Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ripeness is All

I have finished Ursula Le Guin and have now moved on to a biography of CS Lewis. That the guy who wrote it is not an academic is evident from some of his comments in the introduction.

The book does not have the polish of a Daphne du Maurier or a Claire Tomalin or even, a Peter Ackroyd. But it does have its own charm. And CS Lewis is a fascinating subject. And I find, like me, he only read Kenneth Grahame as an adult and it made him all warm and fuzzy.

There is nothing quite so comforting as curling up with a cup of hot chocolate and Wind in the Willows. (I think it's the food that does it. It's the food that does it in Pickwick as well, the food and the milk punch and the games and the gaiety and the benevolence and the stories,and my dear, dear Sam).

I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books.

This was how Lewis (or Jacksie as he liked to be known) described himself.

I've only finished the first chapter which deals at some length with the illness and death of his mother. His feelings about this, while breezed over in his memoir, Surprised by Joy, is treated more honestly in The Magician's Nephew, the prequel to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, written much later:

"And so would you...if you'd lived all your life in the country and had a pony, and a river at the bottom of the garden, and then had been brought to live in a beastly Hole like this...And with an Aunt and an Uncle who's mad (how would you like that?)- and if the reason was that they were looking after your Mother - and if your Mother was ill and was going to - going to - die." Then his face went the wrong sort of shape as it does if you're trying to keep back your tears.

Helen wrote thanking me for the birthday card I made for her and the poem I wrote inside it. I decided to use an original one rather than taking one of the numerous ones I have on standby.

She said it made her cry with happiness, which was a first.

Her card was like a flame that flared briefly in this dark night.

These were the words on CS Lewis's mother's calendar the day she died. The first six words were later to form his own epitaph:

Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither:
Ripeness is all.

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