Quotations and Allusions in

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms


compiled by Arend Smilde (Utrecht, The Netherlands)



C. S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms (1958), like most of his books, contains many allusions to or quotations from unspecified sources. In the present case there are, naturally, comparatively many quotations from the Bible. It is perhaps never vitally important to locate (and check) all the various sources; still it can be a rewarding enterprise. What follows is a listing by chapter of many such words and phrases with brief references to what I have found to be their sources and, occasionally, notes suggesting their relevance to the context in which Lewis uses them. I have also included a few other items where a short explanation may be of use to some readers. The list is based on notes I made for my Dutch translation of this book, published in 2002 as Gedachten over de Psalmen.


Double question marks in bold type – ?? – follow items where I have not found the required information. Corrections and additions including proposed new entries are welcome. Updates are listed at the end.







Austin and Katharine Farrer

Friends of C. S. Lewis. Austin Farrer (1904–1968) was a philosopher, theologian and Bible scholar; Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford from 1935 until 1960 and Warden of Keble College from 1960 until his death. His wife Katharine Farrer-Newton (1911–1972) was a writer of detective stories.




Chapter I:  Introductory


para. 1  [the psalms were written ...]

the “captivity”, which we should call the deportation to Babylon

» The period (c. 587/586–515 b.c.) when much of the population of Judah lived in exile in Babylon until the Persian conqueror King Cyrus allowed them to go home.


para. 3  [what must be said ...]


» Edmund Burke (1729–1797), English statesman, conservative political theorist and orator; his works include Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).


the Aeneid

» Chief work of the Roman poet Vergil (70–19 b.c.), about Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome.


para. 6  [in reality it is ...]


» Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593), English poet and dramatist. The quotation is from the epilogue of Doctor Faustus (published 1604).


the Cherry Tree Carol

» One of the many traditional English Christmas songs called Christmas Carols.


para. 9  [i think, too ...]

the Magnificat

» The hymn or poem spoken by the Virgin Mary (“My soul doth magnify the Lord”, Luke 1:46–55, one of the so-called “canticles”) when she had been told she would bring forth the Son of God and after Elisabeth called her “blessed among women”. The words quoted (“That we should be saved from our enemies” etc.) are taken not from the Magnificat but from the next canticle, Benedictus (Luke 1:68–79), spoken by the old priest Zechariah when his child John the Baptist is born.


para. 11  [i have worked in the main ...]


» Miles Coverdale (1488–1568) produced the first complete Bible in English (1535). His version of the Psalms was included in the Book of Common Prayer, the service book of the Anglican Church for centuries. This translation thus became better known to many people than the one included in the King James Bible (or Authorized Version). Annoyingly, the two translations have many slight differences in verse numbering.


St. Jerome

» Hieronymus (c. 347–420);,  one of the Latin Church Fathers; author of the Vulgate, i.e.  the standard Latin translation of the Bible used throughout the Middle Ages.


Dr. Moffatt

» James Moffatt (1870–1944), Scottish Church historian and author of a widely used Bible translation.


para. 12  [finally, as will soon ...]

not what is called an “apologetic” work

» All of Lewis’s previous explicitly “Christian” books were of a markedly apologetic nature. Austin Farrer, the present book’s dedicatee, wrote an excellent assessment of Lewis’s apologetics shortly after his death in 1963: “The Christian Apologist”, in Light on C. S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb (1965), pp. 23–43.




Chapter II:  “Judgement” in the Psalms


para. 1  [if there is any thought ...]

“that day of wrath, that dreadful day”

» From a Medieval Latin poem of Franciscan origin, usually attributed to Thomas of Celano, and probably best known for its use in the Latin Mass for the Dead (Requiem): Dies irae, dies illa ...


“in the hour of death and at the day of judgement”

» A phrase from “The Litany”, a prayer in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.


parable of the Sheep and the Goats

» Matthew 25:32–46.


para 3  [the reason for this ...]

Judge Jeffreys

» George Jeffreys (1645?–1689) was an English judge who imposed extremely severe punishments on the Duke of Monmouth and his fellow conspirators against the King.



» i.e. puppets, straw men.




Chapter III:  The Cursings


para. 4  [one way of dealing with ...]

“written for our learning”

» Romans 15:4.


para. 10  [there is no use ...]

seventy times seven

» cf. Matthew 18:22.


para. 11  [it is monstrously simple-minded ...]

Mr. Pilgrim

» Very probably a reference to the case of Edward Pilgrim (1904-1954); see Wikipedia article.


para. 13  [the first is that within ...]

St. Paul’s “If thine enemy hunger, give him bread”, etc.

» Romans 12:20.


para. 17  [it seems that there is ...]

The “average sensual man”

» A phrase usually quoted in its French form, l’homme moyen sensuel, in which form it has perhaps been given currency by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980), although it may have been coined in English. It certainly dates from before the twentieth century and is or was often used in English, e.g. in various places in Aldous Huxley’s Ends and Means (1937). In the diaries of Beatrice Webb (1858-1943) it is found as early as 29 December 1894. Origin as yet unknown – ??


Committee of Public Safety

» i.e. the Comité de Salut Public, the state organization which under the leadership of Robespierre was responsible for the French Revolution’s bloodiest episodes in the years 1793–1795.


the most honest and disinterested critic

» Lewis is probably referring – or at least alluding – to F. R. Leavis (1895–1978), a renowned and influential literary critic of the mid-twentieth century. Leavis and Lewis were colleagues in Cambridge from 1954 onwards. See also C. S. Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism (1961), pp. 124–129.


para. 20  [different, certainly higher ...]


» Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), English historian; he presented the history of the world as a history of Great Men.



» Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936), English writer and poet, renowned champion of British imperialism.


some modern critics

» Again, Lewis is very probably thinking of F. R. Leavis, now more especially of the latter’s view of “Culture” as a kind of secular path of salvation (Mass Civilization and Minority Culture, 1930; The Great Tradition, 1948; The Common Pursuit, 1952). See Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide (1996), pp. 73–74, and A. N. Wilson, C. S. Lewis: A Biography (1990), pp. 287–288.


Our Lord’s words about “counting the cost”

» Luke 14:27-28.

And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?


para. 21  [For we can still ...]


he “desireth not the the death of a sinner”

» Ezekiel 33:11. The phrase is also used in the Book of Common Prayer, in the “Absolution or Remission of sins” which is a part of the services for Morning Prayer and for Evening Prayer.




Chapter IV:  Death in the Psalms


para. 4  [again, in 49, we ...]

there was no other “good enough to pay the price”

» From the hymn “There is a green hill far away”, No. 332 in Hymns Ancient and Modern.


para. 14  [it is surely, therefore ...]

to pant after Him “as pants the hart”

» Psalm 42:2; a hart is an adult male deer.


“to enjoy Him forever”

» From the first Question & Answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647).

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

The same phrase is quoted once more at the end of chapter 9.


para. 16  [all this is only ...]

I have said it in another book

» i.e. in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1955), at the beginning of chapter 15.


para. 18  [but we should be quite ...]

every man under his own vine and his own fig tree

» Micah 4:4 (see also I Kings 4:25).




Chapter V:  “The Fair Beauty of the Lord”


para. 1  [“now let us ...”]

“Now let us stint all this and speak of mirth.”

» Geoffrey Chaucer (1340–1400), Canterbury Tales VII.3157; from The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. In Nevill Coghill’s modern English version: “And now, let’s talk of fun and stop all this.”


the old woman in Scott

» This is the blind Mrs. Maclure in Old Mortality, vol. 2, chapter 21, where she says, “... mony [=many] an hungry, starving creature, when he sits down on a Sunday forenoon to get something that might warm him to the great work, has a dry clatter o’ morality driven about his lugs [=ears] ...”


para. 2  [david, we know ...]

danced before the Ark

» II Samuel 6:14–16 and 20–23.


They have not rebuilt the Temple

» Reflections on the Psalms was written some ten years after the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948.


para. 10  [i am not saying that this gusto ...]

what it “cost to redeem their souls”

» Psalm 49:8 in Coverdale’s version (cf. chapter 4, par. 4).




Chapter VI:  “Sweeter than Honey”


para. 1  [in racine’s tragedy ...]

Racine’s tragedy of Athalie

» Jean Racine (1636–1699), French poet and dramatist.


para. 4  [a fine christian and ...]

the “pleasures of a good conscience”

» Title of an English hymn by Isaac Watts (1674–1748).


the “smile” on Duty’s face

» From the “Ode to Duty” by William Wordsworth (1770–1850):

Stern lawgiver! yet thou dost wear

The Godhead’s most benignant grace;

Nor know we anything so fair

As is the smile upon thy face ...


para. 6  [the danger of this second ...]

the “weightier matters of the Law”

» Matthew 23:23.


para. 7  [thus the law ...]

Charles Williams wrote, “When the means are autonomous they are deadly.”

» from “Bors to Elaine: on the King’s Coins”, a poem in Williamss first cycle of Arthurian poems, Taliessin Through Logres (1938). Charles Williams (1886–1945), writer and poet, was a good friend of C. S. Lewis.


para. 9  [now this, in itself ...]

the “schoolmaster to bring him to Christ”

» Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, 3:24.


para. 11  [by this assurance ...]

terrible theologians

» Doubtless Lewis included among them the English theologian William Paley (1743-1805), mentioned in The Problem of Pain (1940), ch. 6, par. 12, as Lewis talks of

... the abominable conclusion (reached, I think, by Paley) that charity is good only because God arbitrarily commanded it ...


para. 12  [for there were other roads ...]

We who not so long ago waited daily for invasion by enemies

» C. S. Lewis wrote this less than two decades after 1940, when Hitler was planning to follow up his conquest of France by the conquest of Britain; the ensuing “battle of Britain” resulted in his abandoning this plan.


para. 14  [in so far as ...]

“sweet reasonableness”

» Matthew Arnold (1822–1888), Literature and Dogma XII.2.


“thank God that we are not as other men”

» Luke 18:11.




Chapter VII:  Connivance


para. 2  [now obviously all this ...]

unco guid

» Scottish for “extremely good”.


para. 6  [the publicans were ...]

the Vichy or Collaborationist movement

» Vichy is the French town from where a collaborationist government under Marshal Pétain governed the unoccupied South-Eastern part of France while the rest was under German occupation, 1940–1944.


para. 8  [here is the perfect ...]

for charity “believeth all things”

» I Corinthians 13:7.


para. 12  [what is one to do? ...]

as if we “knew not the Man”

» cf. Matthew 26:27.


para. 16  [what makes this contact ...]

avoiding “the seat of the scornful”

» Psalm 1:1 (Coverdale’s version).


“eat of ... such things as please them”

» Psalm 141:4 (Coverdale’s version).




Chapter VIII:  Nature


para. 2  [i. They belong to ...]

a king covets a piece of his neighbour’s property ... a vineyard

» cf. 1 Kings 21:1-16, on King Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard.


para. 11  [all this is of course ...]

As someone has said, “gods” is not really the plural of God

» This “someone” may well be C. S. Lewis himself as a scholar of Medieval literature. Lewis was a long-time tutor in Oxford until 1954 and after that a professor in Cambridge. Towards the end of his life he recast one of his most successful courses of lectures as a little book, posthumously published as The Discarded Image (1964). Chapter 4B is about the late Roman author Macrobius who was, as Lewis points out, not only late Roman but “late Pagan” and, thus, almost early Christian (The Discarded Image, p. 66):

We have here [i.e. in the thought of Macrobius] a chasm between the Divine and all merely creaturely beings (however exalted), a sheer transcendence, which earlier Paganism, and especially Roman paganism, had never dreamed of. The word gods in this system is simply not the plural of God ... Paganism here becomes, in the full sense, religious; mythology and philosophy have both been transmuted into theology.


para. 13  [but the most ...]

as Homer says somewhere, like a peeled onion

» cf. Odyssee XIX, 232-234.

τὸν δὲ χιτῶνʼ ἐνόησα περὶ χροὶ̈ σιγαλόεντα,
οἷόν τε κρομύοιο λοπὸν κάτα ἰσχαλέοιο·
τὼς μὲν ἔην μαλακός, λαμπρὸς δʼ ἦν ἠέλιος ὥς·

I noted the tunic about his body, all shining
as is the sheen upon the skin of a dried onion,
so soft it was.

(Trans. A. T. Murray, Loeb edition 1919)


para. 17  [unless of course ...]


» i.e. suffering from cretinism, a condition arising from a deficiency of thyroid hormone, present from birth. A cretin is a mentally retarded dwarf with wide-set eyes, a broad flat nose and protruding tongue.


“not far from any one of us”

» Acts of the Apostles, 17:27.


“the highest does not stand without the lowest”

» A maxim, often quoted by C. S. Lewis, from De imitatione Christi (On the Imitation of Christ), II.10.4: “Summum non stat sine infimo.” This 15th-century religious tract, ascribed to Thomas à Kempis (1380?–1471), is the most important legacy of the Devotio Moderna, a religious and educational move­ment which sprang up in the Eastern Nether­lands in the late 14th century. The book preaches the virtues of humility, self-denial and simple personal piety.




Chapter IX:  A Word About Praising


para. 5  [but the most obvious fact ...]

Hymns Ancient and Modern

» Anglican collection of religious songs for use in church services, first published in 1861.


para. 6  [i think we delight ...]

man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”

» Cf. note to chapter 4, para. 14, above.


para. 7  [meanwhile of course ...]

as Donne says, tuning our instruments

» John Donne (1572–1631), English poet. The line “I tune my instrument here at the door” is from his poem “Hymn to God my God in My sickness”. Lewis quotes the same line – and in a very similar context – in chapter 21 of his last book, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964).




Chapter X:  Second Meanings


para. 5  [one of the roman ...]

One of the Roman historians

» Tacitus, Histories III.32. The “gentleman” is the Roman general Marcus Antonius Primus, who fought for Vespasian in the brief civil war that followed the death of Nero. He stormed Cremona in October 69, after which the city burnt down.

Fame and fortune had made Antonius conspicuous to the eyes of all [i.e. all the people in Cremona]. He hurried to some baths to wash the blood with which he was covered. When he complained of the temperature, a voice was heard saying that they would soon be hot enough. This answer of some slave turned all the odium of what followed on Antonius, as if he had given the signal to burn Cremona, which was indeed at that moment in flames.
(Trans. John Jackson, Loeb edition 1925)




para. 6  [now let us take ...]

Virgil ... begins a poem thus

» viz. Eclogae (= Bucolica, “Pastorals”) IV.1.


the Sibylline Books

» A collection of prophecies and ritual precepts ascribed to the Sibyl (=a kind of prophetess) of Cumae. The Senate of ancient Rome would order a consultation of  these books in times of distress.


para. 9  [Plato in his ...]

Plato in his Republic

» Book I, 361b–362a.


para. 12  [in other words ...]

“many shall come from the east and the west and sit down in the kingdom”

» Matthew 8:11, Luke 13:29.


para. 13  [thus, long before we ...]

“Thoughts beyond their thoughts to these high bards were given”

» A line from “The Third Sunday in Lent”, a poem in The Christian Year (1827) by John Keble (1792–1866), an English poet and divine. Keble was a leader of the Oxford Movement, a catholicizing movement in the Church of England.




Chapter XI:  Scripture


para. 2  [i. for us these writings ...]

as St. Paul says, “the Oracles of God”

» Romans 3:2.


St. Jerome

» Author of the standard Latin translation of the Bible; see note to chapter 1, para. 11, above. The attribution to St. Jerome is wrong.



» John Calvin, or Jean Cauvin (1509–1564), French theologian and leading church reformer. Lewis is referring to Calvin’s second sermon on the first chapter of Job.


the universal negative proposition that miracles do not happen

» Lewis is almost certainly referring to the famous assertion – “Miracles do not happen” – by Matthew Arnold (1822–1888), in Literature and Dogma (1883 edition), last sentence of the preface. Lewis devoted a whole book to the subject, Miracles: A preliminary study (1948, revised in 1960), where he quotes the same words of Arnold in the epilogue.


para. 11  [but of course these conjectures ...]

“not by the conversion of the godhead into flesh...”

» Confession of Athanasius, Article 35.


para. 12  [of  course, on almost...]


» Followers of French philosopher René Descartes,  alias Cartesius (1596–1650).


para. 15  [we do not know...]

Mr. Dunne

» John William Dunne (1874–1949), Irish pioneer aviator and philosopher. His book Experiment with Time, here referred to, was published in 1927. Dunne developed a theory of “serialism” in which he conceived Time as a thing with infinitely many dimensions, each dimension having its own chain or series of events; he dismissed as an illusion the idea of time as something one-dimensional; occasional escapes from the illusion were possible in special circumstances such as dreams.




Chapter XII:  Second Meanings in the Psalms


para. 5  [for a jewish convert...]

Milton’s poem on the Nativity

» “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” (1629), an early poem in 27 stanzas by John Milton (1608–1674):

This is the month, and this the happy morn,

Wherein the Son of Heaven’s eternal King,

Of wedded Maid and Virgin Mother born,

Our great redemption from above did bring ...

Especially relevant here is perhaps the 25th stanza, about the Egyptian god Osiris considered as a devil to be chased away:

He feels from Juda’s land

The dreaded Infant’s hand, ...

Nor all the gods beside,

Longer dare abide, ...

Our Babe, to show His Godhead true,

Can in His swaddling bands control the damned crew.


para. 6  [that psalm has led us ...]

If Christ “tasted death for all men”

» Epistle to the Hebrews, 2:9.


para. 9  [few things once seemed ...]

“the whole blessed company of faithful people”

» A phrase from the Book of Common Prayer, in the second (alternative) prayer of thanksgiving after the Holy Communion.


King Cophetua

» A legendary African king who was uninterested in women until he fell in love with a beggar girl. A ballad on the subject was included by Thomas Percy in his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765), II.6. The theme was taken up by Alfred Tennyson in his poem “The Beggar Maid”: ... Barefooted came the beggar maid / Before the king Cophetua. / In robe and crown the king stept down, / To meet and greet her on her way ... So sweet a face, such angel grace, / In all that land had never been: / Cophetua sware a royal oath: / “This beggar maid shall be my queen!”


para. 10  [read in this sense ...]

“a god’s embraces never are in vain”

» Coventry Patmore, The Unknown Eros and Other Odes (1877), XII.12, “Eros and Psyche”, 56. Also quoted in Lewis’s letter to Ruth Pitter of 20 August 1962 (Collected Letters III, 1364): “A fiend, my Psyche, comes with barren bliss / A god’s embraces never are in vain.” The line is perhaps an echo from Neptune’s words to Tyro in Homer’s Odyssey, Book XI. Lewis relates this story in chapter IV (on Homer) of his Preface to Paradise Lost. Here is Samuel Butler’s translation, with the relevant words italicized:

The first I saw was Tyro. She was daughter of Salmoneus and wife of Cretheus the son of Aeolus. She fell in love with the river Enipeus who is much the most beautiful river in the whole world. Once when she was taking a walk by his side as usual, Neptune, disguised as her lover, lay with her at the mouth of the river, and a huge blue wave arched itself like a mountain over them to hide both woman and god, whereon he loosed her virgin girdle and laid her in a deep slumber. When the god had accomplished the deed of love, he took her hand in his own and said, “Tyro, rejoice in all good will; the embraces of the gods are not fruitless, and you will have fine twins about this time twelve months. Take great care of them. I am Neptune, so now go home, but hold your tongue and do not tell any one.”

The story is also mentioned by Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae III.16, 15.


para. 11  [the choice of psalm 8 ...]

a chorus in Sophocles

» The first Ode in his tragedy Antigone.


para. 16  [of the cursing psalms ...]

“My heart showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly”

» This translation of Psalm 36:1 is now controversial or discredited; recent versions rather have it that the ungodly can see their own wickedness when looking into their own hearts. Thus Moffatt translates, “An impious spirit inspires the ungodly man”. Nevertheless the old translation made sense to C. S. Lewis, as appears from the way he used this same line from Psalm 36 in his preface to The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast (1961):

Some have paid me an undeserved compliment by supposing that my Screwtape Letters were the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology. They forgot that there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. “My heart” – I need no other’s – “showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.”


para. 17  [sometimes with no prompting ...]

“the wound man was born for”

» Adapted from a poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844–1889), “Spring and Fall” (addressing a girl called Margaret):

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed,

It is the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you morn for.







17 October 2007:
            note on “a gods embraces”, ch. XII

17 December 2012
            notes provided by Dr Emanuel Contac (Bucharest) on
            as Homer says somewhere, ch. VIII
            One of the Roman historians, ch. X

18 January 2013
            notes provided by Emanuel Contac on
            Our Lord’s words, ch. III
            Plato in his Republic, ch. X

8 July 2014
            expanded note on The “average sensual man”, ch. III

23 August 2015
            added note on terrible theologians, ch. VI

24 December 2018

            small correction to paragraph numbering in ch. XII

7 January 2019

       corrected notes on Mr. Pilgrim, ch. III, and on to enjoy Hem forever, ch. IV; with thanks to Alexander J. Wei.

23 May 2021

         expanded note on the average sensual man in ch. III