CS Lewis Added To Poet’s Corner
Author of the Chronicles of Narnia receives long-overdue honor.
November 24, 2013 - 7:00 am
As the Telegraph explains it, Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey is a curious place:
Horace Walpole spoke of its tombs in “crouds and clusters” and, indeed, dates and names have been cut on to most inches of Westminster Abbey. But the epitaphs are nowhere more crowded than in the Abbey’s South Transept – a place long since renamed Poets’ Corner. Here are buried, or commemorated, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden and Dickens – and quite a few others who have stood time’s test less well. CS Lewis, on the 50th anniversary of his death, will become the latest to join this literary “croud” this month. His little plaque, wedged between Betjeman and Blake, is to be unveiled on November 22.
Although it is a high honour for a writer to be commemorated at Poets’ Corner, there is an endearingly undignified genius to the place. The pavement is such a dense patchwork of tombstones that you can imagine, a little below, the great writers’ skeletons tucked up together in a small dormitory.
The truth is sometimes less stately even than that: the spendthrift playwright Ben Jonson couldn’t afford a full grave, and so was buried standing up (to save space) in a less desirable bit of the nave. His thigh bones twice came to light by accident in the 19th century: so much for eternal repose.
Apparently some people dispute CS Lewis’ right to be added to it, but let’s for the moment forget whether or not his two books of poetry merit it. I’d say that his Chronicles of Narnia are poetry. Even The Telegraph describes them as:
Now children’s classics, these limpidly written adventure novels wrangle with the most complex theological ideas. Christianity is reimagined in a parallel world: God in manifest form is a lion called Aslan, neither safe nor tame. By rinsing out the familiarities of liturgy and organised religion, CS Lewis throws into relief what he considers essential – sacrifice and belief, among other things. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the lion allows himself to be killed for the good of all, and is then reborn. In The Silver Chair, when Aslan’s existence falls most under doubt, a stubbornly loyal Narnian makes this case for belief without proof: “Suppose there isn’t an Aslan. All I can say is, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.”
And if poetry is not the ability to capture in images and narrative feelings that are otherwise rationally indescribable, I don’t know what poetry is.
In fact, as a fellow writer of the fantastic (if hardly in the same league) I can tell you that fantasy itself is an attempt to capture the otherwise indescribable, an attempt to look out of Plato’s cave, for the true reality it’s not given to mere humans to know. And that, in the end, is also poetry.
Welcome to Poet’s Corner, CS Lewis. It’s a well deserved honor.