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C. S. Lewis’s Buried Gold: “Break, Sun, My Crusted Earth”

The Lewis Legacy-Issue 76, Spring 1998 The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing

Break, sun, my crusted earth, Pierce, needle of light, within, Where blind, immortal metals have their birth And crystals firm begin.

To limbs and loins and heart Search with thy chemic beam, Strike where the self I know not lives apart Beneath the surface dream.

For Life in secret goes About his work. In gloom The mother helping not nor hindering, grows The man inside the womb.

This is the poem as C. S. Lewis published it in 1940 in Fear No More, an anthology from Cambridge University Press (see Legacy 65). In 1964 Walter Hooper republished it in Poems with six stanzas and a new title, “A Pageant Played in Vain.” In the 1964 version five of Lewis’s 12 lines were Waltered, and stanzas 1, 2, and 3 became stanzas 5, 4, and 6. In Hooper’s version the Sun is never mentioned until the fifth stanza; instead, the predominant image is a ship at sea. Thus the Sun imagery is eclipsed by other material.

Lewis’s real poem, “Break, Sun, My Crusted Earth,” is based upon medieval cosmology. Lewis likens the invisible growth of his soul, within his conscious life, to the invisible growth of minerals within the earth and the invisible growth of a baby within the womb. The Sun obviously stands for God (Life), and the poem is Lewis’s prayer for spiritual growth (Gold).

Correct understanding of Lewis’s first stanza depends upon information that Dorothy Sayers summarized in her essay “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages.” (In the Middle Ages the sun and moon were called planets.)

Medeval man looked up at a sky not only melodious, sunlit, and splendidly inhabited, but also incessantly active; he looked at agents to which he, and the whole earth, were patients…. First, on the physical side, the beams of each planet (which penetrate through the Earth’s crust) find the appropriate soil and turn it into the appropriate metal; Saturn thus producing lead, Mars iron, the Moon silver. and so forth. The moon’s connection with silver, and the Sun’s with Gold, may be real survivals (at many removes) of pre-logical, pictorial, thinking.