C.S. Lewis’ prose is far more acclaimed than his poetry. But poetry was always important to him. He wrote poems continuously from age 14 until his death; his first publications were poetry (Spirits in Bondage, Dymer); his first prose publication was also filled with lyrics (The Pilgrim’s Regress); and arguably his greatest work (Till We Have Faces) began as a poem before it morphed into a novel.
I love his poems. They demonstrate the same spiritual insight and facility with words that characterize his prose and make him my favorite writer. In the spirit of sharing them for a wider audience, here are three favorites, from the 1964 Harvest edition compiled and edited by Walter Hooper.
Lord, hear my voice, my present voice I mean,
Not that which may be speaking an hour hence
(For I am Legion) in an opposite sense
And not by show of hands decide between
The multiple factions which my state has seen
Or will see. Condescend to the pretense
That what speaks now is I; in its defense,
Dissolve my parliament and intervene.
Thou wilt not, though we asked it, quite recall
Free will once given. Yet to this moment’s choice
Give unfair weight. Hold me to this. Oh strain
A point—use legal fictions; for if all
My quarreling selves must bear an equal voice
Farewell, thou hast created me in vain.
As The Ruin Falls
All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love—a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek—
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.
Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.
For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.
The Apologist’s Evening Prayer
From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.
Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.