Owen Barfield Essayscorer

Published in the New Statesman when Barfield was still an undergraduate, this article is the first hint of the ideas given full expression in Poetic Diction. He later said of it that it argued “the form which a poem created was a form in the consciousness in the poet and his readers, nothing external at all… I suppose really you could say that [of his] “thinking about thinking” — that was the first symptom of it.”

This was originally a radio broadcast for the BBC Third Programme, and it is interesting to see Barfield occasionally dipping into the register of C. S. Lewis’s broadcasts on mere Christianity. Sceptical readers will at least be brought to the realisation that evolution per se is something different than Darwinian natural selection. In this way the essay insists on intellectual clarity.

This piece about the continued relevance of Goethe provides a good opportunity to stress that, as is evident in it, while Barfield is clear-eyed about all human difficulty, his is an essentially optimistic perspective. The article centres on the question of consciousness, self-consciousness, and their place in modern times.

As Barfield summarises it: “I am concerned with Greek thought still traceable in English words, whether or not the word itself is a Greek derivative.” In tracing the shifting meanings of Greek and Latin words and their English derivatives, an evolution of consciousness becomes apparent. The article is of a piece in this respect with History in English Words and Poetic Diction.

This article comes closest to some of the content and concerns of Barfield’s central book, Saving the Appearances; indeed it was delivered as a lecture, in 1955, two years before the publication of the book. It explains part of the contribution of the Jewish people to world history.

The Sleepwalkers, by Arthur Koestler, is still a well-known book for people wishing to make sense of ancient and modern cosmology. Barfield found it wanting, as being an example of what he would elsewhere call “chronological snobbery” and having a “residue” – perhaps more – “of unresolved positivism”.

Barfield lectured on Julian the Apostate, the last pagan to be Roman Emperor, as part of a series called “Leaders of Human Experience.” Some anthroposophical claims are central to the article: that people born in the first three centuries of Christ had a pre-natal recognition of the Sun-Spirit, which was Christ, and that Julian was among the last of these. Julian’s great external achievement of maintaining the Western Empire is mentioned, even as the tragedy of his belated position is highlighted.

Owen Barfield has been called a “learned anti-reductionist writer”. In this essay on nature (the phenomena) and philosophy (spirit) it is suggested how the two form a dialectical unity, and how anti-reductionism works, without obscurantism.

The references to C. S. Lewis in this lecture have a function beyond gaining the attention of the crowd. Here is a specific instance where the argument between Lewis and Barfield about historicism, given in broad outlines in the “Postscript” on Lewis linked to on this page, comes into focus. Barfield links the Renaissance and Romantic “impulses”. There is much secular corroboration of what great events these were: what Barfield calls “history of ideas” (for example The Roots of Romanticism by Isaiah Berlin). Barfield here provides an account of why they may have come about.

Some of Barfield’s work focuses on the loss in the West of the concept of the spirit as a possession of each human. In this short piece, he explains the origins of the loss, and the results of an attempt to get it back. A similar attempt, he believed, is needed today.

Here Barfield reviews a materialist account of the sources of the evolution of consciousness in the brain. Richard Dawkins has said of Julian Jaynes’s book: “It is one of those books that is either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius, nothing in between!” Allowing for Dawkins’ clumsiness of expression, what can be said of such a work is that it must be a work of intelligence, and Barfield responds in kind, suggesting what Prof. Jaynes might be missing.

The two kinds of forgetting referred to are systematic, and unsystematic. “Systematic” Barfield takes to mean the ways of thinking that are forgotten in the sense of being taken for granted, such as Darwinism, Lyellian Uniformitarianism in geology, and Cartesian philosophy. “Unsystematic” forgetting has been the fate of the ideas they replaced, such as potential existence, man as microcosm of the universe, and the primacy of consciousness. Barfield suggests recuperating, not the terminology associated with these idea, but their essence.


This engagingly written piece first appeared in T. S. Eliot’s magazine The Criterion. Its appeal to good sense about the continuing importance of the hard use of reason is relevant in the present time when it is surely in danger from many counterfeits. It is empathetic too, in appealing especially to the young who often wonder what the use is.

Published in 1970, this essay brings together, in an intellectually daring way, two separate elements in the intellectual firmament which many people are setting different courses by today – behavioural psychology and an “existential encounter with history”. Contrary to the normal pattern in much of today’s writing, this existential encounter is found to undermine the assumptions of behavioural psychology.

Introducing the philologist Max Müller by means of a review of a biography of him by the exceptional Indian writer Nirad C. Chaudhuri, the greatest value of this piece may be in making clear the element of simple drift and acquiescence in the acceptance of Darwinian natural selection in the nineteenth century, when all along Müller, greatly, though not uncritically, admired and mentioned elsewhere by Barfield, was raising questions about it.

This is a withering attack on the reductionist tendency in the emergent discipline of cognitive science. Readers can judge how fair it is for themselves by listening to the lectures.

Here Owen Barfield reviews the economist E. F. Schumacher’s popular bookAs with C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, mentioned in the text, Barfield regularly praised books that were – so to speak – going in the right direction, against unjustified dogmas.

A short way of expressing Barfield’s concern with science is to say that he wanted readers absolutely to accept the centrality of humans in the production of knowledge; equally the effects of scientific knowledge on them was central, because humans were what mattered. The radicalism of this project should not be underestimated. Any RUP – residue of unresolved positivism – must be abandoned. Readers are forced – as often in reading Rudolf Steiner, the subject of this review essay – to reflect on the contingency of our knowledge; and this is where imagination is necessary.

Literature and Philology

Any regular reader of poetry in English will recognise Barfield’s characterisation of it as deriving its rhythm from the discrepancy between its regular metre and the stresses of speech. The purpose behind the emphasis on poetry as being something other than excited speech is to validate it as a means and mode of thought.

In tendency this article is of a piece with Barfield’s bold declaration to T. S. Eliot, some time after he had published The Waste Land, that,”I am a little tired of literature that can do nothing but point out ironically that there is nothing much going on but disintegration and decay.” It points out that there can be no rigorous separation between literature and life, and finally embodies an attitude to life – an excited attitude. If Barfield’s literary aesthetic was often traditional, it was because he thought that the best vehicle to convey it.

This article is representative of a persistent concern of Barfield’s: to delineate the distinctions in spirit between England and Germany, and between Germany and anthroposophy, in such a way as to allow anthroposophy to ground itself in England. Barfield illustrates this by noting Rudolf Steiner’s unconventional non-native’s rating of the English poets, which Barfield ascribes to the different things sought in the density of poetry in the two counties.

There are points of contact in this article with familiar style-guides, such as Barfield’s noting that style is not something stuck on to writing after it is finished, and that a writers needs a large vocabulary to avoid cliché. The burden of the article, however, is that good writing arises when an individual is willing himself to arrive at truth. As such, this article was very clearly written downstream from The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity by Rudolf Steiner.

The speculative claims in this article can be tested only according to their internal logic, broad correlation with history, and the sense of their rightness. There is a wealth of literary insight in this summary, rather than review, of Dorothy Faulkner-Jones’ book, The English Spirit. For instance her remark of the storgic, rather than erotic appeal of Jane Austen’s novels. The reference to the the living prototype of Hamlet’s previous incarnation as Troy’s Hector might raise an eyebrow; but the reference to Hamlet’s great capacity for love, equally might cause one to smack one’s face: not obvious, but surely correct.

An occasional piece which nevertheless makes some points about the nature of the creative imagination and the nature of infinity.

The prediction made in this review of a work of Leavisite moral criticism, that Leavisism would not bear much fruit, has by now been long confirmed. Barfield recognises the ethical urgency of the diagnoses of society made by Ian Robinson, a disciple of F. R. Leavis. But in them, there remains a “residue of unresolved positivism”, which leaves them ineffective against the dominant epistemology of natural science. This article contains a brief summary of Barfield’s view of the ill-conceived “Two Cultures” debates about science and the humanities in which Leavis played a role.

This essay uses much of the specialised terminology of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy. It is characteristic of Barfield in its use of philology, his first academic profession, and its commitment to a humanistic psychology.

Although this was first published as a postscript to an article by someone else it is included here as a word to the wise lest anyone be tempted to assimilate Barfield’s concerns to Lewis’s or vice versa, or to study the Inklings as a collective rather than a group of individuals. It may be worth pointing out that many very orthodox theologians, such as N.T. Wright and Douglas Wilson, are these days saying things about history in broad agreement with Barfield rather than Lewis – for reasons both Scriptural and pastoral.

This idiosyncratic lecture makes a speculative but perhaps necessary connection between the Divine Word and human words. As Barfield suggests late in the lecture, it may only be found meaningful by those who allow the legitimacy of such speculation; but much of Barfield’s work is to give grounds for its legitimacy.


Written in 1930, “Death” was not published until 2008, and it appears here as it is in Barfield’s typescript, with some typographical errors. But it was originally conceived, as he wrote to T. S. Eliot, as “one of a series of six or seven essays of predominantly ethical character,” which included “Psychology and Reason,” for Eliot’s magazine The Criterion. The article speaks for itself, and justifies its title, but it may be worth noting in conclusion that C. S. Lewis revealingly misremembered its title many years later as “Immortality.”

As a book-review of J.M. Muirhead’s Coleridge as Philosopher, this was published in the first and third editions of Romanticism Comes of Age. It has two broad themes. Firstly the differences between a participant and an agnostic (or “Modern” as Muirhead calls it) idealism, which also appears in the essay “Hegel and Rudolf Steiner”. Secondly, the theme from which it takes its title, the necessity of another Self in the construction of the Self.

This is a tantalizing review of a book by Rudolf Steiner about Thomas Aquinas, The Redemption of Thinking. What is striking about the review is its emphasis on the conjunctural importance of Aquinas’s thought – its importance in his own time, and in its different significance in ours.

Barfield’s response to the claims of positivism end up by sounding like common sense, in the same way that Chesterton called Thomas Aquinas the philosopher of common sense. His quotes from The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, in which Rudolf Steiner described the logical underpinnings of anthroposophy remind us that they are essentially non-mystical, even pragmatic, taking as its cue the fact that thinking occurs, not only thought about any particular object.

Coleridge was central to Barfield’s thought: developing the implications of Coleridge’s thought was as much Barfield’s work as it was Rudolf Steiner’s to develop Goethe’s. Coleridge propounded an objective idealism, clear about the danger of abandoning the possibility of access to truth by means of the imagination. This essay serves as a useful introduction to Coleridge’s philosophical work.

Hegel can be seen as the crossroads of modern philosophy, with routes leading to Marxism, postmodernism, and an agnostic, formal, idealism. In this essay Barfield responds to an orthodox Hegelian with whom he corresponded, A. V. Miller. He gives a full-bodied model of what Hegel means to Steiner, modern philosophy, and the world.


This is Owen Barfield’s earliest expression of his perception of anthroposophy as “romanticism come of age”. Supplying the “failure of romanticism […] as metaphysic”, anthroposophy offers conceptual clarity, in distinguishing Inspiration from Imagination, which are then illustrated by the poetry of Wordsworth.

A bravura piece of diagnosis and prescription that incidentally shows that Barfield was not always “wise old Dr. Barfield” but a young man with a sharp prose style. Novice readers need not be repulsed by the anthroposophical terminology. They should take, if they can, the broad sense of it, but should seize on what they can surely recognise: the description of the use of irony in modern discourse. The connection of this to the violence mentioned early in the piece might lay Barfield open to the reproach of paranoia, but readers should think of the similar, but different, insights of Freud about the relation of jokes and slips with aggression.

A joyful and intricate piece of writing about the seasons of spring and autumn, the meaning of their great festivals in the Christian calendar, Easter and Michaelmas, and what the individual should draw from them.

This article proposes a means of responding to “panic fears”. Barfield notes that the ideas in the articles had been with him for a number of years. Nevertheless, the article was published in October 1940 and it is tempting to suggest the article was precipitated by the conditions of wartime.

Barfield here unites Eurhythmy, an art originated by Rudolf Steiner, with his own concerns with the origin and evolution of language: a natural unity given what Steiner expressed to be the intention in the art. Though Eurhythmy’s connection with dance is, on this account, tangential, it is nevertheless real. Barfield might have been expected to take an interest in it, both as someone interested in language, and as a talented dancer.

As much a piece of travel literature about a popular destination as anything else, and worth reading on that account, this is also a meditation on the role of feeling, part of the Steinerian triad of thinking, feeling and willing, as part of the human constitution. It is an illustration, in its insistence on the “firmness of will true tenderness” requires, of the occasional toughness of Barfield’s vision.

Originally given as a lecture to the Cambridge Anthroposophical Study-Group, this piece on reincarnation is (at points humorously) self-aware, but unapologetic, about its role in in the cosmology of Rudolf Steiner. Some readers may find the implied conservatism – which is nevertheless not at all reactionary or unfeeling – towards the end of the article unsympathetic. The lecture is nevertheless a search for truth, and the only thing missing, as Barfield himself points out, is a consideration of the conflict of these views with standard Christianity.

In this article a parallel in importance is drawn, for the different cultural epochs in which they lived, between Aristotle and Rudolf Steiner. A further parallel is drawn between the period of Eclecticism – which came after the fertile period during which Aristotle worked and before the period in which the Scholastic philosophers acknowledged his pre-eminence – and our own period. Barfield suggests that Steiner ought justly to come to underwrite science and thought in this epoch, as Aristotle did after a period of intellectual struggle. Barfield’s comments are made by way of clarification and prediction: acknowledging Steiner’s pre-eminence need be no more oppressive than Aristotle’s was. This article was originally a lecture, the last Barfield delivered in the United States, in 1984.


This short review of a book by the German theologian Emil Bock makes the point that eschatology matters greatly in judging any number of matters – the whole of the Bible and “our age” are mentioned here.

It can be said that sceptics are wary of the idea of the Bible being “all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,” while believers are, equally understandably, wary of treating it as mostly poetry. In great depth, this article cuts across these cavils, giving an account of is meant by revelation from ancient times, right up – by pointing to its actual and possible relation to modern literature – to the presnt day.

Barfield here brings his philological perspective on the evolution of consciousness to the question of the nature of meaning. Without their being named, this draws Barfield into argument against the views of the logical positivists about language. To use Saussure’s term, they treat it as a “synchronic” system of reference. With many examples, Barfield shows the historical dimension is indispensable.

Social Commentary

Written in 1934 and describing that time, this article provides a fair description of elements of our own intellectual scene. Its vaunted tolerance is brittle and undergirded, not by charity, but by contempt. What is brittle must break, and Barfield points to the consequences of this mode of thinking in the totalitarianisms of the thirties. A course forward is proposed in terms of Steiner’s triad of thinking, feeling and willing.

This is an attempt to reintroduce Coleridge’s philosophical idealism to political thought. Other pieces on this page provide the justification for the mild, meliorist, but utterly uncomplacent tone of the piece. That meliorism is less common now than it was then. It is still true that there is little faith in ideas presently – a dialectical tragedy because it leads to indifference to formal logic itself.

In this essay Barfield tries to provide a modus vivendi between the differing views on abortion. How a founder-member of the SPUC, with a contempt for abortion evident in his novella Night Operation, should come to counsel a relatively liberal regime on abortion is a real question. The answer has to be found in Barfield’s deep understanding of life and death; his sense of, and respect for, the circumstances in which a liberal and democratic society has arisen, which is a function of the evolution of consciousness; and ultimately in the distinction between law and love.

Owen Barfield
Born9 November 1898 (1898-11-09)
Died14 December 1997 (1997-12-15) (aged 99)
Forest Row, England
OccupationPhilosopher, author, poet
NationalityUnited Kingdom
Alma materWadham College, Oxford

Arthur Owen Barfield (9 November 1898 – 14 December 1997) was a British philosopher, author, poet, critic, and member of the Inklings.


Barfield was born in London. He was educated at Highgate School and Wadham College, Oxford and in 1920 received a first class degree in English language and literature. After finishing his B. Litt., which became his third book Poetic Diction, he was a dedicated poet and author for over ten years. After 1934 his profession was as a solicitor in London, from which he retired in 1959 aged 60. Thereafter he had many guest appointments as Visiting Professor in North America. Barfield published numerous essays, books, and articles. His primary focus was on what he called the "evolution of consciousness," which is an idea which occurs frequently in his writings. He is best known as the author of Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry and as a founding father of Anthroposophy in the English speaking world.


In 1923 he married the musician and choreographer Maud Douie. They had two children, Alexander and Lucy; and fostered Geoffrey. Their sole grandchild is Owen A. Barfield, son of Alexander.

The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Barfield[edit]

Barfield has been known as "the first and last Inkling." He had a profound influence on C. S. Lewis, and through his books The Silver Trumpet and Poetic Diction (dedicated to C.S. Lewis), an appreciable effect on J. R. R. Tolkien.[2] Their contribution, and their conversations, persuaded both Tolkien and Lewis that myth and metaphor have always had a central place in language and literature. "The Inklings work… taken as a whole, has a significance that far outweighs any measure of popularity, amounting to a revitalisation of Christian intellectual and imaginative life."[3]

Barfield and C. S. Lewis met in 1919 as students at Oxford University and were close friends for 44 years. "It is no exaggeration to say that his friendship with Barfield was one of the most important in his [Lewis's] life…” The relationship was reciprocated. Almost a year after Lewis's death, Barfield spoke of his friendship in a talk in the USA: "Now, whatever he was, and as you know, he was a great many things, CS Lewis was for me, first and foremost, the absolutely unforgettable friend, the friend with whom I was in close touch for over 40 years, the friend you might come to regard hardly as another human being, but almost as a part of the furniture of my existence.”[4] When they met, Lewis was an atheist who told Barfield, "I don’t accept God!"[5] Barfield was influential in converting Lewis. Lewis developed the concept of two kinds of friends, a first friend with whom you feel at home and agree and a second friend who brings to you a different point of view.[6] He found Barfield's contribution in this way particularly helpful despite, or because of, the fact that “during the 1920s, the two were to engage in a long dispute over Barfield's (and their mutual friend, A.C. Harwood's) connection to anthroposophy and the kind of knowledge that imagination can give us… which they affectionately called 'The Great War'.[7] Through their conversations, Lewis gave up materialist realism – the idea that our sensible world is self-explanatory and is all that there is – and moved closer to what he had always disparagingly referred to as “supernaturalism.”[8] These conversations influenced Lewis towards writing his Narnia series. As well as being friend and teacher to Lewis, Barfield was (professionally) his legal adviser and trustee.

Barfield was an important intellectual influence on Lewis, who dedicated his 1936 book Allegory of Love to Barfield. Lewis wrote his 1949 book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first Narnia chronicle, for his friend's adopted daughter Lucy Barfield and dedicated it to her. He also dedicated The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to Barfield's son Geoffrey in 1952. Barfield also influenced his scholarship and world view. He dedicated his first scholarly book, The Allegory of Love (1936) to his 'wisest and best of my unofficial teachers,' stating in its preface that he asked no more than to disseminate Barfield's literary theory and practice[9] Barfield's more than merely intellectual approach to philosophy and type of influence is illustrated by a well-known interchange that took place between Lewis and Barfield. Lewis one day made the mistake of referring to philosophy as "a subject." "It wasn't a subject to Plato," said Barfield, "It was a way.".,[10] had some influence on Lewis. In the third lecture of The Abolition of Man (1947), Lewis suggests that Barfield's mentor, Rudolf Steiner, may have found the way to a 'redeemed scientific method that does not omit the qualities of the observed object'.

Barfield was also an important influence on Tolkien. In a letter to C.A.Furth of Allen and Unwin in 1937, Tolkien wrote, "the only philological remark (I think) in The Hobbit is...: an odd mythological way of referring to linguistic philosophy, and a point that will (happily) be missed by any who have not read Barfield (few have), and probably by those who have."[11] The reference in question comes when Bilbo visits the dragon Smaug's treasure hoard within the Lonely Mountain: "To say that Bilbo's breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all was wonderful. Bilbo had heard tell and sing of dragon-hoards before, but the splendour, the lust, the glory of such treasure had never yet come home to him. His heart was filled and pierced with enchantment..."

Lewis wrote to Barfield in around 1928 about his influence on Tolkien: "You might like to know that when Tolkien dined with me the other night he said, apropos of something quite different, that your conception of the ancient semantic unity had modified his whole outlook, and he was always just going to say something in a lecture when your concept stopped him in time. 'It is one of those things,' he said, 'that when you have once seen it there are all sorts of things you never say again."[12]

Barfield’s notion of final participation (the idea of a fully conscious participative unity with nature) brought to the Inklings ideas similar to those later expounded by others as Radical Orthodoxy, with its long theological history. It has roots in the Platonic idea of methexis passed on by Augustine and Aquinas and offered a sacramental view of reality, which Tolkien takes up in the Ring, in for example the contemplative artistry and natural oneness of the elves, Tom Bombadil and the hobbits’ simple pleasures.[13]


Barfield became an anthroposophist after attending a lecture by Rudolf Steiner in 1924.[14] He studied the work and philosophy of Rudolf Steiner throughout his life and translated some of his works, and had some early essays published in anthroposophical publications. This part of Barfield's literary work includes the book The Case for Anthroposophy containing his Introduction to selected extracts from Steiner's Riddles of the Soul.[15] A study of Steiner's basic texts provides information on some of the ideas that influenced Barfield's work,[16] but Barfield's work ought not be considered derivative of Steiner's. Barfield expert G. B. Tennyson suggests the relation: "Barfield is to Steiner as Steiner was to Goethe".[17] But though Barfield's writing was profoundly original and not derivative, he would not have agreed with Tennyson's characterization. Barfield considered Steiner a much greater man and mind than Goethe. From that point of view, Tennyson's analogy implies that Barfield was much greater than Steiner. But Barfield considered himself very small beside Steiner, or Goethe. (Tennyson may have meant the analogy to suggest influence, rather than relative stature.)

Influence and opinions[edit]

Barfield might be characterised as both a Christian writer and a learned anti-reductionist writer. All of his books are in print[when?] again in new editions, and include Unancestral Voice; History, Guilt, and Habit; Romanticism Comes of Age; The Rediscovery of Meaning; Speaker's Meaning; and Worlds Apart. History in English Words seeks to retell the history of Western civilization by exploring the change in meanings of various words. Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry is on the 1999 100 Best Spiritual Books of the Century list by Philip Zaleski.[18]

Barfield was also an influence on T. S. Eliot who called Barfield's book Worlds Apart "a journey into seas of thought very far from ordinary routes of intellectual shipping."

In her book Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World, Verlyn Flieger analyzes the influence of Barfield's Poetic Diction on the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien.[19]

More recent discussions of Barfield's work are published in Stephen Talbott's The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst, Neil Evernden's The Social Creation of Nature, Daniel Smitherman's Philosophy and the Evolution of Consciousness, Morris Berman's The Reenchantment of the World, and Gary Lachman's A Secret History of Consciousness. In 1996 Lachman conducted perhaps the last interview with Barfield, versions of which appeared in Gnosis[20] magazine and the magazine Lapis.[21]

In his book Why the World Around You isn't as it Appears: A Study of Owen Barfield (SteinerBooks, 2012), Albert Linderman presents Barfield's work in light of recent societal examples and scholarship while writing for an audience less familiar with philosophical categories and history.

In a foreword to Poetic Diction, Howard Nemerov, US Poet Laureate, stated: Among the poets and teachers of my acquaintance who know POETIC DICTION it has been valued not only as a secret book, but nearly as a sacred one.[22]

Saul Bellow, the Nobel Prize–winning novelist, wrote: "We are well supplied with interesting writers, but Owen Barfield is not content to be merely interesting. His ambition is to set us free. Free from what? From the prison we have made for ourselves by our ways of knowing, our limited and false habits of thought, our 'common sense'." [23]

The culture critic and psychologist James Hillman called Barfield "one of the most neglected important thinkers of the 20th Century".[24]

Harold Bloom, describing Poetic Diction, referred to it as "a wonderful book, from which I keep learning a great deal".

The film Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning (1994), co-produced and written by G. B. Tennyson and David Lavery, directed and edited by Ben Levin, is a documentary portrait of Barfield.

Barfield has been held in high esteem by many contemporary poets, including Robert Kelly, Charles Stein, George Quasha, Tom Cheetham, and others.

Poetic Diction[edit]

Barfield's Poetic Diction opens with examples of "felt changes" arising in reading poetry, and discusses how these relate to general principles of poetic composition. But Barfield's greater agenda is "a study of meaning". Using poetic examples, he attempts to demonstrate how the imagination works with words and metaphors to create meaning. He shows how the imagination of the poet creates new meaning, and how this same process has been active, throughout human experience, to create and continuously expand language. For Barfield this is not just literary criticism: it is evidence for the evolution of human consciousness. This, for many readers, is his real accomplishment: his unique presentation of "not merely a theory of poetic diction, but a theory of poetry, and not merely a theory of poetry, but a theory of knowledge". This theory was developed directly from a close study of the evolution of words and meaning, starting with the relation between the primitive mind's myth making capacity, and the formation of words. Barfield uses numerous examples to demonstrate that words originally had a unified "concrete and undivided" meaning, which we now distinguish as several distinct concepts. For example, the single Greek word pneuma (which can be variously translated as "breath", "spirit", or "wind") reflects, Barfield argues, the primordial unity of these concepts of air, spirit, wind, and breath, all included in one "holophrase". This Barfield considers not the application of analogy to natural phenomena, but the discernment of its pre-existence. This is the perspective Barfield believes is original in the evolution of consciousness, which was "fighting for its life", as he phrases it, in the philosophy of Plato, and which, in a regenerate and more sophisticated form, benefiting from the development of rational thought, needs to be recovered if consciousness is to continue to evolve.[citation needed]

Worlds Apart[edit]

Barfield's Worlds Apart is one of his most important books. It is a fictional dialogue between a physicist, a biologist, a psychiatrist, a lawyer-philologist, a linguistic analyst, a theologian, a retired Waldorf School teacher, and a young man employed at a rocket research station. During a period of three days, the characters discuss and debate first principles.[25]

Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry[edit]

Main article: Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry

Saving the Appearances explores some three thousand years of history—particularly the history of human consciousness. Barfield argues that the evolution of nature is inseparable from the evolution of consciousness. What we call matter interacts with mind and wouldn't exist without it. In Barfield's lexicon, there is an "unrepresented" underlying base of reality that is extra-mental. This is comparable to Kant's notion of the "noumenal world".[26] However, unlike Kant, Barfield entertained the idea that the "unrepresented" could be directly experienced, under some conditions.

Similar conclusions have been made by others, and the book has influenced, for example, the physicist Stephen Edelglass (who wrote The Marriage of Sense and Thought), and the Christian existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel, who wanted the book to be translated into French.[27]

Barfield points out that the "real" world of physics and particles is completely different from the world we see and live in of things with properties.

In our critical thinking as physicists or philosophers, we imagine ourselves set over against an objective world consisting of particles, in which we do not participate at all. In contrast, the phenomenal, or familiar, world is said to be riddled with our subjectivity. In our daily, uncritical thinking, on the other hand, we take for granted the solid, objective reality of the familiar world, assume an objective, lawful manifestation of its qualities such as color, sound, and solidity, and even write natural scientific treatises about the history of its phenomena—all while ignoring the human consciousness that (by our own, critical account) determines these phenomena from the inside in a continually changing way.[28]

The particle world of physics is independent of human thought, and only indirectly accessible to humans. The world we see and perceive directly is dependent on and alterable by human thought (this is not to say there aren't or are limits.) Both are 'real' or 'unreal' depending on the meaning of real; that this changes over time in human thought is exactly Barfield's point.

Major works[edit]

For a full bibliography including all essays, see Hipolito, "Bibliography of the published Writings of Owen Barfield" in sources section below.

  • The Silver Trumpet novel. (1925)
  • History in English Words (1926) ISBN 978-0-940262-11-9
  • Poetic Diction: A Study In Meaning (1928) ISBN 978-0-9559582-4-3
  • Romanticism Comes of Age (1944) ISBN 978-0-9569423-1-9
  • Greek Thought in English Words (1950) essay in: G. Rostrevor Hamilton, ed. (1950), Essays and Studies 1950, 3, London: John Murray, pp. 69–81 
  • This Ever Diverse Pair (1950) ISBN 978-0-9559582-5-0
  • Saving the Appearances: a Study in Idolatry (1957) ISBN 978-0-9559582-8-1
    • Evolution – Der Weg des Bewusstseins: Zur Geschichte des Europaischen Denkens. (1957) in German, Markus Wulfing (trans.) ISBN 978-3-925177-11-8
    • Salvare le apparenze: Uno studio sull'idolatria (2010) in Italian, Giovanni Maddalena, Stephania Scardicchio (editors) ISBN 978-88-211-6521-4
  • Worlds Apart: A Dialogue of the 1960s (1963) ISBN 978-0-9559582-6-7
  • Unancestral Voice (1965) ISBN 978-0-9559582-7-4
  • Speaker's Meaning (1967) ISBN 978-0-9569423-0-2
  • What Coleridge Thought (1971)
  • The Rediscovery of Meaning and Other Essays (1977) ISBN 978-0-9569423-3-3
  • History, Guilt, and Habit (1979) ISBN 978-1-59731-108-3
  • Review of Julian Jaynes,The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind(1979) essay in: Teachers College Record, 80 (3), 1979–2002, pp. 602–604 
  • Language, Evolution of Consciousness, and the Recovery of Human Meaning (1981)essay reprinted in "Toward the Recovery of Wholeness: Knowledge, Education, and Human Values", ISBN 978-0-8077-2758-4, p 55–61.
  • The Evolution Complex (1982) essay in Towards 2.2, 6 (12), Spring 1982, pp. 14–16 
  • Introducing Rudolf Steiner (1983)essay in Towards 2.4, 42 (43), Fall–Winter 1983 
  • Orpheus verse drama. (1983) ISBN 978-0-940262-01-0
  • Listening to Steiner (1984) review in Parabola 9.4, 1985, pp. 94–100 
  • Reflections on C.S. Lewis, S.T. Coleridge and R. Steiner: An Interview with Barfield (1985) in: Towards 2.6, Spring–Summer 1985, pp. 6–13 
  • Owen Barfield on C. S. Lewis (1989) G. B. Tennyson (ed.) ISBN 978-1-59731-100-7
  • The Child and the Giant (1988) short story in: Child and Man: Education as an Art, 22 (2), July 1988, pp. 5–7 
    • Das Kind und der Riese – Eine orphische Erzählung (1990) in German, Susanne Lin (trans.)
  • A Barfield Reader: Selections from the Writings of Owen Barfield (1990) G. B. Tennyson (ed.) ISBN 978-0-8195-6361-3
  • A Barfield Sampler: Poetry and Fiction by Owen Barfield (1993) edited by Jeanne Clayton Hunter and Thomas Kranidas ISBN 978-0-7914-1588-7
  • The "Great War" of Owen Barfield and C.S. Lewis: Philosophical Writings, 1927-1930 (2015) Norbert Feinendegen and Arend Smilde (ed.) Inklings Studies Supplements, Nr. 1. ISSN 2057-6099

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^Lavery, "How Barfield Thought", p. 5.
  2. ^Flieger, "Splintered Light".
  3. ^C. Gruenler (2015) Mimetic Theory Meets the Oxford Inklings: Girard, Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and Barfield. The Colloquium on Violence and Religion, July 2015, St Louis University. https://www.academia.edu/15209390/Mimetic_Theory_Meets_the_Oxford_Inklings_Girard_Lewis_Tolkien_Williams_and_Barfield accessed May 6, 2016
  4. ^Colin Duriez (2013) C. S. Lewis: A Biography of Friendship. Lion Books. p 88
  5. ^Duriez, op. cit.
  6. ^The ecclesiastic Ronald Knox was another such friend, see Milton Walsh, Second Friends: C.S. Lewis and Ronald Knox in Conversation. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008. 360 pp. ISBN 978-1-58617-240-4.
  7. ^Colin Duriez (2013) C. S. Lewis: A Biography of Friendship. Lion Books. pp 87-88.
  8. ^Bremer, J. (2011) Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963): A Brief Biography. http://instituteofphilosophy.org/c-s-lewis/clive-staples-lewis-1898-1963-a-brief-biography/ First published in The C.S. Lewis Readers’ Encyclopedia in 1998.
  9. ^Lewis, Clive Staples (1936). The Allegory of Love. Oxford University Press. 
  10. ^C.S. Lewis, "Surprised by Joy", p. 225.
  11. ^Letters, 22
  12. ^Carpenter, Inklings, 42
  13. ^Grunter, op. cit.
  14. ^Blaxland-De Lange, p. 27.
  15. ^The Case for Anthroposophy. Publishing information:[1] Online [2]
  16. ^Grant, pp. 113–125
  17. ^Tennyson, "Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning".
  18. ^Philip Zaleski, '100 Best Spiritual Books of the Century, Harper-Collins 
  19. ^Flieger
  20. ^Lachman, "One Man's Century", Gnosis (Vol. 40, 1996) p. 8.
  21. ^Lachman, "Owen Barfield" Lapis (Issue 3, 1996).
  22. ^"Poetic Diction", p. 1.
  23. ^Bellow, "History, Guilt and Habit: Editorial review".
  24. ^Lavery, "Interview with James Hillman".
  25. ^https://www.amazon.com/Worlds-Apart-A-Dialogue-1960s/dp/0955958261/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1367048708&sr=8-1&keywords=worlds+apart%2C+owen+barfield
  26. ^"Encyclopedia Barfieldiana: The Unrepresented" (entry).
  27. ^Remark of Barfield, quoted in Sugerman, ed., Evolution of Consciousness, p. 20.
  28. ^Barfield, "Worlds Apart" as quoted here


David Lavery, "How Barfield Thought:The Creative Life of Owen Barfield", The Collected Works of David Lavery(pdf), retrieved 2011-03-12 
Hooper, Walter (19 December 1997). "Obituary: Owen Barfield". The Independent. London. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
Walter Hooper (1998), C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide, HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-06-063880-1 
Verlyn Flieger (2002), Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World, Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, ISBN 0-87338-744-9  Barfield's influence is the main thesis of this book.
C.S. Lewis (1998), Surprised by Joy, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 978-0-15-100185-9 
Simon Blaxland-De Lange (2006), Owen Barfield, Romanticism Comes of Age: a Biography, London: Temple Lodge 
Patrick Grant (1982), "The Quality of Thinking: Owen Barfield as Literary Man and Anthroposophist", Seven, 3 
Gary Lachman, "One Man's Century: Visiting Owen Barfield", Gnosis, 40: 8 
Gary Lachman, "Owen Barfield and the Evolution of Consciousness", Lapis, 3 
Owen Barfield (1973), Poetic Diction: A Study In Meaning, Wesleyan 
Saul Bellow, History, Guilt and Habit: Editorial Review, Amazon 
David Lavery, Interview with James Hillman 
David Lavery, Encyclopedia Barfieldiana 
G.B. Tennyson; David Lavery (1996), Ben Levin, ed., Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning documentary (VHS), Encino, California: OwenArts Productions, pp. 40 min. 
Shirley Sugerman (2008), "A Conversation with Owen Barfield", Evolution of Consciousness: Studies in Polarity, San Rafael, Calif.: Barfield Press, pp. 3–28, ISBN 978-1-59731-116-8 . The work is a festschrift honoring Barfield at age 75.
Owen Barfield (2010), Worlds Apart (A Dialogue of the 1960s), Middletown, Conn: Barfield Press UK, ISBN 978-0-9559582-6-7 
Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. ISBN 0-911682-20-1. 
Hipolito, Jane W. (2008), "Bibliography of the published Writings of Owen Barfield", in Shirley Sugerman, Evolution of Consciousness: Studies in Polarity(PDF), San Rafael, Calif.: Barfield Society, pp. 227–261, ISBN 978-1-59731-116-8, retrieved 2011-03-27 

Related works[edit]

  • Lionel Adey. C.S. Lewis's 'Great War' with Owen Barfield Victoria, BC: University of Victoria (English Literary Studies No. 14) 1978.
  • Humphrey Carpenter. The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends. London: Unwin Paperbacks. 1981.
  • Diana Pavlac Glyer. The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. 2007. ISBN 978-0-87338-890-0
  • Roger Lancelyn Green & Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis: A Biography. Fully revised & expanded edition. HarperCollins, 2002. ISBN 0-00-628164-8
  • Karlson, Henry (2010). Thinking with the Inklings. ISBN 1-4505-4130-5. 
  • Albert Linderman, Why the World Around You Isn't as it Appears: A Study of Owen Barfield. SteinerBooks, 2012. ISBN 978-1584201212
  • Philip Zaleski & Carol Zaleski. The Fellowship. The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2015.

External links[edit]

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