C. S. Lewis: “Footnote to All Prayers”

C. S. Lewis is best known for his prose–nonfiction and fiction alike. But he was a capable poet, and one at least of his poems should be memorized by all praying Christians: “Footnote to All Prayers.” His poems are not widely known, nor widely read, but his first two published books were poetry (though he published them under the pseudonym “Clive Hamilton”). His third book (and first as a Christian) was The Pilgrim’s Regress, and it contained 16 poems. Perhaps the best of these was later edited and retitled “Footnote to All Prayers.”

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I Know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshiping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolaters, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, oh Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in Thy great,
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

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