Sunday, September 1, 2013

C.S. Lewis on the Use of Language

Someone shared this in our honors class, where we are currently attacking the Iliad and in short order will be moving onto the Odyssey. This quotation is from A Preface to Paradise Lost, published in 1942; it's found on pp 20-21.
What is the point of having a poet, inspired by the Muse, if he tells the stories just as you or I would have told them? It will be seen that these two demands, taken together, absolutely necessitate a Poetic Diction; that is, a language which is familiar because it is used in every part of a poem, but unfamiliar because it is not used outside poetry. A parallel, from a different sphere, would be turkey and plum pudding on Christmas day; no one is surprised at the menu, but everyone recognises that it is not ordinary fare. Another parallel would be the language of a liturgy. Regular church-goers are not surprised by the service — indeed, they know a good deal of it by rote; but it is a language apart. Epic diction, Christmas fare, and the liturgy are all examples of ritual — that is, of something set deliberately apart from daily usage, but wholly familiar within its own sphere.
I thought it was a terrific find. One can argue about its relation to the Iliad in translation, and the extent translators achieve that goal. However, it is certainly achieved in the translation of the third Roman Missal of the Mass of Paul VI. The question is, "do we like it? Or not?" and why.

But what if we did it in Latin? ;)

Also, read the great books, and try to read them as they were written. Don't read them just to know what is the best that was thought and said, or to improve your societal situation. Try to learn, and try to enjoy them as they are. So laugh when it's funny, and cry when it's sad, and throw the book down when it's angry!

1 comment:

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. With Virgil's Aeneid, for example, I took notes on nearly every stanza. Oddly enough, I found the story similar to Braveheart!