Academic journal article Mythlore

C.S. Lewis's "The Meteorite" and the Importance of Context

Academic journal article Mythlore

C.S. Lewis's "The Meteorite" and the Importance of Context

Article excerpt

C.S. LEWIS PUBLISHED "THE METEORITE" IN A JOURNAL IN 1946. It has been reprinted in Lewis's Poems and Collected Poems since his death. It also appeared in one of Lewis's books in 1947. The thesis of this essay can be simply stated: without the context of the 1947 publication, the true meaning of the poem cannot be ascertained. This thesis is bothersome for those who, like this author, were trained in the New Critical approach of the early part of the twentieth century--what is now called a Formalistic approach. But it seems to be true. The evidence will consist of an elaborate Formalistic analysis, with the conclusion to which it brings the reader. And then the context will be given, and a second meaning will be presented.

Therefore, the first analysis. "The Meteorite" consists of five quatrains of iambic tetrameter rhyming ABAB. The poem begins:

   Among the hills a meteorite
   Lies huge; and moss has overgrown,
   And wind and rain with touches light
   Made soft, the contours of the stone.

Off-hand, one might expect that a huge meteorite would have made a large crater when hitting the earth, but this is not indicated. Perhaps one may conjecture a slow-moving meteorite that approached the earth in the direction of its movement around the sun, and not head-on; thus, the speed may not have been great enough to produce one of the major impacts, such as the largest on earth, the 160-kilometer-wide depression of Lake Acraman in Australia.

This relatively mild landing is reinforced by the meteorite being on the top of the ground, where moss can overgrow the stone and wind and rain can soften its contours. The rhyme word stone also indicates that this meteorite is one that is primarily made up of stony minerals, not one that is primarily iron. (Technically, this is a distinction among differentiated meteorites.) Since the Willamette Meteorite, at fifteen and a half tons the largest ever found in the United States, has one pitted side, due partially to atmospheric friction when it came down but also to rust since that time--it is an iron meteorite--Lewis's common-sense depiction of moss, wind, and rain seems factual.

This first quatrain has some alliteration--hills and huge; -mong, meteorite, and moss, for example--and some off-rhymes, such as wind, rain, con- of contours, and stone. But these and other devices, such as vowel variety with occasional assonance, seem to be used not so much to emphasize key ideas as to simply create the usual aural harmony of good English verse. Thus these techniques will not be emphasized in the rest of this discussion. Lewis can be assumed to be in command of these devices.

The syntax is more significant. Lewis obviously is not trying for a lyric emphasis to his verse, for lyrics tend to fit the thought to the line. But Lewis has the enjambment of "Lies huge" carried over from the first line into the second, and has the major internal pause of the quatrain after that first foot of the second line with the semicolon that follows huge. The elaborate parallelism of the "moss has overgrown" and the "wind and rain [have] made soft" that follows, running from the second into the fourth line, has an appeal to the intellect more than to the emotions. In short, Lewis is writing a type of spoken verse, based on wit (in the word's larger meaning); the poem is thus an epigram, not a lyric, in a rather Martialian or Jonsonian sense.

If one wanted to argue for a lyric, one would have to emphasize the caesurae after the first feet in the second and fourth lines, and argue (ignoring the A rhymes) for a pattern of alternate iambic pentameter and iambic trimeter lines:

   Among the hills a meteorite lies huge;
          And moss has overgrown,
   And wind and rain with touches light made soft,
          The contours of the stone.

But this, though clever, has no support in the rest of the poem, for never again is there a quatrain with this pattern and only once again a caesura after the first foot of a second or fourth line--or, for that matter, any line. …

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