The $1 Glass from Brimfield – Andersonville, Chicago – C.S. Lewis and the Longing for Joy

In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis describes his first encounters with beauty and a desire for Joy, which he says can never fully be realized in this world, in this way:

The first is itself the memory of memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden…comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but of desire for what? Not, certainly, for a biscuit tin filled with moss, nor even…for my own past—and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing which had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.

The pang of Joy when I first saw this glass was a little like this. Looking at the bare trees on one side with the trees on the far side appearing blurry in the background gives me delight. Or perhaps, since this is an autumnal scene, it is more like Lewis’ second experience of the intense longing for Joy.

The second glimpse came through Squirrel Nutkin; through it only, though I loved all the Beatrix Potter books. But the rest of them were merely entertaining; it administered the shock, it was a trouble. It troubled me with what I can only describe as the idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamoured of a season, but that is something like what happened; and, as before, the experience was one of intense desire. And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible—how can one posses Autumn?) but to reawake it. And in this experience also there was the same surprise and the same sense of incalculable importance. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would say now, ‘in another dimension.’

Though it might be Lewis’ third glimpse of Joy with which I resonate with the most, even though I was born in the hot latitudes of the Punjab (albeit to a Teutonic mother). My brother and I are very fond of quoting to one another, in faux English accents, on a winter’s day with a dramatic grey sky, “pure Northerness engulfed me.”

The third glimpse came through poetry. I had become fond of Longfellow’s Saga of King Olaf: fond of it in a casual shallow way for its story and its vigorous rhythms. But then, and quite different from such pleasures, and like a voice from far more different regions, there came a moment when I idly turned the pages of the book and found the unrhymed translation of Tegnner’s Drapa and read:

I heard a voice that cried
Balder the beautiful
Is dead, is dead—

I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious,severe, pale, and remote) and then, as in the other examples, found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.”


5 thoughts on “The $1 Glass from Brimfield – Andersonville, Chicago – C.S. Lewis and the Longing for Joy

  1. The Lewis quote I was really after for this post is this one:

    “…Pure “Northernness” engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity… and almost at the same moment I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago. …And with that plunge back into my own past, there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country, and the distance of the Twilight of the Gods and the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together in a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss….”

    It should also be noted that the music of Sigur Ros can create many of the same sensations.


  2. Precious boy, your perspective never ceases to amaze me…so innocent yet so profound. Keep taking pictures and keep writing. It is your gift! Love you!


  3. I’d love to hear you guys doing the faux english accents and that description of the fleeting joy,without a name… we all know that feeling… and never think to think about it.. lovely work Neil.


  4. I feel compelled to note that I have added “(albeit to a Teutonic mother)” to paragraph 5. So, perhaps our loving the North was not as complete a bolt out of the blue as it might seem.


  5. Pingback: All Things Go – The Death of a Favorite Mug – The Birth of Bric-a-Brac « The Dassler Effect

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