Sunday, November 27, 2016

C. S. Lewis, ambition, and joining the great poets

In the preface to Selected Literary Essays, Walter Hooper explains how C. S. Lewis eventually joined the great poets in one way, although he never could in another way.

Hooper writes, "From his schooldays Lewis's major ambition was to be a great poet" (vii). But Lewis was not optimistic about it (vii), and he constantly tried and failed "to join the ranks of his favourite poets" (Hooper viii). Lewis once wrote that "it is impossible [for me] to be a poet" (ix), and Hooper writes that Lewis was "certain that he would never be a great poet" (xvi).

However, Lewis converted to theism and eventually to Christianity, and this religious shift allowed Lewis to join the great poets in another way. According to Hooper (xvi–xvii),
Lewis's conversion in 1931 and the publication of his theological and semi-autobiographical Pilgrim's Regress in 1933 [was a great milestone]. Lewis had long shared much in common with his favourite poets: he now shared with them that most binding of all beliefs. With his conversion, that little hard core of worldly ambition, evident on almost every page of his diary, seems to have dropped into oblivion. And with the dying of his old ambition he became more interested in what he wrote about than what he might become by writing. He continued to write short poems for the rest of his life but, beginning with "What Chaucer really did to Il Filostrato" (1932), and later in his imaginative works, his poetic insight and his critical reason seem to have flowed together and expressed themselves in one activity. Despite his disagreements [with T. S. Eliot] about some things, Lewis could at long last say, as he does in [his essay "Shelley, Dryden, and Mr Eliot"], "as Mr Eliot and I believe."

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