Category Archives: Inklings

From San Diego To Westminster Abbey – a big year for CS Lewis

cs_lewisMany of you will know that I am a great admirer and, as far as I am able, a follower of CS Lewis, without doubt one of he most influential people in my life. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of his death. There will be many events, conferences and meetings across the world to celebrate and commemorate his life and legacy, but I thought it might be useful for readers of my blog to let you know which of these various events I will be involved in. (also a useful reminder to me, so that I can try to be in the right place at the right time!) In this post I’ll give you the lowdown about the first one, the San Diego Summer Conference, and then list the others about which I’ll blog in more detail later.

So first up is the CS Lewis Summer Conference in San Diego June 21-23rd. This is going to be a major event focusing on Vision and Vocation in Lewis, both his own and the new vision and sense of vocation he can inspire in us, all focused through listening for his distinctive and unique voice amidst the modern cacophony. I will be giving the daily meditations at this conference, reading poetry and also performing with the amazing Steve Bell who will also be there as one of the resident artists and performers. But the real heart of these CS Lewis Foundation events is not just the lectures and seminars, good as they are, but the sense of community and interconnection, the friendships inspired, the new projects begun. I have seen the genesis of new books, plays, poems and songs, new collaborations and scholarly projects, all happening over coffees in corridors at these conferences, or over a beer in the famous evening sessions known collectively as ‘The Bag End Cafe”. I’m really looking forward to this one. My collaboration with Steve Bell on his last album started at the Foundations Oxbridge Conference in 2011 and we are going to be working on some new material after the San Diego meet. Steve has blogged about it here. They have assembled a great team of speakers including Peter Kreeft, James Como, Diana Glyer and Andrew Lazo. Check them all out here: Speakers and Artists. There are ‘early bird’ discounts on booking this conference still available until the April 25th.

July 14-19th there will be an Inklings Week in Oxford with all kinds of talks and events. I’ll be speaking on the Friday 19th July

On the 21st and 22nd of September there is going to be the CS Lewis Jubilee Festival, a weekend of events and talks on Lewis in Headington, centred on the church where he worshipped. I will be speaking on the evening of Saturday 21st on Lewis’s poetry and science fiction. Alister McGrath will also be speaking at this event.

Then in November around the anniversary of his death itself there is going to be a major conference and event at Westminster Abbey leading up to the ceremony on the 22nd of November when Lewis will be inducted into poet’s corner.  At the conference I will be speaking on Lewis’ use of imagination as a truth-bearing faculty, in a lecture complementing a talk by Alister McGrath on Lewis’s use of Reason in apologetics.

Then on the 23rd November there will be a conference in Magdalene College Cambridge, where Lewis was a fellow. I will be giving a paper on the contemporary relevance of Lewis’s prophetic words in The Abolition of Man.

Phew! well I hope I’m able to meet some of the readers of this blog afresh, or for the first time at one or other of these events.

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The Inklings; Fantasists or Prophets? The Complete Set.

CS Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams. JRR Tolkien: The Inklings!

Over the last month I have given a series of five talks at St. Edward King and Martyr in Cambridge, exploring the thesis that far from being backward-looking, reactionary or escapist, the Inklings were fully and prophetically engaged with the main streams of modernity, that they forsaw the coming crisis of meaning in the materialist West, and in particular the attendant crises of violence and environmntal degradation. I have tried to explain the way they forged a coherent alternative vision, which called for us to reintegrate Imagination and Reason as ways of knowing truth and relating to one another and the world. These talks have been recorded as audio and the last four were also filmed, and I have assembled on this page the complete set of links to these recordings so that anyone who wishes can return to this page when they have the time and follow the talks through in sequence.

Its been a remarkable experience putting together and delivering these talks, at once draining and exhilarating, and I have had a sense as they were delivered of a new synthesis coming together in my mind.  I hope therefore, when I have the opportunity, to write these talks up and tfurther explore and develop these ideas in book form. Watch this space!

I will give the audio links first and then the video. I should say that the sound level is very low for the third talk, on Charles williams so people may prefer to take that talk from the video. I am very grateful to Daniel Son for filming the last four talks.

Part 1 The Inklings Fantasists or prophets

Part 2 CS Lewis and the Cosmic Summer

Part 3 Owen Barfield; poetry and participation

Part 4 Charles Williams; the Pattern and Glory of Love (you will need to turn up the volume on this one!)

Part 5: Tolkien; Roots and Branches

 

Now here are the links to the youtube video of the last four talks, on the individual Inklings, kindly provided by Daniel Son. The CS Lewis video starts a couple of minutes into the talk but the rest are complete.

1 CS Lewis and the Cosmic Summer

2 Owen Barfield: Poetry and participation

3 Charles Williams, the Pattern and Glory of Love

4 Tolkien; Roots and Branches

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CS Lewis’s Lost Aeneid a brief review

CS Lewis’s Lost Aeneid; Arms and the Exile

edited by A.T. Reyes

Continuing my theme this year of Translation, I would like to share my toughts on a wonderful ‘new’ translation of parts of the Aeneid.

Lewis scholars have known for some time that he had been working on a translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, a poem which he loved, lived with, and learned from throughout his life. But only in the last few years has it been recovered and edited, and now it has been published and made available for everyone, and it has certainly been worth the wait! I had expected only fragments, perhaps no more than  a dozen lines here and another half dozen there, but what we get is the whole of book 1, most of book 2, substantial parts of the vital book 6 and then tantalising fragments from the other books. AT Reyes has done a splendid job of editing it all, giving a full facing page Latin text, writing fine summaries to fill in the gaps, and providing an excellent introduction which draws together Lewis’s many appreciations of Virgil in his critical prose and also his various discussions of the art of translation. The introduction alone will be a real resource both for Lewis scholars and for those for whom translation, its losses and gains is an endless fascination. But the heart of he book is in Lewis’s own long, loping, rangey verse translation, full of felicities and an unashamedly, beautiful, romantic and adventurous ‘take’ on its original.  Lewis has chosen rhyming couplets in English Alexandrines and deployed them to great efect. the Alexandrine is essentialy a line of iambic pentameter with an extra ‘foot’, an extra two syllables with a single stress, tacked on. This is what gives the verse its sense of bounding length, of stride, for an ear attuned to the more usual five stress line.

We know from various letters that Lewis read substantial parts of this translation at meetings of the Inklings, and it is clearly designed to be read aloud, and reads suerbly. To give you a flavour of what I mean I have read three passages for you onto audio boo, the links are below and I have chosen them to suggest the sheer range of effects Lewis is able to achieve with this verse form. They are all from book 1 and I hope they will whet your appetite to go out and read the whole thing for yourself.

As always you can hear the reading either by clicking on the play button if it appears in your browser, or if no play button appears you can click on the title of the extract and be taken to my audioboo page and play it there

The first passage is a description of the storm Juno sends to wreck the trojan fleet, lines 102-123. Reyes points out in his introduction that there are some striking paralells between this description, as Lewis translates it here, and his own description of the great storm in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Its stirring stuff. See what you think.

Juno’s Storm

The second passage is the one where Dido first sees Aeneas I give more of the context in the audioboo. This is line 585-609

Dido Meets Aeneas

The third passage tells how Venus sends her son Cupid in disguise to the feast dido has given Aeneas and causes her to fall in lve with him. this passage particularly shows Lewis power to summon sensuous and romantic language and imagery even in the sound of his words. as before I have given a little context and commentary as part of the audioboo recording. these are lines 683-720

Dido Falls in Love

For Lewis Virgil was a poet who could both celebrate the beauty and majesty of life in this world and at the same time keep the soul attuned to longing, kindle its desire, for the ‘ever-receding  shore’, for the land we long for. Virgil’s epic of the founding of the City of Rome becomes in his imagination, as it did in the imagination of Dante before him, the epic of our wondering, always longing journey towards the City of God.

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A lovely photo-montage of the Lewis Foundation Conference

I would like to share a lovely photo-montage made by photographer Lancia Smith of the remarkable conference on CS Lewis; The Weight of glory, organised by the CS Lewis Foundation. Apart from the  abundance ofscholarship, the learning, and the spiritual formation that was going on, there was also an extraordinary sense of Joy, which was great, since Joy was one of  our themes. I think Lancia’s images catch that joy far better than my words could do, so here they are:

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A longed-for day has come at last

It’s been a long time coming. My book Faith Hope and Poetry has been a labour of love over the last decade, written slowly in the midst of the many demands of pastoral, priestly, academic and family life, but it is here at last. I am immensley grateful to the many people who have helped me on this road, not least the sudents whose ideas and questions have always reminded this teacher that he cannot teach unless he is a student too. 

At the heart of my book is a celebration and defense of the imagination as a truth-bearing faculty, as an essential means of grasping reality, not a subjective fantasy compensation for the grimness of things ‘out there’.  Each chapter explores a poet or group of poets who are bearing witness, through imagination, to essential truths that I feel are pertinant to our own age but the whole book is about how the language of poetry initiates us into mysteries we could enter in no other way. By way of a taster I am posting here the dedicatory poem and the concluding paragraphs:

De Magistro

I thank my God I have emerged at last,
blinking from Hell, to see these quiet stars
bewildered by the shadows that I cast.

You set me on this stair, in those rich hours
pacing your study, chanting poetry.
The Word in you revealed His quickening powers,

removed the daily veil, and let me see,
as sunlight played along your book-lined walls,
that words are windows onto mystery.

From Eden, whence the living fountain falls
in music, from the tower of ivory,
and from the hidden heart, He calls

in the language of Adam, creating memory
of unfallen speech. He sets creation
free from the carapace of history.

His image in us is Imagination,
His Spirit is a sacrifice of breath
upon the letters of His revelation.

In mid-most of the word-wood is a path
that leads back to the springs of truth in speech.
You showed it to me, kneeling on your hearth,

you showed me how my halting words might reach
to the mind’s Maker, to the source of Love,
and so you taught me what it means to teach.

Teaching, I have my ardours now to prove
climbing with joy the steps of Purgatory.
Teacher and pupil, both are on the move,

as fellow pilgrims on a needful journey.

Conclusion

           ” This book has been written as both a vindication and a celebration of the poetic imagination; a defence of its status as a truth-bearer and an exploration of the kinds of truth it is capable of bearing. In particular I have been concerned to demonstrate the essential power of imagination to bridge the gap between immanence and transcendence, to mediate meaning between unembodied ‘apprehension’ and embodied ‘comprehension’. I have also been concerned to show that a study of poetic imagination turns out to be a form of theology; that in seeking understand how multiple meanings come to be’ bodied forth’ in finite poems which ‘grow to something of great constancy’ we discover a new understanding of the prime embodiment of all meaning which is the Incarnation. And this new understanding of incarnation in its turn gives us a new confidence in the ultimate significance of our own acts of poetic embodiment. But if poetry as a manifestation of particular embodiment speaks of the immanence of God, then poetry as a means of cleansing and transfiguring vision speaks of God’s transcendence. Throughout this book I have sought to celebrate moments of transfigured vision in poetry, and also to help discern the source of that truth which transfigured vision sees, of that unexpected music which the imagination hears.  In an age of faith it was possible for poets, from the anonymous poet of The Dream of the Rood, who saw the Cross transfigured in light, to Milton invoking ‘holy light’, to find the Source of transfigured vision and to name that source as Christ, the logos and the light of the world. From the mid-17th century onward, things could not be so simple again as poets and philosophers alike faced the challenge of a reductive science that pulled down shutters over the windows of vision, bearing the bleak inscription, ‘nothing else’. We have seen how the poets, to whom the clarification of our vision had been entrusted, fought a rear-guard action, and especially how Coleridge did this both by writing poetry full of clarified, imaginative vision, and also by undertaking the hard, philosophical work necessary to reinstate the imagination as an instrument with which we grasp reality rather than evade it.  We have seen that in order to make sense of the actual experience of writing and reading poetry, he was compelled to rediscover the mystery of God as Holy Trinity.  For Coleridge poetry is not a fanciful compensation for the irreducible bleakness of things; it is part of the evidence that all things are at least potentially luminous with the light of God.  Coleridge was a prophet sent more for our own age than for his; he foresaw the inadequacy of the whole Cartesian/Newtonian model with its foreclosed rigidities and its too-easy submission to what he called the ‘despotism of the eye’.  Now, we live in an age when that rigid system, against which Coleridge was protesting, is being overthrown.  Those blinding shutters inscribed ‘nothing else’ are being drawn up; and now it is not only the major poets in our midst, like Heaney, but also the scientists themselves and the philosophers of science, rediscovering the vital role imagination has to play in their endeavours, who are helping to remove these ‘blinds’.”

This cleansing and training of vision through a revitalised imagination, is a common task for Science, Poetry and Theology. My purpose has been to highlight the essential role, in fulfilling this common task, played by the poetic imagination.

I hope you have enjoyed these extracts and that those of you who have a chance to read it enjoy the book. The publishers page is here

and the English Amazon page is here.

the American Amazon page is here

I’m sorry that, as a modern hardback it is so expensive, I hope, if this edition sells well enough, that they will bring it out in an accessible paperback. Meanwhile you can always encourage your local library to buy it.

M

 

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A Present (a Pipe) and a poem to go with them

I just spent a wonderful afternoon in the Orchard in Granchester with a group visiting from the Kiln’s CS Lewis’s Oxford home and now a center for Lewis Studies. Among the party was the celebrated Lewis scholar Jerry Root. As conversation deepened and turned to poetry Jerry and Kim Gilnett dug out their pipes and lit up. I ferreted in my pocket and found I had left my trusty Peterson at home when lo and behold Jerry produced a “spare”; a really beautiful old Peterson made in pre-republican days. It drew beautifully, sweet as a nut, and I gave it the care and attention it deserved. but you could have knocked me over with a smoke ring when Dr Root said ‘I can see you apreciate it why dont you keep it!’ A spontaneous act of generosity which perfectly embodied the idea we had been discussing which was the parodoxical  combination of a love for the manifold things of this world but at the same time a sufficient detatchment from them all to keep us alive to our yearning for eternity. We had been quoting the lovely mediaeval couplet with which Jack Bennet, who taught me, had concluded his encomium of Lewis (who taught him):

Love God, your neighbour and be merry

And give not for this world a cherry”

It was great to see that spirit alive in a fellow Lewis scholar. He had himself recieved the pipe as a gift and sometime, at the right moment, I shall pass it on to another amazed and appreciative pipe lover. Anyway this all prompts me to re-post the little poem I wrote about Tolkien and his Pipe, so here is the pipe: :

And here is the poem:

Tree and Leaf

Tolkien is leaning back into an oak
Old, gnarled, distinct in bole and burr
As, from the burr and bowl of his old pipe,
Packed with tightly patterned shreds of leaf,
The smoke ascends in rings and wreathes of air
To catch the autumn light and meet such leaves
As circle through its wreathes and patter down
In patterns of their own to the rich ground.

He contemplates again the tree of tales;
The roots of language and its rings of growth
‘The tongue and tale and teller all coeval’
And he becomes a pattern making patterns,
A tale telling tales and turning leaves,
From the print of thumb and finger on his pipe
To the print and press and pattern of his books
And all their prints and imprints in our minds
Out to this grainy patterned photograph
Of ‘Tolkien, leaning back into an oak’.

Thanks Jerry

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