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Synopsis

Published a few months after the end of the Great War as part of the vogue for soldier poets, this verse cycle (a prologue and 40 poems) was C. S. Lewis first book.

The poet was not yet 21, and his world view was dominated by two principles: rage-filled atheism (I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.) and romantic longing (in the words of the prologue, Sing about the Hidden Country fresh and full of quiet green/ Sailing over seas uncharted to a port that none has seen). In the long run, these proved incompatible. In 1919 they rested side by side. In the first 21 poems of the cycle (The Prison House), the former predominates. In the second half (Hesitation and The Escape), an occult-tinged search for a spiritual world that may or may not actually exist offers release from bondage, climaxing in the finale Death in Battle (xl), with its stirring yet poignant first stanza:

Open the gates for me,/ Open the gates of the peaceful castle, rosy in the West,/ In the sweet dim Isle of Apples over the wide seas breast,/ Open the gates for me!

Death in Battle is distinctly the highlight, as well as the conclusion, of the cycle. The beginning is also good, a bleak, powerful Satan Speaks (i): I am Nature, the Mighty Mother,/ I am the law: ye have none other. In between are striking lines (And here he builds a nebula, and there he slays a sun (Ode for New Years Day (viii))) but also many collections of images that fail to cohere (the two poems entitled Night (ix and xxix)) and much bald exposition that gains nothing from being set in verse (Dungeon Grates (xv), an apparent attempt to spell out the philosophy underlying Richard Lovelaces famous To Althea, From Prison).

I know that Lewis is mostly known for his books, but these poems have images in them that have remained in my mind for several years after Ive read them...the imagery, and the ideas, is what really works in these poems.

Also, it is very interesting to read what Lewis wrote before he became a Christian; since most of his writings are religious.

The creativity and keen spiritual insights that have made C.S. Lewis the most renowned Christian writer of the modern era combine with eloquent poetry to reveal the writers struggles, hopes and nightmares that predate his conversion to Christianity. This book of poems illustrates his yearning for truth and salvation by revealing his images God, man and Satan in delightful, rhyming lyrics. The intellectual and spiritual force present in these poems create a powerful edge rarely matched. Readers will discern the drive that eventually leads Lewis to find his hearts delight. This is a must-have for those who have appreciated Lewis other writings.

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