On Being Human
By C. S. Lewis
Angelic minds, they say, by simple intelligence
Behold the Forms of nature. They discern
Unerringly the Archtypes, all the verities
Which mortals lack or indirectly learn.
Transparent in primordial truth, unvarying,
Pure Earthness and right Stonehood from their clear,
High eminence are seen; unveiled, the seminal
Huge Principles appear.
The Tree-ness of the tree they know-the meaning of
Arboreal life, how from earth’s salty lap
The solar beam uplifts it; all the holiness
Enacted by leaves’ fall and rising sap;
But never an angel knows the knife-edged severance
Of sun from shadow where the trees begin,
The blessed cool at every pore caressing us
-An angel has no skin.
They see the Form of Air; but mortals breathing it
Drink the whole summer down into the breast.
The lavish pinks, the field new-mown, the ravishing
Sea-smells, the wood-fire smoke that whispers Rest.
The tremor on the rippled pool of memory
That from each smell in widening circles goes,
The pleasure and the pang –can angels measure it?
An angel has no nose.
The nourishing of life, and how it flourishes
On death, and why, they utterly know; but not
The hill-born, earthy spring, the dark cold bilberries.
The ripe peach from the southern wall still hot
Full-bellied tankards foamy-topped, the delicate
Half-lyric lamb, a new loaf’s billowy curves,
Nor porridge, nor the tingling taste of oranges.
—An angel has no nerves.
Far richer they! I know the senses’ witchery
Guards us like air, from heavens too big to see;
Imminent death to man that barb’d sublimity
And dazzling edge of beauty unsheathed would be.
Yet here, within this tiny, charmed interior,
This parlour of the brain, their Maker shares
With living men some secrets in a privacy
Forever ours, not theirs.
Summary of On Being Human
- Popularity of “On Being Human”: Written by C.S Lewis, an acclaimed British writer and poet, On Being Human is a contrastive poem. It presents a stark comparison between humans and angels. It uncovers the idea that though angels are superior beings, some experiences are reserved only for human beings. It, however, wins accolades because it counts being human as the biggest blessing.
- “On Being Human” As a Representative of Wonder: This poem is about God’s creation. The writer begins by saying angels possess high eminence or superiority over mortals. They understand the beginning of fundamental truths and the hidden secrets of the universe. He further says that many things in the universe remain hidden from humans. They cannot understand the reason behind the hiding, but all those secrets are clear to the angels. Yet, there are specific experiences only human beings can have. For instance, a human being can enjoy a forest walk and come across a place where they can enjoy the sunshine and comforting shadow of the trees. He further extends his discussion by saying that the angels may know the form of the air, but humans have a chance to breathe in it.
Only humans can explain what pleasure and delight the breeze brings them. In the poem’s last three stanzas, the writer lists the things human beings enjoy involving their five senses. All these comparisons lead him to conclude that the world offers splendid experiences to human beings, but all these experiences end when death arrives. He ironically comments on the illusionary nature of senses and sheds light on a mind in which trust between the creator and man takes place.
- Major Themes in “On Being Human”: Differences between human beings and angels, God’s blessings, and natural beauty are the major themes of the poem. Though, angels have intrinsic as well as exceptional spiritual qualities. They know the secrets of the universe and the logic behind the natural world order. Throughout the text, he sings praise for their excellent qualities, yet he believes they cannot beat human beings in some experiences. If God has equipped them with spiritual knowledge, He has also blessed humans with different senses to enjoy earthly pleasures. Humans may not know the philosophy of the universe, but they know how to claim the beauty of nature. To him, these unique experiences and special blessings also connect humans to the spiritual world. He further claims that God shares his secrets with living men in privacy, and interestingly they are for humans only.
Analysis of Literary Devices Used in On Being Human
C.S. Lewis has shown his skill in using different literary devices to enhance the intended impact of his poem. Some of the major literary he has used in this poem are as follows.
- Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /e/ in “The nourishing of life, and how it flourishes” and the sound of /o/ in “Nor porridge, nor the tingling taste of oranges.”
- Allegory: It is a figure of speech in which abstract ideas and principles are described in terms of characters, figures, and events. This an allegorical poem as it accounts for the blessings of God.
- Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /t/ in “I wait until I hear a gate latch lift The ripe peach from the southern wall still hot” and the sound of /n/ in “The pleasure and the pang –can angels measure it.”
- Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;
“Far richer they! I know the senses’ witchery
Guards us like air, from heavens too big to see;”
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. C.S Lewis has used imagery in this poem such as; “T The nourishing of life, and how it flourishes”, “They see the Form of Air; but mortals breathing it” and “The Tree-ness of the tree they know-the meaning of.”
- Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects that are different in nature. The poem uses God’s superiority as an extended metaphor in the poem to show how he has bestowed his special blessings on human beings.
- Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols like praise, amazement, difference, and blessings of God.
Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in On Being Human
Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem..
- Diction: The poem shows descriptive diction having rhetorical devices, symbolism, and impressive images.
- Tone: The tone of the poem is spiritual and esoteric on account of its spiritual subject matter.
- End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. The writer has used end rhyme in this poem, such as; “not/hot”, “see/be” and “lap/sap.”
- Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here, the second and third stanzas are quatrains.
- Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are six stanzas in this poem, with each comprising a different number of verses.
Quotes to be Used
The following lines are useful to quote in religious preaching while talking about man’s connection with his creator.
“This parlour of the brain, their Maker shares
With living men some secrets in a privacy
Forever ours, not theirs.”