Absolute and Abitofhell

From “I believe” to “One does feel”

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis tells us he “was soon (in the famous words) ‘altering “I believe” to “one does feel.”‘” Those famous words are from the satirical poem Absolute and Abitofhell written by Ronald Knox in 1913. Here’s part of Absolute and Abitofhell. I’ve modernized Knox’s deliberately archaic and very annoying spelling.

Yet something marred that ordered Symmetry:
Say, what did Strato in their company?
Who, like a Leaven, gave his Tone to all,
‘Mid prophet Bands an unsuspected Saul.
For he, discerning with nice arguings
‘Twixt non-essential and essential Things,
Himself believing, could no reason see
Why any other should believe, but he.

(Himself believing, as believing went
in that wild Heyday of the Establishment,
When, on his Throne at Lambeth, Solomon
Uneasy murmured, “Something must be done,”
When suave Politeness, tempering bigot Zeal,
Corrected, “I believe,” to “One does feel.”)
He wished the Bilge away, yet did not seek
To man the Pumps, or plug the treacherous Leak:
Would let into our Ark the veriest Crow,
That had the measliest Olive-branch to show.

This is probably extraordinarily witty, but it’s a bit beyond me. Still, if someone had told me it was written about the Church of England today, I’d have believed it.

UPDATE 15 January 2014: some observations on Monsignor Ronald Knox and Absolute and Abitofhell.


3 Replies to “Absolute and Abitofhell”

  1. A gorgeous bit of research. Thank you!
    I think we could use a few less capitals, tho (e.g. Band, Polictis, Pumps, Bilge, Crow, Olive, Throne, Heyday, etc) — hate to think what the original was like!

    1. Yes, those capitals… It would be interesting to read a thoughtfully annotated version. I’ll have to see what else Knox has written.

      Here’s a bit cut and pasted:

      Seven Men, in Views and Learning near ally’d,
      Whom Forms alone and Dogmas did divide,
      Their Differences funk, in Conclave met,
      And each his Seal (with Refervations) fet :
      Each in his Turn fubfcrib’d the fateful Scroll,
      And ftamp’d \\\s Nihil Conjlat on the whole, [ing.

      Sing, Heavenly Muse, from high Olympus bow-
      Their Names, their Training, and their Welt-


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