There was no reason why we should not have been happy; we had both just emerged safely from a war which (we then believed) had ended war for ever. We had survived the trenches, the nightmare was over, we were at Oxford, we were in our early twenties. The old order seemed not only restored but renewed; life and art lay before us for exploration and the interchange of ideas, and we seemed to be experiencing what happened to Odin and his fellow-gods when they returned after their long twilight; finding their golden chessmen where they had left them in the grass, they sat down and went on with the game.
We saw clearly what lay before us, a life of reading and teaching, perhaps of writing — for, as we confessed to each other very soon, we both hoped to be poets, or at least writers. It was not until six or seven years later that Lewis said sadly to me, 'When I at last realized that I was not, after all, going to be a great man...' I think he meant 'a great poet'. In those early days however nothing seemed impossible as we fed our imaginations on all the best that had been written in our language; for it wonderfully illuminated, for both of us, the other subjects we had been studying up till then. In my case, all the history I had so painfully and uncomprehendingly imbibed for three years and more in the History School became suddenly intelligible to me in terms of its poetry. I had, for instance, taken the reign of Richard II as my special subject; but none of my history tutors had thought of suggesting anything so obvious as that I should read some Chaucer or Langland. I presume they took it for granted that I knew them already; so they were never mentioned, and I, in my ignorance, was virtually unaware of them. But now, while all that the chronicles and other sources had told me of the reign of Richard was still fresh in my head, the poetry of The Canterbury Tales and Piers Plowman suddenly added a new dimension to history for me: and these poems, of course, were no less vivified in their turn by what I knew of the fourteenth century.
“Light on C.S. Lewis” (1965)