Perelandra: Dialogue with the Green Lady

This is such a great dialogue, we lifted it from its context in CS Lewis’ book, Perelandra, to allow us some consciousness about “the good given."

Visitor: You could never understand, Lady. But in our world not all events are pleasing or welcome. There may be such a thing that you would cut off both your arms and your legs to prevent it happening—and yet it happens: with us.”

Lady: “But how can one wish any of those waves not to reach us which [God] is rolling towards us?”

Narrator: Against his better judgment [the visitor] found himself goaded into argument.

Visitor: “But even you, when you first saw me, I know now you were expecting and hoping that I was the King. When you found I was not, your face changed. Was that event not unwelcome? Did you not wish it to be otherwise?”

Narrator: [The Lady] turned aside with her head bowed and her hands clasped in an intensity of thought. She looked up and said,

Lady: “You make me grow older more quickly than I can bear,”

Narrator: [She] walked a little farther off. [The visitor] wondered what he had done. It was suddenly borne in upon him that her purity and peace were not, as they had seemed, things settled and inevitable like the purity and peace of an animal—that they were alive and therefore breakable, a balance maintained by a mind and therefore, at least in theory, able to be lost.

There is no reason why a man on a smooth road should lose his balance on a bicycle; but he could. There was no reason why she should step out of her happiness into the psychology of our own race; but neither was there any wall between to prevent her doing so. The sense of precariousness terrified him: but when she looked at him, again, he changed that word to Adventure, and then all words died out of his mind. Once more he could not look steadily at her. He knew now what the old painters were trying to represent when they invented the halo. Gaiety and gravity together — a splendor as of martyrdom, yet with no pain in it at all, seemed to pour from her countenance. Yet when she spoke her words were a disappointment.

Lady: “I have been so young till this moment that all my life now seems to have been a kind of sleep. I have thought that I was being carried, and behold, I was walking.”

Visitor: “What do you mean?”

Lady: “What you have made me see is as plain as the sky, but I never saw it before. Yet it has happened every day. One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before—that the very moment of the finding, there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside. The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished—if it were possible to wish—you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good: you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.”

Visitor: “That is hardly the same thing as finding a stranger when you wanted your husband.”

Lady: “Oh, that is how I came to understand the whole thing. You and the King differ more than two kinds of fruit. The joy of finding him again and the joy of all the new knowledge I have had from you are more unlike than two tastes; and when the difference is as great as that, and each of the two things so great, then the first picture does stay in the mind quite a long time—many beats of the heart—after the other good has come. And this is the glory and wonder you have made me see; that it is I, I myself, who turn from the good expected to the given good. Out of my own heart I do it. One can conceive a heart whichdid not: which clung to the good it had first thought of and turned the good which was given it into no good.”

Visitor: “I don’t see the wonder and the glory of it.”

Narrator: Her eyes flashed upon him such a triumphant flight above his thoughts as would have been scorn in earthly eyes; but in that world it was not scorn.

Lady: “I thought that I was carried in the will of Him I love, but now I see that I walk with it. I thought that the good things He sent me drew me into them as the waves lift the islands; but now I see that it is I who plunge into them with my own legs and arms, as when we go swimming. I feel as if I were living in that roofless world of yours where men walk undefended beneath naked heaven. It is a delight with terror in it! One’s own self to be walking from one good to another, walking beside Him as Himself may walk, not even holding hands. How has He made me so separate from Himself? How did it enter His mind to conceive such a thing? The world is so much larger than I thought. I thought we went along paths—but it seems there are no paths. The going itself is the path.”

Visitor: “And have you no fear that it will ever be hard to turn your heart from the thing you wanted to the thing [God] sends?”

Lady: “I see. The wave you plunge into may be very swift and great. You may need all your force to swim into it. You mean, He might send me a good like that?”

Visitor: “Yes—or like a wave so swift and great that all your force was too little.”

Lady: “It often happens that way in swimming. Is not that part of the delight?”

Visitor: “But are you happy without the King? Do you not want the King?”

Lady: “Want him? How could there be anything I did not want?”