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C.S. Lewis on Symbolism

“Symbolism exists precisely for the purpose of conveying to the imagination what the intellect is not ready for.”

– Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of CS Lewis, Vol. II (San Francisco, 2004), 565

My good friend Rick N. sent this quote my way via the @CSLewisDaily twitter feed. This quote is new to me and I think it is wonderful for how well it captures the essence of what symbolism can do. It reminds me a lot of this post where I shared a story about how I answered my 4-year old’s question with a sign instead of the literal answer which unfortunately would have been incomprehensible to her.

I also love how this quote includes imagination in the equation. Sometimes we may only consider symbolism and the potential meanings while forgetting the role imagination plays in helping us explore the possibilities. I feel as if I have discovered a hidden door in a familiar room and I am thrilled to see what awaits on the other side.

  • Richard J. Nobbe III

    I’m glad you liked this quote! The whole essay from Del Kehl is worth reading. He also quotes Thomas Carlyle with what I would describe as a fairly common but succinct way of explaining symbols:

    “In a symbol there is concealment and yet revelation…a double significance…There is ever more or less distinctly and directly, some embodiment and revelation of the Infinite; the Infinite is made to blend itself with the Finite, to stand visible, and as it were, attainable there.”

    Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (New York, n.d.), 217.