Thursday, May 28, 2009

mot juste

C.S. Lewis, "On A Vulgar Error"

No. It's an impudent falsehood. Men did not
Invariably think the newer way
Prosaic, mad, inelegant, or what not.

Was the first pointed arch esteemed a blot
Upon the church? Did anybody say
How modern and how ugly? They did not.

Plate-armour, or windows glazed, or verse fire-hot
With rhymes from France, or spices from Cathay,
Were these at first a horror? They were not.

If, then, our present arts, laws, houses, food
All set us hankering after yesterday,
Need this be only an archaising mood?

Why, any man whose purse has been let blood
By sharpers, when he finds all drained away
Must compare how he stands with how he stood.

If a quack doctor's breezy ineptitude
Has cost me a leg, must I forget straightaway
All that I can't do now, all that I could?

So, when our guides unanimously decry
The backward glance, I think we can guess why.

Lewis, C.S. "On A Vulgar Error." The Collected Poems of C.S. Lewis. Walter Hooper, ed. London: HarperCollins (1994).

EDIT [6-01-09]: HarperCollins makes typos, everybody. Beware.


Megan J said...

Your Porsaic definition problem intrigued me. I looked up other places where the poem was written, and it said "Prosaic." I'm wondering if your version has a typo, or Porsaic is a word that has been lost. Anyways, for prosaic:

  /proʊˈzeɪɪk/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [proh-zey-ik]
1. commonplace or dull; matter-of-fact or unimaginative: a prosaic mind.
2. of or having the character or form of prose rather than poetry.

I grabbed this from But it does make me want to run over to the library instead of doing my real work ;-).

mle said...

Hmmmm. I thought of the typo theory, too, but I want to trust Walter Hooper more than that. If we've really got a lost word on our hands, that seems like a pretty important discovery...

Jack said...

Blame Harper-Collins' typesetter, not Hooper. (That's not the first time I've seen a typo in their work.)

"Porsaic" isn't in the complete OED, so it has pretty much got to be "Prosaic."

Jack said...

On the poem itself, I think it's fascinating how different Lewis' world must have been, and wonder what he'd have written today. We no longer decry the backward glance; rather, we encourage it--but only for the sake of self-mockery. Romanticism is dead, as is Progressivism; Cynicism now takes the throne. (Perhaps Lewis did give a glimpse of this with his portrayal of modernity in Pilgrim's Regress, though I'm quite sure he'd be baffled by MTV and Adbusters either way.)