Lewis, obviously knew his Assisi
Man has held three views of his body. First there is that of those acetic Pagans who called it the prison or the ‘tomb’ of the soul, and of Christians like Fisher to whom it was a ‘sack of dung’, food for worms, filthy, shameful, a source of nothing but temptation to bad men and humiliation to good ones. Then there are the Neo-Pagans (they seldom know Greek), the nudists and the sufferers from Dark Gods, to whom the body is glorious. But thirdly we have the view which St. Francis expressed by calling his body ‘Brother Ass’. All three may be – I am not sure – defensible; but give me St. Francis for my money.
Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, lovable and infuriating beast; deserving now a stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body.
And so, this lovely poem. Not that modern, but being modern is not a virtue.
I woke and rose and slipt away
To the heathery hills in the morning grey.
In a field where the dew lay cold and deep
I met an ass, new-roused from sleep.
I stroked his nose and I tickled his ears,
And spoke soft words to quiet his fears.
His eyes stared into the eyes of me
And he kissed my hands of his courtesy.
“O big, brown brother out of the waste,
How do thistles for breakfast taste?
“And do you rejoice in the dawn divine
With a heart that is glad no less than mine?
“For, brother, the depth of your gentle eyes
Is strange and mystic as the skies:
“What are the thoughts that grope behind,
Down in the mist of a donkey mind?
“Can it be true, as the wise men tell,
That you are a mask of God as well,
“And, as in us, so in you no less
Speaks the eternal Loveliness,
“And words of the lips that all things know
Among the thoughts of a donkey go?
“However it be, O four-foot brother,
Fair to-day is the earth, our mother.
“God send you peace and delight thereof,
And all green meat of the waste you love,
“And guard you well from violent men
Who’d put you back in the shafts again.”
But the ass had far too wise a head
To answer one of the things I said,
So he twitched his fair ears up and down
And turned to nuzzle his shoulder brown.