Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Angels Keep Their Ancient Places

Homeless, friendless, hopelessly addicted to opium, half naked in the cold rain of a London night as he tried to sleep on a bench beside the Thames, Francis Thompson was perhaps not an uncommon sight either then or now. But who that saw him could have guessed what brilliance his bloodshot eyes beheld as he lay there staring through his tears out over the river?


O WORLD invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The One Who Is Dirty

I came across the following story while doing research for a story I'm working on. I love the way the Talmud scholar answers questions with questions that seem to not bear on the initial question. Jesus did the same, many times, though he praised the answers he got as often as he knocked them down.

A goy insisted that a Talmudist explain to him what the Talmud was. The sage finally consented and asked the goy the following question:

"Two men climb down a chimney.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Imparadis't In One Another's Arms

John Milton was a poet first and last, with lots of other things in the middle, such as making enemies in the government, in the Church, and among the normal work-a-day folk. He was such a man of opinions, and he seemed bound to express them all no matter what their reception would be.

But his big work was always poetry. Yet he did not rush into the work of being a poet. After college he dedicated six years to concentrated study in preparation for writing, and then he continued studying heavily for the rest of his life. And Paradise Lost, his greatest work, was decades in the preparation

Sunday, December 7, 2008

They Don't Know How To Rest

The Men that Don’t Fit In
by Robert Service

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Trail Has Its Own Stern Code

The Cremation of Sam McGeeby Robert Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Send Not Your Foolish And Feeble

Snow is falling, making me think of Alaska and the wonders that are there. It is a great land: mountains, rivers, whales and eagles. It is a violent land, with bears, huge storms and more bars than churches. In fact, when I lived in Kodiak there were about thirty bars and two churches. It is a lovely frightening place, where you can walk for a week and see no other person. There is now one person per square mile, and that is crowded compared to when Robert Service was there. It is a glorious land, and a glorious ocean, but neither the land nor the Alaskan ocean are to be trifled with. Robert Service explains:

Law Of The Yukon
This is the law of the Yukon, and ever she makes it plain:
“Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane−

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Its Breathing And Thick Hair

Elizabeth Bishop generally wrote about specific people and incidents. (She also wrote often from her dreams, but I am going to ignore that fact because I don't believe the following poem is from a dream.)

For instance I recently learned that her amazing poem, Visits To St. Elizabeth's, was about visiting Ezra Pound during his time in that mental hospital. I had always thought that it came from her visits to her mother who had lived in a mental hospital until her death after Bishop was out of college. (Yes, I know the poem says a "man" but I still thought it was about visiting her mother.) But now I learn that she never once (or so they say) visited her mother there.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Like Every Newborn

Madeleine L'Engle is most known for her brilliant series of five novels that begins with A Wrinkle in Time and proceeds through An Acceptable Time. If you haven't read them yet, do yourself a favor. Her poems are as yet not nearly as well known as her novels, nor as well known as they should be.

Had she not died last year, today would have been her 90th birthday. Yep, she was born on CS Lewis's 20th birthday. In honor of the day, I will post three of her poems, including one on the birth of a warrior who came unarmed to do battle with death. It seems fitting to use it to commemorate her birth, life, death and the deathless life which that warrior won for her.


"The Lord is King, and hath put on glorious
apparel; the Lord hath put on his apparel,
and girded himself with strength:"

Happy Birthday to Two!

Today would be the 110th birthday of CS Lewis and the 90th birthday of Madelein L'Engle, both among the ten best Christian writers of fiction in the 20th century.

In THE LAST BATTLE, after the true Narnians all enter the stable and find it bigger on the inside than it was on the outside, they move off to discover this new and surprising land. They meet up with Susan and Peter, who had not been with them when they entered but had come here directly from another world.

Friday, November 28, 2008

How Can The Gods Meet Us?

I am in actual physical pain, wanting to quote sections out of Till We Have Faces. But to make any quotes from it makes no sense unless one reads them in the context of the book as a whole. They make sense in their rightful place in the story. Not out here in the cold airless space of the blogosphere.

It is the story of Orual; to be exact it is the story of the complaint that she prepared to bring before the gods, to accuse the gods.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thick and Dark Like Blood

Rosa recently had an interesting post in which she talked a little about Hildegard von Bingen. I have never read Hildegard's writings, but I have listened to some of her music. It is lovely and enchanting, but also somewhat disorienting and unnerving. It does not calm my fears; it does not comfort me; it does not say, "I'm OK, you're OK." In a word it is holy music in exactly the same way that most of the Christian music we hear on the radio is not holy music.

Her music reminds me of CS Lewis's TILL WE HAVE FACES.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Old Time Is Still A-Flying

One tenacious rose in my yard has decided to flower now, late in the season, with the snow falling on top of the deep yellow-gold flower. It reminded me of Robert Herrick's poem, largely because it seems to argue against Herrick's urgency. Just as flowers can sometimes surprise us with beauty out of season, so can life!

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Who Rouses Us From Sleep

Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'
"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Take Words

"At certain hours we recall our minds from other cares and business--in which somehow or other desire itself grows cool--to the business of prayer, admonishing ourselves by the words of our prayer to fix attention upon that which we desire, for fear that what had begun to lose heat might become altogether cold, and be finally extinguished if the flame were not more frequently fanned."

"When you pray you need piety, not verbosity. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My Own Good, Profit and Pleasure

"Every man, whatsoever his condition, desires to be happy. There is no man who does not desire this, and each one desires it with such earnestness that he prefers it to all other things; whoever, in fact desires other things, desires them for this end alone."

"He who is good is therefore good that he may be happy; and he who is evil would not be so, if he despaired of the possibility of being happy by that means."

"But to know where to find this thing desired of all; that is disputed among them, that divides them."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Who Is It That Prays To Christ?

Once there was a boy named Aurelius. He was a pamperred and somewhat rotten boy. But he was bright. The trouble was, he knew it.

His mother, Monica, worried continually about him. She was proud of his remarkable brain-power, but she knew there were more important things in life than brains.

She was a devoted servant of Jesus, the Christ. But her husband, the father of Aurelius, was not. They lived in an age when the mothers and servants (of the wealthy, which they were) had the most time with the children. Yet the fathers' influence overshadowed the bulk of time that the women had. Aurelius did not follow his mother.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Best, Certain'st Thing On Earth

Anne Killigrew lived in a very wealthy family, and was a familiar face among the friends and associates of the Stuart court. Her father and uncles held high appointments and she herself became an attendant of the Duchess of York.

In both of these settings, both at home and in society, she was surrounded by literary figures. Her father and his brothers published poetry, plays, sermons, etc. She grew up in a home full of literary work and play, and her poetry is filled with both biblical and mythological imagery.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Church Lock and Key

George Herbert served three years as the rector of a small Anglican church in a small out of the way village near the southern coast of England. During that three years he worked to renew the church both through his preaching and through the physical work of laying stones and putting in windows. This work of the physical building was, to him, a vital part of the ministry of Christ to his people. The building did not take precedence over teaching the word, but nor did it get set aside as merely a transitory distraction from the eternal work of saving souls. The two were linked, inseparable, and Herbert could see the one in the other.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thou Art Not Earth

To The Soul
John Collop

Dull soul aspire;
Thou art not earth. Mount higher!
Heaven gave the spark; to it return the fire.

Let sin ne'er quench

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Such Structure As The Sonnet

That the sonnet is still a fitting vehicle for people's poetic urges is well demonstrated by the following. And what variety of poetic urges we find here! The rules and structure of the sonnet did not hamper any of these voices. The whole goal of this experiment is perfectly summed up in a comment that Teri made when she sent me her sonnet.

"Such structure as the sonnet is...well...freeing."

A Transplant's Sonnet
by Teri Field

For what bright cause did I from you depart,
Whose people are pacific, strands are fair?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Me Finds It Funny

Although I'm in the midst of a series of posts on sonnets, and although that series culminates tomorrow with the posting of some sonnets sent in by you readers, today I am going to break out of the series.

I admit that I've got ants-in-my-pants about tomorrow's post, so (to stop myself from posting it early and to distract myself) I will post a slightly tongue-in-cheek poem by Ogden Nash. I've posted from him before so I won't introduce him. If you are interested, just click on his name in the list of labels.


How many gifted pens have penned
That Mother is a boy's best friend!
How many more with like afflatus
Award the dog that honored status!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mine Eye Is In My Mind

Very, very little is actually known about William Shakespeare the man. For a man who wrote so much and had such a great influence on his own day as well as ours, he himself is hidden in the mist. But the mysteries surrounding him are not for lack of autobiographers and scholars who would like to pen the final and authoritative work on him.

And when people are seeking to get to know the real William Shakespeare, they turn primarily not to his 33 plays, but to his sonnets. These are by far the most personal of his writings that have survived.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Challenge Revisited

Hello my friends in the world out there. Today is the sixth. On the twelfth I will post the sonnets sent in from the challenge that I posted a week or so back. So far only one has been sent to me. It is really an impressive sonnet, so I am somewhat nervous. I want more sonnets to post on the twelfth so that there will be something to distract us all from how weak my sonnet is going to be.

So, if you all could each write a sonnet, please email them to me at my address which is on my profile page. I've posted plenty of examples that can give you some ideas.

Thanks so much.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fire-Featuring Heaven

Here is part (slightly revised for this blog) of an article I wrote a few years ago for CHRISTIANITY AND SOCIETY JOURNAL. I wanted to include it here in part because it has to do with a sonnet written by Gerard Manley Hopkins: Spelt From Sibyl's Leaves. This sonnet does not conform to the standard of five stressed syllables per line; it goes for eight. Yet he wrote it as a sonnet and it has been generally so accepted. There is room, even in so strict a form as the sonnet, for some deviation.

Reading Difficult Poetry as a Christian Endeavor
Tears began welling up in my oldest daughter's eyes.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Each Time I Love I Find It Still My Own

Dorothy Parker was an American extreme. Her loves gave the tabloids something to write about. She shocked the middle class morality of her time. She, by turns, failed to stay with her man, or failed to keep him with her. Desperately sad as some episodes of her life were, she was able to mock her own folly in them and turned them into stories and poems that had America laughing with her. She walked a very fine line between being seen as an outrageously clever - though baudy - character and becoming an object of pity and scorn.

But, in public at least, she kept to the profitable side of that line.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Wanton As Unfledged Cupids

Aphra Behn was the first woman that any English people knew of to earn her living through her literature. Of course that ignores the Hebrew and pagan Sybyls who lived on their words, as well as many other prophetess poets from a variety of religions around the world. Ah, so we are, we so easily assume that our own small circle represents the whole of vast creation. So Aphra Behn was hailed and hated as the first woman in the history of the world to earn her living with her writing.

During her time, the later 1600's, she had to struggle to be accepted as a legitimate author

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Two Half-Fast Sonnets

Two early sonnets that each strike an unusual chord.

The pun in line four of the first is not accident. The first gains much of its satiric effect from the fact that sonnets were much in vogue at court at the time for praising the glories of one or another woman.

Satan, No Woman
Fulke Greville

Satan, no woman, yet a wandering spirit,
When he saw ships sail two ways with one wind,

When Passion Speechless Lies

Just because it's lovely. . .

Since There's No Help
Michael Drayton

Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part.
Nay, I have done: you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart
That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Sole Unbusy Thing

Sonnets are a great place to ponder the relationship of the rhyme scheme to the voice, or feeling, of the verse. For in sonnets the rhyme scheme is almost always changed between the two sections of the poem. In Italian sonnets the first section generally went abbaabba, and the second was either cdecde or cdcdcd. In English we use more variety, yet the scheme of the two sections almost always changes, and the voice changes in tandem with it. Often English sonnets will be three four line sections, abab cdcd efef and the a concluding rhymed couplet that changes tone: gg.

Differing rhyme schemes produce, or at least accentuate, different attitudes and voices.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Satisfying Imbalance of Structure

In his introduction to The Oxford Book of Sonnets, John Fuller makes an interesting observation:

"The sonnet is a dualistic structure, formalizing the essence of drama in statment and response. In its origin in thirteenth century Sicily, the sestet [the final six lines] of the Italian sonnet may have had a different and answering music to that of the octave [the first eight lines] (typically abbaabba cdecde or cdcdcd). Certainly its defiance of the expectation of a second stanza complementary in length to the first is crucial to the satisfying imbalance of structure (8:6)."

He is quite right, there is a change of tone, and often a change of voice in the second section of many sonnets. Sometimes the latter portion answers the first, sometimes it intensifies it, or contradicts it. Perhaps it merely changes perspectives

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Challenge

After all this thinking about sonnets I've got a hankering to try my hand at making one. I'm really not a poet, just a lover of poetry. But I notice that when I get something especially delicious at a Thai restaurant I always come home and try to cook it myself. Although it generally isn't quite like what I had eaten at the restaurant, it is still usually tasty in its own way.

So I'm itching to see what I can do by way of a sonnet.

Verse That Immortalizes Whom It Sings

When William Cowper was ill and in need of care, the family of the Reverend Morley Unwin took him in. They cared for him for years in his illness.

The son, William Unwin, grew and became a minister. Cowper was to him something of mentor and elder brother to whom he would write with his ministerial questions, to which Cowper would respond with long, thoughtful, and affectionate letters.

But it was to Mary, the wife of Morley and the mother of William that Cowper became the most attached. When Morley died, Cowper remained in the home with William and Mary until William moved away for his ministerial duties.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Soul in Paraphrase

Well, if yesterday's post of John Donne's sonnets didn't do it, this glittering sonnet from George Herbert should put the nails in the coffin of the theory that I advanced a few days ago. That theory, that the sonnet is best suited to themes of love-from-a-distance, I now renounce. Donne and Herbert did me in. Gerard Manley Hopkins should have made me think twice before posting such a thought. But, oh me, I write this blog on the fly, in spare moments, and I don't always think enough before hitting the 'publish' button.

Ne'ertheless, I still hold that such a theory of sonnets being especially well suited to love-from-a-distance

Monday, October 27, 2008

Immensity Cloistered in Thy Dear Womb

Now to post a few poets whose sonnets do not fit the pattern that I described a couple days ago. While there may be longing in these sonnets, and undoubtedly there is, it is not primary. These sonnets are not of romantic love of a man for a woman or a woman for a man. Here we find the adoration of a mortal on his face before his creator. This is adoration in its highest sense.

John Donne is more known for his Holy Sonnets, "Death be not proud. . .," but I have chosen some others to present here. While the Holy Sonnets can be considered a set of sonnets, LA CORONA is truly a sonnet sequence. It absolutely must be read in order, so I am posting the whole series here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I Have to Teach It

"There is no point in teaching poetry; most kids don't even like it. I have to teach it because it is in the curriculum. I would much rather not have to teach it, but in order to get paid for this section I have to teach it."
Mr. Pittsford, my seventh grade daughter's English teacher

Love From a Distance

The last few posts having been dedicated to sonnets, I am left with one question.

I vaguely sense why the sonnet is so well suited to themes of love, not so as to try to explain it, yet I can feel that it is a perfect fit. Love-sonnet. Sonnet-love. It just fits well.

Yet I am left with the question, why are sonnets so perfectly fitted to love from a distance?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Whom I Grieve to Grieve

"Beatrice, immortalized by 'altissimo poeta. . . cotanto amante'; Laura, celebrated by a great tho' inferior bard,-- have alike paid the exceptional penalty of exceptional honour, and have come down to us resplendent with charms, but (at least, to my apprehension) scant of attractiveness."

Thus, speaking of Dante and Petrarch, begins Christina Rossetti's intro to her 'sonnet of sonnets', MONNA INNOMINATA.

The phrase, 'sonnet of sonnets,' is not to be taken in the sense of 'a man among men,' or 'King of kings.' Rather, the sonnet being fourteen lines, this is a series of fourteen sonnets.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Late Espoused Saint

The sonnet seems well adapted to expressions of love, adoration, longing and even lust. And for some time, fifty or eighty years after it was introduced from the Italian into English poetry, that was almost its exclusive function. For half a century or so the writing of love sonnets was all the rage among the gentry and courtiers of Elizabeth's court. Then, as with all things, the form which had once seemed so vibrant began to feel trite and formulaic. This was partly due to overuse, and even more due to the weakness of many of the poets who had been using it while it was the rage. So it goes with all fads; they fade.

The sonnet had become the meduim of choice for every half-baked infatuation. It no longer carried the extended passion of a Sidney or a Spencer or a Shakespeare. Poor poets allowed its fire to die down.

And the sonnet slowly fell out of favor.

Then came Milton:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

No Le Clezio

A French novelist, Le Clezio, won the Nobel Prize for literature this fall. So, feeling stupid because I had never heard of him, I went to the bookstore to pick up one or two of his books to see what he is all about.

The bookstore tells me that they do not show any English translations of Le Clezio's novels. But would I like one in a Spanish translation?

So, has anyone out there read Le Clezio? Please, fill me in. . .

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Who Quake to Say They Love

Philip Sidney was one of the premier courtiers in Elizabeth's court. As a young man he travelled with the queen to the home of a Lord Essex, where he met the charming and beautiful daughter of Essex, Penelope. For someone so enthralled with the literature of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the name Penelope alone would have been enough to pique his interest.

In his own words:

Not at first sight, nor with a dribbed shot
Love gave the wound, which while I breathe will bleed;
But known worth did in mine of time proceed,
Till by degrees it had full conquest got:

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Ends of Being

In the years before their marriage Elizabeth Barrett wrote forty-four sonnets to Robert Browning. Although she did not want to publish them, being somewhat bashful about their extremely personal tone, he persuaded her. Still, in order to somewhat distance herself from them she gave the collection the inaccurate title of Sonnets From the Portuguese.

They are, as her husband told her, the best sonnets in English since Shakespeare. And, much more than Shakespeare's sonnets, they are a series rather than simply a collection. To some extent Shakespeare's sonnets should be read roughly in order and in context with one another. To a much greater extent Barrrett's sonnets should be read strictly in order. It is no accident

Friday, October 10, 2008

No Nobel for Yevtushenko. . . yet

Well, I guess that I will have to wait another year to see the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko win his well deserved Nobel Prize for literature. The announcement came today that this year's prize went to French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. According to Nobel rules it will be many years (fifty, I think) before they even officially admit that he was nominated. Those Norwegians love their secrecy.

As much as I like to avoid discussing "current events" here, I am breaking my own rules and I will quote from an AP story about this year's prize.

Le Clézio had been considered a strong contender

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Deep in Unfathomable Mines

Among the many great works of William Cowper, is his collaboration with his friend John Newton on a hymnal to be used in their church. That is, in the church of which Newton was pastor and of which Cowper was a member.

The most known song in the book was Newton's Amazing Grace. Most of the many hymns in the book are able to be sung to about four or five tunes. The following hymn which is among Cowper's contributions to the hymnal was probably sung to the same tune as Amazing Grace. It does, however, sound better when read than when sung.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

He That Stabs Deepest

William Cowper spent years preparing to become a barrister, or at least a government clerk. And he was bright. He learned his lessons and was exemplary in testing and in his essays, although also a bit of a mocker of the institution. But there came a day when a final examination was due. It couldn't be passed by. It couldn't be mocked away. He had to do it in order to either gain the job for which he had been nominated, or even to keep the post at which he had been long stationed.

He had to stand in front of a group of lawyers and give answers. Out loud. With them watching him. And listening. And judging.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Let Love Clasp Grief

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a long poem, or perhaps a series of poems, to mourn the loss of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. Although Hallam died less than four years after they had met, both the length of In Memoriam and the depth of loss expressed in it show how close their friendship had grown in that short time. And Tennyson did not mourn for himself alone, for Hallam had been engaged to Emilia, Tennyson's sister, a union for which Tennyson longed.

Most poeple are familiar with the prologue to In Memoriam. It includes the famous stanza:

Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
Thou madest Life in man and brute;

Nashing Our Wolves Teeth at Lord Byron

I love the poem that I posted yesterday so much that I can't resist letting Ogden Nash rip it to shreds.

by Ogden Nash

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and metaphor.
Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to go out of their way to say that it is like something else.
What does it mean when we are told
That that the Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Glance of the Lord

The Destruction of Sennacheribby George Gordon, Lord Byron

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Creeping Through the Thorns

I don't normally like to post a piece of a poem without the whole. But today I will anyway. The scene in the poem is that a rich older woman had kept a garden. After her death it had been left unattended until a small child found it. Here are two stanzas from right in the middle of the poem.

from The Deserted Garden
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Oh, little thought that lady proud,
A child would watch her fair white rose,
When buried lay her whiter brows,
And silk was changed for shroud!--

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


By Christina Rossetti

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
- Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
- From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


A haiku by Issa, a Japanese poet who lived from 1763-1827, making him the contemporary of William Blake in England.

In this world
we walk on the roof of hell,
gazing at flowers.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Translated Poetry

Poetry depends to such a large extent on the sounds of the words that to speak of translating it almost seems to be an oxymoron. Robert Frost once even defined poetry as "that which is lost in translation."

Yet people persist in translating it, and I read a great many poets in translation. Some translations work, some don't. I find that some Russian poets (Yevtushenko and Pushkin spring to mind) survive translation well, although the musical quality is lost or distorted. French poetry might as well remain French. Little comes through translation.

What would we have if Dr. Seuss were translated into German?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Memorizing Frost

My thirteen year old daughter and I memorized a Robert Frost poem together this evening. It was amazing to see how memorizing it helped the lights to come on in her mind.

Memorizing such a poem requires one to rework it with Frost, following patterns that he made. Obvious in these patterns is the rhymes at the end of the lines: a/a, b/b, etc. But there are also the patterns of how he pairs the front of the lines, and these he offsets from the rhyme scheme

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Syllable Counting

As youngsters we are all taught to count syllables. In middle school we learn to classify these syllables as stressed or unstressed. We then learn that poets make it their business to make patterns with stressed and unstressed syllables.

Yes. Vaguely and ambiguously accurate.

The fact is, that English usage has far more than two stress levels. Even a simple phrase that is pronounced without passion, such as "by the light of the moon," has at least three. The two "the's" and the "of" are pretty well unstressed. "Light" and "moon" are stressed. But the word "by" is neither. It is somewhere in between. If you try to make it match the level of "light" and "moon," the phrase will actually lose some of its sense and even more of its flow.

Stresses come in way more than "on" or "off" positions.

The Image of God

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Now known as wife of Robert Browning; during their lives Robert was known as the husband of Elizabeth Barrett.

Here is a little piece from her translation of Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus. Clearly she took some liberties with his work.


Thou! art thou like to god?
(I asked this question of the glorious sun)
Thou high unwearied one,
Whose course in heat, and light, and life is run?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Love Your Next Door Enemies

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people." GK Chesterton (I borrowed the quote from The Ironic Catholic)

Orthodoxy was a thrilling read! I must read more Chesterton.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Looking back over yesterday's post, I also wonder, "Where is Elie Weisel"? If his book NIGHT didn't make the list, then almost nothing should have made it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Nobel in Literature

For the first time I am actually looking forward to the awarding of the Nobel prize this fall. That is because I hear that Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko has been nominated. The Nobel people keep quiet on who has been nominated, but I have it on good authority that the Israeli nominator put in Yevtushenko's name. I think it is an excellent nomination and I would love to see him win it.

Looking over the list of past Nobel winners for literature, I found that most of them I have never read. Of those that I have read, I most applaud them for selecting Sigrid Undset, the Norwegian author of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. She writes so well that even the portions in which she is describing the scene and the forest are gorgeous to read.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Silent Millenium, #9

Yesterday I posted a literal translation of Thomas of Celano's poem, DIES IRAE. Here Richard Crashaw makes a more musical translation of the same poem. Originally written in Latin in the early thirteenth century, Crashaw made his translation into English about four hundred years later, in 1646. Since then over two hundred other English translations of the poem have been published.

I am struck by how very different the two versions are, not only in word choices, but in the whole structure of the verse. Yet on closer inspection they are clearly working from the same text, and indeed remaining true to it. There is a lesson somewhere in this about how very different the Church looks in different times and cultures, yet still we are working from one text and may even be remaining true to Him.


Hear'st thou, my soul, what serious things
Both the Psalm and Sybyl sings

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Silent Millenium, #8

Here is a literal translation (thanks to of Dies Irae, written by Thomas of Celano in the early part of the thirteenth century. Thomas was a disciple and acquaintance (friend?) of Francis of Assisi from whom I posted a poem a few days ago. He was sent to Germany to found Franciscan orders and monastaries, and returned to Italy a few years before Francis died. (That is how quickly Francis' perspective spread around Europe!) Thomas also wrote three biographies of Francis: Early life, later life, and miracles of Francis. These are on my list to read.

Today I am posting a literal translation of DIES IRAE;

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Poetry and Language

TS Eliot says in THE SACRED WOOD that the purpose of poetry is to teach people how to speak. It is to clarify and clean the language, and the use of it. It is to move language forward. The poetry of today is the language of tomorrow, and it must always be progressing for just as pure water grows stale by being trapped, so language can not sit still without stagnating.

What was crisp and clear in our diction when I was a kid is no longer vivid. It has become stale. So language must always be moving, changing, evolving, disintigrating or growing.

Let Not Me Do Less

Reading Henry Vaughan I just came across a poem that I don't recall seeing before but that I absolutely love. Amazing the way he flies from sarcasm to penitential longing, to hope in so few lines!

Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)

Romans 8:19

And do they so? have they the sense
.....of ought but influence?
Can they their heads lift, and expect,
.....And groan too? why the elect
Can do no more: my volumes said
.....They were all dull, and dead,
They judged them senseless, and their state
.....Wholly inanimate.
.....Go, go; seal up they looks,
..........And burn thy books.

I would I were a stone, or tree,
.....Or flower by pedigree,
Or some poor high-way herb, or spring
.....To flow, or bird to sing!
Then should I (tied to one sure state,)
.....All day expect my date;
But I am sadly loose, and stray
.....A giddy blast each way;
.....O let me not thus range!
..........Thou canst not change.

Sometimes I sit with thee, and tarry
.....An hour, or so, then vary.
Thy other creatures in this scene
.....Thee only aim, and mean;
Some rise to seek thee, and with heads
.....Erect peep from their beds;
Others, whose birth is in the tomb,
.....And cannot quit the womb,
I aSigh there, and groan for thee,
..........Their liberty.

O let not me do less! shall they
.....Watch, while I sleep, or play?
Shall I thy mercies still abuse
.....With fancies, friends, or news?
O brook it not! thy blood is mine,
.....And my soul should be thine;
O brook it not! why wilt thou stop
.....After whole showers one drop?
.....Sure, thou wilt joy to see
..........Thy sheep with thee.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Silent Millenium, #7

Paulinus of Nola (353-431)
(trans. Helen Waddell)


Look on thy God, Christ hidden in our flesh.
A bitter word, the cross, and bitter sight:
Hard rind without, to hold the heart of heaven.
Yet sweet it is; for God upon that tree
Did offer up his life: upon the rood
My Life hung, that my life might stand in God.

Christ, what am I to give Thee for my life:
Unless take from Thy hands the cup they hold,
To cleanse me with the precious draught of death.
What shall I do? My body to be burned?
Make myself vile? The debt's not paid out yet.
Whate'er I do, it is but I and Thou,
And still do I come short, still must Thou pay
My debts, O Christ; for debts Thyself hadst none.

What love may balance Thine? My Lord was found
In fashion like a slave, that so His slave
Might find himelf in fashion like his Lord.
Think you the bargain's hard, to have exchanged
The transcient for the eternal, to have sold
Earth to buy Heaven? More dearly God bought me.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Silent Millenium, #6

Anicius Boethius (480-524)
(trans. Alexander Pope)


O thou, whose all-creating hands sustain
The radiant Heav'ns, and Earth, and ambient main!
Eternal Reason! whose presiding soul
Informs great nature and directs the whole!
Who wert, e're time his rapid race begun,
And bad'st the years in long procession run:
Who fix't thy self amidst the rowling frame,
Gav'st all things to be chang'd, yet ever art the same!
Oh teach the mind t' aetherial heights to rise,
And view familiar, in its native skies,
The source of good; thy splendor to descry,
And on thy self, undazled, fix her eye.

Oh quicken this dull mass of mortal clay;
Shine through the soul, and drive its clouds away!
For thou art Light. In thee the righteous find
Calm rest, and soft serentity of mind;
Thee they regard alone; to thee they tend;
At once our great original and end,
At once our means, our end, our guide, our way,
Our utmost bound, and our eternal stay!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Silent Millenium, #5

This translation is from Jonathan A. Glenn. There is a great translation by Charles W. Kennedy that preserves the rhythm and line breaks (ceasuras) as well as some of the aliteration of the original. However, I chose this translation to present here because it is somewhat easier to follow.

Wow! Such a song, and we Protestants hardly know it!

DREAM OF THE ROOD (700's or earlier)
Unknown Author

Listen! The choicest of visions I wish to tell,
which came as a dream in middle-night,
after voice-bearers lay at rest.
It seemed that I saw a most wondrous tree
born aloft, wound round by light,
brightest of beams. All was that beacon
sprinkled with gold. Gems stood
fair at earth's corners; there likewise five
shone on the shoulder-span. All there beheld the Angel of God,
fair through predestiny. Indeed, that was no wicked one's gallows,
but holy souls beheld it there,
men over earth, and all this great creation.
Wondrous that victory-beam--and I stained with sins,
with wounds of disgrace. I saw glory's tree
honored with trappings, shining with joys,
decked with gold; gems had
wrapped that forest tree worthily round.
Yet through that gold I clearly perceived
old strife of wretches, when first it began
to bleed on its right side. With sorrows most troubled
I feared that fair sight. I saw that doom-beacon
turn trappings and hews: sometimes with water wet,
drenched with blood's going; sometimes with jewels decked.
But lying there long while, I,
troubled, beheld the Healer's tree,
until I heard its fair voice.
Then best wood spoke these words:
"It was long since--I yet remember it--
that I was hewn at holt's end,
moved from my stem. Strong fiends seized me there,
worked me for spectacle; cursèd ones lifted me.
On shoulders men bore me there, then fixed me on hill;
fiends enough fastened me.
Then saw I mankind's Lord
come with great courage when he would mount on me.
Then dared I not against the Lord's word
bend or break, when I saw earth's
fields shake. All fiends
I could have felled, but I stood fast.
The young hero stripped himself--he, God Almighty--
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth's fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together.
All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man's side, after ghost he gave up.
Much have I born on that hill
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,
King's fall lamented. Christ was on rood.
But there eager ones came from afar
to that noble one. I beheld all that.
Sore was I with sorrows distressed, yet I bent to men's hands,
with great zeal willing. They took there Almighty God,
lifted him from that grim torment. Those warriors abandoned me
standing all blood-drenched, all wounded with arrows.
They laid there the limb-weary one, stood at his body's head;
beheld they there heaven's Lord, and he himself rested there,
worn from that great strife. Then they worked him an earth-house,
men in the slayer's sight carved it from bright stone,
set in it the Wielder of Victories. Then they sang him a sorrow-song,
sad in the eventide, when they would go again
with grief from that great Lord. He rested there, with small company.
But we there lamenting a good while
stood in our places after the warrior's cry
went up. Corpse grew cold,fair life-dwelling. Then someone felled us
all to the earth. That was a dreadful fate!
Deep in a pit one delved us. Yet there Lord's thanes,
friends, learned of me,. . . . . . . . . . .adorned me with silver and gold.
Now you may know, loved man of mine,
what I, work of baleful ones, have endured
of sore sorrows. Now has the time come
when they will honor me far and wide,
men over earth, and all this great creation,
will pray for themselves to this beacon. On me God's son
suffered awhile. Therefore I, glorious now,
rise under heaven, and I may heal
any of those who will reverence me.
Once I became hardest of torments,
most loathly to men, before I for them,
voice-bearers, life's right way opened.
Indeed, Glory's Prince, Heaven's Protector,
honored me, then, over holm-wood.
Thus he his mother, Mary herself,
Almighty God, for all men,also has honored over all woman-kind.
Now I command you, loved man of mine,
that you this seeing tell unto men;
discover with words that it is glory's beam
which Almighty God suffered upon
for all mankind's manifold sins
and for the ancient ill-deeds of Adam.
Death he tasted there, yet God rose again
by his great might, a help unto men.
He then rose to heaven. Again sets out hither
into this Middle-Earth, seeking mankind
on Doomsday, the Lord himself,
Almighty God, and with him his angels,
when he will deem--he holds power of doom--
everyone here as he will have earned
for himself earlier in this brief life.
Nor may there be any unafraid
for the words that the Wielder speaks.
He asks before multitudes where that one is
who for God's name would gladly taste
bitter death, as before he on beam did.
And they then are afraid, and few think
what they can to Christ's question answer.
Nor need there then any be most afraid
who ere in his breast bears finest of beacons;
but through that rood shall each soul
from the earth-way enter the kingdom,
who with the Wielder thinks yet to dwell."
I prayed then to that beam with blithe mind,
great zeal, where I alone was
with small company. My heart was
impelled on the forth-way, waited for in each
longing-while. For me now life's hope:
that I may seek that victory-beam
alone more often than all men,
honor it well. My desire for that
is much in mind, and my hope of protection
reverts to the rood. I have not now many
strong friends on this earth; they forth hence
have departed from world's joys, have sought themselves glory's King;
they live now in heaven with the High-Father,
dwell still in glory, and I for myself expect
each of my days the time when the Lord's rood,
which I here on earth formerly saw,
from this loaned life will fetch me away
and bring me then where is much bliss,
joy in the heavens, where the Lord's folk
is seated at feast, where is bliss everlasting;
and set me then where I after may
dwell in glory, well with those saints
delights to enjoy. May he be friend to me
who here on earth earlier died
on that gallows-tree for mankind's sins.He loosed us and life gave,
a heavenly home. Hope was renewed
with glory and gladness to those who there burning endured.
That Son was victory-fast in that great venture,
with might and good-speed, when he with many,
vast host of souls, came to God's kingdom,
One-Wielder Almighty: bliss to the angels
and all the saints--those who in heaven
dwelt long in glory--when their Wielder came,
Almighty God, where his homeland was.

The Silent Millenium, #4

Saint Patrick, 377-460


I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Radiance of the moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Silent Millenium, #3

Caedmon was a shepherd in the seventh century and seems to have been somewhat shy by nature. Until well into his adult life he was not a writer nor a poet; in fact the venerable Bede says that when others were sitting around sharing songs in the evening he would go off to sit with his flock because he knew no songs.

Then one night he had a dream. A person approached him and told him to sing of the Creation, or the beginning. In his dream he refused because he did not know how. However, after refusing, he did in fact compose a poem in praise of the Creator. When he woke from his dream he remembered the poem and seemingly within days his sole duty was to compose poems on sacred topics and biblical texts.

According to Bede, Caedmon would be assigned a topic; he would go to bed and wake with "poetical expressions of much sweetness and humility in English which was his native language. By his verse the minds of many were often excited to despise the world, and to aspire to heaven."

What follows is a translation of the very earliest example of English poetry that exists in the world today. Written about 670 AD.


Now we must praise the ruler of heaven,
The might of the Lord and His purpose of mind,
The work of the Glorious Father; for He
God Eternal, established each wonder,
He Holy Creator, first fashioned the heavens
As a roof for the children of earth.
And then our Guardian, the everlasting Lord,
Adorned this middle-earth for men.
Praise the almighty King of Heaven.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Silent Millenium, #2

Francis of Assisi (1180-1226)

Song of the Creatures
(trans. Anthony S. Mercatante)

Most high, almighty, good Lord,
to you belongs praise, glory, honor, all blessings--
to you alone, most high, belongs all reverence.
No man can fully speak of all your wonders.

Be praised, my Lord, with all your creation--
especially our brother the sun,
who brings us day and light:
He is beautiful and radiant with splendor.
Most high, he is a symbol of you!

Be praised, my Lord, for our sister the moon and the stars:
You have placed them in the heavens--clear, priceless, and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, for our brother the wind and for air,
good weather, and seasons through which your whole creation lives.

Be praised, my Lord for our sister water,
so useful, humble, precious, and chaste.
Be praised, my Lord for our brother fire,
who brightens the darkness of night.
He is beautiful, happy, robust and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, for our sister mother earth:
she supports, nourishes, and gives forth vegetations--
colorful flowers and grass.
Be praised, my Lord, for all those who forgive and understand
one another for love of you--
Those who bear sickness and suffering.
Happy are those who live at peace with one another.
They shall receive a crown from the Most High.

Be praised, my Lord for our sister bodily Death,
from whom no man can escape.
How sad those who die without you!
Happy are those who follow your holy will--
the second death shall be powerless to harm them.

Praise , blessings, thankgiving to my Lord--
Let us serve Him with great love.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Silent Millenium, #1

How long has the Christian church been in existence? I am not talking about the denomination called the Christian Church, but the church of Christ, the one Jesus spoke of when he set the task before his disciples to go, preach, baptize and make disciples. How long has that church, "the true church" if you will, been on earth?

The number 2000 pops rather quickly to mind. Almost two thousand years ago Jesus was nailed to a piece of wood and killed. When he later walked out of his grave his church was begun. Or when the Spirit came at Pentecost was the church begun?

But I didn't really ask when the church began. I asked how long it has been here on Earth. When it began did it continue to this present day? Has it been here each of those two thousand years?

While most Christians will answer that indeed Christ's church has never died and has been alive on Earth at every moment since his resurection, Protestants will often have a hard time saying where it was. It is not that we verbally deny the existence of the church for the thousand years between Augustine and Luther, but don't we find it very difficult to say where the church was or who was in it during that period?

The problem is that we so often think of Christianity as the-religion-that-I-practice. As such, Protestants don't recognize themselves in Medieval Catholicism or in the Eastern Orthodox churches, with all of their rituals, icons, hierarchies, and language fixations. Nevertheless, if Christ's church continued for that milenium, it is here that we will find it.

Luther, Calvin and the great reformers did not invent Christianity. Nor did they resurect it from its tomb. They merely cleaned it of some of the rubbish that had accumulated on it over the years. They worked to reform, purify and sharpen it; they did not work to create it. The church was the womb from which they themselves sprang.

It is silly on our part to ignore the voices of God's servants in what often seems to us to be the silent milenium. But it only seems silent because we have closed our ears to its voices. So, in the interest of opening a little our arms to God's work at all times, the next week or two will be dedicated to posting some of the words of God's people from this "silent milenium."

If one is so inclined, it will be easy to see that their understanding of the Christian life is slightly different than our own; but if one is so inclined, it will also be possible to discern that the same Christ is being seen, longed for, and exalted. I prefer to do the latter.

Peter Abelard (1079-1142)

Good Friday: The Third Nocturn
(Trans. Helen Waddell)

Alone to sacrifice Thou goest, Lord,
Giving Thyself to death whom Thou wilt slay.
For us Thy wretched folk is any word,
Whose sins have brought Thee to this agony?

For they are ours, O Lord, our deeds, our deeds,
Why must Thou suffer torture for our sin?
Let our hearts suffer for Thy passion, Lord,
That very suffering may Thy mercy win.

This is that night of tears, the three days' space,
Sorrow abiding of the eventide,
Until the day break with the risen Christ,
And hearts that sorrowed shall be satisfied.

So may our hearts share in Thine anguish, Lord,
That they may sharers of Thy glory be:
Heavy with weaping may the three days pass,
To win the laughter of Thine Easter Day.

Friday, August 29, 2008

We Loved Her Once

Robert Browning was a great poet, but the genius of his wife so far outshone his that he should have become Robert Browning Barrett rather than her Elizabeth Barrett Browning. At the time of their famous courtship and marriage, she was the far more admired poet, but he has since taken precidence in the public mind. Oh well.

Here, as promised, E. B. Browning gives us a different perspective on love than Housman did.

This version of the poem is from the 1853 edition of her collected poems, presumably revised from the 1844 edition. Whether she made further revisions to it in the eight years she lived afterward I do not know and the library is closed so I can't go look. I have seen it in somewhat varying versions but I do not know if they preceed or follow this version, nor if they indicate printers' follies. However I like this version better.


I classed, appraising once,
Earth's lamentable sounds, - the welladay,
The jarring yea and nay,
The fall of kisses on unanswering clay,
The sobbed farewell, the welcome mournfuller;
But all did leaven the air
With a less bitter leaven of sure despair
Than these words, 'I loved once.'

And who saith 'I loved once'?
Not angels, whose clear eyes, love, love, forsee,
Love through eternity,
Who, by To Love, do apprehend To Be.
Not God, called Love, his noble crown-name casting
A light too broad for blasting:
The great God changing not from everlasting,
Saith never, 'I loved once.'

Nor ever the 'Loved once'?
Dost THOU say Victim-Christ, misprized friend!
The cross and curse may rend;
But, having loved, thou lovest to the end!
It is man's saying, - man's. Too weak to move
One sphered star above,
Man desecrates the eternal God-word Love
With his No More and Once.

How say ye, 'We loved once,'
Blasphemers? Is your earth not cold enow,
Mourners, without that snow?
Ah, friends, and would ye wrong each other so?
And could ye say of some, whose love is known,
Whose prayers have met your own,
Whose tears have fallen for you, whose smiles have shone,
Such words, 'We loved them once'?

Could ye, 'We loved her once,'
Say calm of me, sweet friends, when out of sight?
When hearts of better right
Stand in between me and your happy light?
And when, as flowers kept too long in the shade,
Ye find my colors fade,
And all that is not love in me decayed?
Such words, - ye loved me once!

Could ye, 'We loved her once,'
Say cold of me, when further put away
In earth's sepulchral clay?
When mute the lips which depricate to-day?
Not so! Not then--least then! When Life is shriven,
And death's full joy is given,
Of those who sit and love you up in Heaven,
Say not 'We loved them once.'

Say never, ye loved once:
God is too near above, the grave, beneath,
And all our moments go
Too quickly past our souls, for saying so.
The mysteries of Life and Death avenge
Affections light of range.
There comes no change to justify that change,
Whatever comes, - Loved once!

And yet that word of once
Is humanly acceptive. Kings have said,
Shaking a discrowned head,
'We ruled once,' - dotards, 'We once taught and led;'
Cripples once danced i' the vines; and bards approved,
Were once by scornings, moved:
But love strikes one hour - LOVE! Those never loved
Who dream that they loved ONCE.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

'Tis True, 'Tis True

To continue yesterday's post, here are a couple of Housman's poems giving his take on love. Tomorrow I'll post a rebuttal to today's post, by E. B. Browning.


Oh, when I was in love with you,
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.

And now the fancy passes by
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they'll say that I
Am quite myself again.


When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
'Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.'
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
'The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.'
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.


Along the field as we came by
A year ago, my love and I,
The aspen over stile and stone
Was talking to itself alone.
'Oh who are these that kiss and pass?
A country lover and his lass;
Two lovers looking to be wed;
And time shall put them both to bed,
But she shall lie with earth above,
And he beside another love.'

And sure enough beneath the tree
There walks another love with me,
And overhead the aspen heaves
Its rainy-sounding silver leaves;
And I spell nothing in their stir,
But now perhaps they speak to her,
And plain for her to understand
They talk about a time at hand
When I shall sleep with clover clad,
And she beside another lad.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lads That Will Never Be Old

If one were to make a list of the greatest works of literature in the history of the world, what would we find on that list? Certainly The Iliad and The Odyssey would be there. So would The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment would have to be included. Others might be Job and Isaiah and Lamentations from the Bible. I would include Moby Dick and Great Expectations although some others would not. The collected works of Basho, the wandering Haiku master had better make the list. Shakespeare would be there multiple times, with Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and MacBeth. Paradise Lost, certainly! There are many others, our list could go on and on. These are works that everyone should read, not out of duty, but for the joy and beauty they make available to us.

But how many of these have the average person read? These (and others that would be on such a list) are among the greatest literary works ever written, yet they are read so much more rarely than lesser works such as Stephen King novels, or John Grisham. One reason is that they seem forbidding. The size alone of many of them can be overwhelming. Until one gets some way into them one can be afraid that it will be work to finish. And then there is the fear of archaic words and of feeling dumb if we don't understand absolutely everything. We sometimes fear that a "great work" or a "classic" will be over our heads. Of course, nobody who has read them retains this fear. We all discover that the very reason they have become classics is that they are able to speak to us, normal people, in ways more powerful than lesser works can.

But there is another book that would make my list that fits none of these objections: A Shropshire Lad, by A. E. Housman. It is a very small book, less than 100 pages, with plenty of white space even then. Very few of its words will be difficult to anyone. "Mind" is used for "remember." A "jonquil" is a daffodil. But none of them require looking up because the context supplies what we need.

Housman is a poet. I say this because he is not a philosopher or a theologian. He is disoriented by death, and by love. He can't quite make them meet. He can't quite make them make sense in the same universe. He is puzzled by young men in their graves just at the time when they should be flirting with young women. But he is not a philosopher; if he were he would not be able to resist attempting to "explain" the meaning of death. He would try to make sense of love and death. A theologian would start with a doctrine of sin . . .

But the wisdom of Housman is that he instead spends his time being perplexed by death. It somehow doesn't fit. Seeing a young man from his country town going off to war, he puts the phrase, "Come you home a hero, or don't come home at all," into the mouths of the townspeople. He honors brave soldiers, but seems to somewhat envy the heroic slain. Yet in the same breath he seems to be asking what the rural English folk have to do with Egypt or Turkey that their young men are sent there to die. How incongruous it all is.

When the young men from outlying areas come into town for the county fair, his mind is again perplexed: "The lads for the girls and the lads for the liquor are there, and there with the rest are the lads that will never be old." "I wish one could know them, I wish there were tokens to tell . . ."

While in the abstract a theologian can help us to better understand death, in particular instances of death (such as a parent, a child, a friend) understanding can prove a poor comfort. Even theology has its limits. With or without understanding, with or without faith, sadness remains, and fear and perplexity. And while I contemplate my own death, though there is little fear, there is still a strong sense that it doesn't quite make sense.

That is what Housman captures.


Twice a week the winter thorough
Here stood I to keep the goal:
Football then was fighting sorrow
For the young man's soul.

Now in Maytime to the wicket
Out I march with bat and pad:
See the son of grief at cricket
Trying to be glad.

Try I will; no harm in trying:
Wonder 'tis how little mirth
Keeps the bones of man from lying
On the bed of earth.


With rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I've had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
In fields where roses fade.


From Clee to heaven the beacon burns,
The shires have seen it plain,
From north and south the sign returns
And beacons burn again.

Look left, look right, the hills are bright,
The dales are light between,
Because 'tis fifty years to-night
That God has saved the Queen.

Now, when the flame they watch not towers
About the soil they trod,
Lads, we'll remember friends of ours
Who shared the work with God.

To skies that knit their heartstrings right,
To fields that bred them brave,
The saviours come not home to-night:
Themselves they could not save.

It dawns in Asia, tombstones show
And Shropshire names are read;
And the Nile spills his overflow
Beside the Severn's dead.

We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.

'God save the Queen' we living sing,
From height to height 'tis heard;
And with the rest your voices ring,
Lads of the Fifty-third.

Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you've been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.

Tomorrow I will post a couple more from this book that deal with his parallel theme of the briefness of love. Then the next day I will post a wonderful counter-argument from Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Out of the Woods

Sidney Lanier managed to do just about everything, but nothing for long. He was a soldier in the Civil War, a teacher, a school administrator, a hotel clerk, a lawyer, a professional musician, ship's pilot, a prisoner of war, professor, and Anglo-Saxon scholar. And he did it all while caring for his wife and three kids and battling the tuberculosis that finally defeated him before he turned forty.

Add to the list a novel, books on scholarly topics, and the development of a theory of poetry based on musical notation. He may not have found his niche as far as a job went, seems to have changed careers every year or two, but he was no rambler like W. H. Davies. Consider the years of preparation required for many of his jobs, lawyer, professor, musician, etc. He must have been an intense man!

Yet his poems do not sound like the work of a man gnawed with fever to accomplish. They have a quiet meditative feel to them, more like one would expect from a recluse like Emily Dickinson or a peripatetic poet/teacher like Basho. He is one man I would like to know more about, for I can't reconcile what little I know of his life with the at-peace-with-the-world quality of his poems.

I would like to post the whole of The Marshes of Glynn, for it is a beauty, but for now I'll only post the ending stanza, along with a short poem.


And now from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep
Roll in on the souls of men,
But who will reveal to our waking ken
The forms that swim and the shapes that creep
Under the waters of sleep?
And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in
On the length and the breadth of the marvellous marshes of Glynn.


Into the woods my Master went,
Clean forspent, forspent.
Into the woods my Master came,
Forspent with love and shame.
But the olives they were not blind to Him,
The little gray leaves were kind to Him:
The thorn-tree had a mind to Him
When into the woods He came.

Out of the woods my Master went,
And He was well content.
Out of the woods my Master came,
Content with death and shame.
When Death and Shame would woo Him last,
From under the trees they drew Him last:
'Twas on a tree they slew Him--last
When out of the woods He came.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Grass Blade's No Easier to Make than an Oak

A couple of thoughts from James Russell Lowell on the art of writing. He is thinking particularly of Ralph Waldo Emerson.


They're not epics, but that doesn't matter a pin,
In creating, the only hard thing's to begin;
A grass blade's no easier to make than an oak;
If you've once found the way, you've achieved the grand stroke;
In the worst of his poems are mines of rich matter,
But thrown in a heap with a crash and a clatter;
Now it is not one thing nor another alone
Makes a poem, but rather the general tone,
The something pervading, uniting the whole,
The before unconceived, unconceivable soul,
So that just in removing this trifle or that, you
Take away, as it were, a chief limb of the statue;
Roots, wood, bark, and leaves singly perfect may be,
But clapt hodge-podge together, they don't make a tree.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Prison Amusements

James Montgomery wrote some rather long poems. A few were travelogues, full of description of the landscape of places unfamiliar to most Londoners in the early 1800's. They were among his most popular during his lifetime, for much the same reason that the very long description of a bird's eye view of Paris was exciting to the first readers of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. They gave great opportunity to expand and alter the way one viewed the world. But for just this reason they bore us, to us the West Indies, Pelican Islands, and Greenland do not seem any more exotic than seeing a picture of Paris taken from an airplane does. Pretty maybe, but I'm not eager to read thirty pages (double collumned) of it.

He also wrote a good deal of religious verse some of which was used in teaching children for many years. Some of it is very good, but not so much that we would remember his name almost two hundred years later.

What shines out now is what was largely ignored during his lifetime: his poems drawing attention to the evils of his society, and his poems written from prison.

The former focussed on the evils of slavery, both negro and orphan slavery that flourished in his day. His poems on the evils of the slave trade, largely ignored by the masses, were a goad that helped to motivate the Christian church to support Wilberforce in his very long fight to outlaw the English slave trade in her colonies. Lesser known is that Montgomeries poems also drew a great deal of attention to how very evil was the white slavery practiced on orphans in London. His CLIMBING BOY SOLILOQUIES gave detailed accounts of what it was like to be a chimney sweep, climbing up from the bottom with the fire still going below you. They generally died very young, but if they didn't they were cast out by their owners to starve as soon as they were too big to climb chimneys. His poems began a crusade that ended in the outlawing of the practice and in the establishment of homes for such children.

But it is his PRISON AMUSEMENTS as he called them that I will quote from here. They are Montgomery at his least pretensious, and most endearing.


Welcome, pretty little stranger!
Welcome to my lone retreat!
Here, secure from every danger,
Hop about, and chirp, and eat:
Robin! how I envy thee,
Happy child of Liberty!

Now, though tyrant Winter, howling,
Shakes the world with tempests round,
Heaven above with vapours scowling,
Frost imprisons all the ground;
Robin! what are these to thee?
Thou art blessed with liberty.

Though you fair majestic river
Mourns in solid icy chains,
Though you flocks and cattle shiver
On teh desolated plains;
Robin! thou art gay and free,
Happy in thy liberty.

Hunger never shall distress thee
While my cates one crumb afford;
Cold nor cramps shall ne'er oppress thee;
Come and share my humble board:
Robin! come and live with me,
Live--yet still at liberty.

Soon shall Spring in smiles and blushes
steal upon the blooming year;
Then, amid the enamour'd bushes,
Thy sweet song shall warble clear:
Then shall I, too, join with thee,
Swell the Hymn of LIberty.

Should some rough unfeeling Dobbin,
In this iron-hearted age,
Seize thee on they nest, my Robin!
And confine thee in a cage,
Then, poor prisoner! think of me,
Think--and sigh for liberty.

Where Are You Pointing?

In Covenant and Community I make a case for understanding God's image not as any part of the blueprint by which God designed us. God's image is not in us. Nowhere. Rather God's image is the purpose for which we were made, the role that we play in the universe and beyond, and the plan toward which God is bringing us in Christ.

But others see it differently. The different locations for God's image in the poem below are all proposals from eminent theologians. Most of them I respect highly in general but disagree with on this question.

Written slightly in imitation of William Cowper and presented with no serious disrespect intended.

Where Are You Pointing?
or I Can’t See It Yet

God built his image into man
The theologians say
Thus his inscrutibeautiful self
In skin and bone display.

But where in us this image lies
They never can decide;
Is it in your gorgeous eyes?
Or hidden deep inside?

Is it our brains, which think like his
And make us good/bad seeing?
He surely would be proud that we
His conscience are displaying.

Or that we on our hind legs stand
And gaze into the sky
Longing for the land from which
Our spirits Hellward fly.

Or that we do in part excel
The kingdom animalia
And plan our murders in advance
A fiendish foreordalia?

Perhaps we show his image in
Our most angelic parts,
Omnipotentest sovereignty
Unveiled in shriveled hearts.

Or was it only once in us?
We left its shards in Eden?
And now for blood to glue them back
The Spirit’s intercedin’?

God dropped his image into man
His drop into our ocean?
Or wiped it on and rubbed it in:
Our holy suntan lotion?

God built his image into man,
But where, we are not sure!
It seems to me the teachers have
The cart the horse before.

Stand and Stare

Having ridden my thumb extensively when a younger man, I am proud to post a poem from a child of the road.

W.H. Davies was a wanderer. He was a tramp and a hitchhiker and a train jumper. He was a hobo of the old school, working on cattle boats to come to America, jumping a train and riding off to new places. And along the way he took the time to notice the wonder of all that was around him, both the people and the environment.

He was infatuated with the romance of his lifestyle, and wrote four or five autobiographies, each time catching up to the point in his travels at which he was writing. And along the way he wrote poems, twenty-some books full of them, including even the Tramps Opera in Three Acts.


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Final Exam, American Lit

Cleaning out my storage in my "My Documents" folder in the computer I came across the final exam that I gave to the kids (ages 12-18) at the end of a year of reading American Literature. Their job was to tell me the author and the name of the piece (story, poem, essay, etc) for each quote. As I recal, no one missed more than two authors, but it is more difficult to name the source of the quote. How many can you name? I admit that even having taught the class I had to look up two of the authors names just now.

I know this is very unfair to my non-American friends. Sorry! I'll make it up to you soon.

1 A child said What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

2 “Don’t know how old you are? Didn’t anybody ever tell you? Who was your mother?” “Never had none!” said the child, with another grin. “Never had any mother? What do you mean? Where were you born?” “Never was born!” persisted Topsy.

3 “All right then, I’ll go to hell”−and I tore it up. It was awful thought, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.

4 Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears; while the used key is always bright.

5 Then the man drowsed off into what seemed to him the most comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known. The dog sat facing him and waiting. The brief day drew to a close in a long, slow twilight.

6 Two roads diverged in a wood, and I−I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

7 She put her arms under her head and lay back, looking up at the sky. “If I live here, like you, that is different. Things will be easy for you. But they will be hard for us.”

8 If ever two were one, then surely we. If ever man were loved by wife, then thee; If ever wife was happy in a man, compare with me, ye women, if you can.

9 “Why do you tremble at me alone?" cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. "Tremble also at each other.”

10 'tis strange that an Indian should understand white sounds better than a man who, his very enemies will own, has no cross in his blood, although he may have lived with the red skins long enough to be suspected!

11 There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of, there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.

12 were we lead all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

13 So on we worked, and waited for the light, and went without the meat, and cursed the bread; and Richard Cory, one calm summer night, went home and put a bullet through his head.

14 Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code. In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.

15 “I” is the first letter of the alphabet, the first word of the language, the first thought of the mind, the first object of affection. In grammar it is a pronoun of the first person and singular number. Its plural is said to be We, but how there can be more than one myself is doubtless clearer to the grammarians than it is to the author of this incomparable dictionary. Conception of two myselfs is difficult, but fine.

16 Because I could not stop for Death−He kindly stopped for me−The Carriage held but just Ourselves−And Immortality.

17 And if this had been all, it had been less, though too much; but the church must also be divided, and those that had lived so long together in Christian and comfortable fellowship must now part and suffer many divisions. And this I fear will be the ruin of New England, at least of the churches of God there, and will provoke the Lord’s displeasure against them.

18 These are the Wants of mortal Man, I cannot want them long, For life itself is but a span, and earthly bliss a son, My last great Want−absorbing all− Is, when beneath the sod, And summoned to my final call, The Mercy of my God.

19 The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country.

20 I was a child and she was a child, in this kingdom by the sea; but we loved with a love that was more than love− I and my Annabel Lee−with a love that the winged seraphs of heaven coveted her and me.

21 Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

22 The murmur of the pine’s green branches is in her ears, she remembers how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sea and the morning together, and Sylvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron’s secret and give its life away.

23 "They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions," said Atticus, "but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

24 I suppose I shall have to go back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard! It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please!

25 All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event-- in the living act, the undoubted deed-- there, some unknown but still reasoning thing put forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is the wall, shoved near to me.

26 What matter how the night behaved? What matter how the northwind raved? Blow high, blow low, not all its snow could quench our hearthfire’s ruddy glow.

27 That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom−and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

28 O Thou who made those heroes dare To die, and leave their children free, --Bid Time and Nature gently spare The shaft we raised to them and Thee.

29 So live, that when thy summons comes to join the innumerable caravan, that moves to the pale realms of shade, where each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death, thou go not, like the quarry slave at night, scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams.

30 We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights.

31 Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land, taught my benighted soul to understand that there’s a God, that there’s a Savior too.

32 The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labour.

Rather Stranger Than the Rest

John Clare spent thirty of his seventy years in an asylum, leaving his family destitute. It also left him cut off from those whom he loved, abandoned, alone. The line below, "And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest" is wrenching. It points to the frightened realization that the people who had been dearest to him have now become strangers, even stranger to him than these strange lunatics (he calls them shadows) with whom he is incarcerated.

"I Am" underlines much of what I meant to express in my posts about prisons/asylums/nursing homes. The next two poems are included just because they are lovely! He wrote these all while living in Northampton County Asylum.

I Am

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost'
And yet I am, and live with shadows tost.

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--
Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smiled or wept;
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below--above the vaulted sky.


The fir trees taper into twigs and wear
The rich blue green of summer all the year,
Softening the roughest tempest almost calm
And offering shelter even still and warm
To the small path that towels underneath,
Where loudest winds--almost as summer's breath--
Scarce fan the weed that lingers green below,
When others out of doors are lost in frost and snow.
And sweet the music trembles on the ear
As the wind suthers through each tiny spear,
Makeshifts for leaves; and yet, so rich they show,
Winter is almost summer where they grow.

Evening Primrose

When once the sun sinks in the west,
And dew-drops pearl the evening's breast,
Almost as pale as moonbeams are,
Or its companionable star,
The evening primrose opes anew
Its delicate blossoms to the dew;
And, shunning-hermit of the light,
Wastes its fair bloom upon the night,
Who, blindfold to its fond caresses,
Knows not the beauty she possesses.
Thus it blooms on till night is by
And day looks out with open eye,
Abashed at the gaze it cannot shun,
It faints and withers, and is done.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Discarded Sock

Cui Jian is a Chinese rock star, and a really great singer. I would post the lyrics to one of his songs here, but I can't understand them at all. So instead here is a poem that mentions him.

The Discarded Sock

as the delicate dandelion shoves the rock aside seeking her father the sun
as Cui Jian chops soft Chinese words so short and crisp, like cabbage for eggrolls
as the butterfly’s fragile wings rip open the womb cocoon of strong parachute thread
as the soft light of dawn sneaks silent through the crack in the door, piercing my lids with its fire

so is our love, so delicately held out on quivering fingers, eyes not daring to meet eyes
so soft, uncertain, seen and unseen − faerie-like, seeming little more than the breath of a word
yet breathing life into dust, making soldiers weep like babies, making babies into men,
binding Sampsons, shaven, eyes gouged, lashing them to threshing machines

yet the dandelion that shoves the rock is soft and tart on the little lamb’s tongue
and Cui Jian’s words, both sweet and sour, are pleasant nonsense to my ear
and if the merest thorn touch the butterfly’s wing it will fly in circles ‘til it dies
and a discarded sock pulled over my eyes will foil all the morning’s maneuvers

so our love, so soft and strong, the mighty tremulous conquering cowering
death dealing, life giving, theme of all Shakespeare all poems all scripture
is brought to nothing by the merest turn of the head, the slightest of shrugs
brought down by the inattentive sigh on the other end of the line

Reason and Imagination

Jacob Douvier claims that "Good rhetoric ought to appeal to good reason. Bad rhetoric rests on emotional manipulation."

Hmm, sounds too simplistic to me, and too mechanical. Here is how I responded to him.

While I agree in part I am uneasy about juxtaposing reason and emotion. True, you qualify it as manipulation, but would you go on to say that pure appeals to emotion are intrinsically manipulative? From what you say I would guess that you are more comfortable with Paul's letter to the Romans than with the extravagantly emotional Psalms of David or of Korah's sons.

I am glad that you use the word "reason" rather than "logic," but still I would maintain that good rhetoric is generally rife with emotion and with imagery. Its roots in the speaker and its fruit in the hearer lie more in the imagination than in logic.

No one ever made any great decision based on logic. Are you married? Did you marry because logic convinced you that it was in your best interest to marry, and to marry that particular woman? No, of course not. Your imagination carried you away as you played with all of the possibilities that such a marriage might open up.

So it is always: the imagination plays with possibilities and we find ourselves convinced of what we must do. Did Jesus appeal only to reason? Did he not paint word pictures of life and death, of life in the Kingdom, death without? And weren't these blatantly appeals to the listeners' imaginations and their emotions?

Of course, a wise imagination must be tutored by reason and accurate information. Imagination must study. Imagination without reason is folly. But reason alone will never make a decision, it will never be a hero, it will never bear children.Good rhetoric is reasonable, emotional, imaginative, honest and passionate.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Spotted Teeth and Lepers Cleansed

John Collop wrote in the mid 1600's what I think to be one of the greatest prayer poems outside of the Bible. Its halting, jumping, eager rush and fearful stop perfectly reflect the tears with which he calls out to his God.

The tone, intimacy and vehemence, and the writhing/evolving pace of the poem put one in mind of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Francis Thompson, but it is almost certain that neither of them ever read him (very unlikely they read each other either, although it is slightly possible that Hopkins late in his life may have read some Thompson). Collop simply wasn't known during their lifetimes. In fact he wasn't known in his own lifetime.

He was a doctor and many of his poems are medical lessons set to verse. Rather dull! Others are a mockery of the fashion of writing poems in praise of beautiful women; ie, "There is a garden in your face where roses and white lillies grow. . ."


The wiseman Teeth call'd flocks of sheep;
Sure Jacob's speckled flocks here keep.
Where teeth are checker'd black and white,
Nay gilt too to inrich delight:
Her mouth ope, you at Chesse may play,
With teeth resembling night and day.
Each fondling reach will praise what's white;
Is there in Choak such strange delight?
Give me the mouth like th' Temple floor,
With speckled Marble paved o're,
Or oh more rich in gold thus set,
A row of pearl then one of jet.

Still other of Collop's poems are diatribes against the state of politics or the state of the Church. These are really a mixed bag, sometimes pointed and sharp, witty jabs with his pen, sometimes they descend into what seems to be juvenile name calling.

But in his personal religious verse he shines.


Hear, Lord, hear
The rhetoric of a tear.
Hear, hear my breast;
While I knock there, Lord, take no rest.

Open! ah, open wide!
Thou art the door, Lord! Open! hide
My sin; a spear once entered at thy side.

See! ah, see
A Naaman's leprosy!
Yet here appears
A cleansing Jordan in my tears.

Lord, let the faithless see
Miracles ceased, revive in me.
The leper cleansed, blind healed, dead raised by thee.

Whither! ah, whither shall I fly?
To heaven? my sins, ah, sins there cry!
Yet mercy, Lord, O mercy! hear
Th'attoning incense of my prayer.
A broken heart thou'lt not despise.
See! see a contrite's sacrifice!

Keep, keep, vials of wrath, keep still!
I'll vials, Lord, of odors fill:
Of prayers, sighs, groans, and tears a shower;
I'll 'noint, wash, wipe, kiss, wash, wipe, weep.
My tears, Lord, in thy bottle keep,
Lest flames of lust, and fond desire,
Kindle fresh fuel for thine ire,
Which tears must quench; like Magdalene
I'll wash thee, Lord, till I be clean.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Prison Walls

Just a short postscript to the post a few days ago about prisons.

Paul says that Jesus destroyed the "dividing wall" between Jews and Gentiles. Or as the NET translation has it, "For he is our peace, the one who turned both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition . . . He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace . . ." Eph 2:14-15. He seems to be talking about Jews and Gentiles, but then he turns immediately to using the same figure to refer to the bringing together of humanity and God. Jesus came to draw us together, and together to draw us to himself and with himself to draw us to his Father. In Collosians the analogy is extended from Jew/Gentile, to circumcised/uncircumcised, barbarian/Scythian, slave/free. All walls come down in Christ. Jesus came to destroy the walls that separate us.

You will say, "But there is still a wall between saved and unsaved; all of those walls only come down for those who are in Christ." Yes, but don't be so content in that answer! Jesus died to destroy such barriers, shouldn't we also be more than eager to see them fall? On the night before his crucifiction when Jesus prayed so fervently for his disciples, what exactly did he pray for? The heart of his prayer was that his disciples (which includes us) would be one as he and his Father are one. He came to earth and went to the cross to make us one. To give us a life that mirrored the unity of the three who are one. To make us one as they are one. That is a big thought!

That is the goal toward which God was working from before creation, and toward which he is still bringing us. It will be fulfilled when he brings us, as a single bride, to the wedding feast. The barriers between us are all to be destroyed.

So what does this have to do with prisons? As I said in the earlier post, the function of prisons is primarily to insulate us from some of the unpleasant realities of life. In this way they are similar to nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals. Of course this is not the only purpose of any of them. They each to some measure attempt to help those in their care. But their primary function in society seems to me to be protecting the comfort of those who are not in them.

I am far from ready to open the prison doors and let everyone out, but I am getting less and less comfortable with the complacency with which we allow and aid society in separating us all further and further. I don't know what the answer is, but it seems that we are just finding an easy way to get out of actually being our brother's keeper. We are reinforcing walls when Jesus died to obliterate walls.

I don't have the answers. But I am uneasy.

Francis Thompson at Bay

Francis Thompson never became the priest that he had hoped to become when still a young man. One wonders how things might have played out if his father had not insisted that Francis train to follow in his footsteps as a physician. Thompson failed the exam three times, probably on purpose, or at least by not trying. Then he moved to London.

There he found little he could do, and he sank into abject poverty and drug addiction. The addiction was likely started by prescriptions during an illness, but it plagued him for years. Homeless, jobless, nearly naked and starving almost to the point of death on the cold wet streets of London, he was rescued by a prostitute.

In her room he began to write. He sent some poems to a paper and was immediately accepted. But the problem was, where was his payment to be sent? The editor's search for Thompson is one of the legends of literary history. "A genius greater than Milton is among us, and nobody knows his address!" he exclaimed in an editorial.

The following is excerpts from The Hound of Heaven. He wrote this while in drug rehab to which the editor sent him when he finally located Thompson. It is a longish poem, slightly less than half is here presented. This is the first section and then the end, when the Hound brings its quarry to bay. I have omitted the middle section of the quarry fleeing from hiding place to hiding place, finding them all unsuited and useless to him.

If you find unfamiliar words, don't bother looking them up. Many are archaic, or even Middle English. Others are simply words that Thompson invented himself. But that presents no difficulty at all, in the magic of the poem. The sense is carried over the obscurity of some of the words by the flow of the poem.


I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat -- and a voice beat
More instant than the Feet --
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."
I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of his approach would clash it to:
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
. . .
Naked I wait Thy Love's uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenceless utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years--
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must--
Designer infinite!--
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i' the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man's heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
"And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest me!
"Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught" (He said),
"And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited--
Of all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!"
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
"Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest me."