Lewis on Language and Symbolism

The moral or philosophical meaning is, on the other hand, essential; and fortunately in approaching this we have an advantage which the nineteenth century lacked. Our grandfathers might regard allegory as an arbitrary literary device, a ‘figure’ listed in the books on rhetoric. The work of Jung and Freud, and the practice of many modern poets and prose writers, has taught us an entirely different view. We now know that symbols are the natural speech of the soul, a language older and more universal than words. This truth, if not understood exactly as modern psychology would understand it, was accepted and acted upon by the ancient and medieval world, and had not yet been lost in Spenser’s day. He came, in fact, just in time, just before the birth of that new outward-looking, rationalizing spirit which was going to give us victory over the inanimate while cutting us off from the depths of our own nature. After Spenser allegory became, till quite modern times, merely a sort of literary toy, as it is in Addison’s or Johnson’s essays. Spenser was the last poet who could use the old language seriously and who had an audience that understood it.

Lewis, C. S. (2013). Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. (W. Hooper, Ed.) (First Edition, p. 179). New York: HarperOne.

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