Sunday, May 31, 2009

Like A Rhythmic Fate Sublime

In the final stanza of the prologue to the Rhyme of the Dutchess May, Elizabeth Barrett Browning explains exactly what she is doing with the rhymic interlude in the midst of each stanza. This is a longish poem, and the short line, "Toll slowly," disrupts the otherwise standard rhythm of all 112 verses.

The scene is that she is reading a very sad tale, a tale of death, in a churchyard, while the church bell continuously tolls for a funeral. As Browning explains in the prologue, "The solemn knell fell in with the tale of life and sin, like a rhythmic fate sublime."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Among Crags In Its Flurry

Robert Southey was a bigwig by anyone's standards. He was the poet laureate of Great Brittain for almost half his life. He wrote scholarly works on some of the great poets, including one on William Cowper. He married Coleridge's sister and was pals with Walter Landor Savage and William Wordsworth. He was a poet, a scholar, a role model to poets and a statesman. No small resume!

But he was not a distant father,

Friday, May 29, 2009

Breath And Smell

I can't get over what a complex effect Langston Hughes creates by mixing just a couple of rhythms together in such a small space. Again, the rhythmic effect on our mouths and our ears is absolutely essential to the overall effect of the poem. I dare say that if you read it silently (without even hearing it in your mind) you won't be able to understand it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

There Shall Be One People

In THE ANVIL by the great Rudyard Kipling we hear an (I think) unprecedented rhythm. In each of the three stanzas the lines are arranged with six stresses in the first line, five in the second, six in the third and seven(!) in the last. 6-5-6-7! Who else but Kipling would have dared? The miracle of the poem is that the oddity of the line length does not (at least to my ear) intrude on our minds as we read it. It is hardly noticable.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Soul Round Me Doth Roll

Even Perfection Craves Diversity

Over the years many poets have played with the meter of their poems, trying out different schemes just for the fun of seeing how they work. Some work well, others don't.

For Milton's Paradise Lost, his celebrated blank verse was indubitably the right choice. Throughout the book he sticks very close to the consistent use of the five stressed line, borrowing what has been called "Marlowe's mighy line."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Where Love Is There God Is Also

This is meant to follow a couple of posts by John W. May on the work of Christina Rossetti.

Christina Rossetti's attitude toward the religion that was the very center of her life and her art was highly meditative, one could even say that it was mystical. In this she was emphatically out of step with the Anglican Church of which she was a part, and indeed with all of Western culture in the nineteenth century. It was a time when "progress," "science," and "conquest" were quickly becoming the religion both in and out of the Church. The humble introspective spirit she displayed shines all the more brightly for its being so rare in her day as it is in ours.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

15,000 Days Old

Today I am 15,000 days old. Happy birthday to me!

Of those 15000 days, I've spent approximately:

4000 days sleeping;
3121 days working for pay;
2000 days reading;
840 days in school;

Thursday, May 14, 2009

On Some Fond Breast The Parting Soul Relies

Despite its name, the following was not written in a country churchyard, but was painstakingly written and re-written over the course of at least six years, maybe as long as nine years. (Why is it that poets like to create the illusion that poems spring fully formed from their pens?) Just for fun I've added in a stanza that was in the poem for awhile, but that Gray ultimately eliminated before publication. Those of you who already know the poem, can you spot the one that didn't make it past his final re-write?

Ellegy Written in a Country Churchyard
by Thomas Gray

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lived Between You and Me

Martin Buber was one of the greatest philosophers last century. His deceptively short treatise on love, I And Thou, is among the most beautiful books I've ever encountered.

He also wrote extensively of Hasidism, a mystic sect of Judaism that has sprouted among the very poor Jews of Eastern Europe. Besides writing for scholars and learned men, he also collected and composed many stories for children. His Tales of the Hasidim

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Page of Prancing Poetry

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any courser like a page
Of prancing poetry.

Monday, May 11, 2009

God's Self-Revelation

God’s Image as Self-Revelation

When God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,” notice who was taking responsibility for making us in his image. God himself was. This point is very important for a couple of reasons. First, God will not fail in this proposal any more than he fails in any other proposal. Because God decided to make us to be his image, we will finally fulfill that role and become that which we were created to be.

Equally significant to the present discussion is the fact that God is proposing to make us in his own self-image.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Like A Pressed Flower

INKSPELL, the second in the INKHEART trilogy, is already fascinating in the first few chapters. Cornelia Funke's THE THIEF LORD is among my very favorites, so I went looking to see what else she has available.

INKSPELL is remarkably set simultaneously in two different worlds. Her debt to CS Lewis is obvious, but she doesn't live their as a burglar. Instead she moves into (what seem to me) completely new realms of imagination. Her first world is ours,

Monday, May 4, 2009

Eavesdropping on Theology Class

I recently learned that my book, Covenant and Community, has been assigned as required reading for a course on "Theology of the Human" at Trinity College, University of Toronto. The course, as I understand it, is the "what," "how," and "why" of being human, all from a biblical perspective. Thus it perfectly corresponds to the book, which is a study of the "what," "how," and "why" of God's image.

I would be curious to eavesdrop

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Believing in the Universe

Reading Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Terribly irreverant, mocks a version of end time events that no one I've ever come across holds to. To be truly sacreligious they would have needed to do their homework.

But it is sprinkled with little gems such as the following.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Heal The Earth's Wounds

I just returned from a glorious week at the Overseas Mission Study Center in New Haven, CT. Together with God's people from all corners of the globe, representing many languages and cultures, I had the joy of studying a portion of Isaiah (my favorite biblical author) that stressed the international and multicultural nature of the Kingdom of our God.

Invigorated and refreshed, I came home and opened a book of my favorite Russian poet, Nika Turbina,