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 Franciscan-archive.org) 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; curs├Ęd 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.