Category : Poetry & Literature

(1st Things) Bruce Riley Ashford–My Ten (Or So) Favorite Cultural Critics

In 1974, British theologian Lesslie Newbigin returned to England after four decades of serving as a missionary to India. Back in Europe, he wrestled with a pressing question: How to preach the gospel to the West? He believed the Western church had unconsciously been captured by secular ideology. Rather than viewing the Bible’s narrative as the true story of the whole world, the church had bought into various Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment narratives. The church, Newbigin argued, must once again “soak” itself in the Bible, challenging the axioms of modernity with the axioms of Scripture.

The task of bringing the West into a missionary encounter with Scripture remains today. We must analyze Western culture to understand what is happening and why. We must attempt to discern the reigning idols of our day, how they twist the affections and thoughts of society, and how they warp our cultural institutions. This will help us better understand how to bring the gospel to the secular West.

Toward that end, I offer this list of eleven of the most perceptive cultural critics of the last two centuries. The list includes historians, philosophers, sociologists, poets, and literary critics. Some are well-known, others are quite obscure. Some are Christians, others are not. All were born before 1950 and each offers a salient evaluation of Western society and culture that remains relevant for our task today.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, History, Philosophy, Poetry & Literature

Epiphany by John Goodman

How could they have known not to come
On what amounted to pretense? Everything
Their learning held, all their beliefs
Said regal gifts were needful for a king.

The things they brought were left behind,
Doubtless; or maybe traded for bread:
Impecunious Joseph with a family
To feed, a roof to put over his head.

Read it all.

Posted in Epiphany, Poetry & Literature

Alan Jacobs–‘Now Our Endless Journey Stops’: W.H. Auden and the Time of the Incarnation

The difference between Simeon and Herod lies not in understanding but in response: where Simeon replies to the news by joyously affirming, “we are bold to say that we have seen our salvation,” Herod replies with blunt opposition: “I refuse to be taken in.” With a sigh of deep regret, he orders the slaughter of the Israelite children.

Simeon the theologian may have found it difficult to accept the idea of God Incarnate, but for Herod it is impossible, because acceptance would require him to relinquish his position as the chief local instrument, in Judaea, of Romanitas and the Caesarist project. And this he lacks the strength of will to do.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, History, Poetry & Literature, Theology

Another Poem for Christmas–Gary Johnson’s December

A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves…..

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

Flannery O’Connor on Christmas: Is this the Word of God, this blue-cold child?

(It is very difficult to set the stage for this scene, but some background will be helpful. Rayber is one of the novel’s central characters and is strongly anti-Christian. He is looking as hard as he can for his nephew, Francis Tarwater, who has run away. This has led him to a small church service, likely a revival meeting, and he is watching what is occurring through a window. Rayber is unable to hear in one ear and in the other he wears a hearing device which sometimes vexes him. The “old man” is a reference to another key character in the novel, Mason Tarwater, whose death and desired burial form an important early part of the book. There is also a mention of Bishop who is Rayber’s son and who appears to have Down’s syndrome).

. . . A little girl hobbled into the spotlight.

Rayber cringed. Simply by the sight of her he could tell that she was not a fraud, that she was only exploited. She was eleven or twelve with a small delicate face and a head of black hair that looked too thick and heavy for a frail child to support. A cape like her mother’s was turned back over one shoulder and her skirt was short as if better to reveal the thin legs twisted from the knees. She held her arms over her head for a moment. “I want to tell you people the story of the world,” she said in a loud high child’s voice. “I want to tell you why Jesus came and what happened to Him. I want to tell you how He’ll come again. I want to tell you to be ready. Most of all,” she said, “I want to tell you to be ready so that on the last day you’ll rise in the glory of the Lord.”
Rayber’s fury encompassed the parents, the preacher, all the idiots he could not see who were sitting in front of the child, parties to her degradation. She believed it, she was locked tight in it, chained hand and foot, exactly as he had been, exactly as only a child could be. He felt the taste of his own childhood pain laid again on his tongue like a bitter wafer.

“Do you know who Jesus is?” she cried. “Jesus is the word of God and Jesus is love. The Word of God is love and do you know what love is, you people? If you don’t know what love is you won’t know Jesus when He comes. You won’t be ready. I want to tell you people the story of the world, how it never known when love come, so when love comes again, you’ll be ready.”

She moved back and forth across the stage, frowning as if she were trying to see the people through the fierce circle of light that followed her. “Listen to me, you people,” she said, “God was angry with the world because it always wanted more. It wanted as much as God had and it didn’t know what God had but it wanted it and more. It wanted God’s own breath, it wanted His very Word and God said, ‘I’ll make my Word Jesus, I’ll give them my Word for a king, I’ll give them my very breath for theirs.’

“Listen, you people,” she said and flung her arms wide, “God told the world He was going to send it a king and the world waited. The world thought, a golden fleece will do for His bed. Silver and gold and peacock tails, a thousand suns in a peacock’s tail will do for His sash. His mother will ride on a four-horned white beast and use the sunset for a cape. She’ll trail it behind her over the ground and let the world pull it to pieces, a new one every evening.”

To Rayber she was like one of those birds blinded to make it sing more sweetly. Her voice had the tone of a glass bell. His pity encompassed all exploited children–himself when he was a child, Tarwater exploited by the old man, this child exploited by parents, Bishop exploited by the very fact that he was alive.

“The world said, ‘How long, Lord, do we have to wait for this?’ And the Lord said, ‘My Word is coming, my Word is coming from the house of David, the king.'” She paused and turned her head to the side, away from the fierce light. Her dark gaze moved slowly until it rested on Rayber’s head in the window. He stared back at her. Her eyes remained on his face for a moment. A deep shock went through him. He was certain that the child had looked directly into his heart and seen his pity. He felt that some mysterious connection was established between them.

“‘My Word is coming,'” she said, turning back to face the glare, “‘my Word is coming from the house of David, the king.'”

She began again in a dirge-like tone. “Jesus came on cold straw. Jesus was warmed by the breath of an ox. ‘Who is this?’ the world said, ‘who is this blue-cold child and this woman, plain as the winter? Is this the Word of God, this blue-cold child? Is this His will, this plain winter-woman?’


“Listen you people!” she cried, “the world knew in its heart, the same as you know in your hearts and I know in my heart. The world said, ‘Love cuts like the cold wind and the will of God is plain as the winter. Where is the summer will of God? Where are the green seasons of God’s will? Where is the spring and summer of God’s will?’

“They had to flee into Egypt,” she said in a low voice and turned her head again and this time her eyes moved directly to Rayber’s face in the window and he knew they sought it. He felt himself caught up in her look, held there before the judgment seat of her eyes.

“You and I know,” she said turning again, “what the world hoped then. The world hoped old Herod would slay the right child, the world hoped old Herod wouldn’t waste those children, but he wasted them. He didn’t get the right one. Jesus grew up and raised the dead.”

Rayber felt his spirit borne aloft. But not those dead! he cried, not the innocent children, not you, not me when I was a child, not Bishop, not Frank! and he had a vision of himself moving like an avenging angel through the world, gathering up all the children that the Lord, not Herod, had slain.

“Jesus grew up and raised the dead,” she cried, “and the world shouted, ‘Leave the dead lie. The dead are dead and can stay that way. What do we want with the dead alive?’ Oh you people!” she shouted, “they nailed Him to a cross and run a spear through His side and then they said, ‘Now we can have some peace, now we can ease our minds.’ And they hadn’t but only said it when they wanted Him to come again. Their eyes were opened and they saw the glory they had killed.

“Listen world,” she cried, flinging up her arms so that the cape flew out behind her, “Jesus is coming again! The mountains are going to lie down like hounds at His feet, the stars are going to perch on His shoulder and when He calls it, the sun is going to fall like a goose for His feast. Will you know the Lord Jesus then? The mountains will know Him and bound forward, the stars will light on His head, the sun will drop down at His feet, but will you know the Lord Jesus then?”

Rayber saw himself fleeing with the child to some enclosed garden where he would teach her the truth, where he would gather all the exploited children of the world and let the sunshine flood their minds.

“If you don’t know Him now, you won’t know Him then. Listen to me, world, listen to this warning. The Holy Word is in my mouth!

“The Holy Word is in my mouth!” she cried and turned her eyes again on his face in the window. This time there was a lowering concentration in her gaze. He had drawn her attention entirely away from the congregation.

Come away with me! he silently implored, and I’ll teach you the truth, I’ll save you, beautiful child!

Her eyes still fixed on him, she cried, “I’ve seen the Lord in a tree of fire! The Word of God is a burning Word to burn you clean!” She was moving in his direction, the people in front of her forgotten. Rayber’s heart began to race. He felt some miraculous communication between them. The child alone in the world was meant to understand him. “Burns the whole world, man and child,” she cried, her eye on him, “none can escape.” She stopped a little distance from the end of the stage and stood silent, her whole attention directed across the small room to his face on the ledge. Her eyes were large and dark and fierce. He felt that in the space between them, their spirits had broken the bonds of age and ignorance and were mingling in some unheard of knowledge of each other. He was transfixed by the child’s silence. Suddenly she raised her arm and pointed toward his face. “Listen you people,” she shrieked, “I see a damned soul before my eyes! I see a dead man Jesus hasn’t raised. His head is in the window but his ear is deaf to the Holy Word!”

Rayber’s head, as if it had been struck by an invisible bolt, dropped from the ledge. He crouched on the ground, his furious spectacled eyes glittering behind the shrubbery. Inside she continued to shriek, “Are you deaf to the Lord’s Word? The Word of God is a burning Word to burn you clean, burns man and child, man and child the same, you people! Be saved in the Lord’s fire or perish in your own! Be saved in . . .”

He was groping fiercely about him, slapping at his coat pockets, his head, his chest, not able to find the switch that would cut off the voice. Then his hand touched the button and he snapped it. A silent dark relief enclosed him like shelter after a tormenting wind.

The Violent Bear It Away (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1960), pp.129-132 [my emphasis]

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature, Theology

More Poetry for Christmas–The Burning Babe

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”
With this he vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.

–Robert Southwell (1561–1595)

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

GK Chesterton–A Child of the Snows

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

(Courtesy FT) More Poetry for today: Robert Burns’ ‘Sketch—New Year’s Day, 1790’

Posted in Poetry & Literature

Poetry for New Years Day–‘To the New Year’ by W S Merwin

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are

Read it all.

Posted in Poetry & Literature

Ring out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

–Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

The story behind the Longfellow poem that became a Hymn–I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, A Carol for the Despairing

Like we do every year, my parents took my brother and me to see “A Christmas Carol” on stage to get everyone into the Christmas spirit (which is no small feat at the end of November). The story is familiar and heartwarming, but the song they ended their production with struck me: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Set to music a few decades later, this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was written over Christmas of either 1863 or 1864, in the middle of the bloodiest war in American history.

The carol is not cotton candy; it is a beating heart, laid bare in seven stanzas with simple language. At the second-to-last verse, I noticed dimly that I had begun to cry; by the end of the song, my face was wet with tears.

“And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’”

It isn’t quite right to call this a cynic’s carol, but in this verse it is a desperate and bitter one. It’s a carol from a man who has had the nature of the world uncovered before him. It’s one of the only carols that still rings true to me in 2018.

Like all good poets, with “Christmas Bells” Longfellow reached out across almost 155 years of history to take my hand.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Christmas, Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Marriage & Family, Military / Armed Forces, Poetry & Literature

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow–Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

The Nativity of Christ

Behold the father is his daughter’s son,
The bird that built the nest is hatched therein,
The old of years an hour hath not outrun,
Eternal life to live doth now begin,
The Word is dumb, the mirth of heaven doth weep,
Might feeble is, and force doth faintly creep.
O dying souls, behold your living spring;
O dazzled eyes, behold your sun of grace;
Dull ears, attend what word this Word doth bring;
Up, heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace.
From death, from dark, from deafness, from despairs
This life, this light, this Word, this joy repairs.
Gift better than himself God doth not know;
Gift better than his God no man can see.
This gift doth here the giver given bestow;
Gift to this gift let each receiver be.
God is my gift, himself he freely gave me;
God’s gift am I, and none but God shall have me.

Man altered was by sin from man to beast;
Beast’s food is hay, hay is all mortal flesh.
Now God is flesh and lies in manger pressed
As hay, the brutest sinner to refresh.
O happy field wherein that fodder grew,
Whose taste doth us from beasts to men renew.

–Robert Southwell (1561-1595)

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

W.H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio

The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.

The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in Poetry & Literature

Salus Mundi

I saw a stable, low and very bare,
A little child in a manger.
The oxen knew him, had Him in their care,
To men He was a stranger.
The safety of the world was lying there,
And the world’s danger.

–Mary Coleridge (1861-1907)

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

Christus Natus Est

In Bethlehem
On Christmas Morn
The lowly gem
Of love was born
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

Bright in her crown
Of fiery star
Judea’s town
Shone from afar
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

For bird and beast
He did not come
But for the least
Of mortal scum
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

While beasts in stall
On bended knee
Did carol all
Most joyously
Hosannah! Christus natus est.
Who lies in ditch?
Who begs his bread
Who has no stitch
For back or head
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

Who wakes to weep,
Lies down to mourn?
Who in his sleep
Withdraws from scorn?
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

Ye outraged dust
On field and plain
To feed the lust
Of madmen slain
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

The manger still
Outshines the throne
Christ must and will
Come to his own
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

–Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

TS Eliot for Christmas–A moment in time and of time

Then came, at a predetermined moment, a moment in time
and of time,
A moment not out of time, but in time, in what we call history:
transecting, bisecting the world of time,
a moment in time but not like a moment of time,
A moment in time but time was made through that moment:
for without the meaning there is no time,
and that moment of time gave the meaning.

—T.S. Eliot, Choruses from “The Rock”, VII, as found for example there (page 107).

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature, Theology

Christmas Morning

On Christmas day I weep
Good Friday to rejoice.
I watch the Child asleep.
Does he half-dream the choice
The Man must make and keep?
At Christmastime I sigh
For my good Friday hope
Outflung the Child’s arms lie
To span in their brief scope
The death the Man must die.
Come Christmastide I groan
To hear Good Friday’s pealing.
The Man, racked to the bone,
Has made His hurt my healing,
Has made my ache His own.
Slay me, pierced to the core
With Christmas penitence
So I who, new-born, soar
To that Child’s innocence,
May wound the Man no more.

–Vassar Miller (1924-1998)

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

John Donne–Christmas was and is Much More

Twas much,
that man was
made like God before,
But that God should
be like man
much more

–John Donne (1572-1631)

Posted in Christmas, Church History, Poetry & Literature, Theology

Sharon’s Christmas Prayer

She was five,
sure of the facts,
and recited them
with slow solemnity
convinced every word
was revelation.

She said
they were so poor
they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
to eat
and they went a long way from home
without getting lost. The lady rode
a donkey, the man walked, and the baby
was inside the lady.
They had to stay in a stable
with an ox and an ass (hee-hee)
but the Three Rich Men found them
because a star lited the roof.
Shepherds came and you could
pet the sheep but not feed them.
Then the baby was borned.
And do you know who he was?
Her quarter eyes inflated
to silver dollars.
The baby was God.

And she jumped in the air
whirled around, dove into the sofa
and buried her head under the cushion
which is the only proper response
to the Good News of the Incarnation.

–John Shea, The Hour of the Unexpected

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

Poetry for Christmas Eve: T. S. Eliot – Journey Of The Magi – Alec McCowen

Listen to and ponder it all–more than once.

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

(SCPR) Charleston’s Poet Laureate Marcus Amaker Making a Difference

Dressed in suede shoes, a print button up shirt with rolled up sleeves and dark slacks, Amaker’s loosely pulled back locs spill out from beneath his newspaper boy cap. He exudes a vibe funky and chic. Then, he introduces himself with a poem that could make anyone appear anything but cool.

“I beat myself up the first time words bumped up against my breath, disconnected from the pulse inside my head. So I made beats alone behind closed doors instead.”

Amaker’s intro depicts a solitary boy who looks to music for a friend; a boy who stammered and stuttered and still stumbles as an adult. It’s a self- portrait so raw; it’s as if it’s drawn with crayons.

“I’m in a mode now where I want people to know me,” says Amaker as we talk downtown in Washington Park just behind city hall.

“I’ve been writing a lot about Charleston and social justice issues. I want folks to know me as well, and that is me.”

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Poetry & Literature

For Veterans Day 2019–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 America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Military / Armed Forces, Poetry & Literature

In Flanders Fields for Rememberance Day and Veterans Days 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 serve–KSH.

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

(Sightings) A Recalcitrant Influence–Matthew Creighton writes about the legacy of Harold Bloom

Last week the literary world bade adieu to Professor Harold Bloom, the most prodigious and well-known literary critic of the second half of the twentieth century. Looking back over approximately fifty years of writing, we conclude that one of the recursive and unifying features of his extensive output is the insistence upon regarding sacred works as rhetorical products, along with the attunement to the theological dimensions of imaginative fiction. In creating a model of how to construe the relationship between religion and literature as modes of cultural activity, Bloom fused the insights of two formidable precursors. From the minister-cum-scholar Northrop Frye, he began to view the totality of literary creation as an organic and interconnected whole, a “great code” founded on and decipherable with the aid of Scripture. From M.H. Abrams, his undergraduate adviser at Cornell, he learned not just that poets too were preoccupied with spiritual concerns, but that every instance of poetic communication necessarily involves four components: author, text, world, and audience.

Nevertheless, we can also speak of three discrete stages of Bloom’s criticism. The first is crystallized in the oft-misunderstood book The Anxiety of Influence (1973), in which he used Freudian psychoanalysis as a method for understanding the dynamics of artistic creation. In essence, he argued that one could trace a common process whereby young poets rebel against the literary forbearers that simultaneously and paradoxically shape and nourish their artistic sensibilities, in order to carve out a space for their own originality and yearning for greatness.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, 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