Today would have been the 121st birthday of C.S. Lewis. A week ago today marked the 56th anniversary of his death, which was, at the time, overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy.
To celebrate his birthday, I decided to read the second essay found in the 1969 edition of Selected Literary Essays by C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper. Interestingly, the copy I checked out from the Kansas City Public Library may be a first edition. If not, it’s been in circulation for fifty years, as evidenced by date stamps through early 1996, after which, I assume, the Library moved from analog to digital (card catalog to barcodes):
I originally checked out this volume specifically to read the 21st essay entitled “Psycho-Analysis and Literary Criticism” which was referenced in a footnote in an essay I read recently in A Tolkien Compass. For today, though, I wanted to celebrate the friendship between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, so I read, instead, the second essay entitled “The Alliterative Metre.”
The essay covers many of the rules governing alliterative verse, including these definitions:
The half-line consists of Lifts and Dips. Every half-line must contain neither more nor less than two Lifts.
A Lift is either (1) one syllable both long and accented (as the first syllable of ogre or mountain); or (b) two syllables whereof the first is short but accented, and the second unaccented (as the first two syllables of merrily, vigorous, melancholy, evident).
A Dip is any reasonable number of unaccented syllables whether long or short.
Despite my best efforts, I quickly got sidetracked by yet another footnote. It all began with a short example alliterative verse, composed (I’m assuming) by Lewis.
We were TALKing of DRAGONS, | TOLkien and I In a BERKshire BAR. | The BIG WORKman Who had SAT SILent | and SUCKED his PIPE ALL the EVEning, | from his EMPTy MUG With GLEAMing EYE | GLANCED toWARDS us; "I SEEN 'em mySELF', | he SAID FIERCEly
Note: Syllables printed above in capitals are Lifts, the rest are Dips.
The first and most distracting footnote followed the word ‘fiercely’ and read:
Crossroads of Twilight
The Last Light of the Sun
The Wise Man’s Fear
To Ride Hell’s Chasm
The Way of Kings
The Forge of God
Out of the Silent Planet
The Eye of the Hunter
Memories of Ice
Best Served Cold
That Hideous Strength
Silent in the Grave
Flesh and Spirit
Surprised by Joy
If Not Now, When?
To Green Angel Tower
The Return of the King
By the Sword
Five Hundred Years After
Fall of Angels
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Circle of the Moon
* * * * *
I composed the above poem using books found on the shelves in my home. Since I favor epic fantasy as a preferred reading genre, I sought a saga of epoch proportions in answer to the call for a book title poem from the Kansas City Public Library‘s celebration of National Library week. See my earlier post for details on how to participate in the fun.
The next mini-project intrigues me, both as an amateur photography and as a former poet (albeit decades ago). I plan to scan my book titles (several hundred in house currently) to craft a poem both visually and title-cally. Since my poetic muscles atrophied years ago, I anticipate it will take a day or two to polish my book title poem.
I’ll save the third mini-project for later in the week. Writing my autobiography implies heavy posteric meaning. Or perhaps I should turn tragedy (or at the least mediocre boringness) into comedy?