a tender young lamb’s summer afternoon

From The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander in The Chronicles of Prydain, Book 2, Chapter 14 (“The Price”):

“You make sport of us,” Taran cried angrily. “The price you ask is beyond what any of us can pay.”

Orddu hesitated. “Possibly you’re right,” she admitted. “Well, then, something a little more personal. I have it!” she said, beaming at Taran. “Give us—give us the nicest summer day you can remember! You can’t say that’s hard, since it belongs to you!”

“Yes,” Orwen said eagerly. “A lovely summer afternoon full of sunlight and sleepy scents.”

“There’s nothing so sweet,” murmured Orgoch, sucking a tooth, “as a tender young lamb’s summer afternoon.”

“How can I give you that?” protested Taran. “Or any other day, when they’re—they’re inside of me somewhere? You can’t get them out! I mean…”

“We could try,” Orgoch muttered.

turn in to greet his City’s boundless sweep

From Compass of Affection by Scott Cairns (155).

Hidden City

…that you might approach the Jerusalem of the heart…
                                                     —Isaac the Least

And now I think Jerusalem abides untouched,
the temple yet intact, its every cornerstone
in place, its vault replete with vivid scent, its ark

alight with vigil lamps whose oil is never spent.
In psalm the pilgrim asks forgiveness, pleads that God
return the Spirit to the heart, and look, the Ghost

had never left, had never for an instant drawn
away, had only watched His presence made obscure
by soul’s own intermittent darkening. Just so,

the three companions of the Lord had blindly walked
the lesser part of three dim years before their eyes
beheld the Light that bathed the Son eternally.

Just so, the Light of Tabor spools extending past
the vision of the multitude, if nonetheless
apparent to the meek, the poor, the pure in heart.

Just so, the Holy City bides within the heart,
awaits the day the pilgrim will arrive, will quit
the road, turn in to greet his City’s boundless sweep, and see.

forgotten chambers in the dark house of infancy

According to Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.
…The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I had still felt depressed even in acquiescence. But I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring. The knowledge found out and illuminated forgotten chambers in the dark house of infancy. I knew now why grass had always seemed to me as queer as the green beard of a giant, and why I could feel homesick at home.

From chapter V “The Flag of the World” in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.

unlock’d he the word-hoard

“Word-hoard” is a favorite kenning from Beowulf (and it appears in other Anglo-Saxon literature). In a single compact image, it suggests that we should amass a storehouse of language inside of us (closely related to Augustine’s understanding of memory as a wealthy city). Lines 258 to 260 from Beowulf translated by William Morris and Alfred John Wyatt:

He then that was chiefest in thus wise he answer’d,
The war-fellows’ leader unlock’d he the word-hoard:
We be a people of the Weder-Geats’ man-kin
And of Hygelac be we the hearth-fellows soothly.
My father before me of folks was well-famed
Van-leader and atheling, Ecgtheow he hight.

Via Project Gutenberg.

they flash upon that inward eye

Petrarch, in his letter called “The Ascent of Mount Ventoux,” quotes a passage from book ten of Augustine’s Confessions: “And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.”

Petrarch cites this passage as he sets his gaze on the wonder of what it means to be human. Augustine is talking specifically about the wonders of human memory (what we might call the subconscious, the heart or the imagination). “Memory” was the fifth canon of rhetoric and Augustine was a master of the complex rhetorical theory associated with it. He conceived of each human mind as an elaborate city (or even universe) of conscious and unconscious thoughts and sensory impressions that maintain a life of their own. Augustine even speculates about how our memories contain God himself (in some incomplete sense, he is quick to point out).

When reading the poem below by William Wordsworth (which is also primarily about the power of memory), it strikes me that he is deliberately referencing this passage from Augustine and Petrarch, comparing these flowers in his mind to the stars and the waves.

Daffodils

William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Spring flowers that I photographed years ago at St Andrews:

an offering for the Dryads

C.S. Lewis in “Is Theism Important? A Reply” from the Socratic Digest (1952):

When grave persons express their fear that England is relapsing into Paganism, I am tempted to reply, “Would that she were.” For I do not think it at all likely that we shall ever see Parliament opened by the slaughtering of a garlanded white bull in the House of Lords or Cabinet Ministers leaving sandwiches in Hyde Park as an offering for the Dryads. If such a state of affairs came about, then the Christian apologist would have something to work on. For a Pagan, as history shows, is a man eminently convertible to Christianity. He is, essentially, the pre-Christian, or sub-Christian, religious man. The post-Christian men of our own day differ from his as much as a divorcée differs from a virgin. The Christian and the Pagan have much more in common with one another than either has with the writers of the New Statesman; and those writers would of course agree with me.

Marble relief of a bull prepared for sacrifice. 1 century AD.
(Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. Credits: Ann Raia, 2006.)

I heard this first passage last week in a lecture by Ken Myers. This second passage (also by Lewis, from Prince Caspian) caught my attention over the weekend as I read to my kids. In it Doctor Cornelius shares his hope that the “old days” might be restored. (He even gives Caspian a touching little regimen to follow: “be kind to the poor remnants of the Dwarf people … gather learned magicians and try to find a way of awaking the trees once more … search through all the nooks and wild places of the land to see if any Fauns or Talking Beasts … are perhaps still alive in hiding.”) As Lewis watches the dissolution of a post-Christian West, he is longing for a pre-Christian world.

In reflecting on this, it strikes me that every child starts out with the potential to make a devout pagan. Childish worlds are full of wonder and fear of the most passionate and lovely kinds. They are capable of being overwhelmed by a world that “is charged with the grandeur of God.” In some respects (particularly given the plasticized and fast-paced modern lives that we tend to live), it could even be said (by way of analogy) that the primal paganism in children must first be guarded and nurtured before they can start maturing into true Trinitarian Christianity.

From Prince Caspian, chapter 4:

“Never in all these years have we forgotten our own people and all the other happy creatures of Narnia, and the long-lost days of freedom.”

“I’m – I’m sorry, Doctor,” said Caspian. “It wasn’t my fault, you know.”

“I am not saying these things in blame of you, dear Prince,” answered the Doctor. “You may well ask why I say them at all. But I have two reasons. Firstly, because my old heart has carried these secret memories so long that it aches with them and would burst if I did not whisper them to you. But secondly, for this: that when you become King you may help us, for I know that you also, Telmarine though you are, love the Old Things.”

“I do, I do,” said Caspian. “But how can I help?”

“You can be kind to the poor remnants of the Dwarf people, like myself. You can gather learned magicians and try to find a way of awaking the trees once more. You can search through all the nooks and wild places of the land to see if any Fauns or Talking Beasts or Dwarfs are perhaps still alive in hiding.”

“Do you think there are any?” asked Caspian eagerly.

“I don’t know – I don’t know,” said the Doctor with a deep sigh. “Sometimes I am afraid there can’t be. I have been looking for traces of them all my life. Sometimes I have thought I heard a Dwarf-drum in the mountains. Sometimes at night, in the woods, I thought I had caught a glimpse of Fauns and Satyrs dancing a long way off; but when I came to the place, there was never anything there. I have often despaired; but something always happens to start me hoping again. I don’t know. But at least you can try to be a King like the High King Peter of old, and not like your uncle.”

a chirruping twang

I’ve been exposed to some of Prince Caspian this week. Here Lewis recognizes the powerful little connections between our worlds of memory and the simplest sounds or smells.

Archery and swimming were the things Susan was good at. In a moment she had bent the bow and then she gave one little pluck to the string. It twanged: a chirruping twang that vibrated through the whole room. And that one small noise brought back the old days to the children’s minds more than anything that had happened yet. All the battles and hunts and feasts came rushing into their heads together. (chapter 2)

Another passage made me recall thoughts about the subversiveness of any liberal arts education that is worth its salt. In an enslaved and broken world, any whole and freeing education will be insurrectionary in some sense.

“Hush!” said Doctor Cornelius, laying his head very close to Caspian’s. “Not a word more. Don’t you know your Nurse was sent away for telling you about Old Narnia? The King doesn’t like it. If he found me telling you secrets, you’d be whipped and I should have my head cut off.”

“But why?” asked Caspian.

“It is high time we turned to Grammar now,” said Doctor Cornelius in a loud voice. “Will your Royal Highness be pleased to open Pulverulentus Siccus at the fourth page of his Grammatical garden or the Arbour of Accidence pleasantlie open’d to Tender Wits?” (chapter 3)

And there is also the playful juxtaposition of two different attitudes toward Grammar: the punning Latin name of the fictitious text book author (Dry as Dust) versus the recognition of grammar as an introduction to a lush garden of language.