Friday 9 March 2012

C.S Lewis on Substituted Love and Exchange in Charles Williams


From Arthurian Torso, 1948, condensed from pp 121-5.

Williams realises, as perhaps only great poets do, that poetry is after all only poetry. It is not a substitute for for philosophy or theology, much less for sanctification.

Not even Virgil can be saved by poetry... This poet from whose work so many Christians have drawn spiritual nourishment was not himself a Christian - did not himself know the full meaning of his own poetry... This is the exquisite cruelty: he made honey not for himself; he helped to save others, himself he could not save...


The problem of the virtuous pagan is for [Williams] a real one.

The fact that Virgil was a great poet does not in the least alter the fact that he cannot have had Christian faith, hope and charity; without which no man can be saved...

Virgil's death... Every possible grip has failed. The two things he loved, Rome and Augustus, have become, the one a nonentity, the other a swelling, gruesome, obscene, gargantuan shape... Virgil is overwhelmed in the mere flotsam and rubble of what had been his own poetic universe...

And that, as far as Nature goes, would have been the end of the story.

But the second part [of the poem] tells us that as Virgil was about to perish in the 'perpetual falling, perpetual burying', helpers rushed towards him, dived beneath him, caught him as he fell.

They had rushed from what was (to him) the far future, for this transaction is outside time.

All who have been or will be nurtured by Virgil's hexameters rushed back along the timeless corridors to save their 'master and friend', the 'holy poet', to place at his service the faith which they had and he lacked...


The present poems means what it says. I think the poet would have said in so many words, if asked, that any Christian Virgilian can this very night assist in the salvation of Virgil.


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