Two Talkers: C. S. Lewis’s Final Version Of “Prayer”

The Lewis Legacy-Issue 73, Summer 1997 The C. S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing

In 1964, the year after C. S. Lewis’s death, two versions of one of his poems were both published for the first time. The version in Letters to Malcolm, completed before Lewis’s death, is obviously what he intended. That makes the version in Poems, edited by Walter Hooper, a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. Hooper claims in C. S. Lewis: Companion and Guide that his version of “Prayer” was Lewis’s final choice; but how could it be more final than the version Lewis sent to his publisher just before his death? Where did Hooper’s inferior version come from? Over half the 16 lines have been changed in Hooper’s version. The opening words, “They tell me, Lord,” are changed to “Master, they say…” Lewis’s “Since but one voice is heard” is changed in meaning to “Since you make no reply…” A comma at the end of line 3 is changed to an awkward dash at the beginning of line 4. “Sometimes it is” is changed illogically to “They are half right”-not what Lewis was saying. “Conceive it” becomes the slightly vaguer “Imagine.” “I hoped” becomes “I meant.” “But lo! my wells are dry” becomes “And lo! the wells are dry.” Hooper capitalizes listener in “listener’s role” as if it means God, but that is illogical; the meaning is not “God’s role.” In the next-to-last line Hooper changes “Two talkers” to “Two talking.”(“Prayer” seems to be by “two talkers.”) And Hooper changes Lewis’s “dumb lips” to completely inappropriate “dead lips.” This poem is about the Holy Spirit speaking through Lewis’s living lips. Ironically, Hooper seems to see fit to speak through Lewis’s dead lips. In this spiritual context, doesn’t such editorial panache border on the sacrilegious?