In Praise Of Solid People

June 21, 2008

In Praise Of Solid People

Thank God that there are solid folk
Who water flowers and roll the lawn,
And sit and sew and talk and smoke,
And snore all through the summer dawn.

Who pass untroubled nights and days
Full-fed and sleepily content,
Rejoicing in each other’s praise,
Respectable and innocent.

Who feel the things that all men feel,
And think in well-worn grooves of thought,
Whose honest spirits never reel
Before man’s mystery, overwrought.

Yet not unfaithful nor unkind,
With work-day virtues surely staid,
Theirs is the sane and humble mind,
And dull affections undismayed.

O happy people! I have seen
No verse yet written in your praise,
And, truth to tell, the time has been
I would have scorned your easy ways.

But now thro’ weariness and strife
I learn your worthiness indeed,
The world is better for such life
As stout suburban people lead.

Too often have I sat alone
When the wet night falls heavily,
And fretting winds around me moan,
And homeless longing vexes me

For lore that I shall never know,
And visions none can hope to see,
Till brooding works upon me so
A childish fear steals over me.

I look around the empty room,
The clock still ticking in its place,
And all else silent as the tomb,
Till suddenly, I think, a face

Grows from the darkness just beside.
I turn, and lo! it fades away,
And soon another phantom tide
Of shifting dreams begins to play,

And dusky galleys past me sail,
Full freighted on a faerie sea;
I hear the silken merchants hail
Across the ringing waves to me

— Then suddenly, again, the room,
Familiar books about me piled,
And I alone amid the gloom,
By one more mocking dream beguiled.

And still no neared to the Light,
And still no further from myself,
Alone and lost in clinging night
-(The clock’s still ticking on the shelf).

Then do I envy solid folk
Who sit of evenings by the fire,
After their work and doze and smoke,
And are not fretted by desire.

C. S. Lewis

This poem, written by a young Lewis, sets the life of simple folk against a mere bookish or cultured lifestyle. No doubt, there is a level of romanticisation involved: the poet begins with a reductive tone that vaguely mocks commoners for their small concerns, mundane pleasures, and lack of critical originality. When his quiet envy is then admitted, a curious thing happens: the use of solidity to describe lived reality satirically is flipped around in a way that turns the poet into a repentant.

The simple folk’s solidity is real whereas his own intellectual high-mindedness is the illusion. His own self-cultivation has not brought him closer to the light of truth and away from solipsistic, even misanthropic, indulgences. Here is an early instance of Lewis reflecting on the need for thought to be directed towards social existence, to recover its basis for meaningfully satisfying dialogue.

Gwee Li Sui

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One Response to “In Praise Of Solid People”

  1. Jeannette Says:

    Wow Gwee would have never guessed this from you very deep.


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