Thursday, December 29, 2005

Cantico espiritual

by St. John of the Cross

¿Adónde te escondiste,
amado, y me dejaste con gemido?
Como el ciervo huiste,
habiéndome herido;
salí tras ti, clamando, y eras ido.

Where have you hidden yourself,
beloved, and left me with groaning?
You have fled like the deer,
having wounded me;
I went out after you, crying out, and you had gone.

Pastores, los que fuerdes
allá, por las majadas, al otero,
si por ventura vierdes
aquél que yo más quiero,
decidle que adolezco, peno y muero.

Shepherds, you who go
up there, through the sheepfolds, to the hill,
if you perhaps see
him whom I love most,
tell him that I grow sick, suffer and die.

Buscando mis amores,
iré por esos montes y riberas;
ni cogeré las flores,
ni temeré las fieras,
y pasaré los fuertes y fronteras.

Seeking my loves,
I will go through these mountains and riverbanks;
I will not collect the flowers,
I will not fear the wild animals,
and I will pass the strong (men) and the frontiers.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

¿Por qué, pues has llagado
aqueste corazón, no le sanaste?
Y pues me le has robado,
¿por qué así le dejaste,
y no tomas el robo que robaste?

Why, since you have wounded
this heart, have you not healed it?
And since you have robbed me of it,
why do you leave me so,
and not take the robbery that you have robbed?

Apaga mis enojos,
pues que ninguno basta a deshacellos,
y véante mis ojos,
pues eres lumbre dellos,
y sólo para ti quiero tenellos.

Quench my angers,
for no one else can extinguish them,
and may my eyes see you,
for you are the light of them,
and I want to keep them only for you.

¡Oh cristalina fuente,
si en esos tus semblantes plateados,
formases de repente
los ojos deseados,
que tengo en mis entrañas dibujados!

O crystal fountain,
if in your silvered surfaces,
you would form suddenly
the desired eyes,
that I have drawn on my heart!

* * *

The translation is my own, with a little help. There were about a half dozen words that don't show up in my little pocket dictionary. Most of it, however, is quite literally translated.

I am very fond of this poem. Of course, the Song of Songs has always been a favorite of mine, but I think St. John brings something of his own to the story. He enhances the search of the bride for her lover with his own experience of searching for Christ.

The poem begins with the bride's search. She looks everywhere, asks everyone for some word of her lover. In the same way, when seeking Christ, it is natural and good for us to look everywhere and ask everyone: Have you seen Him whom my heart loves?

The second part I translated is part of the bride's prayer to her lover. She begins to be impatient for some sign of the lover. Where is he? She begs him to come to her. This is the other part of our search for Christ: asking Him directly.

"Oh cristalina fuente" is an address to someone else again. I have heard the phrase "crystal fountain of faith" as a title for Mary. Perhaps the symbol here is of the soul asking Mary to form Christ again, not in her womb this time, but in the soul. The soul possesses His image, but is still searching for His reality.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Christmas Carol

by G.K. Chesterton

(The Chief Constable has issued a statement declaring that carol singing in the streets by children is illegal, and morally and physically injurious. He appeals to the public to discourage the practice.--Daily Paper.)

God rest you merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay;
The Herald Angels cannot sing,
The cops arrest them on the wing,
And warn them of the docketing
Of anything they say.

God rest you merry gentlemen
May nothing you dismay:
On your reposeful cities lie
Deep silence, broken only by
The motor horn's melodious cry,
The hooter's happy bray.

So, when the song of children ceased
And Herod was obeyed,
In his high hall Corinthian
With purple and with peacock fan,
Rested that merry gentleman;
And nothing him dismayed.

* * *

Does this sound familiar to anyone? (I'll give you a hint: "Happy Holidays.")

I thought it appropriate, given the feast of Holy Innocents today.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Christmas carol

by Hilaire Belloc

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
A catholic tale I have to tell:
And a Christian song I have to sing
While all the bells in Arundel ring.

I pray good beef and I pray good beer
This holy night of all the year,
But I pray detestable drink to them
That give no honour to Bethlehem.

May all good fellows that here agree
Drink Audit Ale in heaven with me,
And may all my enemies go to hell!
Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
May all my enemies go to hell!
Noel! Noel!

* * *

A Bellocose approach to the Christmas season. I promised Meredith I'd get this online: it isn't available elsewhere, that I know of.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Acquainted with the Night

by Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

* * *

Blogged after several hours of philosophy notes. It's not exactly an all-nighter yet, but I'm not usually out this late. I don't like finals week.

But I do like terza rima. And this poem. I am one acquainted with the night also. So many of the events in the poem are quite familiar to me.

For some reason you go out walking at night. Maybe you don't even know why. The rain drifts down, a lazy drizzle. A cop passes by and suddenly you feel under suspicion. Guiltily you drop your eyes, afraid he'll stop you and ask why you're out and what you're doing. And how can you answer when you don't know?

All you can hear is your own footsteps. You stand still and that falls silent too; silent enough for you to hear a shout from far away. You don't know what it means, yet somehow it hurts you that they are not speaking to you. You are entirely alone.

And the time, being neither wrong or right . . . at that hour, nothing seems wrong or right. It just is. Nothing cares to present itself to you, or is interested in what you make of it. It states itself, matter-of-factly, and you realise it makes no difference what you think about it. So you think nothing.

--Excuse the late-night rambles. I have been one acquainted with the night.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew near to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd anything.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

* * *

I'm a trend-follower now. John of Fiddleback gave me the idea of blogging poetry from literature class.

An important thing to note is that whenever the words "my dear" are used, that means the speaker is speaking. Love is the other speaker, obviously.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sonnets from the Portuguese: XXI

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated
Should seem a "cuckoo-song," as dost treat it,
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Beloved, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt's pain
Cry, "Speak once more--thou lovest!" Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me--toll
The silver iterance!--only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

* * *

I have always been one of those people who has to have things repeated. Sometimes it is because I am silly and forgetful, and sometimes because I have so little faith. If my mother did not tell me, every time I speak with her, that she loves me, would I be able to believe that she still did?

Fortunately, either she understands that little foolishness of my heart, or she has suffered from it herself, because never do I call her without hearing those three little words -- I love you -- at least once. When I am at home, I hear them every day. The words, repeated and repeated, weave a blanket around me of peace and security: she does love me. Not only did she love me once, but she loves me now. In this exact moment, she loves me.

. . . And yet, I am not so foolish not to know she still loves me when she does not say it. It just makes it so much easier when she says it out loud.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

By the Babe Unborn

by G.K. Chesterton

If trees were tall and grasses short,
As in some crazy tale,
If here and there a sea were blue
Beyond the breaking pale,

If a fixed fire hung in the air
To warm me one day through,
If deep green hair grew on great hills,
I know what I should do.

In dark I lie: dreaming that there
Are great eyes cold or kind,
And twisted streets and silent doors,
And living men behind.

Let storm-clouds come: better an hour,
And leave to weep and fight,
Than all the ages I have ruled
The empires of the night.

I think that if they gave me leave
Within the world to stand,
I would be good through all the day
I spent in fairyland.

They should not hear a word from me
Of selfishness or scorn,
If only I could find the door,
If only I were born.

* * *

This poem was brought into mind by the great debate on Fiddleback Fever about NFP. But it's just as pertinent to arguments about abortion and contraception.

I think a large part of why some people think abortion is okay is simply that they don't appreciate the gift of life they themselves have been given. They walk through their lives, glancing at trees and flowers and skies, and see none of them. They don't realise how great and beautiful it is to be alive.

But if, for a moment, impossibly, we could know what it was not to be alive, maybe we'd have the attitude of the child in this poem. How amazing it would be to be alive! And truly, how amazing it is.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Vivien's Song

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

‘In Love, if Love be Love, if Love be ours,
Faith and unfaith can ne’er be equal powers:
Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all.

‘It is the little rift within the lute,
That by and by will make the music mute,
And ever widening slowly silence all.

‘The little rift within the lover’s lute
Or little pitted speck in garnered fruit,
That rotting inward slowly moulders all.

‘It is not worth the keeping: let it go:
But shall it? answer, darling, answer, no.
And trust me not at all or all in all.’

* * *

This poem makes a good counterpart to "Enid's Song," which I posted last spring. This poem can have two meanings, as I read it: either "unfaith" is the lover's lack of faith in her, or it is his lack of faithfulness. She either means, "If you doubt me in one thing, you doubt me in all," or, "If you are unfaithful to me in one thing, you are unfaithful to me in all." I generally take it with the first meaning, because of the last line mentioning trust.

This is on my mind because of my English paper on Cymbeline. Posthumus' lack of trust in Imogen nearly destroys their relationship. Trust is essential in any relationship, especially for those in love. Love without trust is empty.

Monday, November 28, 2005


by Gerard Manley Hopkins

A nun takes the veil

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

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

* * *

This beautifully worded poem is unlike most of Hopkins's poetry: it could almost pass for someone else's poetry, so free is it of Hopkins's usual oddities.

However, Hopkins's attention to sound is still quite in evidence: "fields where flies no sharp and sided hail," "swell" and "swing" in consecutive lines. There is also plenty of imagery for 8 lines.

I am not the only one of my friends who has desired something like this: to rest in a sweet and quiet place, on the bosom of Christ. A convent sounds, to me, like the most wonderful place on earth. In wordly terms, there is nothing there, but in heavenly terms, it contains everything necessary. Who would not want to sit at the feet of Christ and listen to him speak, away from the noise and bustle of the world?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thou art indeed just

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum;
verumtamen justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum
prosperatur? &c.

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,

Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes

Them; birds build -- but not I build; no, but strain,
Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

* * *

Another of Hopkins's darker poems. Here he expresses frustration that, while secular poets find success, he "breeds not one work that wakes."

I had this discussion with a friend a week or so ago: Why do sinners' ways prosper? Why is it that we who love God suffer, while it seems those who don't care about Him never have to do anything hard?

Oddly enough, I think the answer is in the theology paper I just finished. It was about the sections of the Song of Songs in which the bridegroom hides from the bride. My conclusion was that God hides to make us seek Him, to inflame our desire to find Him, and to lead us out of ourselves. Suffering is a gift God gives us for our purification, while He does not give it to the wicked, for they will not let it purify them.

And in the end, Hopkins wrote many works that wake, while most of his contemporaries are long since forgotten. And on a higher level, he is probably shining like the sun in the kingdom of the Father, thankful now that he spent, sir, life upon His cause.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

To a Louse

by Robert Burns

On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church

Ha! whare ye gaun' ye crowlin ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly;
I canna say but ye strunt rarely
Owre gauze and lace,
Tho faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn'd by saunt an sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her--
Sae fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.

Swith! in some beggar's hauffet squattle;
There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle;
Wi' ither kindred, jumping cattle;
In shoals and nations;
Whare horn nor bane ne'er daur unsettle
Your thick plantations.

Now haud you there! ye're out o' sight,
Below the fatt'rils, snug an tight,
Na, faith ye yet! ye'll no be right,
Till ye've got on it--
The vera tapmost, tow'rin height
O' Miss's bonnet.

My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out,
As plump an grey as onie grozet:
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
Or fell, red smeddum,
I'd gie you sic a hearty dose o't,
Wad dress your droddum!

I wad na been surpris'd to spy
You on an auld wife's flainen toy
Or aiblins some bit duddie boy,
On's wyliecoat;
But Miss's fine Lunardi! fye!
How daur ye do't?

O Jeany, dinna toss your head,
An set your beauties a' abread!
Ye little ken what cursed speed
The blastie's makin!
Thae winks an finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin!

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An foolish notion:
What airs in dress an gait wad lea'es us,
An ev'n devotion!

* * *

To see ourselves as others see us . . . that's something none of us could do, but it would change us a great deal. Perhaps it's a blessing we can't know what others think of us, for we would either come to hate them, or hate ourselves.

And always keep your hats, hairbrushes, and pillowcases to yourselves!

Monday, November 14, 2005

I wake and feel the fell...

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hoürs we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

* * *

This is one of Hopkins's most despairing poems. I fell upon it a few nights ago. It is a poem about night, both literal and symbolic. The speaker wakes at night. The night is long and dark, but the speaker has not spent it sleeping, and will not sleep while awaiting "longer light's delay." The night does not end, though the speaker wishes it to.

The second quatrain shows that the night is spiritual as well as physical; it is not a night of hours but of years. He cries out in anguish, but he does not feel he is heard. The "dearest" one to whom he writes "lives, alas! away." He writes the letters, but they are not answered; the loved one must be far away.

"I am gall; I am heartburn." This line signaling the volta is my favorite. Life is bitter to him -- and not just life, but himself. His sorrow is the very thing he cannot flee, his own flesh and blood. God built him a body, and yet he finds it a curse.

He feels himself to be a souring dough: his spirit is the yeast that turns the whole self sour. This explains how God can have made his body and yet have the body turn to a curse: the speaker's sinful spirit has soured it.

He then sinks to the very depths of misery, comparing himself to the sweating souls in Hell. The torment of the damned consists in having to live with themselves, with their own despicable selves -- but worse. Worse how? I believe in the loss of God, in addition to their own hatred of themselves. And the speaker shares this torment, too, because he feels God is "alas! away." In this poem he explains how he has experienced a taste of Hell, even while living on earth.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

From "In Memoriam"

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Oh yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life will be destroy’d,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell’d in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another gain.

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last – far off – at last to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream; but what am I?
An infant crying in the night;
An infant crying for the light,
And with no language, but a cry.

* * *

This is one of the perennial problems of life: what is suffering worth? We trust it is worth something; even in the depths of sorrow we can trust this, and yet we cannot know what it is worth.

What good can possibly come of this evil? Is it not, instead, my own fault, and not God's will, so that only evil will come of it? And yet, even out of our own sins God can draw forth some lesson for us, some good he intends for us.

Yet, in the moment of suffering, this can be little comfort.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Yfele yer hert me to-teneth
It doeth me rye
Waylaway . . .

Evilly I tore your heart to pieces
And now I deeply regret it
Oh woe . . .

But it ne shall him underfynde
Thus to be shent
Waylaway . . .

But you will not understand
To be deceived in such a shameful way
Oh woe . . .

It in wode by fleme
Evere . . .

You have banished me into the woods
For ever.

* * *

I got this from the libretto of a CD; I have no idea where the original words come from. The translation is doubtful; I don't think it's very exact at all, but not knowing Middle English very well, I don't dare try to mend it.

The song begins saying that the speaker has hurt someone, someone who does not understand. But it ends with the speaker himself suffering.

What this reveals is that it can be much more painful to know we have hurt someone we love than to be hurt ourselves. We can always forgive those who have hurt us, but how can we forgive ourselves? How can we live with the fact that we have injured our friends?

Think of Túrin and Beleg in the Silmarillion. Túrin, I am certain, would a thousand times have rather died than done wrong to his friend. Instead he had to live with the guilt of what he had done forever.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Dies Irae

Dies irae, dies illa
solvet saeclum in favilla:
teste David cum Sibylla.

The day of wrath, that day
which will dissolve the world to ashes,
as testified by David and the Sybil.

Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando judex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!

What terror there will be,
when the judge will come
all drawn together tightly to be shattered!

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
per sepulcra regionum,
coget omnes ante thronum.

The trumpet, scattering a wondrous sound
among the graves of all the lands,
will assemble all before the Throne.

Mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
judicanti responsura.

Death and Nature will be astounded
when they see a creature rise again
to answer to the Judge.

Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur.

The book will be brought forth
in which all deeds are noted,
for which the world will be judged.

Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet apparebit:
nil inultum remanebit.

When the judge will be seated,
all that is hidden will appear,
and nothing will remain unpunished.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus?

What am I, wretched, to say?
To what advocate shall I appeal,
when the just man is barely secure?

Rex tremendae majestatis,
qui salvandos salvas gratis,
salva me fons pietatis.

O king of tremendous majesty,
who freely saves the elect,
save me, O font of piety.

Recordare, Jesu pie,
quod sum causa tuae viae:
ne me perdas illa die.

Remember, merciful Jesus,
that I am the cause of your journey,
do not lose me on that day.

Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
redemisti Crucem passus:
tantus labor non sit cassus.

You wearied yourself in finding me;
you have redeemed me through the cross;
let not such great efforts be in vain.

Juste judex ultionis,
donum fac remissionis
ante diem rationis.

O judge of vengeance, justly
make a gift of your forgiveness
before the day of reckoning.

Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
culpa rubet vultus meus:
supplicanti parce, Deus.

I lament like a guilty one;
my faults cause me to blush;
I beg you, spare me.

Qui Mariam absolvisti,
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti.

You who have absolved Mary,
and have heard the thief's prayer,
have also given hope to me.

Preces meae non sunt dignae:
sed tu bonus fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.

My prayers are not worthy,
but you, O Good One, grant kindly
that I do not burn in the eternal fire.

Inter oves locum praesta,
et ab haedis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.

Give me a place among the sheep,
separate me from the goats,
placing me at your right side.

Confutatis maledictis,
flammis acribus addictis:
voca me cum benedictis.

Having destroyed the accursed,
condemned them to the fierce flames,
call me with the blessed.

Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis:
gere curam mei finis.

I prostrate myself, supplicating,
my heart repentant, like ashes;
take care of my end.

Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla

judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:

That tearful day,
when from the ashes shall rise again
sinful man to be judged.
Therefore pardon him, O God:

pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.

Merciful Lord Jesus,
give them rest. Amen.

* * *

I have of late been troubled a great deal with thoughts of the things in this poem: sin, God's justice, damnation. The hymn is a cry of man fearing his end, yet trusting in God to order it justly. In the end, that is all we can ask: that God is just with us.

Yet He is more than just with us: He is merciful. He absolved Mary Magdalene, He forgave the penitent thief, and He will not forget us in the last day.

On the last day, we will find that we are not worthy of salvation. We have done what we could, but it can never be enough. Even the best action of our lives is still miniscule compared to salvation. Christ lends us the merit that our action do not in themselves deserve, and by His own free gift allows us to be saved.

An atheist mocked my friend and me last week, saying, "I'm going to go to Hell if I die. That shows how merciful your God is."

Oh, if only she knew how merciful our God is! If she would allow Him to save her, He could have mercy on her. Still, God will not save us against our will. In the end, it is still up to us: will we accept the grace Christ has won for us? or will we reject Him, living the life we choose, until it leads us to perdition?

On this All Souls' Day, let us pray for the souls of all who have died. May they stand at God's right hand, among the sheep.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

She Walks in Beauty

by George Gordon, Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

* * *

This poem always brings to mind the faces of some of my most beautiful friends. I greatly admire black hair and light skin. It reminds me of Gondor -- and the Noldor. I can never quite decide which is better: black hair and light skin, with grey eyes; or chestnut hair and brown eyes. I envy people with each.

The important thing about the lady's beauty, though, is not her physical traits, but her heart. A true, innocent soul always lends a sort of beauty to the face it wears. I used to object to the phrase, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" on the grounds that some beautiful people are bad, and some good people are ugly. But this is not true. Even perfectly-featured people, if they are bad, have a sad and empty look in their eyes. And the faces of good people, however asymetrical and marked with so-called flaws, have smiles and sparkling eyes that make them strikingly beautiful. That is the sort of beauty I aspire to: a beauty that cannot be corrupted by age, illness, or injury, but that will always be mine, and will lead me to behold true beauty in heaven.

"Give back beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God." -- Hopkins

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sonnet XXX

by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste;
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long-since-cancelled woe,
And moan th' expense of many a vanished sight;
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.

* * *

The majority of the poem deals with sadness. No new sorrow has come to the speaker; he is only in that sort of mood wherein he calls up everything that makes him sad and weeps over it again.

The only thing that can help one out of a mood like that is the thought of a friend. How can one be sorrowful if one has friends?

Monday, October 10, 2005

In the Balance

by G.K. Chesterton

A poet scrawled upon a page of verse
Wherein a priest and king battled: whose bones
Are grown to grass for eight dead centuries
The words that through the dark and through the day
Rang in my ears.

Even as Becket, graced
By perilous pleasure of the Angevin --
Cried out "Am I the man for the cross of Christ?"
In the vast fane filled with one presence dark
That spoke and shook the stars . . . "Thou art the Man."
So do I stand.

A mitre and a cross!
God's blood! A cross is but a pair of sticks,
A mitre is a fool's cap out of school,
Candles are fireworks -- fling them in the street --
Why should he fear to fill so poor a place?
When I stand up 'neath seven staring heavens,
Naked and arrogant and insolent
And ask for the crown jewels of the Lord

Lord I have been a Waster of the sun
A sleeper on the highways of the world
A garnerer of thistles and of weeds
A hewer of waste wood that no man buys
A lover of things violent, things perverse,
Grotesque and grinning and inscrutable
A savage and a clown -- and there she stands
Straight as the living lily of the Lord.
O thy world-wisdom speak -- am I the man?

Lo: I am man, even the son of man
Thou knowest these things: in my blood's heritage
Is every sin that shrieked in Babylon,
All tales untold and lost that reddened Heaven
In falling fire above the monstrous domes
Of cities damned and done with . . . there she goes
White in the living sunlight on the lawn,
Alive and bearing flowers . . . My God . . . my God,
Am I the man?

Strong keeper of the world,
O King thou knowest man of woman born,
How weak as water and how strong as fire,
Judge Thou O Lord for I am sick of love
And may not judge. . . .

* * *

I simply had to type this poem up out of an anthology (Volume X of Ignatius Press's Collected Works), because I googled it and found that the poem is nowhere online.

This is a continuation of the sentiments expressed in the poem "Joseph": the uncertainty a man must face when he knows he is unworthy, the awe he must feel at the responsibility laid before him, and the desire he has to rise to that responsibility.

The first two stanzas refer to St. Thomas a Becket, who was martyred by Henry II of England. Becket did not think he was worthy enough or strong enough to be a witness for God. In the same way, the speaker feels unequal to the choice set before him.

The next two stanzas deal with the speaker's defects. He lists out all the reasons why he is unworthy. On the other end of the balance -- "there she stands /Straight as the living lily of the Lord."

Just the fact that he is man is enough reason to consider himself unworthy. He has not personally committed every sin, but man's heritage includes every sin imaginable. His imagination turns dark picturing all that evil. Again the vision of the woman comes into play, again balancing the dark vision of sin.

Christ knows the answer: for He is man and knows what is in man, both good and bad. The speaker is too much in love to trust himself, but he trusts Christ to judge the matter for him.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

God's World

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this:
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

* * *

This poem came to my mind while on a walk by the Shenandoah River yesterday. The fall colours are just beginning to tinge the edges of the trees, and that, coupled with a sweet, warm breeze, put me in a mood of being too happy, drinking in so much beauty I thought I would burst.

Oddly enough, Millay is considered a modern poet. However, in this poem at least, she avoids those things that most disgust me about modern poetry. She allows herself to be happy; she writes about God's world instead of man's degraded world; she is not afraid of being slightly archaic; she uses quite an interesting rhyme scheme. The result: a sweet, passionate poem describing the emotions all of us have felt, but "ne'er so well expressed."

Monday, October 03, 2005

Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The fire-fly wakens: waken thou with me.

Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake:
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.

* * *

This is one of those emotional, romantic poems that some people find empty. But, whether it's to someone's personal taste or not, there's more to it than just emotion. It isn't just a blind outpouring of feeling.

For example, there is a specific setting, probably a fictional one. This matches with Tennyson's tendency to use invented people and places in his lyric poetry. It gives a note of nobility to the poem.

There's also an ascendency of images: first, drowsy images, to remind us that it is night. Second, the fireflies bring in the sense of wakefulness. The succeeding metaphors show different aspects of the couple's love. Finally, the last metaphor expresses a hope for union.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

From "Ode to the West Wind"

by Percy Bysshe Shelley


O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem'd a vision; I would ne'er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither'd leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

* * *

I felt the whole poem might be a little long to blog, but it is worth reading, and can be found here.

Fall is here, and with it that strong wind that tears the leaves from off the trees and quickens the hearts of those who hear it. In this poem is a prayer that the energy and inspiration the wind sends might be truly effective. Certainly the wind makes one's heart beat faster, but will it inspire us to song or action? Shelley hopes so.

Yet I find that the wind, alone, is not sufficient inspiration for a life of labour. One must look beyond the wind to the wind's Source to become forceful and beautiful as the wind is. The wind obtains its beauty and power from God; therefore, if we want to have the same, we must obtain it also from God, and not from the wind.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


by G.K. Chesterton

If the stars fell; night's nameless dreams
Of bliss and blasphemy came true,
If skies were green and snow were gold,
And you loved me as I love you;

O long light hands and curled brown hair,
And eyes where sits a naked soul;
Dare I even then draw near and burn
My fingers in the aureole?

Yes, in the one wise foolish hour
God gives this strange strength to a man.
He can demand, though not deserve,
Where ask he cannot, seize he can.

But once the blood's wedding o'er,
Were not dread his, half dark desire,
To see the Christ-child by the cot,
The Virgin Mary by the fire?

* * *

This poem came into my mind during a discussion whether a man can ever be good enough for a lady. The men I know all said No. He can never be worthy. He can only hope that she puts up with him anyway.

I once asked my father if it was important to marry someone equal in virtue. He said, "If that were true, your mom could never have married me." Then he added, "And no woman could find a man good enough."

From my point of view, I don't entirely see it: men don't have the same virtues as we do, but they definitely have virtues. On the other hand, it is enobling for men to treat the woman as so highly superior.

Chesterton gives his attitude here: although he cannot be worthy of the woman, he still must have the courage to claim her anyway.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Three Realities

by G.K. Chesterton

We tattered rhymers of the trade
Work with weak symbols for great power;
We paint a flower and call it Spring,
But Spring is more than any flower.

But ‘mid the feeble names of things
The pallid types of tree and star,
God made three symbols on the earth
That truly mean the thing they are.

The first the circle—endlessness,
God’s compass traced in sun and flower;
The next the cross, the eternal twain
Cross-purposes that make a power.

The third—your face—that single face,
Had I but seen it pictured well
On frescoes older than the gods,
It might have saved my soul from hell.

God made three signs in that mean and are
Alone in all the world, these three;
God made two signs that mean the world,
And one that means the world to me.

* * *

Here is another of Chesterton's touching love poems. He somehow manages to say extreme things with a simple sincerity, so that we know he isn't just flattering.

Chesterton's mind works by symbols. His essays go on and on about the symbolism of the cross or the circle. Yet a face can also be symbol, a symbol for the person, where the person is everything to him.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Dover Beach

by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

* * *

This has always been a favorite of mine, and not just because the poet, according to family tradition, is some sort of distant uncle. It's because I identify so easily with the sentiments expressed. When I stand by the shores of any lake or ocean, this "eternal note of sadness" pulls at me. It is as if I felt the sorrows of everyone in the world, all at once.

The world can be like the ocean: turbulent, cold, unpredictable. One comfort is given: love. When one is not alone on the shore, but with someone else, it is much easier to face life unshaken. "Ah, love, let us be true to one another!" cries the poet. "The world is enormous, frightening, and all is dark. I cannot see what I should do or where I should go. Yet if you were with me, somehow, I feel I can face it."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Epithalmium Argentum

by G.K. Chesterton

I need not say I love you yet:
You know how doth my heart oppress
The intolerable tenderness
That broke my body when we met.
I need not say I love you yet.

But let my say I fear you yet:
You the long years not vulgarise,
You open your immortal eyes
And we for the first time have met.
Cover your face, I fear you yet.

* * *

This poem was going through my head the other day. It shows how Chesterton loved Frances so much that he still honored her mystery. He never was so proud as to say he knew her completely, even after twenty-five years. He maintained that healthy fear, that reverence, for the depths she had that he was still only beginning to understand.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Lady of Shalott

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Part I.

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow-veil'd
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers "'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

Part II.

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
"I am half-sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

Part III.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A redcross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle-bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale-yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse--
Like some bold seër in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance--
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right--
The leaves upon her falling light--
Thro' the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken'd wholly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot;
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
A corse between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross'd themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

* * *

I usually only post short poems -- after all, people read blogs in short bites, not in long sessions -- but in this case I just couldn't resist. "The Lady of Shalott" is a good poem in so many ways: beautiful sound effects, lovely imagery, human emotion, symbolic meaning . . . there is so much to say about this poem.

Beginning with the symbolic meaning, I agree with the interpretation that this poem is about art and life. Art is a mirror. An artist tends to be focused on this mirror, instead of being part of the life it reflects. Some may consider this to be necessary in order to create good art (personally, I don't. Look at Elizabeth Barrett Browning).

The Lady of Shalott is happy, even though she knows nothing but the mirror images of things. "And little other care hath she." She doesn't know what it is like to be part of the world; she's in a tower, separate from it. Yet over the course of the poem, she starts to feel something is lacking: "She hath no loyal knight and true," "'I am half sick of shadows.'"

Then Lancelot comes. She is still, for the most part, content with mirror images until she sees him. And she knows what will happen if she turns to look. But she cannot help but leave her loom in order to see him. Not even to speak with him, but only to see him.

Once she has done this, she has made her choice. She can't go back to her weaving now. I believe this is not usually a choice we have to make in real life: to be utterly separate from the world in order to produce art, or to give up the art forever for the sake of love. Her song, perhaps, could be interpreted as her last piece of "art," and yet she dies making it.

The human emotion in this poem gives us a sense of the choice the Lady of Shalott has made. Lancelot is too much for her to be able to ignore: the description assures us of that. The lady's death also is very emotionally moving.

The closing line shows the hope that still exists for the Lady of Shalott. Lancelot prays, "God in his mercy grant her grace." She has chosen for real things instead of images, for love instead of self-sufficiency, and therefore God is likely to reward her for the choice she made.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

From "In Memoriam"

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand,

A hand that can be clasp'd no more —
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.

He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro' the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.

* * *

This is part of Tennyson's long poem sequence on the death of his best friend, Arthur Hallam. It's always been one of my favorites. As Tennyson always seems to manage to do, the sound is an echo to the sense.

The abba rhyme scheme contributes, I think, to a meditative mood. But my favorite line is, "On the bald street breaks the blank day." The street is bald because there is no friendly face on it. The day is blank because the friend is not there to fill it. And the "b" sound reminds one of breaking. It adds a bitter tone to the speaker's voice.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Isaiah 54

Give praise, O thou barren, that bearest not: sing forth praise, and make a joyful noise, thou that didst not travail with child: for many are the children of the desolate, more than of her that hath a husband, saith the Lord.

Enlarge the place of thy tent, and stretch out the skins of thy tabernacles, spare not: lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes.

For thou shalt pass on to the right hand, and to the left: and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and shall inhabit the desolate cities.

Fear not, for thou shalt not be confounded, nor blush: for thou shalt not be put to shame, because thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt remember no more the reproach of thy widowhood.

For he that made thee shall rule over thee, the Lord of hosts is his name: and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, shall be called the God of all the earth.

For the Lord hath called thee as woman forsaken and mourning in spirit, end se a wife cast off from her youth, said thy God.

For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.

In a moment of indignation have I hid my face a little while from thee, but with everlasting kindness have I had mercy on thee, said the Lord thy Redeemer.

This thing is to me as in the days of Noe, to whom I swore, that I would no more bring in the waters of Noe upon the earth: so have I sworn not to be angry with thee, and not to rebuke thee.

For the mountains shall be moved, and the hills shall tremble; but my mercy shall not depart from thee, and the covenant of my peace shall not be moved: said the Lord that hath mercy on thee.

O poor little one, tossed with tempest, without all comfort, behold I will lay thy stones in order, and will lay thy foundations with sapphires,

And I will make thy bulwarks of jasper: and thy gates of graven stones, and all thy borders of desirable stones.

All thy children shall be taught of the Lord: and great shall be the peace of thy children.

And thou shalt be founded in justice: depart far from oppression, for thou shalt not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near thee.

Behold, an inhabitant shall come, who was not with me, he that was a stranger to thee before, shall be joined to thee.

Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and bringeth forth an instrument for his work, and I have created the killer to destroy.

No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper: and every tongue that resisteth thee in judgment, thou shalt condemn. This is the inheritance of the servants of the Lord, and their justice with me, saith the Lord.

* * *

This prophecy is addressed to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was barren and deserted during the exile, but God would call her children back and make her fruitful again. God reminds His people that no one can destroy except that He has willed it, and no one shall have the power to destroy the new Jerusalem.

"Behold, an inhabitant shall come, who was not with me, he that was a stranger to thee before, shall be joined to thee." -- I take this passage to mean the Gentiles, who were joined together with the Jews to be one flock of the new Jerusalem, the Church.

This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, one which has meant different things to me at different times. "He that made thee shall rule over thee" was in my translation, "For he who has become your husband is your maker," and long ago I took it to mean that I had a vocation to the consecrated life. Later, I read it to a friend, who pointed out all the parts about having children, and said it sounded to her like a call to married life.

Now it only means that, even though I may suffer now, God has a plan to bless me abundantly. If I feel alone, abandoned, rejected, I can be certain that God will come close to me and make me rejoice again. I will even forget the way I felt in the past, forget what it was to be sad. The joys that God has in mind for me will drive out all memory of suffering. "For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee."

Saturday, August 13, 2005


by Robert Browning

Fear death? -- to feel the fog in my throat,
The mist in my face,
When the snows begin, and the blasts denote
I am nearing the place,
The power of the night, the press of the storm,
The post of the foe;
Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form,
Yet the strong man must go:
For the journey is done and the summit attained,
And the barriers fall,
Though a battle's to fight ere the guerdon be gained,
The reward of it all.
I was ever a fighter, so -- one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes, and forbore,
And bade me creep past.
No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers
The heroes of old,
Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears
Of pain, darkness and cold.
For sudden the worse turns the best to the brave,
The black minute's at end,
And the elements' rage, the fiend-voices that rave,
Shall dwindle, shall blend,
Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain,
Then a light, then thy breast,
O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
And with God be the rest! --

* * *

This poem deals with death in a very manly, "tough" way. Death is not something to fear, although it is difficult. Instead, it's a challenge. At the end, when the challenge is over, it becomes tender -- the speaker will see his love again.

The rhythm and meter complement the meaning. It has a fierce sound, almost like someone gasping out the words while running or fighting. It sounds eager. The speaker is eager for death to come so that he can see the fight out to its end.

Friday, August 05, 2005

O Captain! My Captain!

by Walt Whitman

O captain! my captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the stead keel, the vessel grim and daring.
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red!
Where on the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O captain! my captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up! for you the flag is flung, for you the bugle trills:
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths, for you the shores a-crowding:
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning.
O captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck
You've fallen cold and dead.

My captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will.
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done:
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won!
Exult, O shores! and ring, O bells!
But I, with silent tread,
Walk the spot my captain lies
Fallen cold and dead.

* * *

This is the poem I should have posted in honor of Pope John Paul II, except that I didn't think of it back in April. Still, this poem is in honor of him.

This is one of the few poems of Walt Whitman that I can bear at all. I dislike his usual lack of structure and rhyme. This poem shows, however, that he could rhyme if he wanted to. I wish he had tried it more often, because he managed it without making it sound stilted, like so many poets do.

He also uses some nice rhythmic effects: my favorite being, "O heart! heart! heart!" The three stressed syllables in a row sound like heartthrobs. The use of refrains is also effective.

The tragedy of the of the captain is made bittersweet by his ship's victory. The captain succeeded in his mission, even though he gave his life. Yet it is bitter to think that he misses the triumph due him.

The poem originally applied to Abraham Lincoln, who died so soon after ending the Civil War. But I think it applies to our late pontiff. He guided the "bark of Peter" through turbulent seas, and managed to bring it into the new millenium. I am reminded of St. Bosco's dream about popes piloting a ship through the two pillars of Mary and the Eucharist. (A summary of the dream can be found here.)

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Jenny White and Johnny Black

by Eleanor Farjeon

Jenny White and Johnny Black
Went out for a walk.
Jenny found wild strawberries,
And John a lump of chalk.

Jenny White and Johnny Black
Clambered up a hill.
Jenny heard a willow-wren
And John a workman’s drill.

Jenny White and Johnny Black
Wandered by the dyke.
Jenny smelt the meadow-sweet,
And John a motor-bike.

Jenny White and Johnny Black
Turned into a lane.
Jenny saw the moon by day
And Johnny saw a train.

Jenny White and Johnny Black
Walked into a storm.
Each felt for the other’s hand
And found it nice and warm.

* * *

I found this story in a children's book that I was reading aloud at work.

This is a prime example of how easily poetry can reveal universal truths by using the concrete and specific. There is no over-generalization, as is so easy to do in prose, nor is there vague abstraction.

The basic idea is the difference between men and women. Women are interested in the natural, men in the manmade. Women care about what is beautiful, men about what is useful.

Yet in the end, when trouble comes, men and women can turn to each other and find comfort in one another. Their differences do not prevent this; rather, they are a large part of what allows them to complement each other in the wonderful way they do.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

(Maidens’ song from St. Winefred’s Well)


HOW to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, … from vanishing away?
Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankéd wrinkles deep,
Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there ’s none, there ’s none, O no there ’s none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there ’s none; no no no there ’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.


There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air,
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Oné. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever’s prized and passes of us, everything that ’s fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets móre, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace—
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept.—Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—
Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.—Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,

* * *

This is one of my favorite Hopkins poems. It deals with the problem of the vanishing of beauty: the more we try to preserve our appearance, the more it fades away. Curling and straightening of hair, bleaching of freckles, facelifts, in the end all tend to drain the life out of us, and snatch away that elusive quality that shines through our physical appearance to produce true beauty.

This leads to despair for those for whom beauty is an end in itself. And yet there's that old paradox: whoever seeks his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it.

Therefore the secret to everlasting beauty is to keep it from being an ultimate end. True loveliness will come to those who do not seek it.

Yet it is not enough not to seek it, we must give it over to God, and not just replace it with another superficial end. We must focus our thoughts on God.

This will give us two effects: beauty in this world, and beauty in the world to come. In this world, we will gain that inner loveliness that true lovers of beauty will recognize. In the next world, we will gain the highest Beauty of all -- God. Being with Him will make us truly beautiful.

On a side note, this is the poem that inspired Meredith of Basia Me, Catholica Sum to cut off her beautiful hair. She read, "Loose locks, long locks, lovelocks . . ." and then thought, "Locks for Love," and the next thing anyone knew, her hair had gone from below her waist to her shoulders. She's living proof that the poem is right, too, because it hasn't detracted from her attractiveness in the least.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


by William Butler Yeats

"In our time the destiny of man presents its meaning in political terms." --Thomas Mann

How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here's a traveled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there's a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war's alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

* * *

This poem pretty much describes my attitude on politics. I can accept that it's important, and yet I can't seem to fix my attention on it. I am more likely just to trust people who seem like they know what they are talking about. I myself am far more interested in whatever personal matters are on my mind at the time.

The puzzling thing about the poem is the question of the speaker. In the beginning, the speaker describes herself as, "I, that girl standing there." However, in the last two lines, the speaker wishes to be "young again" and be holding a girl. He seems to be an old man, not a young girl.

My conclusion is that there are two speakers. I can't be entirely sure where one leaves off and the other begins, but it seems to me that the only lines spoken by the old man are the last two.

Another possible conclusion is that "that girl standing there" is not really in apposition with "I," but instead is a random thought, a distraction, passing through the speaker's mind. That is not what is suggested by the grammar; still, one must make allowances for the tendency of modern poets to confuse the grammar in their poems, deliberately leaving things unclear.

It seems to me very appropriate, however, for a girl to be saying these lines. She is more interested in people than in ideas. This, it seems to me, is a reason why it took so long for women to gain the vote. A good many of them didn't want it, because they just weren't interested in politics. They preferred to let men they trusted -- their husbands and fathers -- make the decisions for them. I vote only because I think the nation needs all the help it can get to keep from going to pot. I don't enjoy political debates like men seem to.

Yet even a man, when he is in love, as seems to be the case with the speaker in the last two lines, can doubt that "the destiny of man presents its meaning in political terms." To him, the destiny of man is whether or not he gets to hold his love again in his arms. Beside that, politics can pall.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Seafarer, part IV

We all fear God.
He turns the earth,
He set it swinging firmly in space,
Gave life to the world and light to the sky.
Death leaps at the fools who forget their God.
He who lives humbly has angels from Heaven
To carry him courage and strength and belief.
A man must conquer pride, not kill it,
Be firm with his fellows, chaste for himself,
Treat all the world as the world deserves,
With love or with hate but never with harm,
Though an enemy seek to scorch him in hell,
Or set the flames of a funeral pyre
Under his lord. Fate is stronger
And God mightier than any man's mind.
Our thoughts should turn to where our home is,
Consider the ways of coming there,
Then strive for sure permission for us
To rise to that eternal joy,
That life born in the love of God
And the hope of Heaven. Praise the Holy
Grace of Him who honored us,
Eternal, unchanging creator of earth. Amen.

* * *

Finally I manage to finish my series on "The Seafarer."

This section is basically the summary and the moral. The speaker has told us about the ocean, about life, and about death, and now he tells us what we need to do: set our minds on heaven, not on earth. We have to live our lives in a way that will lead us to heaven. It is a struggle. But God is so powerful, the maker of the earth and the source of all things, so that following Him is our natural duty.

It concludes with a short prayer in praise of God the Creator: Praise the Holy Grace of Him who honored us, eternal, unchanging creator of earth.


Friday, July 01, 2005

The Seafarer, part III

Thus the joys of God
Are fervent with life, where life itself
Fades quickly into the earth. The wealth
Of the world neither reaches to Heaven nor remains.
No man has ever faced the dawn
Certain which of Fate's three threats
Would fall: illness, or age, or an enemy's
Sword, snatching the life form his soul.
The praise the living pour on the dead
Flowers from reputation: plant
An earthly life of profit reaped
Even from hatred and rancor, of bravery
Flung in the devil's face, and death
Can only bring you earthly praise
And a song to celebrate a place
With the angels, life eternally blessed
In the hosts of Heaven.

The days are gone
When the kingdoms of earth flourished in glory;
Now there are no rulers, no emperors,
No givers of gold, as once there were,
When wonderful things were worked among them
And they lived in lordly magnificence.
Those powers have vanished, those pleasures are dead.
The weakest survives and the world continues,
Kept spinning by toil. All glory is tarnished.
The world's honor ages and shrinks,
Bent like the men who mold it. Their faces
Blanch as time advances, their beards
Wither and they mourn the memory of friends,
The sons of princes, sown in the dust.
The soul stripped of its flesh knows nothing
Of sweetness or sour, feels no pain,
Bends neither its hand nor its brain. A brother
Opens his palms and pours down gold
On his kinsman's grave, strewing his coffin
With treasures intended for Heaven, but nothing
Golden shakes the wrath of God
For a soul overflowing with sin, and nothing
Hidden on earth rises to Heaven.

* * *

The homiletic tone of the poem begins here. The connection between this half of the poem and the previous half is not clearly expressed. But I think it is implicit that the joys of God are as full of life compared to those of earth as those of the sea are compared to the land. The sea is described in order to explain spiritual things. The sea, as is said earlier in the poem, is something one has to battle with. This is the same with the spiritual life. It is a journey, an exile, a struggle. And yet the soul wants to go, wants to experience the joys of God which are as wonderful and as difficult to attain as the destinations of a long sea voyage. Man has a longing for heaven like the sea-longing which urges at the heart of the seafarer.

There follows a description of the shortcomings of earthly things. Wealth, health, even life are transitory, uncertain things. They can easily be taken away. Prosperity can not only be taken away from a single man, but from the world. The world's glory is departing.

The section about the fading glory of earth reminds me of Tolkien. That makes sense, since Tolkien's expertise was in old poems of this sort. "All glory is tarnished." That, coupled with the idea of sea-longing, could be used as a summary of the thoughts of the Elves in later days.

Between the section about the uncertainty of life and the fading glory of earth is a section about death. There is a fusion of the Christian ideal and the old heroic ideal: one must win heaven, but the focus is not on prayers. The kind of hero that wins a reputation -- the life-after-death of the pagan world -- is the same kind as wins heaven. The qualities necessary are the same: bravery, and the ability to win profit even from the hatred of others.

There is more about death after the part about the world's vanishing honor. Death is still a fearsome foe, robbing the person of the ability to do anything further. And here there is also a distinct split from the heroic ideal: although reputation is won by virtue, which can also win heaven, the mere fact that kinsmen still honor you is no guarantee that you will go to heaven. An honored tomb will not win you God's mercy. Your only hope is in the things you did in your life.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Seafarer, part II

And who could believe, knowing but
The passion of cities, swelled proud with wine
And no taste of misfortune, how often, how wearily,
I put myself back on the paths of the sea.
Night would blacken; it would snow from the north;
Frost bound the earth and hail would fall,
The coldest seeds. And how my heart
Would begin to beat, knowing once more
The salt waves tossing and the towering sea!
The time for journeys would come and my soul
Called me eagerly out, sent me over
The horizon, seeking foreigners' homes.

But there isn't a man on earth so proud,
So born in greatness, so bold with his youth,
Grown so grave, or so graced by God,
That he feels no fear as the sails unfurl,
Wondering what Fate has willed and will do.
No harps ring in his heart, no rewards,
No passion for women, no worldly pleasures,
Nothing, only the ocean's heave;
But longing wraps itself around him.
Orchards blossom, the towns bloom,
Fields grow lovely as the world springs fresh,
And all these admonish that willing mind
Leaping to journeys, always set
In thoughts traveling on a quickening tide.
So summer's sentinel, the cuckoo, sings
In his murmuring voice, and our hearts mourn
As he urges. Who could understand,
In ignorant ease, what we others suffer
As the paths of exile stretch endlessly on?

And yet my heart wanders away,
My soul roams with the sea, the whales'
Home, wandering to the wildest corners
Of the world, returning ravenous with desire,
Flying solitary, screaming, exciting me
To the open ocean, breaking oaths
On the curve of a wave.

* * *

The first part continues the contrast of the previous section between the gentle life of land and the hard life of sea. There is more discussion of cold and weariness. Then the mood shifts with "And how my heart would begin to beat." We see that the speaker is excited by the sea as well. The cold and danger only challenge him to continue. The exhilaration of the tossing waves and the thrill of going where he has never gone make him go to sea once again.

The next part is about the dangers of the sea, enough to humble any man on earth and make him afraid. A man who wishes to court the sea must leave, temporarily at least, any desire for rewards or pleasure. Spring comes on land, lovely and fresh, but the coming of spring also means it is time again for journeys. The song of springtime birds call the seafarer, not to enjoy the blooming earth, but to return once again to the exile that is his life.

But the last part contrasts with the thought of exile. The seafarer wants to go. When he is not at sea, he dreams of it. His heart is always at sea, exploring it, roaming with the whales among the waves.

I don't understand the lines "breaking oaths / On the curve of a wave." I'll have to look up the original and see if it makes things clearer. Can anyone guess what it might be referring to?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Seafarer, part I

Anonymous, translated from Anglo-Saxon

This tale is true, and mine. It tells
How the sea took me, swept me back
And forth in sorrow and fear and pain,
Showed me suffering in a hundred ships,
In a thousand ports, and in me. It tells
Of smashing surf when I sweated in the cold
Of an anxious watch, perched in the bow
As it dashed under cliffs. My feet were cast
In icy bands, bound with frost,
With frozen chains, and hardship groaned
Around my heart. Hunger tore
At my sea-weary soul. No man sheltered
On the quiet fairness of earth can feel
How wretched I was, drifting through winter
On an ice-cold sea, whirled in sorrow,
Alone in a world blown clear of love,
Hung with icicles. The hailstorms flew.
The only sound was the roaring sea,
The freezing waves. The song of the swan
Might serve for pleasure, the cry of the sea-fowl,
The death-noise of birds instead of laughter,
The mewing of gulls instead of mead.
Storms beat on the rocky cliffs and were echoed
By ice-feathered terns and the eagles screams;
No kinsman could offer comfort there,
To a soul left drowning in desolation.

* * *

I know this is probably not the best translation available, but it's the one I learned in school. I liked it so well I've memorized close to half of the whole poem (so far).

I am going to post the whole poem, hopefully, spread out over my next few posts.

The first part of the poem is very simple: it deals with the desolation of the sea. This is no romanticized poem about sailing. It is about "sorrow and fear and pain." The ocean is cold; it is unsympathetic. One who sails must go hungry, be lonely, endure the cold. There is nothing comforting here, only the crying of birds.

The speaker knows this: "This tale is true, and mine." He has experienced the suffering the sea has inflicted on him. He is not so much complaining as pointing out, "This is how it is. Take it from me, it's not easy."

Saturday, June 18, 2005

from Brideshead Revisited

by Evelyn Waugh

I am attempting the impossible; to give a significant excerpt of a novel without spoiling it. Thus I have omitted the names. Still, if you mean to read this book and don't want it spoiled, I suggest you skip at least my commentary, and perhaps the whole post.

A summary is this: the main speaker, in rediscovering her faith, has realized that she can't go through with her planned marriage to the other speaker, because it is against Church law. The other speaker has no faith.

'Oh, my dear, if you could only understand. Then I could bear to part, or bear it better. I should say my heart was breaking, if I believed in broken hearts. I can't marry you . . . I can't be with you ever again.'

. . .

'What will you do?'

'Just go on -- alone. How can I tell what I shall do? You know the whole of me. You know I'm not one for a life of mourning. I've always been bad. Probably I shall be bad again, punished again. But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can't shut myself out from his mercy. That is what it would mean; starting a life with you, without him. One can only hope to see one step ahead. But I saw today there was one thing unforgivable -- like things in the school-room, so bad they were unpunishable, that only mummy could deal with -- the bad thing I was on the point of doing, that I'm not quite bad enough to do; to set up a rival good to God's. Why should I be allowed to understand this, and not you . . . ? It may be because of mummy, nanny . . . keeping my name in their prayers; or it may be a private bargain between me and God, that if I give up this one thing I want so much, however bad I am, he won't quite despair of me in the end.

'Now we shall both be alone, and I shall have no way of making you understand.'

'I don't want to make it easier for you,' I said; 'I hope your heart may break, but I do understand.'

* * *

It was this scene, and a few others, which made this book so extremely worth reading. To find a book this good, and simultaneously this Catholic, seemed nearly miraculous. And it also happened to be exactly what I needed at the moment I read it.

This dialogue carries one of the most important ideas in the book: God is more important than anything, even more important than being with the one you love. Secular books have to let the characters get married, or else it's a tragedy. This book shows that being able to give up one of the best human things possible is not a tragedy -- it's a triumph. It's a sacrifice; it hurts very much, but it is worth it.

Because what is worth more than God? If one was to possess God and nothing else in the world, he would have everything. With everything else in the world, and without God, he has nothing.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


by C.S. Lewis

No; the world will not break,
Time will not stop.
Do not for the dregs mistake
The first bitter drop.

When first the collar galls
Tired horses know
Stable's not near. Still falls
The whip. There's far to go.

* * *

I can't quite figure out C.S. Lewis. Some of his poems are pessimistic, like the one above. Others are wry and funny, like this one:

"Lady, a better sculptor far
Chiselled those curves you smudge and mar,
And God did more than lipstick can
To justify your mouth to man."

Either way, he has a plain-spoken style not diluted in the least by his sharp metaphors. His subjects deal a lot with classical themes, but sometimes he talks about futuristic ones. He is a modern, as Tolkien, though chronologically modern, was not. (He has some modern traits, but in a way, he was living in the middle ages, still. It's one of the things I like about Tolkien.)

This poem deals with suffering far more pessimistically than Hopkins did in one of his sonnets: "Let me be fell; force I must be brief." Lewis doesn't see why if suffering is fell, it must be brief. He gives no comfort, only a reminder that things will yet get worse.

But in a way, he's very much right. It's not at 4:45 I think I can go on at work no longer. It's at 1:00, when I still have four hours ahead of me. And yet somehow I do.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

On this day I complete my thirty-sixth year

by George Gordon, Lord Byron

’TIS time this heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!

The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze—
A funeral pile.

The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love, I cannot share,
But wear the chain.

But ’tis not thus—and ’tis not here—
Such thoughts should shake my soul, nor now,
Where glory decks the hero’s bier,
Or binds his brow.

The sword, the banner, and the field,
Glory and Greece, around me see!
The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
Was not more free.

Awake! (not Greece—she is awake!)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
And then strike home!

Tread those reviving passions down,
Unworthy manhood!—unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
Of beauty be.

If thou regret’st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here:—up to the field, and give
Away thy breath!

Seek out—less often sought than found—
A soldier’s grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.

(At Missolonghi, January 22, 1824)

* * *

First Byron laments that now that he is old, he is no longer loved. His loves were not of a kind that lasted, and so although he still appreciates beauty, he has none himself, and so is not loved.

Then he reproaches himself for still caring about love. He should be caring about glory, he says. Death in battle will be the only cure for his strong feelings.

Interestingly enough, he died soon after writing this poem, carried away by sickness while fighting in Greece.

I'm not quite sure if he was trying to be funny in the line, "Not Greece--she is awake!" It's his style of humor, but it's a serious poem. Probably after all his funny poetry, he couldn't think of a rhyme that wasn't a little odd -- his sense of humor indulges greatly in odd rhymes.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Lanquan li jorn

by Jaufré Rudel

Lanquan li jorn son lonc en may
M’es belhs dous chans d’auzelhs de lonh,
Et quan mi suy partitz de lay
Remembra.m d’un’ amor de lonh:
Vau de talan embroncx e clis
Si que chans ni flors d’albespis
No.m platz plus que l’yverns gelatz.

(During May, when the days are long,
I admire the song of the birds from far away
and when I have gone away from there
I remember a love far away.
I go scowling, with my head down
so much that songs and hawthorn flowers
aren't better, to me, than the frozen Winter.)

Be tenc lo senhor per veray
Per qu’ieu veirai l’amor de lonh;
Mas per un ben que m’en eschay
N’ai dos mals, quar tant m’es de lonh.
Ai! car me fos lai pelegris,
Si que mos fustz e mos tapis
Fos pels sieus belhs huelhs remiratz!

(I trust the Lord's fairness
in having formed this faraway love,
but for each consolation I achieve
I get two ills, because I am so far away.
Ah! Why didn't I go there as a pilgrim,
so that my staff and hooded cloak
would be beheld by her beautiful eyes!)

Be.m parra joys quan li querray,
Per amor Dieu, l’aberc de lonh:
E, s’a lieys platz, alberguarai
Pres de lieys, si be.m suy de lonh:
Adonc parra.l parlamens fis
Quan drutz lonhdas er tan vezis
Qu’ab bels digz jauzira solatz.

(It will certainly feel like joy when I ask her,
for the love of God, [the lodging-place far away];
and, if she likes it, I shall lodge
near her, although I come from far away.
Conversation is so pleasant
when the faraway lover is so close
that he would long to be welcome with kind intentions.)

*Translation (slightly altered) from here.

* * *

I dedicate this troubadour song to Meredith of Basia Me, Catholica Sum, to whom I've sung it at least once, I think. (If your mother could get me a better translation, I'd be forever indebted.)

According to the story, Rudel never saw the lady, who was the Countess of Tripoli, but he fell in love with her just from hearing about her loveliness.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


A picture is worth a thousand words, and the words these pictures are worth form a poem. I can't write the poem, but here are the pictures, taken in the evenings I spent at a cabin on Lake Wenatchee over Memorial Day weekend.

A calm evening

The evening after a violent storm

As the Ruin Falls

by C.S. Lewis

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love--a scholar's parrot may talk Greek--
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

* * *

I wouldn't have known, from the Narnia books, how very pessimistic Lewis can be. He has many poems like this, that in their plain-spoken way are more despairing than Hopkins.

And yet, he's right, you know. Anyone who has loved knows that they have never really loved. When one tries loving, he tries loving better. And when he does this, he sees the way love ought to be: completely selfless. Yet being human, he never pulls up his love to this level.

The fact that he struggles to perfect his love is in itself a good thing. But it causes a great deal of suffering to know that it will never be perfect.

Worst of all is when the love bears no fruit. It is clear from "the bridge is breaking" and "the ruin falls" that this love did not work somehow. The speaker blames himself because his love was not perfect. Yet even as this suffering pains him, he realizes it is teaching him something.

Friday, May 27, 2005

To Charles Williams

by C.S. Lewis

Your death blows a strange bugle call, friend, and all is hard
To see plainly or record truly. The new light imposes change,
Re-adjusts all a life-landscape as it thrusts down its probe from the sky,
To create shadows, to reveal waters, to erect hills and deepen glens.
The slant alters. I can't see the old contours. It's a larger world
Than I once thought it. I wince, caught in the bleak air that blows on the ridge.
Is it the first sting of a great winter, the world-waning? Or the cold air of spring?

A hard question and worth talking a whole night on. But with whom?
Of whom now can I ask guidance? With what friend concerning your death
Is it worth while to exchange thoughts unless--oh, unless it were you?

* * *

A beautiful poem on the death of a close friend. Lewis's poetry can be hard to understand sometimes, but this poem is very sharp and sweet.

The first section of the poem expresses the speaker's confusion. He doesn't know how to face his friend's death. Everything is different now. The land has not changed, but the light has changed and turned the land to an unfamiliar landscape. There is a chill in the air--is it winter, or just a spring chill? He can't get the perspective to be able to tell.

The last three lines, however, are the really moving part. The speaker wants to talk to someone about what he's going through. But the only one he could have told is the one person he can't talk to anymore. It's contradictory, but a paradox we all have to deal with at some point in our lives.

I think Charles Williams, by the way, was an Inkling. Does anyone know anything else about him?