Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Never knowing where we're going, We can never go astray."

I have a couple of Kingsley Amis books in my library. Bradley Vasoli's review of Conversations with Kingsley Amis motivated me to get down one that Amis edited, which, I was pleased to discover, included a C.S. Lewis effort:

Evolutionary Hymn

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.
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.
Wrong or justice in the present,
Joy or sorrow, what are they
While there's always jam to-morrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.
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.
To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.
On 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 well may be).

The new Amis book is a collection of interviews. One gets the impression that he is more easily enjoyed and admired from a distance, but that may be more typical than not with literary figures. Amis began his political engagement on the Left but moved right as he got older. Vasoli writes "He blasted conservatism in his youth, leftism afterward. The man truly knew his targets." By the time I discovered him he was saying things I found quite congenial:
The real thrill of protest, he explains, amounts to this: “You’re embattled, surrounded by people who feel as you do, and surrounded by girls, and it’s a way of being brave without any real fear of the consequences.”
Sadly, Amis considered himself impervious to faith:
.... Asked in one of the discussions if he is a Christian, he responded, “No. I wish I were. That would be fine. But I’ve never had any faith. I can’t remember such a thing. It’s a weakness, a limitation. Which doesn’t mean to say that all people with faith are better off than all people without it, more worthy somehow. But still, it’s a grave thing to be deprived of.”
Amis Speaks - Bradley Vasoli - National Review Online