Saturday 9 April 2016

Narnian Suite by C.S. Lewis

For my second poem during National Poetry Month, I read C.S. Lewis' Narnian Suite.

Narnian Suite


March for Strings, Kettledrums, and Sixty-three Dwarfs

With plucking pizzicato and the prattle of the kettledrum
We’re trotting into battle mid a clatter of accoutrement;
Our beards are big as periwigs and trickle with opopanax,
And trinketry and treasure twinkle out on every part of us –
          (Scrape! Tap! The fiddle and the kettledrum).

The chuckle-headed humans think we’re only petty puppetry
And all our battle-tackle nothing more than pretty bric-a–brac;
But a little shrub has prickles, and they’ll soon be in a pickle if
A scud of dwarfish archery has crippled all their cavalry –
          (Whizz! Twang! The quarrel and the javelin).

And when the tussle thickens we can writhe and wriggle under it;
Then dagger-point’ll tickle ‘em, and grab and grip’ll grapple ‘em,
And trap and trick’ll trouble ‘em and tackle ‘em and topple ‘em
Till they’re huddled, all be-diddled, in the middle of our caperings –
          (Dodge! Jump! The wriggle and the summersault).

When we’ve scattered ‘em and peppered ‘em with pebbles from our catapults
We’ll turn again in triumph and by crannies and by crevices
Go back to where the capitol and cradle of our people is,
Our forges and our furnaces, the caverns of the earth –
          (Gold! Fire! The anvil and the smithying).


March for Drum, Trumpet, and Twenty-one Giants

                  With strumping stride in pomp and pride
                  We come to thump and floor ye;
                  We’ll bump your lumpish heads to-day
                  And tramp your ramparts into clay,
                  And as we stamp and romp and play
                  Our trump’ll blow before us –
(crescendo)     Oh tramp it, tramp it, tramp it, trumpet, trumpet blow before us!

                  We’ll grind and break and bind and take
                  And plunder ye and pound ye!
                  With trundled rocks and bludgeon blow,
                  You dunderheads, we’ll dint ye so
                  You’ll blunder and run blind, as though
                  By thunder stunned, around us –
By thunder, thunder, thunder stunned around us!

                  Ho! Tremble town and tumble down
                  And crumble shield and sabre!
                  Your kings will mumble and look pale,
                  Your horses stumble or turn tail,
                  Your skimble-scamble counsels fail,
                  So rumble drum belaboured ---
(Diminuendo)     Oh rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble drum belaboured!

C.S. Lewis 
Poems (1964)

The Giant Antaeus (1868)
Gustave Doré
source Wikiart

There is not much information on this poem to quench our curiosity as to how it ties to Narnia.  Tirian in The Last Battle sings a short "Narnian marching song", very much like it:

"Ho, rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble
Rumble drum belaboured."

The Last Battle was finished in the spring of 1953 but not published until 1956 and Narnian Suite was written in 1953.  Perhaps Lewis simply attempted to take the original marching song and expand it.  In any case, it's all speculation at this point; I may come up with some reference to it as I read through Lewis' letters (yes, three huge volumes with a fourth soon to be published).

Does anyone think that this poem sounds very much like Tolkien's poems in The Lord of the Rings?  I do, but I am reading The Lord of the Rings presently, so perhaps I have that tone lingering in my head.


  1. yes they do. somewhat. the poem/song almost sounds like something terry pratchett might invent; also a bit like that american poet, vachel lindsay. whatever, it fits in with the narnia quintet quite well, i think...

    1. I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't read Terry Prachett yet. Too many classics and not enough time is my excuse!

      We like to think that writers produce on a linear scale, but Lewis often had a number of projects going on at once. I can see a song like this popping into his head. I only wish it had been added to The Last Battle.

  2. Read the poem over and over....
    loved the internal rhyme
    and the end rhyme.
    Just finished my 1st Narnia I have no further commentary about the poem.
    Sincerely, Narnian Novice Nancy

    1. Dear Narnian Novice Nancy,
      It's fun to read, isn't it?
      You're supposed to be able to sing it to the tune of the Major-General song from HMS Pinafore, but I didn't want to disclose that tidbit in my review because the words go by so fast that way that you miss them.
      Congratulations! I like the series, but I really love all the allusions to higher level texts and thought that Lewis weaves into them.
      ~ Cleo ~ ;-)

    2. that would make it a patter-song! love G&S...!

  3. After reading your comment above, I went back and re-read the first couple stanzas to the tune of the Major-General song, and that made them even cooler! They do put me in mind of a few things from Tolkien -- the first thing that springs to mind is the way that Ghan-Buri-Ghan speaks. That sort of rhythmic rumble. But it's also reminiscent of the walking songs and such that the Hobbits sing or recite here and there. Very cool! Thanks for sharing it :-)

    1. You're welcome. :-) He has a few other poems that are most closely linked to Narnia, so hopefully I'll have time to share another before poetry month is over!

  4. Loved it!! Simply loved it!!! Very LOTR....I can see Gimli and friends singing this!

    1. Yes! It reminded me of the visit of the dwarfs to Bilbo at the beginning of The Hobbit. Very loud and raucous!

  5. I see what you mean about sounding similar to Tolkien. But seeing as C.S. Lewis and Tolkien met every week along with the rest of The Inklings to share their work and critique each others', I'm not surprised! I can imagine there was a lot of cross-pollination to be had with styling.

    1. Yes, I was thinking of that too, but if you compare their published writing, not much of it sounds similar. Their deliveries are very unique and I know there were certain aspects about Lewis' writing that bugged Tolkien. I think Tolkien was more particular. I could much more see Tolkien rubbing off on Lewis, than Lewis rubbing off on Tolkien. :-)

  6. This poem appeared in the compilation The Young Magicians and followed the offerings by JRR Tolkien including A Visit From a Dragon. As a child, I thought they were all Tolkien. It wasn't until I was reading them to my son that I realized these were CS Lewis