Monday, April 11, 2005

Potential for Genius

Lewis writes about a fifteenth century allegorical poem "The Assembly of Ladies":

In many periods the historian of literature discovers a dominant literary form, such as the blood tragedy among the Elizabethans, or satire in the eighteenth century...During the years between Chaucer's death and the poetry of Wyatt, allegory becomes such a dominant form and suffers all the vicissitudes to which dominant forms are exposed. ...

What the writer really wants to describe is no inner drama with Loyalty as its heroine, but the stir and bustle of an actual court, the whispered consultations, the putting on of clothes, and the important comings and goings. She is moved, by a purely naturalistic impulse, to present the detail of everyday life; and if her poem were not hampered by being still attached--as with an umbilical cord--to the allegorical form, it would be an admirable picture of manners. Indeed, if only the first four stanzas survived, we might now be lamenting the lost Jane Austen of the fifteenth century. They read exactly like the beginning of a novel in verse. ...

We cannot call the piece satisfactory as a whole: for the fatal discrepancy between the real and the professional intention is felt at every turn. To read it is to learn why some critics hate allegory; for there the significacio is -- what some suppose it to be in all allegories--a chilling and irrelevant addition to the story. But the detail of the poem shows powers akin to genius, and reveals to us that much neglected law of literary history--that potential genius can never become actual unless it finds or makes the Form which it requires.
~C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, "Allegory as the Dominant Form" (1936)

Relevant link of the day: The Assembly of Ladies (author unknown, dating from the last quarter of the fifteenth century)

Cool link of the day: The Medieval Blogger: what's new and cool in the current Middle Ages

3 Comment(s):

At Mon Apr 11, 06:38:00 AM EST, Blogger Bob said...

I thought you were on Spring Break? Didn't expect a post for another week.

At Mon Apr 11, 07:22:00 AM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Just took a long weekend. Kids are back to school today.

At Tue Apr 12, 01:16:00 AM EST, Blogger Bob said...

Well, I am selfishly pleased that I won't have to do without my daily dose of CS Lewis for so long as I had feared. :-)


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