‘The Country of the Blind’ by C.S. Lewis represents those who have personally encountered God and the effect that God has on the entire earth. The speaker also talks of those who think they have seen God, but have been blind to him through years. ‘The Country of the Blind’ represents a nation that has slowly become blinded by their rejection of truth, reason, and evidence. He uses the “poor misfit” as a representation of himself. Throughout the poem, the blind men in contrast with the poor misfit represent Lewis’ ideas about the nation in which he lived. He believed that some saw the truth and those who only heard about it.
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Summary of The Country of the Blind
‘The Country of the Blind’ by C.S. Lewis contains a representation of a country where preachers appear to be spiritually blind or have “misfit eyes”. Long before there was a time when there was a truth that made the pious enlightened about God. But, in the contemporary scenario, those who talk about spirituality only reflect a “Fungoid sense” to the speaker. It is nothing but continuous pollution of the divine word that is done by those “blind men”. In the end, the poet says that they might be famous for the men blind like them. But, for the poet, their idea seems to be “a mountain-mass”. In reality, it “stood plain to the inward eye.”
Themes in The Country of the Blind
The very nature of ‘The Country of the Blind’ is controversial and presents two contrasting philosophical themes. The first theme is that of realism. The second theme is relativism or anti-realism. The author of ‘The Country of the Blind’ firmly believed in realism as the only philosophically sound way in which to view the world. Realism suggests that truth is real, whereas relativism suggests that truth is relative. Therefore, a person who believes in relative truth could write off the ideas presented here as simply the author’s opinion.
However, someone who believes in realism could do no such thing. That person would either have to completely accept or reject his ideas based on hard evidence. The author presents these two ideas in ‘The Country of the Blind’ as well. The poor misfit who had eyes could see real things and could understand that everything was not an abstract thought.
However, those who heard him were those who believed in relative truth, and therefore they could agree with him without ever having seen for themselves the things that he was talking about. Thus, the poem presents two of the leading ways in which people view the world and function in it. Lewis, a realist to the core, makes it very clear in the poem that he believes that those who take truth as relative are blind and unable to see the truth because the fungus of relativism has been spread to them through generations.
Analysis of The Country of the Blind
Hard light bathed them-a whole nation of eyeless men,
Drained through centuries, left them thus.
‘The Country of the Blind’ is C.S Lewis’ take on the world in which he lived, which you can read in full here. With his background in philosophy, his conversion from atheism to Christianity, and his highly intelligent mind, he was able to see the world through his use of logic and reason. Others, he asserted, who failed to listen to reason and instead clung to that which made them feel most comfortable, were like blind men who had never seen the light.
That is exactly what the speaker of ‘The Country of the Blind’ refers to when he says that even though “hard light bathed” these men, they could not see it because they had no eyes. Not only did they have no eyes, but they were not even aware that they were missing something. The speaker says that these people “were maimed” and that this deformity was not something that happened overnight, but that through “a long process” and “a slow curse” they were “drained through centuries” and left blind without a guide.
This is an allegory for the modern-day world in which the author lived. He believed that centuries had buried the truth of the meaning of life. He believed that hard evidence was shining brightly down on all of mankind, but that over centuries, their minds had been so warped that they would not recognize the evidence. They are like blind men trying to see the sun.
At some transitional stage, then, a luckless few,
Darkness, safe from the guns of heavn;
With this stanza of ‘The Country of the Blind’, the speaker makes it clear that not every person in the nation was blind. Those who somehow escaped the maiming that happened over generations he calls the “luckless few”. He believes that during “some transitional stage” where people were going from seeing to the blind, a few had kept their eyesight even after the “up-to-date, normal type” of people had managed to find a way to live in “snug darkness” where they were “safe from the guns of heavn”.
This last line makes it very clear that the darkness he refers to represents the darkness of mind in which he believes that most people live. He claims that most are comfortable in their darkness because they don’t know what it is like to see. He also claims that they are safe from the guns of heaven. This suggests that this darkness of mind to which the speaker refers to has to do with some sort of spiritual darkness. Those who are “safe” from heaven are those whose eyes have never been opened to see the light of heaven.
Whose blind mouths would abuse words that belonged to their
Fungoid sense, as a symbol of
The third stanza suggests that people speak of light, though they have never seen it. They speak of it in the words that were used by their ancestors, but they do not understand it, for they have never seen it themselves. The speaker suggests that these people, who speak of light but do not understand it, are like Eunuchs who have only heard of sexual activity, who speak of it as though they have a great knowledge of it, though they have never actually experienced it first hand.
He then calls these blind men “etiolated” which gives the readers an image of a pale and dying type of human. He calls their thinking and their reasoning “fungoid” which suggests that because they are blind and cannot see the light for themselves, all of their discussions about light are, as though fungi were growing. Their ideas about light continue to get more and more twisted over time.
The light could be a symbol for God or simply a symbol of truth. The speaker asserts that the people of the blind nation talk about God or talk about truth but have never really discovered God for themselves, or have never really discovered the truth. Thus, they talk about God and/or truth in the words that were used by those who came before them. But they never talked of such things from their own experience and authority.
Abstract thoughts. If a man, one that had eyes, a poor
Warm tints change in a lady’s cheek,
The first line of the fourth stanza is to finish the sentence of the last stanza. The speaker suggests that the way that the blind men speak about the sun is like a growing fungus, distorting the truth. They speak of the light in “abstract thoughts” when in fact it is a real thing, shining down on them.
Then the speaker introduces a poor man, a misfit, but one who had eyes to see the sun when it was a “grey dawn” and to see the “green sloped sea waves” and the “warm tints change in a lady’s cheek”. The speaker uses this poor misfit man to represent one who has experienced truth for himself. Perhaps he even represents one who has encountered and experienced God for himself. Then, he tries to explain it to his friends, but he uses terms and words that they could never understand.
None complained he had used words from an alien tongue,
Just like that.” They were wrong. And he
In the fifth stanza of ‘The Country of the Blind’, the poor man who has eyes tries to explain to the rest of the people what the sun is like, and what he can see in the light of the sun. They listened politely. They did not seem to notice that he used words they could not possibly understand. They did not even question him. They simply agreed with him and said “of course” and “we’ve all felt just like that”.
But the speaker says that they were wrong. They had not all felt like the poor misfit with eyes. They could not possibly understand what he was trying to explain to them, because no matter how hard they tried to imagine what he described for them, they did not have eyes to see it. Again, the analogy between God and the sun can be drawn. If someone has experienced God and tries to explain Him to someone who has not experienced Him, the person who has not experienced God for himself may think that he has had some of the same experiences. But in fact, he has not. For he has only heard about God second-hand. He has not experienced him first-hand.
Knew too much to be clear, could not explain. The words —
With glib confidence, easily
With the sixth stanza, the speaker talks about the poor misfit with eyes, and says that he tried to “be clear” but he “knew too much” and therefore “could not explain”. So because he could not explain what he had seen, he tossed the words away and they were “sold, raped flung to the dogs”. His words could not open the eyes of anyone who heard them; “Hence silence”.
Then the speaker implies that these men who have been blinded over time are not what they were meant to be, but rather a warped mold of what they were meant to be. Still, they did not know this and so they went around “with glib confidence” believing that they knew every bit as much about the sun as the poor misfit man who had seen the sun.
Showed how tricks of the phrase, sheer metaphors could set
Picture? Go then about among
In this stanza, the speaker says that the blind men used “tricks of the phrase” and “metaphors” to set off the “fools” to “concoct a myth” about the world around them. No one listened to the man who claimed that he could see the light. Instead, they politely acknowledged him but claimed that it was nothing they had not all seen already. Then, using tricky words and metaphors, they created a myth about the sun, and the fools would follow the myth and take what they said as true without ever being made aware that there was a real sun that could be seen by those who had eyes to see.
In the last two lines of the stanza, the speaker brings his points a little closer to home. He asks the reader directly, “do you think this a far-fetched picture?” And then he challenges them.
Men now famous; attempt speech on the truths that once,
Mass, stood plain to the inward eye.
The speaker challenges the reader to go to famous men and to try to talk to them about basic truths that were once “opaque” and “carved in divine forms” and “irremovable”. These truths, the speaker suggests, are every bit as evident as the sun is to those who have eyes. However, he also suggests that the famous men now will deny these basic truths.
With the last two lines, the speaker gives a little more insight into the real nature of what he is talking about when he mentions the sun and a nation of men without eyes. He is not talking about the actual sunlight. Rather, he is talking about things that are before our eyes and should be self-evident. Things such as a mountain and mass should be “plain to the inward eye”.
Yet, he concludes that we live in a nation full of men and women who have been blinded over time by not being allowed to see and to seek the truth. Thus, over time, people have come to have no eyes at all. It is a mental condition in which people have ceased to seek truth and started to go with the flow of whatever idea was trending at the time. The author uses the poor misfit to represent himself, one who has seen the truth and can understand it, but cannot express it to those who refuse to admit that perhaps he can see something that he cannot see.
Historical Context of The Country of the Blind
C.S. (Clive Staples) Lewis, who wrote The ‘Country of the Blind’ is one of the most fascinating writers and philosophers of his time. Though raised in a fairly religious Irish home, Lewis rejected the idea of God as a young man and lived the majority of his young life as an atheist. He was a searching atheist, however, and he was never presumptuous enough to suggest that he knew all there was to know on the subject. Therefore, his mind was not closed to the idea of God, provided there were reason and evidence brought forth. Lewis did not think that reason, proof, or evidence for the existence of God could be brought forth. Not until he began a relationship with J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “The Lord of the Rings”. Through his relationship with Tolkien, he was presented with the evidence that he needed to believe that there was, in fact, a higher being.
Like ‘The Country of the Blind’ by C.S. Lewis here is a list of some poems that similarly talk about spirituality as a whole.
- Auguries of Innocence by William Blake – Here William Blake talks about the spiritual degradation of his country and expresses his anger for the situation.
- Le Christianisme by Wilfred Owen – In this poem, Wilfred Owen presents his views regarding religion and the church.
- Savior by Maya Angelou – Here the poet Maya Angelou reflects on two important aspects, religion and faith.
- Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister by Robert Browning – In this poem, Robert Browning presents the story of a sinful monk whose character reflects the spiritual corruption of the preachers.