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The Planets Poem by C. S. Lewis

Today Rev. Dr. Michael Ward gave a really thrilling lunchtime talk at MaLTS: "The Heavens Declare the Glory of God: C. S. Lewis, Narnia and the Planets," based on his excellent book Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis (OUP, 2008). Dr Ward is widely credited with cracking a 'code' woven throughout the seven books of the Narniad, based on the seven planets of medieval cosmology. I thought it would be helpful, then, to post the poem that helped Dr Ward crack this code: The Planets by C. S. Lewis.

“The Planets”

Lady LUNA, in light canoe, By friths and shallows of fretted cloudland Cruises monthly; with chrism of dews And drench of dream, a drizzling glamour, Enchants us–the cheat! changing sometime A mind to madness, melancholy pale, Bleached with gazing on her blank count’nance Orb’d and ageless. In earth’s bosom The shower of her rays, sharp-feathered light Reaching downward, ripens silver, Forming and fashioning female brightness, –Metal maidenlike. Her moist circle Is nearest earth. Next beyond her MERCURY marches;–madcap rover, Patron of pilf’rers. Pert quicksilver His gaze begets, goblin mineral, Merry multitude of meeting selves, Same but sundered. From the soul’s darkness, With wreathed wand, words he marshals, Guides and gathers them–gay bellwether Of flocking fancies. His flint has struck The spark of speech from spirit’s tinder, Lord of language! He leads forever The spangle and splendour, sport that mingles Sound with senses, in subtle pattern, Words in wedlock, and wedding also Of thing with thought. In the third region VENUS voyages…but my voice falters; Rude rime-making wrongs her beauty, Whose breasts and brow, and her breath’s sweetness Bewitch the worlds. Wide-spread the reign Of her secret sceptre, in the sea’s caverns, In grass growing, and grain bursting, Flower unfolding, and flesh longing, And shower falling sharp in April. The metal copper in the mine reddens With muffled brightness, like muted gold, By her fingers form’d. Far beyond her The heaven’s highway hums and trembles, Drums and dindles, to the driv’n thunder Of SOL’s chariot, whose sword of light Hurts and humbles; beheld only Of eagle’s eye. When his arrow glances Through mortal mind, mists are parted And mild as morning the mellow wisdom Breathes o’er the breast, broadening eastward Clear and cloudless. In a clos’d garden (Unbound her burden) his beams foster Soul in secret, where the soil puts forth Paradisal palm, and pure fountains Turn and re-temper, touching coolly The uncomely common to cordial gold; Whose ore also, in earth’s matrix, Is print and pressure of his proud signet On the wax of the world. He is the worshipp’d male, The earth’s husband, all-beholding, Arch-chemic eye. But other country Dark with discord dins beyond him, With noise of nakers, neighing of horses, Hammering of harness. A haughty god MARS mercenary, makes there his camp And flies his flag; flaunts laughingly The graceless beauty, grey-eyed and keen, Blond insolence – of his blithe visage Which is hard and happy. He hews the act, The indifferent deed with dint of his mallet And his chisel of choice; achievement comes not Unhelped by him – hired gladiator Of evil and good. All’s one to Mars, The wrong righted, rescued meekness, Or trouble in trenches, with trees splintered And birds banished, banks fill’d with gold And the liar made lord. Like handiwork He offers to all – earns his wages And whistles the while. White-feathered dread Mars has mastered. His metal’s iron That was hammered through hands into holy cross, Cruel carpentry. He is cold and strong, Necessity’s song. Soft breathes the air Mild, and meadowy, as we mount further Where rippled radiance rolls about us Moved with music – measureless the waves’ Joy and jubilee. It is JOVE’s orbit, Filled and festal, faster turning With arc ampler. From the Isles of Tin Tyrian traders, in trouble steering Came with his cargoes; the Cornish treasure That his ray ripens. Of wrath ended And woes mended, of winter passed And guilt forgiven, and good fortune Jove is master; and of jocund revel, Laughter of ladies. The lion-hearted, The myriad-minded, men like the gods, Helps and heroes, helms of nations Just and gentle, are Jove’s children, Work his wonders. On his white forehead Calm and kingly, no care darkens Nor wrath wrinkles: but righteous power And leisure and largess their loose splendours Have wrapped around him – a rich mantle Of ease and empire. Up far beyond Goes SATURN silent in the seventh region, The skirts of the sky. Scant grows the light, Sickly, uncertain (the Sun’s finger Daunted with darkness). Distance hurts us, And the vault severe of vast silence; Where fancy fails us, and fair language, And love leaves us, and light fails us And Mars fails us, and the mirth of Jove Is as tin tinkling. In tattered garment, Weak with winters, he walks forever A weary way, wide round the heav’n, Stoop’d and stumbling, with staff groping, The lord of lead. He is the last planet Old and ugly. His eye fathers Pale pestilence, pain of envy, Remorse and murder. Melancholy drink (For bane or blessing) of bitter wisdom He pours out for his people, a perilous draught That the lip loves not. We leave all things To reach the rim of the round welkin, Heaven’s heritage, high and lonely.

C.S. Lewis, “The Planets”, in the essay “The Alliterative Metre,” Lysistrata 2 (May 1935). Reprinted in Poems and Literary Essays, both edited by Walter Hooper, and C. S. Lewis Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, edited by Lesley Walmsley.

I am indebted to Brenton Dickieson, editor of "A Pilgrim in Narnia" blog for this citation.

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