The Chronicles of Narnia. The Screwtape Letters. Mere Christianity. The Problem of Pain, Surprised by Joy. A Grief Observed. The science fiction trilogy.
We associate C.S. Lewis with fiction, children’s stories, works on Christina living and life, and apologetics. But before he was any of things, and while he was all of these things, he was a port.
In fact, poetry was his first love. It was his ambition to become a poet, a great poet.
In 1964, the year after Lewis died, many his poems were assembled by Walter Hooper, his literary executor. Into a volume entitled, appropriately enough, Poems. It was reprinted in 1992 and again in 2002, and is still available in paperback (and ebook).
What Poems includes is largely formal poetry, with rhyme and meter and formal structure. It is poetry that includes both human and divine themes, pagan and Christian stories, natural and created imagery. It is what we know as traditional poetry, and it is good traditional poetry.
Old Poets Remembered
One happier look on your kind, suffering face,
And all my sky is domed with cloudless blue;
Eternal summer in a moment’s space
Breathes with sweet air and glows and warms me through.
One droop of your dear mouth, one tear of yours,
One gasp of Faith half-strangled by its foe,
And down through a waste world of slag and sewers
And hammering and louds wheels once more I go.
This, whty old poets told me about love
(Tristam’s obedience, Isoud’s sovereignty…)
Turns true in a dreamed mode I dreamed not of,
--What once I studied, now I learn to be;
Taught, oh how late! in anguish, the response
I might have made with exultation once.
Lewis writes of a wide range of topics and themes: gnomes, planets, aging, a wedding, biblical characters like Adam and Solomon, evolution, Aristotle, the atomic bomb, mythical creatures like dragons, the nativity, prayer, love, desire, and more. He even has a poem on Narnia and science fiction. One of the most poignant poems in the collection is “To Charles Williams,” written shortly after the fellow Inkling’s death in 1945,
The poems were also not something hidden or unpublished during Lewis’s lifetime. In an appendix, Hooper lists the various places where the poems were first published, including the Cambridge Review, Oxford Magazine, the Times Literary Supplement, the Spectator, Punch, and others.
Poems will likely be never as popular as his other writings, but they do add a dimension to understanding the man, his thought, and his work.