is a coward on all points. (54-55)

It may well be that this chance “meeting” in the garden helped inspire his depiction of the sidhe in “The Autumn Morning.”  Both ideas are there–the basic encounter and the fact that, whatever the creature was, Lewis need not fear it.  I do wish that Jack had given us just a bit more detail in the Surprised by Joy account, though.  For instance, if we had know what time of year he saw the dwarf, we could perhaps make a stronger case. Too bad the dwarf didn’t sit down for a chat–I for one should like to know exactly how representative Trumpkin and Nikabrik were of the real thing!  🙂

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Just finished up Spirits in Bondage. In all fairness to Lewis I wanted to jump on-line and say that it was much improved as it progressed–though it may just be that my ability to appreciate it has improved instead. His “God and Satan” poems, which are the weakest, fade out and are replaced by much more engaging ones on faerie and the otherwold. These latter he seems to do more naturally and he succeeds in drawing you in more effectively.

I saw some definite parallels to some points in Lewis’s life and several of his later works. The strongest seem to be references to his friendship with Arthur Greaves and some relatively clear foreshadowing of Narnia. I’ll. Be posting on those over the next few weeks.

Ah! Post fodder! 🙂

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The original cover of Spirits in Bondage.

Perhaps, when you are unsure of where to start, the best answer is “somewhere” over “nowhere.”  I hope to pick back up with my previous post stream when I can, but I would rather work on something Lewis related than let the blog languish again.

To that end, I picked up a copy of Spirits in Bondage, which is Lewis’s first attempt at fame.  It is, rather obviously, a book of poetry and Lewis hoped that it would be the vehicle that launched him to lyrical glory and fame.  He had written most of the  poems in his spare time while working with William Kirkpatrick (the “Great Knock”, on whom he later based the character of Professor Kirke) and in the army during World War I.  It was initially published under the pseudonym “Clive Hamilton” by William Heinemann in 1919.   This book differs greatly in tone and style from the later works that we know better.

It is important to remember that it was composed while Lewis was an atheist, and it doesn’t take much to figure out Lewis’s views.  In fact, he doesn’t so much as wear his atheism on his sleeve as pick it up and slaps you in the face with it.  He is fascinated with Milton and the characterization of Satan held therein.  Consider the following verses directed at God from “XII De Profundis”:

Yet I will not bow down to thee not love thee,
For looking in my own heart I can prove thee,
And know this frail, bruised being is above thee.

Our love, our hope, our thirsting for the right,
Our mercy and long seeking of the light,
Shall we change these for they relentless might?

Laugh then and slay.  Shatter all things of worth,
Heap torment still on torment for thy mirth-
Thou art not Lord while there are Men on earth.

I’ll have more to say on these later, but I want to finish the book first.  (So far, I’m about halfway through.)  In general, I am very underwhelmed, which is a strange thing to hear me say about Lewis.  My disinterest isn’t due to his atheism at all as it is his tone and composure.  Frankly, his flailing against God seems hollow–very like the petty tantrum of a spoiled child.  Perhaps others will find him more profound and I am simply a barbarian who cannot appreciate good poetry, but to me he has the same tone as any insecure religious believer who thinks that he or she can me more sure of his or her own faith by shouting at others over theirs.

Historically, the book was not a success and it did not secure Lewis a place as one of England or Ireland’s foremost poets.  I begin to see why….

P.S. Spirits in Bondage is the first of Lewis’s works to enter the public domain.  You can pick it up for free in various places, including the Kindle store.  Here is the link to the book from Project Gutenberg.

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