Lewis Quote of the Day

.

Vitrea Circe

The name of Circe
Is wrongly branded
(Though Homer’s verses
Portrayed her right)
By heavy-handed
And moral persons
Misunderstanding
Her danger bright.

She used not beauty
For man’s beguiling,
She craved no suitor;
Sea-chances brought
To her forest-silent
And crimson-fruited
And snake-green island
Her guests unsought.

She watched those drunken
and tarry sailors
Eat nectar-junket
And Phoenix-nests;
Each moment paler
With pride, she shrunk at
Their leering, railing,
Salt-water jests.

They thought to pluck there
Her rosial splendour?
They thought their luck there
Was near divine?
When the meal ended
She rose and struck them
With wand extended
And made them swine.

With smiles and kisses
No man she tempted;
She scorned love’s blisses
And toils, until
There came, undream’t of,
The tough Ulysses,
From fate exempted
By Pallas’ will.

Then flashed above her
(Poor kneeling Circe,
Her snares discovered)
The hero’s blade.
She lay at mercy,
His slave, his lover,
forgot her curses,
Blushed like a maid.

She’d none to warn her.
He hacked and twisted
Her hedge so thorny;
It let him pass.
Her awful distance,
Her vestal scornings,
Were bright as crystals,
They broke like glass.

~C.S. Lewis, Poems (1st published June 23, 1948 in Punch)

I have, in my day, read many feminist retellings of the classic fairy-tales and myths. But I think this one by Lewis is one of the best I’ve read. Lewis, despite how much people imagine that he was a misogynist who didn’t understand women, shows here again his focus on the female characters in classical stories. His sympathetic portrayal of Psyche and her sisters in Till We Have Faces is the main example of this, but there is also his beautiful portrayal of Helen in After Ten Years (which I really wish he had finished). One should also not forget that, while Jadis is descended from Lilith, Lewis describes the early kings and queens of Charn as being kind and beautiful, suggesting that being Lilith’s offspring didn’t necessarily make them Bad (which forced me in my own fic to describe Lilith as a sympathetic character, something I wouldn’t have chosen to do on my own, but then I wouldn’t have included Lilith at all except that Lewis’s story demanded I did). Also among his Poems is Hermione in the House of Paulina, which is based on Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, but which gives evidence of Lewis’s ability to use feminine imagery to portray female characters in a strong light.

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