The Mystery of Love and C.S. Lewis’ Morning Song

C.S. Lewis’ love story with poet and author Joy Davidman has been made famous by Lewis biographers and, especially, the stage production and film, Shadowlands. Abigail Santamaria’s fairly recent biography of Davidman, Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis–which I have reviewed here–goes some distance in helping us see the story from another angle. Some biographies tell the story well, but there are hints of sexism and peculiar judgments of Lewis and Davidman sprinkled through the literature. Frankly, it gets weird sometimes, and we must admit that although Lewis was a leading Christian figure his lifestyle choices were pretty controversial. For 30 years he lived with a woman and after publishing Narnia and Mere Christianity, married a divorced American poet. It will always be a story that required a deft hand in telling.

The details are fairly well known. And yet, there will always be, I think, something of a mystery about the story of how these penpals met, became friends, married to avoid deportation, and then fell in love just when it was clear they couldn’t be together long. I like that there is mystery–a story that goes deeper than my own curiosity as a scholar and reader.

C.S. Lewis shared very little of his own love affair while it was happening, except to certain friends. When Davidman was in deepest pain or suffering, he reached out to letter-friends for prayer. But he was very private in his relationship, at least to those outside Oxford. And when Joy finally passed away, Lewis even used a pseudonym for his memoir of loss, A Grief Observed.

One of the beautiful things about historical and biographical work, though, is that the mystery can take unseen turns. One of these twists in the story is a poem, “Aubade,” published for the first time in 2015 by editor Don King in The Collected Poems of C.S. Lewis. “Aubade” is based on a copy found in an archive, and is part of a 12 Jul 1957 unpublished letter to Lewis’ longtime friend, Owen Barfield.

An aubade is a morning poem, where lovers take a parting glimpse at one another as the dawn breaks into the room. In the summer of 1957, after Joy was taken home from the hospital after their Christian marriage blessing, Lewis wrote an aubade to his surprising love. Normal to the genre, Lewis attends to his partner’s body. But this gaze is, of course, different, for Davidman’s body is betraying her–betraying them both now that they are a union of two. Yet, Lewis finds a completeness in her body, a sexual something that evokes youth. No, it is not the classic poem that John Donne’s “The Sun Rising” has become–I love few poems as much as this one–but I do think this is an evocative piece that adds a little bit more to the mystery.

“Aubade” by C.S. Lewis (1957)

Somehow it’s strange discovering, dear,
That your given body has complete
As any woman’s has, those sweet
And private things on which (too many a year)
Youth’s casual act or more persistent thought
Unwearyingly, wearisomely, wrought;

As if, now raised to wealth, some boy
Who had tossed, and begged for, grimy pennies,
Allowed to bathe wrist-deep in guineas
Incredulous arms, should feel amid such joy
Some wonder that even these, so bright, clean, new
Were round and clinked and were a Queen’s head too.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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9 Responses to The Mystery of Love and C.S. Lewis’ Morning Song

  1. Not sure why this aubade adds to the mystery — perhaps because I too married the love of my life at age 58 (9/21/96) my first and only marriage. Janie is still alive, thanks be, though disabled. Perhaps since the aubade seems so reasonable to me, I could speak to your finding it adds to the mystery? — Jared Lobdell

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, just the mystery of Lewis’ life in general. It shows the intimacy and a renewed poetic moment. It is unlike most of his poems of that decade previous. And I think it is nice. Perhaps I just mean it adds to the story.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yewtree says:

      Hurrah for love in middle age, whether relatively new or long-established.

      And (very belated) felicitations on your marriage.

      There’s something deeper and more definite and decided about loving as a middle-aged adult.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thanks for this – always enjoyable to read a new Lewis poem!

    We quoted Robert Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra” on a wedding announcement – “Grow old along with me! / The best is yet to be”. (I don’t know if Browning, who at 34 married Elizabeth Barrett who was 40, was thinking of his wife and himself, among other things, here, or just when it was written – it was published three years after her death.)

    I wish I were better at stanza forms (and scansion, come to that…), so I could speculate if it has any significance that both this “Aubade” and “Rabbi Ben Ezra” have six-line stanzas, with the rime-scheme as it were reversed: Browning aabccb, Lewis abbacc (though with different metrical structure).

    Should the last verb in Lewis’s last line be ‘wore’ rather than ‘were’?

    Like

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Here’s the whole thing, as first published, for anyone inclined to (re)read it…:

      https://archive.org/details/dramatispersonae00browuoft/page/76

      Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder if you were right on the “wore/were” at the end. Metre makes me dizzy, but is there an aubade form? I didn’t think so. Lewis knew the Brownings, I believe, and you have chosen a nice line!

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        There does not (so far as I have gotten in exploring) seem to be any specific aubade form – I haven’t even found references to any typical or characteristic forms used.

        Is “were a Queen’s head” what Don King prints – without any note or discussion? And, does he say where the unpublished source letter is? Is it L-Barfield 79b in the Wade? It leaves me wondering in general about verbs used with respect to effigies on coins! (E.g., the Wikipedia “Obverse and reverse” article uses forms of ‘bear’ twice.)

        Like

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