Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

A Naked Tree: Love Sonnets to C. S. Lewis and Other Poems

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

A Naked Tree: Love Sonnets to C. S. Lewis and Other Poems

Article excerpt

A Naked Tree: Love Sonnets to C. S. Lewis and Other Poems. By Joy Davidman. Edited by Don W. King. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing, 2015. xvi + 320 pp. $30.00 (paper).

The American writer Joy Davidman (1915-1960) has been known primarily because of her association with C. S. Lewis, but the publication of this carefully edited and thoroughly annotated collection of Davidman's verse shows her to be a significant literary figure in her own right. For this collection, editor Don King has gathered both her published and her unpublished poems. As a whole, they show an unflinching commitment to authentic expression, combined with an exceptional facility with verse forms, diction, and imagery.

Readers of this journal may be especially interested in Davidman s verse written after her conversion to Christianity. Between that 1946 event and 1952, she wrote poems reflecting her new beliefs, several of them reminiscent of T. S. Eliot's style and his spare, hard-earned faith. But her most varied post-conversion poetry can be found in the last forty pages of A Naked Tree, in the section titled "Poems to C. S. Lewis (1952-1955)." It is composed of forty-four skillfully executed sonnets and fifteen other poems which together recount key aspects of Davidman s relationship with Lewis.

In this section, "The Ballade of Blistered Feet" is one of several nostalgic reminiscences of happy moments they shared in and around Oxford. Often, too, she writes in serio-comic tone about her unrequited love for Lewis, complaining, in Sonnet XXXVII, of this lifelong bachelors "frosty inhibitions" (p. 303). The dark-haired Davidman also playfully taunts him about his preference in womens hair color, for example, in Sonnet XX: "To be rejected, O this worst of wounds/ Not for love of God, but love of blondes!" (p. 294).

In another vein altogether is "Blessed Are the Bitter Things of God," which probably alludes to her disastrous first marriage to the American novelist Bill Gresham. Not coincidentally, she captures the essence of some seventeenth-century Anglican verse, as in this plea:

... Let me find

No loving kindness. I have not been kind.

Blessed are the dark hours of the Lord.

Only by justice can I pay my debt;

I am not ready for His mercy yet. (p. 278)

She also writes about the excruciatingly painful cancer that, not long after she took up residence in England, began to torment her body, as in Sonnet XIII: "My wheel of agony, and burning stones/ Eat their slow acid way into my bones" (p. …

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