Who: C. S. Lewis, British scholar and lay theologian.
Overview: This little volume of poems was arranged posthumously from sundry sources, including many plucked from The Pilgrim’s Regress. There is in general a strong overlap in subject matter with both Lewis’ fiction (“Narnian Suite,” “Wormwood,” “The Dragon Speaks”) and his nonfiction (“Love’s As Warm As Tears,” “Divine Justice”). Walter Hooper has arranged the poems along the lines of their themes, beginning with the most ambitious.
Though enjoyable, it will never enjoy as wide an appeal as Lewis’ fiction or Christian living titles, since much of the material is written for a literary audience. If you enjoyed his excursions and ramblings in God in the Dock, or The Pilgrim’s Regress, or George MacDonald’s poetic works, you would probably enjoy this book.
In terms of form, all of the poems are very short except for two or three, and almost all of them rhyme, sometimes incorporating sonnets, other times incorporating classical metrical schemes.
Meat: There are several hidden gems in here whose original sources are no longer available. “The Turn of the Tide” is a favorite, which conceptualizes Bethlehem in terms of spiritual combat. The poems from The Pilgrim’s Regress—which, like The Lord of the Rings or Phantastes, mixes poetry with its prose—stand alone quite well.
Not surprisingly, Eden is a major theme: see “The Future of Forestry,” “Adam Unparadised,” and “Eden’s Courtesy,” for a few. Other Old Testament characters are dealt with (“Solomon,” “The Late Passenger”), though none so seriously or so often as Eden, which is seen as a hint of the new creation that will be:
This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
We shall escape the circle and undo the spell. (“What the Bird Said Early in the Year”)
Lewis’ intellectual independence is also seen in some of the more sarcastic works, like “An Exposulation: Against Too Many Writers of Science Fiction” and “Evolutionary Hymn.” His odes to Andrew Marvell and John Milton are also notable in the context of his academic position.
Bones: Christian readers expecting didactic theological insights would feel for the most part short-changed by Lewis’ poetry. The book is, for the most part, a literary effort, and therefore has little in the way of moral imperative. Part I especially—pages 1-49, more than a third of the book—is replete with classical references (“And Peleus took the Nereid Theris …”) which are lost on almost all modern readers.
Overall, this collection is well worth having, but most people will prefer to cherry-pick poems with intriguing titles rather than read the whole book.