C.S. Lewis on Empathy and the Reading Experience

From "An Experiment in Criticism" by C.S. Lewis (The Pedestrian Quarterly, No 1.)

We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself. And even when we build disinterested fantasies, they are saturated with, and limited by, our own psychology. To acquiesce in this particularity on the sensuous level—in other words, not to discount perspective—would be lunacy. We should then believe that the railway line really grew narrower as it receded into the distance. But we want to escape the illusions of perspective on higher levels too. We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.... One of the things we feel after reading a great work is "I have got out." Or from another point of view, "I have got in"; pierced the shell of some other monad and discovered what it is like inside.

Good reading, therefore, though it is not essentially an affectional or moral or intellectual activity, has something in common with all three. In love we escape from our self into one other. In the moral sphere, every act of justice or charity involves putting ourselves in the other person’s place and thus transcending our own competitive particularity. In coming to understand anything we are rejecting the facts as they are for us in favor of the facts as they are. The primary impulse of each is to maintain and aggrandize himself. The secondary impulse is to go out of the self, to correct its provincialism and heal its loneliness. In love, in virtue, in the pursuit of knowledge, and in the reception of the arts, we are doing this. Obviously this process can be described either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self. But that is an old paradox: "he that loseth his life shall save it".

"To Mrs. Norman McLeod"

What follows is a letter from George MacDonald to the recently-widowed wife of Norman McLeod, H.M. Chaplain in Scotland and editor of "Good Words for the Young."

My dear Mrs. McLeod,

I almost dread drawing near you with a letter. It seems as if all one could do, was to be silent and walk softly. Yet I would not have you think me heedless of you and your sorrow. And yet again, what is there to say? Comfort, all save what we can draw for ourselves from that eternal heart, is a phantom — a mere mockery. Either one must say and the other must believe that there is ground for everlasting exultation, or comfort is but the wiping of tears that for ever flow.

Posted on Monday, May 31, 2010 by David Gregg | 0 comments | Links to this post
Filed under , ,

We Will Never Be Old

"Of all children how can the children of God be old?" (George MacDonald, Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood)  We will never be old: here, because here we will not be mature; there, because there age will mean more beauty, more strength.

Posted on Sunday, May 23, 2010 by David Gregg | 0 comments | Links to this post
Filed under ,

How the Past is Changed

Strange to visit your former prison
and see it freely with new feeling—
to go back to where your pain was
that drove you limping to your healing!

May 15th, 2010

Posted on Saturday, May 15, 2010 by David Gregg | 0 comments | Links to this post
Filed under

The Essential Idea

Differences in meaning exist between the words love, light, good, right, and truth — but only in shades. Underlying them all is one essential idea which can be rightly called by any one of those names, with only the addition of a capital letter. To say one is to invoke the idea of the others; and to mean one and not mean the others is inconsistent.

Don't we know Light as the symbol of Good?
Hasn't Good meant Love when ever it could?
Does not Truth do the work of Right?
And is not Truth the object of Light?
So why then distinguish one from the others,
When one, in full meaning, their meanings it covers?
The perfect idea of which these imply
Forms of their parts the ultimate Why.

Posted on Sunday, May 09, 2010 by David Gregg | 0 comments | Links to this post
Filed under , ,

Salis (Chapter II)

Forgetting the flower, Salis brushed the leaves and twigs from the place where her foot had fallen. She found a single branch of what was apparently root. The portion of the root that rose enough from the earth to be uncovered was as wide as she was tall, but she did not know how much further in width it went below the surface.

The root brought her thinking to the tree, which she discovered easily, it being at least as strange as the large, hollow root. The great tree stood about twenty yards away, leafless but budding. It was the start of autumn when she left her house and she looked around to be certain it still was: all the other trees were in their various expected declines into Fall, but this one. She could not know but this tree was in fact always in a state of budding — always blooming, never bloomed.

Posted on Friday, April 30, 2010 by David Gregg | 0 comments | Links to this post
Filed under ,


He did not know how to love well,
but he loved as well as he knew.
And now not one can love so well,
than he who did what he knew.

And plodding on to do, not think,
he learned a good deal more
Than he who plopping down to think
forgot to do any more.

Posted on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 by David Gregg | 0 comments | Links to this post
Filed under

The Trees of Grieving

What can I say for the trees of grieving —
These in the spring that flower ere leaving?
Early they come to blossom for us
Who in the winter are spring-sighing thus:

"How long must we wait — the grey is hard-born —
For colors we love in brightness of morn?
The seasons are cycles of forgetting all
The things we remember in spring and in fall.

Saplings in Meadows

Saplings in meadows will try to be grass,
Dancingly limber, unhindered by mass,
But quickly must learn the lesson of be,
When, time moving forward, they find they are tree.

Grasses have glory in litheness of bole,
Perfect in concert their bowing and soul,
Girls running fingers through waving gold heads,
And nearness of presence to Chloris's beds.

Spring Comes

But spring does not abruptly come.
It waffles with the winter some.
Like an epiphany slow-dawning,
It wakens with a stuttered yawning.
Do not expect a sudden pop
Of color green, or leafy top,
Or meadow bloomed, or forest groomed,
Or winter doomed, or cold entombed,
But gradual return from grey.
So listen closely what I say,
And to my former promise cling:
There will be, oh tree, a spring!

April 5th, 2010

Posted on Monday, April 05, 2010 by David Gregg | 0 comments | Links to this post
Filed under ,

Liver and Ambrosia

Orange pools of liver-flavored grease floated in warm, just-boiled milk among dry cereal Os. Wonderful woman! She worked so hard to satisfy the tastes of her American guest! For breakfast, dry cereal with milk had been the plan. But she had only one pot, and I assume there was some restriction on the quantity of water she and her son could consume because of the presence of the aforementioned floats and that she had used this pot the night before to prepare her special dish: a cringingly delicious and plentiful combination of pig livers and pig-liver gravy. My tears well at the thought! It was so much an honor for me to stay under her roof that she insisted I refrain, during the meal, from drinking anything in her home, until she had retrieved from the piaţa a soda by her own hand. Have I told you how great a beverage a soda can be? A few times in my life I have supped a soda that became on my tongue Ambrosia. I believe the myth — it has prolonged my life. Bread too becomes the Bread of Life when you have it with Romanian liver gravy. After my second-birth by soda, the boy — the only one in the flat who spoke English — hurried me out to the piaţa to see if I could find any food to rival his mother's in flavor. I did not.

I'll forever remember the family that took me in,
Brought me closer to heaven than I've ever been,
Fed me pig livers and warm liver milk,
Made me wait for the soda that swallowed like silk!

Posted on Sunday, April 04, 2010 by David Gregg | 0 comments | Links to this post
Filed under ,

Salis (Chapter I)

Salis continued on her southward course, dodging thistle and briar, cobweb and lowing-hanging limb, but eventually found herself precisely where she had intended to be: lost. It was one of those sorts of arguments of which you can never afterwards remember the cause that had sparked her juvenile fury and burned a path through the woods. She had sharply pronounced her intention of running away, and, in step with her under-breath cadence and the slam of the screendoor, marched headlong into those solemn deciduous boughs with every intention of getting lost — of making them sorry.

Posted on Wednesday, March 31, 2010 by David Gregg | 0 comments | Links to this post
Filed under ,

Eleven Years

The world has come to an end—at least as far as I am concerned. I say "as far as I am concerned" because the subject to which I refer is "humanity" and I seem to be the only existing specimen. Today, I am Humanity.

I have seen not a dieing human soul in eleven years. Neither have I seen a living one.

Posted on Monday, March 29, 2010 by David Gregg | 0 comments | Links to this post
Filed under ,

The Wall

There was a wall too high to scale,
too thick to tunnel through,
too long to pass by routing trail,
too deep to try that too.

Earth Mounds Up

The earth mounds up
At the base of the trunk
To join the oak in its ascent.

But made of plant-junk,
Animal, dead stuff,
It has not that can grow.

Favorite Deviants