Category : Poetry & Literature

A Wendell Berry Poem for a Monday

(My thanks to Jon Sweeney).

Posted in Poetry & Literature

(LQ) Henry Freedland–Hell Breaks Loose: Searching for hope in a blazing world.

Around the turn of the eighth century, a sickly Anglo-Saxon monk known as Dryhthelm died in the early hours of a Northumbrian evening. Through the night his household mourned his passing. Then at dawn, as the sun returned, so did Dryhthelm, who sat up in bed with a start. All fled the undead man but his wife; she stayed, trembling in fright. “Do not fear,” he said. “I have been permitted to live among humankind once more,” and he told her what he had seen.

The journey in fleeting death had taken Dryhthelm down to a valley without end, one side of which was “terrifying with raging flames,” the other “equally intolerable owing to fierce hail and cold blasts of snow gusting and blowing away everything in sight.” Everywhere were “poor souls” who attempted to escape the intense heat by leaping into the cold and then, finding no respite, launched themselves back into the high flames to burn again. Surveying the “torture of this alternating misery,” Dryhthelm took the bilateral terror to be hell; he knew of its promised torment, its eternally unhappy agony. But his guide corrected the assumption: “Do not believe this, for this is not the hell you are thinking of.”

Dryhthelm was shaken—how could things be worse? Still farther he was led, to where the landscape grew gloomier, the covering sky even more eaten by darkness, where flames came spurting from a pit with a vile stench. He stood, “unsure what I should do or which way to turn,” unable to differentiate between the “wretched wailing” of souls and a “raucous laughter, as though some illiterate rabble was hurling insults at enemies they had captured.” Here it was at last: the infernal gloom, the precipice of damnation, the cries of suffering wretches, all the sorrowful punishments wielded by mindless, remorseless, contemptible hordes. Finally, the mouth of hell.

Dryhthelm’s story was recorded by his contemporary the Venerable Bede in the Ecclesiastical History of the English People. It is among the harrowing selections of the 2018 anthology The Penguin Book of Hell. Historian Scott G. Bruce, who collected the texts, gently proposes in his introduction that “the political calamities of the modern world have increased the currency of the concept of hell as a metaphor for torment and suffering.” From the “sulfurous and dark” mountain envisioned by the medieval Irish knight Tundale to the Nazi death camp Treblinka—about which the Russian writer Vasily Grossman commented that “not even Dante, in his hell, saw scenes like this”—the book traffics heavily in such horrid currency.

Read it all.

Posted in Eschatology, History, Poetry & Literature

Grateful to be Back Home

‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’

–Robert Frost, ‘The Death of the Hired Man’

Posted in * By Kendall, * South Carolina, Poetry & Literature

Food for Thought from JRR Tolkien

Posted in Poetry & Literature, Theology

Marilynne Robinson–Rethinking Reality

Posted in Poetry & Literature, Theology

Happy Birthday to Gerard Manley Hopkins

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Poetry & Literature

(Quillette) Marilyn Simon–“Unsex Me Here’ and Other Bad Ideas

Winkler completed an MA in English Literature in 2013, at the same time that I was working on my doctorate on Shakespeare, which makes the two of us grad school contemporaries. I understand well the myopic feminist perspective of English departments, of how students are often trained to read specifically for attitudes of unfairness towards women in order to confirm the narrative of women’s victimization. I also understand how the “male gaze,” men’s sexualization of women, is treated punitively, as a dirtiness within men that can cause them to dehumanize women and which can lead to cruelty. And of course this is sometimes tragically true.

But what troubles me is that women commonly fail to appreciate the internal struggle men have with their sexual instincts, and instead condemn them for having these instincts at all. In other words, consciousness raising feminism rightly asserts that men shouldn’t treat women like objects for their use, but it does so while being unconscious of men’s humanity, and as a consequence, both minimizes and punishes the male sexual instinct that causes men to see women sexually in spite of men’s civilizing efforts not to.

What contemporary feminism fails to adequately grapple with is nature itself, and as a result, feminist attitudes towards men, and particularly towards male sexuality, are compassionless and punitive (not to mention humourless—and human sexuality is so often very funny!). With a blind spot for men’s experiences, consciousness raising feminist attitudes towards male sexual energy are unlikely to inspire mutual respect, and instead work to engender resentment, anxiety, and unhappiness.

As I grow older, I’m becoming increasingly aware of and sympathetic to the internal struggle between powerful sexual instincts and self-possession that most men contend with every day. Many women have an active libido, but in my experience the vast majority of women think about sex much less than men do. Women: imagine what it would be like to think about sex a lot, then quadruple what you’ve just imagined, and now you’re in the ballpark of the average man. It would be exhausting, I can only imagine, to constantly have to assert one’s own self-restraint over an appetite that gnaws at one’s imagination from moment to moment. But to be made to feel somehow polluted for the appetite itself, the appetite that men most usually successfully control and deny would be almost intolerable.

Read it all.

Posted in History, Men, Poetry & Literature, Sexuality, Women

Walt Whitman Reads “America”: The Only Surviving Recording of the Beloved Poet’s Voice

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

Read and listen to it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Poetry & Literature

(Sightings) Matthew Creighton on Robertson Crusoe

. Even its conventional classification as a “novel”—arguably the first of its kind in the English language—belies the fact that the work is structurally indebted to the classical genres of confession and spiritual autobiography. Defoe’s own theological convictions, of some ironic distance to those held by his narrator, are beside the point here. What is of interest is the way in which events are at one and the same assimilated by Crusoe the storyteller into a distinctly religious framework and are informed by a distinctively Christian paradigm.

Apart from the book’s religious substratum, it constitutes an apposite subject for a publication devoted to communicating “sightings” of modern religious life because its main character specially embodies the metaphor of the publication’s title. As much as Crusoe may demonstrate the virtues of diligence and industriousness, and may manipulate his man Friday to promote his own drive for sovereignty, he is at bottom a discerner, one who “sights” inside and out, and who continually tries to make sense of the one on the basis of the other. For example, the animating impulse in response to his shipwreck on an uninhabited island near the Orinoco river is not lament or self-pity, but an effort to grasp his situation. Is his punishment due to a state of unresolved sin? Has it been caused by the dereliction of his divine calling? Or is it rather a result of violating the demands of filial piety and obedience by deciding to pursue the seafaring life? The answer, of course, is neither crucial nor susceptible of discovery. What is significant is that his misfortune is never taken at face value but is understood to have supernatural causation and design. Events, in other words, are always “symbolic” insofar as they point to a divine intention, and Crusoe’s narration is a sustained attempt to descry their purpose for him.

Furthermore, it is Crusoe’s dissatisfaction with the visible—his insistence that meaning lies beyond the given—that enables him to translate misfortune into blessing, to shape and re-shape events auspiciously even as they oppressively shape him. The “discovery” that his fate is by no means a sign of God’s abandonment but is instead proof of His benevolence, is what first allows him to reclaim the sense of himself as an actor who can fashion outcomes in his favor. It is this perceptual and attitudinal transformation that necessitates the first-person narration, for the reader must be taken into Crusoe’s mind in order to observe the counterintuitive logic of his thinking. On the other hand, the first-person account creates a situation in which a providential governor never appears but is only invoked. The immediacy of an intervening God as depicted in Scripture is replaced by a teller who orders and relates the story of his life once he understands its full meaning.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, History, Poetry & Literature, Religion & Culture, Theology

Harriet Beecher Stowe on her Feast Day

Have not many of us, in the weary way of life, felt, in some hours, how far easier it were to die than to live?

The martyr, when faced even by a death of bodily anguish and horror, finds in the very terror of his doom a strong stimulant and tonic. There is a vivid excitement, a thrill and fervor, which may carry through any crisis of suffering that is the birth-hour of eternal glory and rest.

But to live,””to wear on, day after day, of mean, bitter, low, harassing servitude, every nerve dampened and depressed, every power of feeling gradually smothered,””this long and wasting heart-martyrdom, this slow, daily bleeding away of the inward life, drop by drop, hour after hour,””this is the true searching test of what there may be in man or woman.

When Tom stood face to face with his persecutor, and heard his threats, and thought in his very soul that his hour was come, his heart swelled bravely in him, and he thought he could bear torture and fire, bear anything, with the vision of Jesus and heaven but just a step beyond; but, when he was gone, and the present excitement passed off, came back the pain of his bruised and weary limbs,””came back the sense of his utterly degraded, hopeless, forlorn estate; and the day passed wearily enough.
Long before his wounds were healed, Legree insisted that he should be put to the regular field-work; and then came day after day of pain and weariness, aggravated by every kind of injustice and indignity that the ill-will of a mean and malicious mind could devise. Whoever, in our circumstances, has made trial of pain, even with all the alleviations which, for us, usually attend it, must know the irritation that comes with it. Tom no longer wondered at the habitual surliness of his associates; nay, he found the placid, sunny temper, which had been the habitude of his life, broken in on, and sorely strained, by the inroads of the same thing. He had flattered himself on leisure to read his Bible; but there was no such thing as leisure there. In the height of the season, Legree did not hesitate to press all his hands through, Sundays and week-days alike. Why shouldn’t he?””he made more cotton by it, and gained his wager; and if it wore out a few more hands, he could buy better ones. At first, Tom used to read a verse or two of his Bible, by the flicker of the fire, after he had returned from his daily toil; but, after the cruel treatment he received, he used to come home so exhausted, that his head swam and his eyes failed when he tried to read; and he was fain to stretch himself down, with the others, in utter exhaustion.

Is it strange that the religious peace and trust, which had upborne him hitherto, should give way to tossings of soul and despondent darkness? The gloomiest problem of this mysterious life was constantly before his eyes,””souls crushed and ruined, evil triumphant, and God silent. It was weeks and months that Tom wrestled, in his own soul, in darkness and sorrow. He thought of Miss Ophelia’s letter to his Kentucky friends, and would pray earnestly that God would send him deliverance. And then he would watch, day after day, in the vague hope of seeing somebody sent to redeem him; and, when nobody came, he would crush back to his soul bitter thoughts,””that it was vain to serve God, that God had forgotten him. He sometimes saw Cassy; and sometimes, when summoned to the house, caught a glimpse of the dejected form of Emmeline, but held very little communion with either; in fact, there was no time for him to commune with anybody.

–Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Poetry & Literature, Race/Race Relations

Saturday Food for Thought from Upton Sinclair–“I will work harder!” one of the very best descriptions of works righteousness in Literature

More and more friends gathered round while the lamentation about these things was going on. Some drew nearer, hoping to overhear the conversation, who were themselves among the guilty—and surely that was a thing to try the patience of a saint. Finally there came Jurgis, urged by some one, and the story was retold to him. Jurgis listened in silence, with his great black eyebrows knitted. Now and then there would come a gleam underneath them and he would glance about the room. Perhaps he would have liked to go at some of those fellows with his big clenched fists; but then, doubtless, he realized how little good it would do him. No bill would be any less for turning out any one at this time; and then there would be the scandal—and Jurgis wanted nothing except to get away with Ona and to let the world go its own way. So his hands relaxed and he merely said quietly: “It is done, and there is no use in weeping, Teta Elzbieta.” Then his look turned toward Ona, who stood close to his side, and he saw the wide look of terror in her eyes. “Little one,” he said, in a low voice, “do not worry—it will not matter to us. We will pay them all somehow. I will work harder.” That was always what Jurgis said. Ona had grown used to it as the solution of all difficulties—“I will work harder!” He had said that in Lithuania when one official had taken his passport from him, and another had arrested him for being without it, and the two had divided a third of his belongings. He had said it again in New York, when the smooth-spoken agent had taken them in hand and made them pay such high prices, and almost prevented their leaving his place, in spite of their paying. Now he said it a third time, and Ona drew a deep breath; it was so wonderful to have a husband, just like a grown woman—and a husband who could solve all problems, and who was so big and strong!

–Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, Chapter 1 (my emphasis)

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Corporations/Corporate Life, History, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Poetry & Literature

Remembering D-Day–The Poem “For the Fallen” by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Military / Armed Forces, Poetry & Literature

More Poetry for Memorial Day–Patterns

I walk down the garden-paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jeweled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden-paths.
My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.
And the splashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover.
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon–
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
“Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se’nnight.”
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
“Any answer, Madam,” said my footman.
“No,” I told him.
“See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer.”
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, “It shall be as you have said.”
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

–Amy Lowell (1874–1925)

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Military / Armed Forces, Poetry & Literature

More Poetry for Memorial Day: Tomas Tranströmer’s The Half-Finished Heaven

From here:

Despondency breaks off its course.
Anguish breaks off its course.
The vulture breaks off its flight.

The eager light streams out,
even the ghosts take a draught.

And our paintings see daylight,
our red beasts of the ice-age studios.
Everything begins to look around.
We walk in the sun in hundreds.

Each man is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.

The endless ground under us.

The water is shining among the trees.

The lake is a window into the earth.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Military / Armed Forces, Poetry & Literature

More Poetry for Memorial Day–Theodore O’Hara’s “Bivouac of the Dead”

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

No rumor of the foe’s advance
Now swells upon the wind;
Nor troubled thought at midnight haunts
Of loved ones left behind;
No vision of the morrow’s strife
The warrior’s dream alarms;
No braying horn nor screaming fife
At dawn shall call to arms.

Their shriveled swords are red with rust,
Their plumed heads are bowed,
Their haughty banner, trailed in dust,
Is now their martial shroud.
And plenteous funeral tears have washed
The red stains from each brow,
And the proud forms, by battle gashed
Are free from anguish now.

Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Military / Armed Forces, Poetry & Literature

In Flanders Fields for Memorial Day 2019

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

–Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

In thanksgiving for all those who gave their lives for this country in years past, and for those who continue to serveKSH.

P.S. The circumstances which led to this remarkable poem are well worth remembering:

It is a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915 and to the war in general. McCrea had spent seventeen days treating injured men — Canadians, British, French, and Germans in the Ypres salient. McCrae later wrote: “I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days… Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done.” The next day McCrae witnessed the burial of a good friend, Lieut. Alexis Helmer. Later that day, sitting on the back of an ambulance parked near the field dressing station, McCrea composed the poem. A young NCO, delivering mail, watched him write it. When McCrae finished writing, he took his mail from the soldier and, without saying a word, handed his pad to the Sergeant-major. Cyril Allinson was moved by what he read: “The poem was exactly an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word blow in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene.” Colonel McCrae was dissatisfied with the poem, and tossed it away. A fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. The Spectator, in London, rejected it, but Punch published it on 8 December 1915. For his contributions as a surgeon, the main street in Wimereaux is named “Rue McCrae”.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Military / Armed Forces, Poetry & Literature

Sunday Food for Thought–Sherlock Holmes on Roses and God

He walked past the couch to the open window, and held up the drooping stalk of a moss-rose, looking down at the dainty blend of crimson and green. It was a new phase of his character to me, for I had never before seen him show any keen interest in natural objects.

“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

–The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Adventure 10: The Naval Treaty

Posted in Apologetics, Energy, Natural Resources, Poetry & Literature, Theology

(B+C) [From 2015] Alan Jacobs on Les Murray–The Consecrated Heretic, Down Under

Among the truly great poets, the handful of absolute masters, the most neglected is Horace. This was not always so, but when the study of Latin fell away so too did Horace’s influence and reputation. He does not yield readily to translation: his poetry combines colloquial ease and extreme concision in a way almost impossible to imitate in other tongues. (David Ferry’s marvelous versions don’t even try to be concise, but they capture much of Horace’s distinctive and inimitable charm.) In the last hundred years, two major poets in English have understood themselves as heirs to the Horatian tradition. One of them is W. H. Auden, and the other is Les Murray.

Michael O’Loughlin has named this tradition “retired leisure,” a retreat from the vortex of social and political life not simply to repudiate it, but to save yourself from being torn apart by it, to see it more clearly, to bear vivid witness to its absurdities—and perhaps to exemplify better ways to live. Horace’s friend and patron Maecenas bought him a farm near modern Licenza—the poet called it his “Sabine farm”—and from there he watched with tolerant wisdom the follies of Rome, and wrote his beautiful poems. Les Murray’s place in little Bunyah, up the North Coast of New South Wales, is his Sabine farm.

Because there’s plenty of room in the countryside, the view from the farm is a sprawling one, and Murray is an advocate of sprawl. To sprawl is to ease past boundaries, cheerfully, without aggression. “Sprawl gets up the noses of many kinds of people / (every kind that comes in kinds),” but sprawl doesn’t worry too much about this.

Sprawl leans on things. It is loose-limbed in its mind.
Reprimanded and dismissed,
it listens with a grin and one boot up on the rail
of possibility. It may have to leave the Earth.
Being roughly Christian, it scratches the other cheek
And thinks it unlikely. Though people have been shot for sprawl.

The poem I’ve been quoting from, “The Quality of Sprawl,” is one of Murray’s most famous ones, and widely cited in Australia. It does not appear in the New Selected Poems. (Neither does the marvelous Centurion poem.) Murray offers no explanation for this, indeed offers nothing here but poems: the collection bears no preface or introduction or acknowledgments, not even dates, so it’s impossible to tell what order the poems have, if any. Such insouciance is itself a kind of sprawl.

Read it all.

Posted in Australia / NZ, Poetry & Literature

(Fathom Magazine) A Sermon Under the Pastures An Interview with Nathan Poole

There must be fifty passages like that in the book, which indicates to me that you have a practice going here, this openness and attention, reverence and expectation isn’t the result of merely waking up in a good mood and writing a story. I wonder then, can writing stories function as a practice, like meditation?

NP: Yes, of course. I think it was Paul Auster who said that he is a common everyday neurotic until he is holding a pen. That’s absolutely true. I meet my maker when I’m writing, and my best self.

But in the quote you mentioned earlier, about finding the words “God” and “tree” insufficient, what I was speaking to was a kind of cultural hegemony. It’s a metaphor, for me. I need to explain this, I’m realizing now: There was a moment in my life, when I was out walking my dog, that I suddenly became aware of the fact that I was surrounded by trees, but that all I had to understand them was a singular category, “tree.” As in there’s a tree, and there’s another tree. It made me sad. And yet, in spite of the fact that these life forms were not only sustaining life on our planet, and the most ubiquitous form of life there is, I had no way of differentiating one from the next. It occurred to me that I would like to be able to call them by their names.

In many ways, this is the experience of Christians in the South, where the culture is saturated but not centered, in religion. They are offered one modality of faith, and it flattens the world. It propagates and prosecutes willful blindness, in the same way I once looked out onto a forest and just saw trees, trees, more trees. It’s not that I have a problem with the word “God” but that I wanted the experience of God to not be essentially gnostic, as in, God is in heaven and I need him in order to get there. I wanted to understand all the facets, the various ways God can be experienced, here and now. I wanted what the speaker in Maurice Manning’s Bucolics experiences:

“…I can’t

keep track of you Boss you’re just

too many things at once…”

Please tell me you’ve read that book?

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Energy, Natural Resources, Poetry & Literature, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology

Happy Birthday to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Posted in History, Poetry & Literature

(The Point) Agnes Callard–Against Advice

We live in a glorious era of podcasting, public conversation and boundary-crossing interest in niche academic areas. It’s a great time to be a public intellectual, except for one thing: the part of the interview known as the “advice segment.” When someone is found to have specialized knowledge that provokes public engagement and interest, you can bet she will be asked to offer suggestions as to how others might follow in her footsteps. And you can bet those suggestions will be useless….

As I’m using the word “advice,” it aims to combine the impersonal and the transformative. You could think of it as “instructions for self-transformation.” The young person is not approaching Atwood for instructionson how to operate Microsoft Word, nor is she making the unreasonable demand that Atwood become her writing coach. She wants the kind of value she would get from the second, but she wants it given to her in the manner of the first. But there is no there there. Hence the advice-giver is reduced to repeating reasonable-sounding things she has heard others say—thoughts that are watered down so far that there’s really no thought left, just water.

The problem here is a mismatch between form and content. Instrumental knowledge is knowledge of universals: whenever you have an X, it will get you a Y. I can give you such knowledge without our having any robust connection to one another. Knowledge of becoming, by contrast, always involves a particularized grasp of where the aspirant currently stands on the path between total cluelessness and near-perfection. What are her characteristic weaknesses; where does she already excel; what nudges could she use? Only someone who knows her knows this. An aspirational history is full of minute corrections, dead ends, backtracking, re-orientation and random noise. It is as idiosyncratic, odd and particular as the human being herself.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Education, Philosophy, Poetry & Literature, Psychology, Theology

More Poetry for Easter 2019–Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things,
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow,
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls, finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced, fold, fallow and plough,
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange,
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim.
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
Praise him.

–Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Posted in Holy Week, Poetry & Literature

More Poetry for Easter 2019–Christopher Smart’s Easter Day

O GLADNESS! that suspend’st belief
For fear that rapture dreams;
Thou also hast the tears of grief,
And failst in wild extreams.

Tho’ Peter make a clam’rous din,
Will he thy doubts destroy?
Will little Rhoda let him in,
Incredulous with joy?

And thus thro’ gladness and surprize
The saints their Saviour treat;
Nor will they trust their ears and eyes
But by his hands and feet.

These hands of lib’ral love indeed
In infinite degree,
Those feet still frank to move and bleed
For millions and for me.

A watch, to slavish duty train’d,
Was set by spiteful care,
Lest what the sepulchre contain’d
Should find alliance there.

Herodians came to seal the stone
With Pilate’s gracious leave,
Lest dead and friendless, and alone,
Should all their skill deceive.

O dead arise! O friendless stand
By seraphim ador’d—
O solitude! again command
Thy host from heav’n restor’d.

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Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

(NYT) Les Murray, Australia’s Unofficial Poet Laureate, Is Dead at 80

Mr. Murray possessed “a fierce moral vision and a sensuous musicality,” the poet Meghan O’Rourke wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 2011, and “in his most intimate poems, reminds us of the power of literature to transubstantiate grievance into insight.”

Mr. Murray was a voracious reader, a self-taught translator of many languages, a genial conversationalist and a walking dictionary. His mother died suddenly when he was young, and his life was marked by poverty and bouts of depression, but he found joy in poetry, nature’s splendor and Roman Catholicism, to which he converted in his mid-20s.

“He was an extraordinary mixture of a sort of slightly autistic bloke from the bush and, at the same time, one of the most intelligent and creative people that you’d ever known,” one of his publishers, Michael Duffy, said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Murray’s renown spread outside Australia in the 1990s. He won the prestigious T. S. Eliot Prize in Britain in 1996 for his collection “Subhuman Redneck Poems” and was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1998.

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Posted in Australia / NZ, Death / Burial / Funerals, Poetry & Literature

Eleanor Parker–A medieval spring poem for Eastertide

When I see blossoms spring,
And hear the birds’ song,
A sweet love-longing
Entirely pierces my heart,
All for a love new
That is so sweet and true,
That gladdens all my song:
I know in truth, iwis,
My joy and all my bliss
On him is all ylong. [is all because of him]

Of Jesu Christ I sing,
Who is so fair and free, [noble]
Sweetest of all thing;
His own ought I well to be.
So far for me he sought,
With suffering he me bought,
With wounds two and three;
Well sore he was swung,
And for me with spear was stung,
Nailed to the tree.

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Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

“Then today look how majestically”

All year, death, after death, after death.
Then today look how majestically clouds float in the sky

–Barbara Ras (1949- )

Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

Heaven Haven

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

–Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1899)

Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

George Herbert–Easter

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

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Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that pierced died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not paper-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

–John Updike (1932-2009)

Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

A Gerard Manley Hopkins Poem for Easter

Read it all.

Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature