Thursday, June 02, 2005

As the Ruin Falls

by C.S. Lewis

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.

* * *

I wouldn't have known, from the Narnia books, how very pessimistic Lewis can be. He has many poems like this, that in their plain-spoken way are more despairing than Hopkins.

And yet, he's right, you know. Anyone who has loved knows that they have never really loved. When one tries loving, he tries loving better. And when he does this, he sees the way love ought to be: completely selfless. Yet being human, he never pulls up his love to this level.

The fact that he struggles to perfect his love is in itself a good thing. But it causes a great deal of suffering to know that it will never be perfect.

Worst of all is when the love bears no fruit. It is clear from "the bridge is breaking" and "the ruin falls" that this love did not work somehow. The speaker blames himself because his love was not perfect. Yet even as this suffering pains him, he realizes it is teaching him something.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Thanks for posting that one; I don't know Lewis' poetry very well, but it seems like every time I encounter one I find myself pleasantly surprised.

I've been re-reading "The Four Loves" recently; I couldn't help noticing similarities between the poem and the book. Gee - it's like they're written by the same person or something... :-)