C.S. Lewis’s poetry prepared him to write his great prose

by Mr. Sheehy

This article from Laura Mallonee at Poetry profiles C.S. Lewis as an artist whose failed attempts at one project (in this case, poetry) lead to success in others (for Lewis, prose). Another notable whom I often cite in conversations with students is John Keats, whose work on the average poem Endymion lead to the greatness revealed in his Odes. I do wonder if it’s a tempting archetypal plot by which we interpret these artists’ stories, but then, perhaps like many archetypal plots, it became an archetype because so many stories followed it:

Lewis became acutely sensitive to the rhythm of the English language, whether poetry or prose. He never used a typewriter, explaining that the clattering of its keys destroyed his ‘sense of rhythm.’”

It was not through poetry but prose that Lewis finally found his audience, though it’s doubtful his prose would have been as powerful without his sharp poetic and critical instinct. The scholar Don W. King points to the writer’s “rich lyrical passages, vivid description; striking similes, metaphors and analogies; careful diction; and concern for the sound of words” in works ranging from science fiction to literary criticism. Alister McGrath observes, “Here we find one of the keys to his success as a writer—his ability to express complex ideas in simple language, connecting with his audience without losing elegance of expression.”