History · Nonfiction

Interesting Carictars: Spirits in Bondage (1919)

I'm reading all of C.S. Lewis' books in chronological order! Go here for more information.
I’m reading all of C.S. Lewis’ books in chronological order! Go here for more information.

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Spirits in Bondage coverSpirits in Bondage

These poems were probably written from 1915 to 1918. This time was split between personal tutoring by W.T. Kirkpatrick, studying at Oxford, and service in the infantry. In 1919, Lewis published the poems under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton. This was his first published work, and has the distinction of being one of the two works he published before his conversion, the other being the long poem Dymer. 

Honestly, this book was so far over my head, it might as well have been gibberish. Lewis was younger than me when he wrote and published these poems, a stupefying thought in general, but especially since I will never, ever be this sophisticated or so conversant with allusions. I know the poems are supposed to relate to each other somehow, but I don’t know how. I didn’t grasp most of them in their own rights, much less as a whole. I understand the book’s reception was underwhelming, it received no reviews, and I dare suggest it’s because no one wanted to make themselves look dumb by talking about it.

I’ve actually read this before. (Did I mention I’ve already read the grand majority of Lewis’ work, and almost all of these will be rereads? I am a crazy personI don’t even like re-reading.) The funny part is, I think I got more out of it 4-5 years ago when I read it the first time. I was more into poetry at the time, though. So, maybe it’s the density of the material. Maybe it’s that I’m out of practice reading poetry, and I like to have my metaphorical hand held through a poem anyway. (Explain it all to me, and then I’ll think it’s brilliant.) Maybe now’s just not the right time for me to engage with these topics for me — which is again funny, because I was super duper Christian when I read it before, and I’m not now.

Some of the poems are thoroughly secular, talking about mythology and war and literature and the seasons, but others are more religious in nature, often expressing displeasure with god and god’s perceived toying with humanity, or general meanness. The Devil is the speaker in some poems. (For the curious, I did pick out some things that might be veiled references to Phantastes, although nothing I recognized as a direct quote. For instance, the references to beech trees in “XXIX. Night”. Phantastes was full of tree spirit characters, one of the important ones being a beech tree…)

That’s about as far as I’ll go in terms of analysis! I’d like to study these poems in more depth, but they seem to have been largely ignored… The Christian/evangelical community can’t write devotionals about them, and no one else seems to have been paying attention.

Anyone else ever read his poetry? Thoughts?

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Spirits in Bondage is the first of Lewis’ books to enter the public domain, and is available for free here and other web locales: Project Gutenberg   Amazon

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