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The Lewis Legacy-Issue 77, Summer 1998

Another Lewis Poem Carved in Stone Original Article

On 5 October 1997 Walter Hooper placed in the Bodleian Library a small but financially valuable piece of writing paper watermarked Basildon Bond. The first side is marked A, the second side is marked B, and they hold two versions of the same C. S. Lewis poem, both untitled. Herein is a mystery.
This sheet of paper obviously illustrates Hooper’s claim on page 268 of
the 1992 edition of C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table. There he explained the epitaph for Joy Davidman that appears in a photograph by Douglas
Gilbert on page 65 of C. S. Lewis: Images of His World. Hooper says, “Lewis had written two versions of this epitaph, but without having his wife in mind, and one of these is found in Poems. Joy Davidman chose one for her own epitaph, and Lewis revised it extensively in 1963 before it was cut into the stone in this photograph.”

On side A of the new document is the poem titled “Epitaph” that Lewis
published in the July 1949 issue of The Month. (Hooper reprinted it without its title in his 1964 book Poems.)

Version A:
Here lies the whole world after one
Peculiar mode, a buried sun,
Clouds, and immensities of sky,
And cities, here discarded lie.
The prince who owned them, having gone,
Left them as things not needed on
His journey, yet in hope that he
Purged by aeonion poverty
In lenten lands, hereafter can
Resume the robes he wore as man.

On side B is the following revision of “Epigraph.”

Version B
Here the whole world, the its stars and sun
The earth and water, after one
Peculiar mode), all thrown cast aside,
In one small conflagration died.
The soul that wore them, having gone,
Left them as things not needed on
That Her journey, yet in hope that she,
Purged by aeonion poverty
In Lenten lands, hereafter may
Resume them on at her Easter day

Version B was presumably written in 1949, since it is on the same piece of paper as Version A, But B inexplicably changes the sex of the deceased
from male to female and introduces the idea of conflagration. Implied
cremation takes the place of burial in a tomb, which is left out. This
eradicates the suggestion of an Egyptian ruler whose robes and treasures were entombed with him in hopes that he could enjoy them again in the
afterlife. Why would Lewis eviscerate Version A in this way?

In 1960 Joy Lewis was cremated, and in 1963 Lewis had the following poem inscribed on her marker in the crematorium. (This 1963 poem about
resurrection is tied closely to a prose passage in Lewis’s 1963 book
Letters to Malcolm.)

Version C
Here the whole world (stars, water, air,
And field and forest, as they were
Reflected in a single mind)
Like cast off clothes were left behind
In ashes yet with hope that she,
Re-born from holy poverty,
In Lenten Lands, hereafter may
Resume them on her Easter Day.

By some oversight, Version C (1960) did not appear in Hooper’s Poems (1964) or in his bibliography of Lewis’s writings in the collection Light on C. S. Lewis. (1965). In 1988 Douglas Gresham published the poem on the jacket of his book Lenten Lands, and in 1992 Hooper finally mentioned the 1963 poem in print. This suggests that he was unaware of its existence for an inordinately long time, although he has frequented the neighborhood of the crematorium ever since 1963.

The history of Version B, however, is far more puzzling than the history
of Version C. Walter Hooper claims to publish the latest versions of
Lewis’s poems. (Hence he publishes his inferior versions rather than the
ones Lewis published.) So if he discovered Version B of “Epitaph” in
Lewis’s papers in 1964, as he claims, why did he include Version A in Poems instead?

Most important of all, if Hooper was unaware of the existence of Version C for many years, how could he know in 1992 that “Joy Davidman chose [Version B] for her own epitaph, and Lewis revised it extensively in 1963 before [Version C] was cut into the stone…” To concoct Version B and this revision story for personal gain would be unspeakably ghoulish.