Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lewis in Poet's Corner

So, another big commemorative event last week was the induction of C. S. Lewis into the select company of British writers honored in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. The actual ceremony was held on the 22nd, that being the fiftieth anniversary of CSL's death. He joins such luminaries as Chaucer, Spenser, and Samuel Johnson, as well as contemporaries like W. H. Auden, John Betjeman, and T. S. Eliot. Of course, Lewis isn't actually buried here: his remains remain where they've been for the past fifty years: in the churchyard alongside his local church in Headington, where he shares a grave with his brother Warnie. Instead, what they did last week as set up a memorial plaque.*

Here's the only picture I cd find of the actual monument. The inscription on it reads in full "I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else."'_Corner.jpg&imgrefurl='s%2Bcorner%2Bfifty%2Byears%26tbm%3Disch%26tbo%3Du&zoom=1&q=poet's+corner+fifty+years&usg=__rBOtqF0spDIUBYjul3r-WXCihII=&docid=yjkhJv_mnq6LVM&sa=X&ei=so-aUvPKMcyHkQfT4IGYAg&ved=0CFYQ9QEwCQ

Similarly, among the flood of articles about the event I haven't found much on the actual ceremony. From earlier reports I know that Lewis biographer Alister McGrath and Lewis scholar Michael Ward (the 'Narnia Code' guy) were to be among the speakers, and I saw one account that quoted from his stepson, Douglas Gresham, in such a way that  made it clear he was there -- so at least one person who actually knew Lewis was present. I hope Walter Hooper, the person most responsible for Lewis's not vanishing from view in the two decades after his death, was there as well.**

And now, of course, I want to know how long before JRRT gets his own memorial there. If there's some kind of fifty-year rule,*** then we might look to seeing him so honored in 2023, ten years from now. I don't know, however, how Anglican you have to be to make it into Westminster Abbey (which is, after all, one of the major edifices of the Church of England) -- would Tolkien's Catholicism stand in the way? It doesn't seem to have done so in the case of Wilde, a deathbed convert -- though Wilde had to wait the better part of a century. I also get the feeling, from how recently some long-dead poets have been so honored, that it requires some kind of advocacy group pushing to put up a monument; it doesn't just happen.

So, I think Tolkien will be there too one day, but I don't know how long till that time comes. We'll see.


*the same is true of Auden (a great admirer of Tolkien and Ch. Wms, but who seems to have had little contact or common ground w. CSL), Betjeman (who despised CSL for having ruined his academic career), and Eliot (who for CSL represented everything wrong w. 20th century literature). In any event, as I think I noted in a previous post a year or so ago, Lewis is not the first Inkling to be so honored; fellow Inkling Adam Fox is buried here as well -- but because of his ecclesiastical office, not because he was a minor poet.

**as Aldous Huxley, who died on the same day, has vanished from view; once considered a major novelist, now being remembered only for having written a dystopian novel no one actually reads.

***Then too, there are obviously exceptions which make me doubt the fifty-year rule: Auden (d. 1973, the same year as Tolkien), Betjeman (d. 1984), Eliot (d. 1965), and Ted Hughes (d. 1998). Perhaps these all precede the rule or, as in Hughes case as Poet Laureate, are exempt from it.

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