C.S. Lewis: eloquence and clarity

Many have noted that 22 November 2013 was the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. (Clive Staples) Lewis (1898-1963). This prayer is from James Kiefer’s hagiography.

Almighty God, whose servant Clive Staples Lewis received of your grace singular gifts of insight in understanding the truth in Christ Jesus, and of eloquence and clarity in presenting that truth to his reader Raise up in our day faithful interpreters of your Word, that we, being set free from all error and unbelief, may come to the knowledge that makes us wise unto salvation: through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

The prayer brings out so clearly the two aspects of Lewis’s gifts and ministry—an understanding of and love for the truth and eloquence and clarity in its presentation. How we need both! I have especially appreciated his Letters to Malcolm, chiefly on prayer, Miracles: a preliminary study, Reflections on the Psalms, The problem of pain and A grief observed. Also interesting and enjoyable is Roger L. Green and Walter Hooper’s C.S. Lewis: a biography (1974). Would that Lewis had lived longer.

Cocooned in time

betjemanHe wrote forty year ago, but Betjeman’s impression of intercontinental air travel remains contemporary.

Cocooned in time, at this inhuman height,
The packaged food tastes neutrally of clay,
We never seem to catch the running day
But travel on in everlasting night
With all the chic accoutrements of flight:
Lotions and essences in neat array
And yet another plastic cup and tray.
“Thank you so much. Oh no, I’m quite all right”.

At home in Cornwall hurrying autumn skies
Leave Bray Hill barren, Stepper jutting bare,
And hold the moon above the sea-wet sand.
The very last of late September dies
In frosty silence and the hills declare
How vast the sky is, looked at from the land.
— “Back from Australia” from A nip in the air (1974) by John Betjeman

Delight (Priestly)

delightOne of my great delights is good writing-essays especially. I aspire to be a clear and succinct writer myself. A fine example is Delight as small collection of by pieces J.B. Priestly, in which he tells of things that delight him, as if to contradict what he supposes to be his reputation for grumpiness. One of his delights is clear well crafted writing, of which he writes in chapter Twenty Six of the book. I also like the presentation and typography of British books from the 40s and 50s. They’re more compact and economical that what we often have today, with interesting fonts.

At the end of a long talk with a youngish critic, a sincere fellow whose personality (though not his values) I respect, he stared at me and then said slowly: ‘I don’t understand you. Your talk is so much more complicated-subtle-than your writing. Your writing always seems to me too simple.’ And I replied: ‘But I’ve spent years and years trying to make my writing simple. What you see as a fault, I regard as a virtue.’

There was now revealed to us the gulf between his generation and mine. He and his lot, who matured in the early ‘thirties, wanted literature to be difficult.

Read the whole chapter …

Quiet or …

It is a small relief to discover that “A Charm”, no. 4 from A Charm of Lullabies Op. 41, by Benjamin Britten, was indeed intended as comical by the poet Thomas Randolph (1605-1635).

cerberusPicture: William Blake. Cerberus. National Gallery of Victoria.

Quiet!
Sleep! or I will make
Erinnys whip thee with a snake,
And cruel Rhadamanthus take
Thy body to the boiling lake,
Where fire and brimstones never slake;
Thy heart shall burn, thy head shall ache,
And ev’ry joint about thee quake;
And therefor dare not yet to wake!
Quiet, sleep!
Quiet, sleep!
Quiet!

Quiet!
Sleep! or thou shalt see
The horrid hags of Tartary,
Whose tresses ugly serpants be,
And Cerberus shall bark at thee,
And all the Furies that are three
The worst is called Tisiphone,
Shall lash thee to eternity;
And therefor sleep thou peacefully
Quiet, sleep!
Quiet, sleep!
Quiet!

Then there’s always this:

go_the_fuck_to_sleep

The cats nestle close to their kittens now.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear
Please go the fuck to sleep.

Read Macy Halford’s comments in New Yorker 2011.

Best of any song

birdsongBird song is our loud alarm clock these spring days.

Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.

— Wendell Berry. “1997.I” in A timbered choir: the Sabbath poems 1979-1997. New York, Counterpoint, 1992, p. 207. Picture from from cover of Birdsong: a natural history, by Don Stap. Oxford, 2006

“For, lo, the winter is past … The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come … ” Song of Solomon 3.11-12.