A Springtime Poetry Break

Image: Birds of Many Climes, by C.F.A. Voysey

If the Institute of the Present were to have an official poem this might be it. With the ever increasing distraction and abstraction of our over-screenified lives we might need to remind ourselves of what it means to be human: the joys, the pain, the fading of winter and the arrival of spring.

On Being Human by C. S. Lewis

Angelic minds, they say, by simple intelligence
Behold the Forms of nature. They discern
Unerringly the Archtypes, all the verities
Which mortals lack or indirectly learn.
Transparent in primordial truth, unvarying,
Pure Earthness and right Stonehood from their clear,
High eminence are seen; unveiled, the seminal
Huge Principles appear.

The Tree-ness of the tree they know-the meaning of
Arboreal life, how from earth’s salty lap
The solar beam uplifts it; all the holiness
Enacted by leaves’ fall and rising sap;

But never an angel knows the knife-edged severance
Of sun from shadow where the trees begin,
The blessed cool at every pore caressing us
-An angel has no skin.

They see the Form of Air; but mortals breathing it
Drink the whole summer down into the breast.
The lavish pinks, the field new-mown, the ravishing
Sea-smells, the wood-fire smoke that whispers Rest.
The tremor on the rippled pool of memory
That from each smell in widening circles goes,
The pleasure and the pang –can angels measure it?
An angel has no nose.

The nourishing of life, and how it flourishes
On death, and why, they utterly know; but not
The hill-born, earthy spring, the dark cold bilberries.
The ripe peach from the southern wall still hot
Full-bellied tankards foamy-topped, the delicate
Half-lyric lamb, a new loaf’s billowy curves,
Nor porridge, nor the tingling taste of oranges.
—An angel has no nerves.

Far richer they! I know the senses’ witchery
Guards us like air, from heavens too big to see;
Imminent death to man that barb’d sublimity
And dazzling edge of beauty unsheathed would be.
Yet here, within this tiny, charmed interior,
This parlour of the brain, their Maker shares
With living men some secrets in a privacy
Forever ours, not theirs.

Thanks to Fr. Mark Kowalewski for introducing me to this poem.

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5 Comments

  1. “Leisure” by W.H.Davies

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    No time to stand beneath the boughs
    And stare as long as sheep or cows.

    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

    No time to see, in broad daylight,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

    No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
    And watch her feet, how they can dance.

    No time to wait till her mouth can
    Enrich that smile her eyes began.

    A poor life this if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare

    • Many thanks Peter for sharing that beautiful poem. Was not familiar with Davies and now I want to read more of his work!

  2. Oh, my!! I had never seen that poem. I have just been listening to a Teaching Company course on C.S. Lewis, and the lecturer mentioned that Lewis had originally wanted to be a poet most of all. They say he did not excel at poetry the way he did at essays and fiction, but I think this poem is a bright jewel.

    It seems to give a nod to the idea of Platonic forms but reveal the earthiness of our created existence in its glory. I want to read it again and again.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. “Sea-smells, the wood-fire smoke that whispers Rest.” I love the sensory experience this poem evokes! Thanks for sharing this (and thanks for sharing the work of Voysey in an earlier post…we loved this bird illustration so much that we ordered a print to hang in our home and enjoy).

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