Spirits in Bondage: a cycle of lyrics (1 of 2)

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Spirits in Bondage
A Cycle of Lyrics By Clive Hamilton
Published under the pseudonym, Clive Hamilton, Spirits in Bondage was C.
S. Lewis' first book. Released in 1919 by Heinemann, it was reprinted in
1984 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and included in Lewis' 1994 Collected
Poems. It is the first of Lewis' major published works to enter the
public domain in the United States. Readers should be aware that in
other countries it may still be under copyright protection.
Most of the poems appear to have been written between 1915 and 1918, a
period during which Lewis was a student under W. T. Kirkpatrick, a
military trainee at Oxford, and a soldier serving in the trenches of
World War I. Their outlook varies from Romantic expressions of love for
the beauty and simplicity of nature to cynical statements about the
presence of evil in this world. In a September 12, 1918 letter to his
friend Arthur Greeves, Lewis said that his book was, "mainly strung
around the idea that I mentioned to you before—that nature is wholly
diabolical & malevolent and that God, if he exists, is outside of and in
opposition to the cosmic arrangements." In his cynical poems, Lewis is
dealing with the same questions about evil in nature that Alfred Lord
Tennyson explored from a position of troubled faith in "In Memoriam A.
H." (Stanzas 54f). In a letter written perhaps to reassure his father,
Lewis claimed, "You know who the God I blaspheme is and that it is not
the God that you or I worship, or any other Christian."
Whatever Lewis believed at that time, the attitude in many of these
poems is quite different from the attitude he expressed in his many
Christian books from the 1930s on. Attempts in movies and on stage plays
to portray Lewis as a sheltered professor who knew little about pain
until the death of his wife late in life, have to deal not only with the
many tragedies he experienced from a boy on, but also with the
disturbing issues he faced in many of these early poems.
This book is presented in three parts.
Part I. The Prison House Part II. Hesitation
Part III. The Escape
As of old Phoenician men, to the Tin Isles sailing
Straight against the sunset and the edges of the earth,
Chaunted loud above the storm and the strange sea's wailing,
Legends of their people and the land that gave them birth—
Sang aloud to Baal-Peor, sang unto the horned maiden,
Sang how they should come again with the Brethon treasure laden,
Sang of all the pride and glory of their hardy enterprise,
How they found the outer islands, where the unknown stars arise;
And the rowers down below, rowing hard as they could row,
Toiling at the stroke and feather through the wet and weary weather,
Even they forgot their burden in the measure of a song,
And the merchants and the masters and the bondsmen all together,
Dreaming of the wondrous islands, brought the gallant ship along;
So in mighty deeps alone on the chainless breezes blown
In my coracle of verses I will sing of lands unknown,
Flying from the scarlet city where a Lord that knows no pity,
Mocks the broken people praying round his iron throne,
Sing about the Hidden Country fresh and full of quiet green.
Sailing over seas uncharted to a port that none has seen.
Part I. The Prison House
Poem I. Satan Speaks
I am Nature, the Mighty Mother, I am the law: ye have none other.
I am the flower and the dewdrop fresh, I am the lust in your itching flesh.
I am the battle's filth and strain, I am the widow's empty pain.
I am the sea to smother your breath, I am the bomb, the falling death.
I am the fact and the crushing reason To thwart your fantasy's new-born treason.
I am the spider making her net, I am the beast with jaws blood-wet.
I am a wolf that follows the sun And I will catch him ere day be done.
Poem II. French Nocturne (Monchy-Le-Preux)
Long leagues on either hand the trenches spread And all is still; now even this gross line
Drinks in the frosty silences divine The pale, green moon is riding overhead.
The jaws of a sacked village, stark and grim; Out on the ridge have swallowed up the sun,
And in one angry streak his blood has run To left and right along the horizon dim.
There comes a buzzing plane: and now, it seems Flies straight into the moon. Lo! where he
steers Across the pallid globe and surely nears
In that white land some harbour of dear dreams!
False mocking fancy! Once I too could dream, Who now can only see with vulgar eye
That he's no nearer to the moon than I And she's a stone that catches the sun's beam.
What call have I to dream of anything? I am a wolf. Back to the world again,
And speech of fellow-brutes that once were men
Our throats can bark for slaughter: cannot sing.
Poem III. The Satyr
When the flowery hands of spring Forth their woodland riches fling,
Through the meadows, through the valleys Goes the satyr carolling.
From the mountain and the moor, Forest green and ocean shore
All the faerie kin he rallies Making music evermore.
See! the shaggy pelt doth grow On his twisted shanks below,
And his dreadful feet are cloven Though his brow be white as snow—
Though his brow be clear and white And beneath it fancies bright,
Wisdom and high thoughts are woven And the musics of delight,
Though his temples too be fair Yet two horns are growing there
Bursting forth to part asunder All the riches of his hair.
Faerie maidens he may meet Fly the horns and cloven feet,
But, his sad brown eyes with wonder Seeing-stay from their retreat.
Poem IV. Victory
Roland is dead, Cuchulain's crest is low, The battered war-rear wastes and turns to
rust, And Helen's eyes and Iseult's lips are dust
And dust the shoulders and the breasts of snow.
The faerie people from our woods are gone, No Dryads have I found in all our trees,
No Triton blows his horn about our seas And Arthur sleeps far hence in Avalon.
The ancient songs they wither as the grass And waste as doth a garment waxen old,
All poets have been fools who thought to mould A monument more durable than brass.
For these decay: but not for that decays The yearning, high, rebellious spirit of man
That never rested yet since life began From striving with red Nature and her ways.
Now in the filth of war, the baresark shout Of battle, it is vexed. And yet so oft
Out of the deeps, of old, it rose aloft That they who watch the ages may not doubt.
Though often bruised, oft broken by the rod, Yet, like the phoenix, from each fiery bed
Higher the stricken spirit lifts its head And higher-till the beast become a god.
Poem V. Irish Nocturne
Now the grey mist comes creeping up From the waste ocean's weedy strand
And fills the valley, as a cup If filled of evil drink in a wizard's hand;
And the trees fade out of sight, Like dreary ghosts unhealthily,
Into the damp, pale night, Till you almost think that a clearer eye could
see Some shape come up of a demon seeking apart
His meat, as Grendel sought in Harte The thanes that sat by the wintry log—
Grendel or the shadowy mass Of Balor, or the man with the face of clay,
The grey, grey walker who used to pass Over the rock-arch nightly to his prey.
But here at the dumb, slow stream where the willows hang,
With never a wind to blow the mists apart, Bitter and bitter it is for thee. O my heart,
Looking upon this land, where poets sang, Thus with the dreary shroud
Unwholesome, over it spread, And knowing the fog and the cloud
In her people's heart and head Even as it lies for ever upon her coasts
Making them dim and dreamy lest her sons should ever arise
And remember all their boasts; For I know that the colourless skies
And the blurred horizons breed Lonely desire and many words and brooding
and never a deed.
Poem VI. Spooks
Last night I dreamed that I was come again Unto the house where my beloved dwells
After long years of wandering and pain.
And I stood out beneath the drenching rain And all the street was bare, and black with
night, But in my true love's house was warmth and
Yet I could not draw near nor enter in, And long I wondered if some secret sin
Or old, unhappy anger held me fast;
Till suddenly it came into my head That I was killed long since and lying dead—
Only a homeless wraith that way had passed.
So thus I found my true love's house again And stood unseen amid the winter night
And the lamp burned within, a rosy light, And the wet street was shining in the rain.
Poem VII. Apology
If men should ask, Despoina, why I tell Of nothing glad nor noble in my verse
To lighten hearts beneath this present curse And build a heaven of dreams in real hell,
Go you to them and speak among them thus: "There were no greater grief than to recall,
Down in the rotting grave where the lithe worms crawl,
Green fields above that smiled so sweet to us."
Is it good to tell old tales of Troynovant Or praises of dead heroes, tried and sage,
Or sing the queens of unforgotten age, Brynhild and Maeve and virgin Bradamant?
How should I sing of them? Can it be good To think of glory now, when all is done,
And all our labour underneath the sun Has brought us this-and not the thing we would?
All these were rosy visions of the night, The loveliness and wisdom feigned of old.
But now we wake. The East is pale and cold, No hope is in the dawn, and no delight.
Poem VIII. Ode for New Year's Day
Woe unto you, ye sons of pain that are this day in earth,
Now cry for all your torment: now curse your hour of birth
And the fathers who begat you to a portion nothing worth.
And Thou, my own beloved, for as brave as ere thou art,
Bow down thine head, Despoina, clasp thy pale arms over it,
Lie low with fast-closed eyelids, clenched teeth, enduring heart,
For sorrow on sorrow is coming wherein all flesh has part.
The sky above is sickening, the clouds of God's hate cover it,
Body and soul shall suffer beyond all word or thought,
Till the pain and noisy terror that these first years have wrought
Seem but the soft arising and prelude of the storm
That fiercer still and heavier with sharper lightnings fraught
Shall pour red wrath upon us over a world deform.
Thrice happy, O Despoina, were the men who were alive
In the great age and the golden age when still the cycle ran
On upward curve and easily, for them both maid and man
And beast and tree and spirit in the green earth could thrive.
But now one age is ending, and God calls home the stars
And looses the wheel of the ages and sends it spinning back
Amid the death of nations, and points a downward track,
And madness is come over us and great and little wars.
He has not left one valley, one isle of fresh and green
Where old friends could forgather amid the howling wreck.
It's vainly we are praying. We cannot, cannot check
The Power who slays and puts aside the beauty that has been.
It's truth they tell, Despoina, none hears the heart's complaining
For Nature will not pity, nor the red God lend an ear,
Yet I too have been mad in the hour of bitter paining
And lifted up my voice to God, thinking that he could hear
The curse wherewith I cursed Him because the Good was dead.
But lo! I am grown wiser, knowing that our own hearts
Have made a phantom called the Good, while a few years have sped
Over a little planet. And what should the great Lord know of it
Who tosses the dust of chaos and gives the suns their parts?
Hither and thither he moves them; for an hour we see the show of it:
Only a little hour, and the life of the race is done.
And here he builds a nebula, and there he slays a sun
And works his own fierce pleasure. All things he shall fulfill,
And O, my poor Despoina, do you think he ever hears
The wail of hearts he has broken, the sound of human ill?
He cares not for our virtues, our little hopes and fears,
And how could it all go on, love, if he knew of laughter and tears?
Ah, sweet, if a man could cheat him! If you could flee away
Into some other country beyond the rosy West, To hide in the deep forests and be for ever
at rest From the rankling hate of God and the outworn
world's decay!
Poem IX. Night
After the fret and failure of this day, And weariness of thought, O Mother Night,
Come with soft kiss to soothe our care away And all our little tumults set to right;
Most pitiful of all death's kindred fair, Riding above us through the curtained air
On thy dusk car, thou scatterest to the earth Sweet dreams and drowsy charms of tender might
And lovers' dear delight before to-morrow's birth.
Thus art thou wont thy quiet lands to leave And pillared courts beyond the Milky Way,
Wherein thou tarriest all our solar day While unsubstantial dreams before thee weave
A foamy dance, and fluttering fancies play About thy palace in the silver ray
Of some far, moony globe. But when the hour, The long-expected comes, the ivory gates
Open on noiseless hinge before thy bower Unbidden, and the jewelled chariot waits
With magic steeds. Thou from the fronting rim
Bending to urge them, whilst thy sea-dark hair
Falls in ambrosial ripples o'er each limb, With beautiful pale arms, untrammelled, bare
For horsemanship, to those twin chargers fleet Dost give full rein across the fires that
glow In the wide floor of heaven, from off their
feet Scattering the powdery star-dust as they go.
Come swiftly down the sky, O Lady Night, Fall through the shadow-country, O most kind,
Shake out thy strands of gentle dreams and light
For chains, wherewith thou still art used to bind
With tenderest love of careful leeches' art The bruised and weary heart
In slumber blind.
Poem X. To Sleep
I will find out a place for thee, O Sleep— A hidden wood among the hill-tops green,
Full of soft streams and little winds that creep
The murmuring boughs between.
A hollow cup above the ocean placed Where nothing rough, nor loud, nor harsh shall
be, But woodland light and shadow interlaced
And summer sky and sea.
There in the fragrant twilight I will raise A secret altar of the rich sea sod,
Whereat to offer sacrifice and praise Unto my lonely god:
Due sacrifice of his own drowsy flowers, The deadening poppies in an ocean shell
Round which through all forgotten days and hours
The great seas wove their spell.
So may he send me dreams of dear delight And draughts of cool oblivion, quenching pain,
And sweet, half-wakeful moments in the night To hear the falling rain.
And when he meets me at the dusk of day To call me home for ever, this I ask—
That he may lead me friendly on that way And wear no frightful mask.
Poem XI. In Prison
I cried out for the pain of man, I cried out for my bitter wrath
Against the hopeless life that ran For ever in a circling path
From death to death since all began; Till on a summer night
I lost my way in the pale starlight And saw our planet, far and small,
Through endless depths of nothing fall A lonely pin-prick spark of light,
Upon the wide, enfolding night, With leagues on leagues of stars above it,
And powdered dust of stars below— Dead things that neither hate nor love it
Not even their own loveliness can know, Being but cosmic dust and dead.
And if some tears be shed, Some evil God have power,
Some crown of sorrow sit Upon a little world for a little hour—
Who shall remember? Who shall care for it?
Poem XII. De Profundis
Come let us curse our Master ere we die, For all our hopes in endless ruin lie.
The good is dead. Let us curse God most High.
Four thousand years of toil and hope and thought Wherein man laboured upward and still wrought
New worlds and better, Thou hast made as naught.
We built us joyful cities, strong and fair, Knowledge we sought and gathered wisdom rare.
And all this time you laughed upon our care,
And suddenly the earth grew black with wrong, Our hope was crushed and silenced was our
song, The heaven grew loud with weeping. Thou art
Come then and curse the Lord. Over the earth Gross darkness falls, and evil was our birth
And our few happy days of little worth.
Even if it be not all a dream in vain The ancient hope that still will rise again—
Of a just God that cares for earthly pain,
Yet far away beyond our labouring night, He wanders in the depths of endless light,
Singing alone his musics of delight;
Only the far, spent echo of his song Our dungeons and deep cells can smite along,
And Thou art nearer. Thou art very strong.
O universal strength, I know it well, It is but froth of folly to rebel;
For thou art Lord and hast the keys of Hell.
Yet I will not bow down to thee nor love thee, For looking in my own heart I can prove thee,
And know this frail, bruised being is above thee.
Our love, our hope, our thirsting for the right,
Our mercy and long seeking of the light, Shall we change these for thy relentless might?
Laugh then and slay. Shatter all things of worth,
Heap torment still on torment for thy mirth— Thou art not Lord while there are Men on earth.
Poem XIII. Satan Speaks
I am the Lord your God: even he that made Material things, and all these signs arrayed
Above you and have set beneath the race Of mankind, who forget their Father's face
And even while they drink my light of day Dream of some other gods and disobey
My warnings, and despise my holy laws, Even tho' their sin shall slay them. For which
cause, Dreams dreamed in vain, a never-filled desire
And in close flesh a spiritual fire, A thirst for good their kind shall not attain,
A backward cleaving to the beast again. A loathing for the life that I have given,
A haunted, twisted soul for ever riven Between their will and mine-such lot I give
White still in my despite the vermin live. They hate my world! Then let that other God
Come from the outer spaces glory-shod, And from this castle I have built on Night
Steal forth my own thought's children into light,
If such an one there be. But far away He walks the airy fields of endless day,
And my rebellious sons have called Him long And vainly called. My order still is strong
And like to me nor second none I know. Whither the mammoth went this creature too
shall go.
Poem XIV. The Witch
Trapped amid the woods with guile They've led her bound in fetters vile
To death, a deadlier sorceress Than any born for earth's distress
Since first the winner of the fleece Bore home the Colchian witch to Greece—
Seven months with snare and gin They've sought the maid o'erwise within
The forest's labyrinthine shade. The lonely woodman half afraid
Far off her ragged form has seen Sauntering down the alleys green,
Or crouched in godless prayer alone At eve before a Druid stone.
But now the bitter chase is won, The quarry's caught, her magic's done,
The bishop's brought her strongest spell To naught with candle, book, and bell;
With holy water splashed upon her, She goes to burning and dishonour
Too deeply damned to feel her shame, For, though beneath her hair of flame
Her thoughtful head be lowly bowed It droops for meditation proud
Impenitent, and pondering yet Things no memory can forget,
Starry wonders she has seen Brooding in the wildwood green
With holiness. For who can say In what strange crew she loved to play,
What demons or what gods of old Deep mysteries unto her have told
At dead of night in worship bent At ruined shrines magnificent,
Or how the quivering will she sent Alone into the great alone
Where all is loved and all is known, Who now lifts up her maiden eyes
And looks around with soft surprise Upon the noisy, crowded square,
The city oafs that nod and stare, The bishop's court that gathers there,
The faggots and the blackened stake Where sinners die for justice' sake?
Now she is set upon the pile, The mob grows still a little while,
Till lo! before the eager folk Up curls a thin, blue line of smoke.
"Alas!" the full-fed burghers cry, "That evil loveliness must die!"
Poem XV. Dungeon Grates
So piteously the lonely soul of man Shudders before this universal plan,
So grievous is the burden and the pain, So heavy weighs the long, material chain
From cause to cause, too merciless for hate, The nightmare march of unrelenting fate,
I think that he must die thereof unless Ever and again across the dreariness
There came a sudden glimpse of spirit faces, A fragrant breath to tell of flowery places
And wider oceans, breaking on the shore From which the hearts of men are always sore.
It lies beyond endeavour; neither prayer Nor fasting, nor much wisdom winneth there,
Seeing how many prophets and wise men Have sought for it and still returned again
With hope undone. But only the strange power Of unsought Beauty in some casual hour
Can build a bridge of light or sound or form To lead you out of all this strife and storm;
When of some beauty we are grown a part Till from its very glory's midmost heart
Out leaps a sudden beam of larger light Into our souls. All things are seen aright
Amid the blinding pillar of its gold, Seven times more true than what for truth
we hold In vulgar hours. The miracle is done
And for one little moment we are one With the eternal stream of loveliness
That flows so calm, aloft from all distress Yet leaps and lives around us as a fire
Making us faint with overstrong desire To sport and swim for ever in its deep—
Only a moment. O! but we shall keep
Our vision still. One moment was enough, We know we are not made of mortal stuff.
And we can bear all trials that come after, The hate of men and the fool's loud bestial
laughter And Nature's rule and cruelties unclean,
For we have seen the Glory-we have seen.
Poem XVI. The Philosopher
Who shall be our prophet then, Chosen from all the sons of men
To lead his fellows on the way Of hidden knowledge, delving deep
To nameless mysteries that keep Their secret from the solar day!
Or who shall pierce with surer eye! This shifting veil of bittersweet
And find the real things that lie Beyond this turmoil, which we greet
With such a wasted wealth of tears? Who shall cross over for us the bridge of
fears And pass in to the country where the ancient
Mothers dwell? Is it an elder, bent and hoar
Who, where the waste Atlantic swell On lonely beaches makes its roar,
In his solitary tower Through the long night hour by hour
Pores on old books with watery eye When all his youth has passed him by,
And folly is schooled and love is dead And frozen fancy laid abed,
While in his veins the gradual blood Slackens to a marish flood?
For he rejoiceth not in the ocean's might, Neither the sun giveth delight,
Nor the moon by night Shall call his feet to wander in the haunted
forest lawn. He shall no more rise suddenly in the dawn
When mists are white and the dew lies pearly Cold and cold on every meadow,
To take his joy of the season early, The opening flower and the westward shadow,
And scarcely can he dream of laughter and love,
They lie so many leaden years behind. Such eyes are dim and blind,
And the sad, aching head that nods above His monstrous books can never know
The secret we would find. But let our seer be young and kind
And fresh and beautiful of show, And taken ere the lustyhead
And rapture of his youth be dead; Ere the gnawing, peasant reason
School him over-deep in treason To the ancient high estate
Of his fancy's principate, That he may live a perfect whole,
A mask of the eternal soul, And cross at last the shadowy bar
To where the ever-living are.
Poem XVII. The Ocean Strand
O leave the labouring roadways of the town, The shifting faces and the changeful hue
Of markets, and broad echoing streets that drown
The heart's own silent music. Though they too
Sing in their proper rhythm, and still delight The friendly ear that loves warm human kind,
Yet it is good to leave them all behind, Now when from lily dawn to purple night
Summer is queen, Summer is queen in all the happy land.
Far, far away among the valleys green Let us go forth and wander hand in hand
Beyond those solemn hills that we have seen So often welcome home the falling sun
Into their cloudy peaks when day was done— Beyond them till we find the ocean strand
And hear the great waves run, With the waste song whose melodies I'd follow
And weary not for many a summer day, Born of the vaulted breakers arching hollow
Before they flash and scatter into spray, On, if we should be weary of their play
Then I would lead you further into land Where, with their ragged walls, the stately
rocks Shunt in smooth courts and paved with quiet
sand To silence dedicate. The sea-god's flocks
Have rested here, and mortal eyes have seen By great adventure at the dead of noon
A lonely nereid drowsing half a-swoon Buried beneath her dark and dripping locks.
Poem XVIII. Noon
Noon! and in the garden bower The hot air quivers o'er the grass,
The little lake is smooth as glass And still so heavily the hour
Drags, that scarce the proudest flower Pressed upon its burning bed
Has strength to lift a languid head:— Rose and fainting violet
By the water's margin set Swoon and sink as they were dead
Though their weary leaves be fed With the foam-drops of the pool
Where it trembles dark and cool Wrinkled by the fountain spraying
O'er it. And the honey-bee Hums his drowsy melody
And wanders in his course a-straying Through the sweet and tangled glade
With his golden mead o'erladen, Where beneath the pleasant shade
Of the darkling boughs a maiden— Milky limb and fiery tress,
All at sweetest random laid— Slumbers, drunken with the excess
Of the noontide's loveliness.
Poem XIX. Milton Read Again (In Surrey)
Three golden months while summer on us stole I have read your joyful tale another time,
Breathing more freely in that larger clime And learning wiselier to deserve the whole.
Your Spirit, Master, has been close at hand And guided me, still pointing treasures rare,
Thick-sown where I before saw nothing fair And finding waters in the barren land,
Barren once thought because my eyes were dim. Like one I am grown to whom the common field
And often-wandered copse one morning yield New pleasures suddenly; for over him
Falls the weird spirit of unexplained delight, New mystery in every shady place,
In every whispering tree a nameless grace, New rapture on the windy seaward height.
So may she come to me, teaching me well To savour all these sweets that lie to hand
In wood and lane about this pleasant land Though it be not the land where I would dwell.
Poem XX. Sonnet
The stars come out; the fragrant shadows fall About a dreaming garden still and sweet,
I hear the unseen bats above me bleat Among the ghostly moths their hunting call,
And twinkling glow-worms all about me crawl. Now for a chamber dim, a pillow meet
For slumbers deep as death, a faultless sheet, Cool, white and smooth. So may I reach the
hall With poppies strewn where sleep that is so
dear With magic sponge can wipe away an hour
Or twelve and make them naught. Why not a year,
Why could a man not loiter in that bower Until a thousand painless cycles wore,
And then-what if it held him evermore?
Poem XXI. The Autumn Morning
See! the pale autumn dawn Is faint, upon the lawn
That lies in powdered white Of hoar-frost dight
And now from tree to tree The ghostly mist we see
Hung like a silver pall To hallow all.
It wreathes the burdened air So strangely everywhere
That I could almost fear This silence drear
Where no one song-bird sings And dream that wizard things
Mighty for hate or love Were close above.
White as the fog and fair Drifting through the middle air
In magic dances dread Over my head.
Yet these should know me too Lover and bondman true,
One that has honoured well The mystic spell
Of earth's most solemn hours Wherein the ancient powers
Of dryad, elf, or faun Or leprechaun
Oft have their faces shown To me that walked alone
Seashore or haunted fen Or mountain glen
Wherefore I will not fear To walk the woodlands sere
Into this autumn day Far, far away.
End of Part I. The Prison House