C. Day Lewis

C. Day Lewis

C. Day Lewis

C. Day Lewis

Excerpt

IN A Hope for Poetry , a prose work which C. Day Lewis published in 1934, there occurs this sentence:

So there arises in him (i.e. in the modern poet) a conflict; between the old which his heart approves and the new which fructifies his imagination; between the idea of a change of heart that should change society and the idea of a new society making a new man; between individual education and mass economic conditionment.

Though Day Lewis was here making a general statement about the poets of his generation he was -- in fact, if not in intention -- speaking particularly of himself: these words indicate clearly the nature of his own work and provide a valuable guide to its understanding and appreciation. 'At which end should one begin?' he goes on to ask in the quoted passage, and nearly all his work is concerned with the process of trying to answer this question: again and again his poems are given such titles as 'The Conflict', 'The Double Vision', 'Marriage of Two', 'The Misfit', 'The Neurotic' -- and these titles are echoed by complementary phrases: 'the heart divided', 'the single mind', 'in me two worlds at war trample the patient flesh'.

Preoccupation with such phraseology shows that C. Day Lewis is a poet whose theme is war -- not in the usual meaning of the word, though he has written about that, too -- but in the sense that the conscience of nearly every man of goodwill today is a battle-ground. Few people are sure of themselves: for many, the old faiths are dead and dead with them is the old certainty; new faiths push forward to fill the empty places -- and their very profusion indicates the uncertainty in which they thrive. The problem -- put simply, and as I think one can sense it behind Day Lewis's poems -- is this: the old faiths, which prompted men to commit in their name many . . .

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