I Wish I Could Believe

Day Lewis, C. (Cecil)


  • Cecil Day Lewis, Chair of Poetry at Oxford University, describes faith as the core of an individual's being, and states his faith (defined thusly) as the creation of poems.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Mr. C. Day Lewis is one of Britain's leading poets. After graduating from Oxford, he became a school master. His lyric works have a gentleness and a clarity rarely found in present-day English poetry. In 1951, he was elected to the Chair of Poetry at Oxford, but under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake, he writes detective novels. So successful were these stories, that he gave up teaching and now concentrates on his writing. He is distinguished as a reader of poetry and frequently recites for the BBC, often with his actress wife, Jill Balcon. Hear now the beliefs of C. Day Lewis.
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Those two lines of Yeats for me sum up the matter as it stands today when the very currency of belief seems debased. I was brought up in the Christian church. Later I believed for a while that communism offered the best hope for this world. I acknowledge the need for belief, but I cannot forget how through the ages great faiths have been vitiated by fanaticism and dogmatism, by intolerance and cruelty, by the intellectual dishonesty, the folly, the crankiness or the opportunism of their adherents.
Have I no faith at all, then? Faith is the thing at the core of you, the sediment that’s left when hopes and illusions
are drained away. The thing for which you make any sacrifice because without it you would be nothing- mere walking shadow. I know what my own core is. I would in the last resort sacrifice any human relationship, any way of living to the search for truth which produces my poems. I know there are heavy odds against any poem I write surviving after my death. I realize that writing poetry may seem the most preposterously useless thing a man can be doing today. Yet it is just at such times of crisis that each man discovers or rediscovers what he values most. My poet’s instinct to make something comes out most strongly then, enabling me to use fear, doubt, even despair as creative stimuli. In doing so, I
feel my kinship with humanity, with the common man who carries on doing his job till the bomb falls or the sea closes over him. Carries on because of his belief, however inarticulate, that this is the best thing he can do. But the poet is luckier than the layman, for his job is always a vocation. Indeed, it’s so like a religious vocation that he may feel little need for a religious faith, but because it is always trying to get past the trivial and the transient or to reveal these as images of the essential and the permanent, poetry is at least a kind of spiritual activity.
Men need a religious belief to make sense out of life. I wish I had such a belief myself, but any credo of mine would be
honeycombed with confusions and reservations. Yet when I write a poem I am trying to make sense out of life. And just now and then my experience composes and transmutes itself into a poem which tells me something I didn’t know I knew. So for me the compulsion of poetry is the sign of a belief, not the less real for being unformulated . . . a belief that men must enjoy life, explore life, enhance life, each as best he can. And that I shall do these things best through the practice of poetry.
That was Mr. C. Day Lewis, one of Britain's leading poets.