UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The poetry of Cecil Day Lewis Barton, Edgar Charles

Abstract

Chapter One ("Amongst The Ruins") attempts to survey contemporary society through Lewis' eyes. The main characteristics of the age are these: (1) the extent to which the machine dominates the life of our times, and the economic, social, and psychological maladjustments which result; (2) the tragedy of recurring war; (3) the decay of religious orthodoxy and the quest for spiritual reassurance Chapter Two (The Appetite For Wholeness) deals with Lewis' attempt to achieve singleness of mind as related in his spiritual autobiography, Transitional Poem. This poem is especially important for the expression of certain germinal ideas which later develop into fundamental concept These germinal ideas are the polarity of flesh and spirit: the duality of physical and spiritual love; a carpe diem conception of pleasure; the acceptance of pain; the worship of hero in his role of decisive action; and the decision to take the side of the proletariat in the class struggles of the age. Chapter Three (The Spendthrift Fire the Holy Fire) examines the poetry of love and sex. From Feathers To Iron relates the thoughts and feelings of the poet during the nine months which precede the birth of his first child. This poem is considered from three different levels; as a human story, as a pageant of nature, as a political allegory on the birth of a new world. Other lyrics of love and sex deal with sex perversion, and the change which time brings to the marriage relationship, while others are in the mood of cavalier dalliance. Chapter Four (Inertia and Stimulants) presents Lewis’ argument that the key to the sickness of society is a divorce between flesh and spirit. This divorce brings about frustration and inertia, as exemplified by the various "Defendants" of The Magnetic Mountain, and leads to attempts at artificial stimulation, as exemplified by the four "Enemies" of the same book. Chapter Five (The Shape of Man’s Necessity) contends that The Magnetic Mountain offers socialism as a political solution which will heal the divorce of flesh and spirit. The enthusiasm of The Magnetic Mountain and Noah and the Waters gives way in later poems to a disappointment tempered by the faith that the socialist solution, though delayed, will eventually come. Chapter Six (In The Act of Decision) presents Lewis’ ideas of tradition and shows that the hero is one who acts decisively because his knowledge of necessity has united the desires of flesh and the desires of spirit. "A Time To Dance" and "Nabara" are epic stories which may be regarded as example of men in the act of decision. Chapter Seven (The Unique Minute) discusses the dual nature of Lewis’ philosophy of acceptance, The acceptance of joy becomes a carpe diem philosophy; the acceptance of suffering shows that the poet recognizes the complementary nature of joy and pain. Chapter Eight (Defend The Bad Against The Worse) examines the war poems which fall into three categories: (1) prophetic poems written before 1939; (2) poems about England at war; (3) poems about the prospect of lasting peace in the future. Chapter Nine (Emotional Logic) deals with the technique of the poems. Some of the conclusions drawn are these: (1) Soth logical and emotional coherence are used, hut the former predominates; (2) In matters of rhythm and rhyme, the influence of Anglo-Saxon versification, Hopkins, Owen, Eliot and Auden is present, but as not as great as is commonly supposed; (3) in general Lewis Is not an obscure poet; (4) In his latest poems (Short Is The Time) Lewis reveals that technically he is both versatile and accomplished, and that his poetry does not lack the purposeful ambiguity or qualities of "occlusion" which is a mark of great poetry.

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