The friendship of Owen Barfield and C. S. Lewis is one of the most celebrated in the field of modern letters. "Opposition is true friendship," Barfield wrote in subscript to his dedication to Lewis of Poetic Diction. And Lewis dedicated An Allegory of Love to "Owen Barfield, wisest and best of my unofficial teachers." The brilliantly bracing effect that the two men had on each other has been well described in several places.1 But the "true friendship" included too a finely sympathetic and yet frank discussion of original poetry by both men, and this subject has scarcely been touched. It is a large subject and one which must wait for full treatment upon the publication of more of Barfield's verse. Here, very briefly, I should like to suggest something of the potential riches in this area by discussing several poems by Barfield which relate to Lewis.
Owen Barfield has written poetry during most his life. His first publication was in fact a poem, "Air-Castles," published in Punch in 1917 when he was still in school; some forty more poems have since been published, mostly in small journals. Lewis fans will know the "Abecedarium Philosophicum," which the two friends co-authored. There remain approximately 200 unpublished poems ranging from brief, playful quatrains to the marvelous long narrative "The Mother of Pegasus." Lewis saw many, if not most, of these poems, and he expressed admiration for a number of them. For example, Lewis liked "The Tower," a very early work (1919-26) by Barfield, and he quotes it (slightly inaccurately) in Letters to Malcolm: "The dulllest of us knows how memory can transfigure; how often some momentary glimpse of beauty in boyhood is 'a whisper / Which memory will warehouse as a shout.'"
"The Tower" is still in a manuscript in Barfield's possession. The passage quoted in Letters to Malcolm comes from pages 18-19 of this long, philosophical, rather Prelude-like poem:
Now, while thy freedom
While love still gilmmers low on the horizon
Like some rose-tinted mountain, to whose base
Holiday makes tramp unhurring
With well-filled knapsacks--even now, not once,
But many times, the secret-breathing world
Whispers to thee, yet whispers with a voice
Which memory shall warehouse as a shout;
Mornings in later summer--the cold air
Crudding the heart beneath the risen sun
Flashing over a carpet of thick dew
Which loads miraculously clear each thread
Of perilous cobwebs.2
(lines 28-40 of sec. V)
In his "Introduction" to Light on C. S. Lewis, Barfield cites the use of this quotation as proof that "there never was a man like him [Lewis] for remembering his friends' verse, whether published or unpublished." In the same piece, Barfield speaks of "a long narrative poem" in which "two of the characters loosely and archetypally represented for me 'my' two Lewises." The poem is "The Mother of Pegagus," the two characters Perseus and Bellerophon. The poem is still neglected, still in manuscript.
Accompanying a group of exuberantly playful love poems to a lady (c. 1941-1945) is the following poem to Lewis:
(To the Author of The Allegory of Love)
Consult know, Fancy, one who knows
What waters both delight and drown not;
Benignant Uncle of the Rose,
Jack (do you love me, Master?), frown not,
To hear tap on your window-pane
This swiftly-sprung September Beanstalk!
Nor feel me flightly grown, nor vain!
Remember our old Frauendienst-talk?
Sometimes the horizontal sun,
On tiny grassblades brightly beaming
Sheds over turf a benison,
A still pure light that smiles in dreaming
A gleam is on that emerald
That lies beyond the lofty paling,
Which Hesper brings no less than morn -
How fair, because 'twill soon be falling!
Pastiche perhsps--but ah, that glow
So clear, so bright, so soft, so winning,
Called: "Your true muse is Erato
And hath been from your life's beginning!"
Barfield continued to write poetry and Lewis saw a good deal of it. He became in fact Barfield's chief, sometimes almost his only, reader, as the following playful quatrain, which Barfield remember sending to Lewis, suggests
My public is select
But crammed with taste and knowledge,
It's rather stout and fairly tall
And lives at Magdalen College.
A year after Lewis' death, Barfield memorialized his friend in the following:
You came to him: when
will you come to me?
He knows what matters from what matters not.
I hurry to and fro and seem to be.
New tasks, new faces . . . (tiny sir, so hot?
As though there were a future for success?
He knows what matters from what matters not).
I catch sight of your unaverted face
Between two eager places . . . thus the day
Is punctuated by the silences
With which you answer every time I say:--
You came to him; when will you come to me?
O time! O night! O sun's recurring ray!
I shall forget again, as I'd forgot,
Before I crossed the Campus yesterday:--
He knows what matters now, what matters not.
I have only touched on one aspect of that remarkable friendship between Owen Barfield and C. S. Lewis. Their exchange on poetry and in poetry are witty, technically brilliant, and often profound. They deserve further attention.
others: R. J.
Reilly, Romantic Religion; the Green-Hooper biography;
C. S. Lewis's "Great War" with Owen Barfield.
2All original materials cited here are from Owen Barfield's private papers. Published with the permission of Mr. Barfield. All rights reserved. The original typescript of "The Mother of Pegasus" is in The Wade Collection at Wheaton College.