As I hinted last month, I have been reading and rereading C.S. Lewis’ Dymer. Lewis only kept a journal during his early Oxford years, 1922-1927. The diary’s posthumous title, All My Road Before Me, is taken from the first stanza of Dymer:
You stranger, long before your glance can light
Upon these words, time will have washed away
The moment when I first took pen to write,
With all my road before me—yet today,
Here, if at all, we meet; the unfashioned clay
Ready to both our hands; both hushed to see
That which is nowhere yet come forth and be.
Lewis first took pen to write Dymer during Christmas holidays of 1916, working first in prose after he had set aside The Quest of Bleheris. He got far enough along in the story that he was within three chapters of finishing, but we have nothing left of the manuscript. Sometime in 1918, he began a Dymer poem, that he soon abandoned. Time passed, however, and the story came back to him. In the second entry of his diary, 1 Apr 1922, Lewis writes:
A beautiful spring day. D [Mrs. Moore] busy cutting oranges for marmalade. I sat in my own bedroom by an open window in bright sunshine and started a poem on Dymer in rhyme royal.
I don’t know whether the poem inspired the journal or if journaling reminded him of his correspondence with Arthur Greeves, which was like a teenage journal where he tested out his poetry and prose. In either case, Dymer is the subject of much of the journal, first mentioned in the second entry and last mentioned in the fourth-last entry, 26 Feb 1927, where he mentions some admirers of Dymer. In this period Lewis wrote and rewrote, testing it with his closest friends before submitting Dymer for publication in 1925.
Finally, after much worry and work and after an initial rejection by Lewis’ own publisher, Dymer was published by J.M. Dent on 18 Sep 1926.
Alister McGrath writes of the period before the joyous news of publication, when Lewis was working as a philosophy tutor in 1924-25:
Lewis now had a job, even if it failed to satisfy his deepest longings. Lewis was obliged to teach philosophy, when he really wanted to be a poet. Dymer was the passion of his life, and the basis of his potential reputation. As things had worked out, Lewis was a frustrated poet who was obliged to teach philosophy to earn a living.
Lewis’ dreams, however, did not come true. Dymer was kindly reviewed but seldom purchased. If it was not for Lewis’ later career the poem would be entirely forgotten. Reading through All My Road Before Me shows the intense stress and financial worry for Lewis in this period and the great relief he feels in getting a five-year fellowship with Magdalen College in English. It also shows the life—and ultimate death—of Lewis’ dream of being the known poet of Dymer.
Dymer is an overlooked poem partly because it is extremely difficult to understand. David Downing calls it “obscure and artistically undistinguished.” Chad Walsh calls it a failure as a whole, while A.N. Wilson suggests that only the most dedicated Lewis enthusiasts “can ever have bothered to press on with Dymer.”
It is not all negative, however. Without praise for the poetic wholeness of the piece, Don King considers Dymer Lewis’ “most important poem,” while Downing admits that “it gives powerful evidence of how far Lewis had moved” along a spiritual path during his first years at Oxford. Dymer is, Joel Heck claims, a “reflection of Lewis himself” in the period, providing an important conversation point for the effect of Lewis’ conversion, such that Monika Hilder’s analysis that Dymer represents the “classical male who rejects the spiritual female,” an approach that lacks the inversive nature of Lewis’ later work.
Idiosyncratic and problematic, Dymer nevertheless makes for provocative reading, with heights of poetic loveliness and a philosophical vision that strikes the reader with barrenness and rugged hope—even if precise meaning isn’t very clear. I find myself coming back to this poem frequently, and it has become an important piece of the 1920s C.S. Lewis of my mind’s invention.
But, what if I have been pronouncing “Dymer” wrong all this time?
After five years of avoiding the book, I decided to reread Alister McGrath’s biography of Lewis. I am listening to it as an audiobook this time, and Robin Sachs pronounces Dymer as “Deemer.” It has shattered my vision of the entire piece. All along, I have been pronouncing Dymer as “Daimer,” so that “Dym” rhymes with “rhyme.” McGrath’s bio of Lewis is one of the last things that Sachs read in a long career of acting. Who am I to question someone who studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art? More than anything, Robin Sachs had a recurring role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
And, yet… I’m hesitant to let go of my pronunciation. After all, Daimer might not be Deemer, but might be Dimmer, so the “y” has a sound like “hypocrite,” or Doomer, so that the “y” is like the Greek upsilon as pronounced in some circles (though I find this one unconvincing).
So, dear friends, how am I to pronounce the name of the hapless revolutionary, Dymer? Can someone from the Buffyverse be wrong? Is it Doomer, Dimmer, Deemer, or Daimer?
 See C.S. Lewis’ 28 Jan 1917 letter to Arthur Greeves.
 See C.S. Lewis’ 2 Dec 1918 letter to Arthur Greeves.
 Alister E. McGrath, C.S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet (Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale, 2013), 109.
 David C. Downing, The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 118.
 Chad Walsh, The Literary Legacy of C.S. Lewis (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979), 46.
 A.N. Wilson, C.S. Lewis: A Biography (London: HarperCollins Publishers), ch. 9.
 Don W. King, “Dymer,” in The C.S. Lewis Readers’ Encyclopedia (ed. Jeffrey D. Schultz and John G. West, Jr.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998),144 (144-6).
 Downing, Most Reluctant Convert, 118.
 Joel D. Heck, From Atheism to Christianity: The Story of C.S. Lewis (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2017), 124.
 Monika B. Hilder, Surprised by the Feminine: A Rereading of C.S. Lewis and Gender (Studies in Twentieth-Century British Literature 12; New York: Peter Lang, 2013), 36. We will consider Hilder’s argument more fully in chapter six.