The Four Loves Read-Along Week 4, Part 2, Charity

The Four Loves

 

As we reach the end of our The Four Loves Read-along, we have so far investigated Affection, Friendship and Romantic Love (the natural loves) but none of these loves are sufficient in and of themselves without another Love to support the feelings and keep them sweet.  Lewis now investigates Charity, or Agape (ἀγάπη).

Continue reading

The Four Loves Read-Along ~ Week 4 Part 1, Eros

The Four Loves

Yes, it’s finally my belated post for Week 4 of The Four Loves Read-along, focussing on Eros!  Please read on ….!

Eros

Huh? …..

Lewis seems to be saying that we are between angels and animals, Venus is the carnal within Eros but she’s kinda funny so laugh at her or she will extract revenge, Eros is Eros but he cannot be Eros by himself, the husband is the head only if he gives most, rough play in sex can be harmless and wholesome (did I read this correctly … however notice the “can be“), while a person is not usually worshiped, Love is and then the expectations are God-like which cannot be fulfilled and then everyone is resentful and implacable and it all falls apart ….  LOL!

And the above summary contain the conclusions come to after a very superficial read of a difficult chapter where, in fact, we have to do WORK to follow Lewis.  So here goes …

Let’s begin afresh (please!) with Eros or Romantic L❤️ve …

Continue reading

The Four Loves Read-Along ~ Week 3 ~ Friendship

The Four Loves

Again from my The Four Loves Read-along week 2 post I’ve had thoughts brewing. On Marian’s blog, I posted a question that I’ve been musing about and I thought I’d re-post here in case anyone has any enlightening comments on it:

“Were you surprised when Lewis spoke about developing Affection for people one normally would have nothing to do with but circumstances brought them together? I find that nowadays most people choose only people they would want to hang out with. Where have the relationships gone which form in spite of themselves? Has our world changed drastically from Lewis’ world?”

I do think generally that in spite of our outward modern multi-cultural tolerances, that people actually have practically less tolerance towards the differences of people.  What do you think?

Continue reading

The Four Loves Read-Along ~ Week 1

The Four Loves

And here we go with our The Four Loves read-along!  Here is the first post.  I hope my notes help clarify the start of the book and please feel free to add any comments below.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I found the beginning quite dense and Lewis sometimes a wee bit difficult to follow.  I think it will get easier, however, as he begins to examine each type of love.

I’m going to attach some questions to each chapter.  You can use these to answer them as a post on your blog, or simply mull them over to understand the reading better.  I do hope they help!

Continue reading

The Four Loves Read-Along ~ What is Love?

What are your ideas about love?  Is love an overwhelming romantic feeling?  Can it be a decision or a duty?  Can you fall out of love?  Have you wished for a better understanding of the love of God?  Can friends love each other?  What about families and our love for them?  In English, we use the same word for all these feelings … love …. but the Greeks have different words for these feelings of love and each has its different distinctions.  Do you want to learn more?  Then please join me in my read-along of C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves for the month of June!

The Four Loves

Continue reading

Different Tastes in Literature by C.S. Lewis

Art and Literature (1867)
William-Adolphe Bouguereau
source Wikiart

Is there good literature?  Is there bad literature?  How do we make the determination, and do we even have the criteria to judge?  In his essay, Different Tastes in Literature, if Lewis does not directly answer these questions, he at least gives the reader criteria that makes it easier to judge, and challenges us to examine our reading experiences.

First, Lewis investigates the notion of “tastes” and indicates a determination between good and bad literature is complicated by the fact that there are no objective tests.  But the error people make is in assuming that people like bad art in the same way that they like good art.  Instead, Lewis proposes, bad art does not succeed with anyone.

Lewis defines bad art as very low art, such as novels, and popular music that are read or sung and then forgotten soon after.  When it goes out of fashion, it is never thought of afterward.

Geniuses of Art (1761)
Francois Boucher
source Wikiart

Yet while bad art itself is not so easy to describe, the consumer of bad art is more easily targeted:

“He (or she) may want her weekly ration of fiction very badly indeed, may be miserable if denied it.  But he never re-reads.  There is no clearer distinction between the literary and the unliterary.  It is infallible.  The literary man re-reads, other men simply read.  A novel once read is to them like yesterday’s newspaper …… It is as if a man said he had once washed, or once slept, or once kissed his wife, or once gone for a walk.  Whether the bad poetry is re-read or not …. I do not know.  But the very fact that we do not know is significant.  It does not creep into the conversation of those who buy it.  One never finds two of its lovers capping quotations and settling down to a good evening’s talk about their favourite.  So with the bad picture.  The purchaser says, no doubt sincerely, that he finds it lovely, sweet, beautiful, charming or (more probably) ‘nice’.  But he hangs it where it cannot be seen and never looks at it again.”

With bad art, there is no question of the ‘joy’ that good art brings. “The desire for bad art is the desire bred of habit: like the smoker’s desire for tobacco, more marked by the extreme malaise of denial than by any very strong delight in fruition.”

Art Critic
Norman Rockwell
source Wikiart

On experiencing good art, it is not like moving from one type to the next, but more like “when you opened the door, to lead to the garden of the Hesperides ….”  However, we must not say that some men like good art and some bad, rather that the term “like” is not the proper word for good art, and the response towards good art, has never been produced in bad.

Is it too simple to say that bad art does not ever have the same effect on a person as good art?  What about those books that captured our imagination in youth but that we now consider bad?  Might this simply mean that the reader’s imagination was superior to the author’s, but lacking both maturity and discernment?  In effect, we would not have been enjoying the book for what it was, but for what it was not.  But this “mirage” is quite different from the actual liking of bad art.  Bad art is “tepid, trivial, marginal, habitual.  It does not trouble them, nor haunt them ….. No one cares about bad art in the same way as some care about good.”  It is only when we eliminate the bad art that the discussions about the superiority of one work of art to another can have some value.

The Disquieting Muses (1916-18)
Giorgio di Chirico
source Wikiart

In this essay, Lewis more distinguishes what is not good art than what is, however his insights, as always, are invaluable.  We have so little time on this earth.  Life comes and goes in the blink of an eye.  Don’t we want to be discerning about our literary choices and choose to read works that add perspective, wisdom and purpose to our lives, instead of reading words that pass through us in the blink of an eye?  I do.

Deal Me In Challenge #10 

Narnian Suite by C.S. Lewis

For my second poem during National Poetry Month, I read C.S. Lewis’ Narnian Suite.

Narnian Suite
1
March for Strings, Kettledrums, and Sixty-three Dwarfs
With plucking pizzicato and the prattle of the kettledrum
We’re trotting into battle mid a clatter of accoutrement;
Our beards are big as periwigs and trickle with opopanax,
And trinketry and treasure twinkle out on every part of us –
          (Scrape! Tap! The fiddle and the kettledrum).
The chuckle-headed humans think we’re only petty puppetry
And all our battle-tackle nothing more than pretty bric-a–brac;
But a little shrub has prickles, and they’ll soon be in a pickle if
A scud of dwarfish archery has crippled all their cavalry –
          (Whizz! Twang! The quarrel and the javelin).
And when the tussle thickens we can writhe and wriggle under it;
Then dagger-point’ll tickle ‘em, and grab and grip’ll grapple ‘em,
And trap and trick’ll trouble ‘em and tackle ‘em and topple ‘em
Till they’re huddled, all be-diddled, in the middle of our caperings –
          (Dodge! Jump! The wriggle and the summersault).
When we’ve scattered ‘em and peppered ‘em with pebbles from our catapults
We’ll turn again in triumph and by crannies and by crevices
Go back to where the capitol and cradle of our people is,
Our forges and our furnaces, the caverns of the earth –
          (Gold! Fire! The anvil and the smithying).
2
March for Drum, Trumpet, and Twenty-one Giants
                  With strumping stride in pomp and pride
                  We come to thump and floor ye;
                  We’ll bump your lumpish heads to-day
                  And tramp your ramparts into clay,
                  And as we stamp and romp and play
                  Our trump’ll blow before us –
(crescendo)     Oh tramp it, tramp it, tramp it, trumpet, trumpet blow before us!
                  We’ll grind and break and bind and take
                  And plunder ye and pound ye!
                  With trundled rocks and bludgeon blow,
                  You dunderheads, we’ll dint ye so
                  You’ll blunder and run blind, as though
                  By thunder stunned, around us –
By thunder, thunder, thunder stunned around us!
                  Ho! Tremble town and tumble down
                  And crumble shield and sabre!
                  Your kings will mumble and look pale,
                  Your horses stumble or turn tail,
                  Your skimble-scamble counsels fail,
                  So rumble drum belaboured —
(Diminuendo)     Oh rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble drum belaboured!
C.S. Lewis 
Poems (1964)
The Giant Antaeus (1868)
Gustave Doré
source Wikiart

There is not much information on this poem to quench our curiosity as to how it ties to Narnia.  Tirian in The Last Battle sings a short “Narnian marching song”, very much like it:

“Ho, rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble
Rumble drum belaboured.”

The Last Battle was finished in the spring of 1953 but not published until 1956 and Narnian Suite was written in 1953.  Perhaps Lewis simply attempted to take the original marching song and expand it.  In any case, it’s all speculation at this point; I may come up with some reference to it as I read through Lewis’ letters (yes, three huge volumes with a fourth soon to be published).

Does anyone think that this poem sounds very much like Tolkien’s poems in The Lord of the Rings?  I do, but I am reading The Lord of the Rings presently, so perhaps I have that tone lingering in my head.

Spenser’s Images of Life by C.S. Lewis

Normally, I don’t read introductions or commentaries on books or poetry that I plan to read, until after I’ve finished the work.  I prefer to experience the art from a point of innocence (or perhaps, ignorance is a better word!), forming my own opinions without influence, even if I struggle with my first read through. However, this time I threw all my ideals to the winds and called for help.

In April I’m reading The Faerie Queene with OCirtnecce, JeanRuth, and Consoled Reader, and considering the length and complexity of this poem, I confess that it was wiser to admit my complete ineptitude and look for someone who was very familiar with this type of poem and era to give me a little boost.  Since C.S. Lewis’ expertise was in Medieval and Renaissance literature, I suspected that he would be a good place to start.  His book, Spenser’s Images of Life is a compilation of lectures notes, put together by Alastair Fowler, to give students a deeper insight into The Faerie Queene.

I’m not going to even pretend that I understood half of what Lewis was saying in these lectures/notes, but my lack of understanding emphasizes one of the many things that I respect about the man.  He is able to turn on his intellect and produce a brilliantly insightful and stimulating analysis of perhaps the most complex poem in the English language, yet he is also able to let his intellect “idle” and write children’s stories, sci-fi fiction or even a layman-type book such as Mere Christianity.  With Spenser’s Images of Life, I had to read it slowly and let it percolate.

A Beast (1456)
Paolo Uccello
source Wikimedia Commons

Lewis begins by stating that The Faerie Queene is the most difficult poem in the English language, a rather daunting claim for me, as I’m going to be reading it in just over a month.  He claims that the poem works on a number of levels and the mistake readers can make is reading it from only one perspective and thinking that is all it has to offer.  The simple aspect of the poem is that it’s a moral allegory, in that the story contains a moral, but the poem is more than a narrative, containing images that work on the mind.  We must not only read, but see the work.

Lewis believes that Spenser, like Botticelli, accepts “traditional images, he loads them with wisdom from the philosophers and disposes them in divine compositions ……… with a propensity of mingling the Christian and the pagan.”  Those of Spenser’s tradition would have regarded ancient poetry as a type of veiled theology, and the mixing of the worlds would not have seemed strange to them.  In fact, Lewis believes that “Spenser’s Nature is really an image of God himself.”

Lewis goes into detail about certain aspects of the poem, covering the following topics:

  1. The False Cupid
  2. Antitypes to the False Cupid
  3. Belphoebe, Amoret, and the Garden of Adonis
  4. The Image of Evil
  5. Mutability
  6. The Image of Good
  7. Britomart’s Dream
  8. Faceless Knights
  9. The Misery of Florimell
  10. The Story of Arthur

Heraldic Chivalry
Alphonse Mucha
source Wikiart

The last chapter is particularly interesting as Lewis examines Spenser’s letter to Raleigh about The Faerie Queene and, quite expertly, “prosecutes” his meaning, declaring that most of what he wrote is not supported by the poem itself.  Many of Lewis’ arguments make good sense.  He proposes that Spenser was not entirely aware of the depths of his own brooding and birth of the poem, that came from his experience with philosophers, poets and iconographers.  He also suspects that Spenser might have written the letter with someone at his elbow, massaging his words to make the poem fit classical (and possibly political) expectation.

In any case, this book was helpful as an introduction to the poem, but it will also be handy to read The Faerie Queene with it in hand.  Lewis’ points must be better understood in the context and framework of an already developing story, allegory or image.  As to what our expectations with regard to the poem should be, Lewis has a very straightforward answer:

“We should expect, then, from Spenser’s poem, a simply fairy-tale pleasure sophisticated by polyphonic technique, a simple ‘moral’ sophisticated by a learned iconography.  Moreover, we should expect to find all of these reacting on one another, to produce a work very different from what we are used to.  And now it is time to catch hold of one thread of the fabric, and pull…….”



On Reading ‘The Faerie Queene’ by C.S. Lewis


“Beyond all doubt it is best to have made one’s first acquaintance with Spenser in a very large — and, preferably, illustrated — edition of The Faerie Queene, on a wet day, between the ages of twelve and sixteen; and if, even at that age, certain of the names aroused unidentified memories of some still earlier, some almost prehistoric, commerce with a selection of ‘Stories from Spenser’, heard before we could read, so much the better.”

A number of us are going to be reading The Fairie Queene beginning sometime in April and, considering the difficulty of the poem, I decided to do some pre-reading investigation.

Although C.S. Lewis is known for his books on theology, his actual expertise was in Medieval and Renaissance literature.  He has a number of essays relating to The Fairie Queene, and when I stumbled on this one, I thought it a perfect beginning.

Lewis writes that the optimal experience with The Faire Queene is created if one reads it between the ages of 10 and 16, with a large illustrated edition and then grow with the work, starting with mere wonder at the story and advancing to a critical appreciation of it, cultivating a relationship with the work that will remain and flourish throughout life.  But while advocating this process, Lewis realizes many may come to The Faerie Queene later in life, and he is writing to give guidance to the mature reader with his first experience of this great work.

Una and the Lion (c. 1860)
William Bell Scott
source Wikimedia Commons

Lewis instructions begin very simply; as the child does, one must begin with The Faerie Queene.  Next, even if one does not have a large illustrated edition, one should imagine the book they do have to be a heavy volume that should be read at a table, “a massy, antique story with a blackletter flavour about it — a book for devout, prolonged, and leisurely perusal.”  The illustrations would be not only fantastic and beautiful, but also wicked and ugly.  While the book is new, it is also old, ancient yet original.

“All this new growth sprouts out of an old, gnarled wood, and, as in very early spring, mists it over in places without concealing it ………….  And it is best to begin with a taste for homespun, accepting the cloth of gold when it comes, but by no means depending on it for your pleasure, or you will be disappointed ….”

Lewis reveals that Spenser’s friends wanted him to conform to the Puritan perspective of the time, being only a “servile classicist”, yet his poetry appeared to naturally break out of this mould.  After being cautioned by a his friend on touching too closely on papist and medieval themes by his references to “Ladies of the Lake” and “friendly fairies” in his poetry, Spenser remained true to the natural appreciation he harboured for the Middle Ages, and taking “all his renaissance accomplishments with him”, produced The Faerie Queene.  In blending the two ages, Spenser in effect “became something between the last of the medieval poets and the first of the romantic medievalists.”

As a child one may have a uncomfortable feeling that one has met many of The Faerie Queene’s characters before, but as a mature reader one has the apprehension to discover the moral allegory within the work.  While critics aren’t in agreement as to how much emphasis should be placed on it, it is not necessary to analyze the poet’s exact meaning.  Instead we should simply have an impression of regions within the poem that are not always what they seem.

Lewis ends with William Butler Yeat’s quote on Spenser’s House of Busirane, saying that Spenser’s characters are “so visionary, so full of ghostly midnight animation, that one is persuaded tht they had some strange purpose and did truly appear in just that way.”

And so I can now step into Spenser’s world with a little more imagination and expectation.  I’ve already been exposed to the world of King Arthur and so I’m looking forward to some more fantastical adventures.  And honestly, a few fairies would be very welcome.

Hamlet: The Prince or The Poem? by C.S. Lewis

Hamlet the prince or the poem

“A critic who makes no claim to be a true Shakespearian scholar and who had been honoured by an invitiation to speak about Shakespeare to such an audience as this, feels rather like a child brought in at dessert to recite his piece before the grown-ups.”

In Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem, Lewis begins his lecture by claiming that his aim is not to examine what other critics have before him, but to consider why the critics have failed to agree about the procrastination exhibited by the character of Hamlet.  He first outlines the three different camps:

  1. Those who think the play “bad” and that there are no motivations to explain Hamlet’s actions
  2. Those who believe he did not delay and acted with as much alacrity as was possible.
  3. Those who believe he did procrastinate and explain his paralysis through his psychology.

 

Next, he asks you to suspend all knowledge of the play, as if “you had no independent knowledge of the thing being criticized,” and proceeds to examine each view.

In the first case, if Hamlet is indeed a failure, we waste our time investigating why his actions were delayed.  Yet, if this failure were indeed a reality, why does Hamlet touch us so?  Why does it echo with “the sense of vast dignities and strange sorrows and teased ‘with thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls'”?  If Hamlet is failure, then perhaps failure is better than success, and such a verdict could never be rendered with less certainty.

With regard to point two, the opponent to this view is Hamlet himself.  He declares that he is a procrastinator, a cowardly soul who wavers with indecision.  The ghost, for the most part, is in agreement.

The last point seems to be the most logical, yet why then, in all three camps, does the play appear to hold each in thrall, enchanting the very critics who criticize it?  Does the mystery and magical appeal of the play have little to do with Hamlet’s actual character, but instead is due to something entirely different?

 

Czachórski Actors Before Hamlet
Czachórski Actors Before Hamlet
Wladyslaw Czachórski
source Wikimedia Commons

 

Lewis brings to light Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, which is an imitation not of men, but of action and life and happiness and misery, yet “action” by ancient standards means “situation.”  Instead of always attempting to delineate a character, one should first “surrender oneself to the poetry and the situation.” It is through poetry and situation, and for their sake, that the characters exist.

Hamlet's Vision
Hamlet’s Vision (1893)
Pedro Américo
source Wikimedia Commons

For Lewis, the ghost does not merely tell of the murder of Hamlet’s father.  Instead, the ghost and Hamlet are inseparable, and indeed the spectre is different from most vile ghosts in Elizabethan drama; this ghost is willfully ambiguous.  Its presence lends an enigmatic uneasiness to the play, filling Hamlet’s, and even other character’s, minds with doubt and uncertainty.  ” ….. the appearance of the spectre means a breaking down of the walls of the world and the germination of thoughts that cannot be thought; chaos is come again.”

The subject of Hamlet is death.  Lewis does not base the theme on the numerous deaths of the characters, rather the situations they find themselves contemplating.  We read it in the ghost, in the line of “melting flesh”, in the rejection of suicide, in the graveyard, the skull ……..  As we read Hamlet, we cannot escape it, which gives the play its quality of obscurity and apprehension.  There are other elements to the play, but there is always this groping toward the final end and questions about the destiny of the soul or body.

Hamlet’s vacillations do not balance on his fear of dying, but instead a fear of being dead.

“Any serious attention to the state of being dead, unless it is limited by some definite religious or anti-religious doctrine, must, I suppose, paralyse the will by introducing infinite uncertainties and rendering all motives inadequate.  Being dead is the unknown x in our sum.  Unless you ignore it or else give it a value, you can get no answer.”

 

Hamlet and Ophelia
Hamlet and Ophelia (1858)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
source Wikimedia Commons

Yet Lewis says that Shakespeare’s own text does not confirm his theory, nor has Shakespeare given “us data for any for any portrait of the kind critics have tried to draw.”   We enjoy Hamlet’s speeches “because they describe so well a certain spiritual region through which most of us have passed and anyone in his circumstances might be expected to pass, rather than because of our concern to understand how and why this particular man entered it”.  And, in fact, Hamlet is an Everyman.  He is a hero yet also a “haunted man — man with his mind on the frontier of two worlds, man unable either quite to reject or quite to admit the supernatural, man struggling to get something done as man has struggled from the beginning, yet incapable of achievement because of his inability to understand either himself or his fellows or the real quality of the universe which has produced him.”

The critics have never doubted the greatness or mystery of the play, but they simply put it in the wrong place, “in Hamlet’s motives rather than in that darkness which enwraps Hamlet and the whole tragedy and all who read and watch it.”  It is the mystery of the human condition.

Lewis ends by acknowledging the weakness of his theory, only because his type of criticism does not have centuries of vocabulary to support it, as does the other type of criticisms.  Yet he wishes that Hamlet could be played as “a dishevelled man whose words make us at once think of loneliness and doubt and dread, of waste and dust and emptiness, and from whose hands, or from our own, we feel the richness of heaven and earth and the comfort of human affection slipping away.”  Perhaps his views are childish, yet children remember the details of stories.  So, is Lewis a literary child?

“On the contrary, I claim that only those adults who have retained, with whatever additions and enrichments, their first childish response to poetry unimpaired, can be said to have grown up.”

 

 


Deal Me In Challenge #1 

 

deal me in challenge
deal me in challenge