Failing to Find Words: Reflecting on C.S. Lewis’ The Apologist’s Evening Prayer
by Dr. Holly Ordway
I struggled to find a poem to write about for this piece; having chosen one, I found I had nothing good to say, so I tried again, and then again, and ended up with yet more deleted drafts for my pains. Eventually, I found myself circling back to a poem I had considered, and then set aside: C.S. Lewis’ “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer.”
From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.
Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.
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It’s an odd choice, in a way, because it’s not one of the poems of Lewis’ that I particularly like as a poem. There are others that I enjoy or find compelling and beautiful as poems, like “What the Bird Said Early in the Year,” “Five Sonnets,” “The Dragon Speaks,” “Reason,” “Re-adjustment,” or “Pilgrim’s Problem” to name a few. In contrast, “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer” feels flat.
But in its very flatness it speaks to that feeling I get at the end of a long day of talking, teaching, writing: as if my words fall lifeless. It’s a poem of poverty of language, in a way… of being unable to say what I want to say (or even to think it).
As a teacher, a writer, an apologist, I find that it is too easy to think that words and more words, arguments and more arguments, ideas explained and defended, are all that matters…
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