Sunday, December 07, 2008

C. S. Lewis's Evolutionary Hymn

EVOLUTIONARY HYMN by C.S. Lewis

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice, joy or sorrow,
In the present what are they
while there's always jam-tomorrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,T
owards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,'
Goodness = what comes next.'
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

Oh then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present,
Standards, though it may well be).

7 comments:

Steve said...

The Hymn on which this is based can be found here.

Steve

Anonymous said...

I've always wondered why CS Lewis's poems weren't better known. I don't know from poetry, but I thought his poems in The Pilgrim's Regress, for example, were amazing.

One Brow said...

I really don't see the point of the poem.

Steve said...

One Brow,

It's a parody (and implicit critique) of the following three positions:

(1) Evolutionism (in the philosophy of history, see Lewis's essay "On Historicism").
(2) Evolutionary Ethics.
(3) Ethical Relativism.

Steve

One Brow said...

Steve,

Thank you for the attempt at clarification. I tried to look up a couple of references on Lewis' writings, but I was not successful in finding what he would have meant by "evolutionism" or "evolutionary ethics", not am I sure what you mean by the term.

I suppose I can see an attack on some twist of ethical relativism in there.

Steve said...

One Brow,

Another place Lewis discussed "Evolutionism" is his paper "The Funeral of a Great Myth" (I think I have the title right).

Evolutionism is a view of history according to which the passage of time brings with it "progress" to things which, by mere virtue of being later, are necessarily better. Think of Nietzche's "Superman" as the next stage in our evolution and as our ideal, and you'll have the idea.

"Evolutionary ethics" is a rather too general label for the value theory implied by this account of history. I should probably have avoided that term: Lewis never uses it and there are modern "evolutionary ethics" which aren't much like the one parodied here.

Steve

One Brow said...

Steve,

Thank you for the explanations. I can see why Lewis would have found those views worthy of parody.