Thursday, April 28, 2005


by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge

I tossed my friend a wreath of roses, wet
With early dew, the garland of the morn.
He lifted it--and on his brow he set
A crackling crown of thorn.

Against my foe I hurled a murderous dart.
He caught it in his hand--I heard him laugh--
I saw the thing that should have pierced his heart
Turn to a golden staff.

* * *

This is so true. The people we most love and want to help, we so often end up hurting. Of course, that makes sense: people can only be hurt by the people they love. We care about those we love, and so if they hurt themselves, we take a share of the pain of seeing them suffer.

This is why I have concluded that the more someone is willing to hear me complain, the less I should do it: because if they care about my problems, they will probably end up caring too much, and they'll worry about me. Even if they don't consciously worry, I'll end up getting them down.

Can anyone tell me a way I can suffer without making everyone who loves me suffer too?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Another Sort of Woman

by G.K. Chesterton, in a letter to his wife Frances

There are two broad classes of women a man comes across. The first are the "outdoor" women, people . . . who whould remain outdoor if they were locked in the Black Hole of Calcutta. They are made physically as sisters of the Sun and Wind, they develop all the virtues that are the children of Fresh Air: humour, courage, self-reliance, Faith, Hope and Charity. They are very jolly people; for their virtues are easy to them.

The second class are the "delicate" women, who cannot bear loud voices and live behind drawn blinds. They are mostly concerned with their own souls and the people who have not called on them. They are either church people and live in South Kensington or Theosophists and live in West Kensington. They are sometimes very silly people, particularly if they have a little money: their very affections, though deep and pathetic, have a tendency to stagnate into bitterness and poison. But a man who should be rude or cold or satiric about them would be a brute. They have much to bear, pains borne in silence and loneliness, when every day is like the last, pains which, real or unreal, organic or nervous, are equally painful. They have physical troubles which I have not, therefore I should be a cur not to respect them. And to their dusty old failures and disappointments, to their fantastic illnesses and needless aversions,--yes, even their microscopic vanities and grievances, I for one would always take off my hat. Lord, as the ancient writer said, count unto them their tears.

And lastly, outside both of these classes a man may happen to come upon another sort of woman--if he does he will probably be a higher and humbler man for ever.

A woman who, fated physically to have the virtues of the weaker woman, has rebelled and taken the virtues of the stronger--a woman whom Nature, making war, has been unable to defeat, whose body may be in the sickroom but whose soul is in the playground, who has a heart so great that she can hate the privileges of her calamity and the excuses of her depression: who spurns the philosophy that would justify and smooth her down and elects the philosophy that can only knock her about: who would rather conceal her disadvantages and be third in the free race for life, than first in a paradise of poetic egoism: a woman who, to add one last supreme tocuh, shall have even the faults of a tougher physical type, and while she suffers inwardly from the collapses and clouding pains that make other women pessimists, shall be challenged and rebuked outwardly for her too dogmatic cheerfulness, her too cloudless philosophy, her too arrogant faith.

If one had ever met it in a hotel that would have been a valiant and splendid figure. To me it is simply you. Even you will, I fancy, admit it is something like your ideal for yourself: isn't it, dearest?

And now you want to spoil it all by having a lot of beastly, fat, physical health. And the worst of it is that I am quite inconsistent and want it for you too, for I can't bear you to have three minutes discomfort--which is a medieval superstition and a jolly fine thing. But it is perfectly true, as I say, that you could never have been the influence you are, never have given the object lesson you do of the great soul that conceals its wounds that it may serve in the battle, if those wounds did not exist. Oh you dear, dear, discontented saint--don't you see that we do want something to love and adore and go on our knees to, something that really shows that courage is not a bundle of nerves--nor optimism a good breakfast. Won't you be patient on the chilly pedestal, for a little while? We are selfish--but you are not. No, by the sun and moon and all the stars--

--You are not--

All of which, I am afraid, doesn't alter the fact that if by taking up the carving-knife now lying beside me and cutting off my right hand with my left, I could guarantee you perfect health for lilfe, I would do it and whistle all the time. But then, you see, that is a man talking about his dear, true-hearted and beautiful girl whose face gets into his dreams: as a philosopher, speaking of the social influence of a good woman, I am sure the world has reason to bless your bad health.

I do not think, brave heart, that I could praise you better than by writing this odd letter. There are not many women in whose case, when a man has to comfort them in sickness, it would occur to him to point out the good they were doing to the world, as any comfort at all. But to you I know it is a comfort . . .

* * *

I didn't mean to put this whole thing up--but when I started to type, I simply couldn't bear cutting any out. Chesterton is just so clear and so brightly coloured, if you know what I mean. If there is one author who speaks straight to my heart, it's him.

The "other sort of woman" is my ideal for myself too. When I'm not feeling well I start getting small-minded, like the indoor woman. But Frances, he says, could keep her large heart even in a small room. I wish I could be like that.

But there's no better encouragement than this letter. I want to be a "brave heart," a "great soul that conceals its wounds that it may fight in the battle." Why should I let a momentary indisposition keep me from the "free race for life"? I become pessimistic with a little pain: but I could stay optimistic through everything. What is optimism worth if it's only when things are going well?

If Frances could be that kind of woman, I have no excuse not to.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Habemus Papam!

I wasn't able to find a poem for this, but I didn't want to neglect posting on it. We have a Pope at last! I am very excited and optimistic for his papacy.

Long live Pope Benedict XVI! May God bless him with a fruitful reign.

I think I shall post the details of how the celebrations were at Christendom on Fiddleback.

Tu es Petrus, et super hanc Petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam . . .

Monday, April 18, 2005


by Gerard Manley Hopkins

This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

* * *

Now I'm no environmentalist, not in the modern sense of the term. Yet at the same time, I am a tree-hugger, in the very literal sense. (Don't laugh!) I just love nature so much. And it makes me mad when people randomly cut down trees.

Nature is for man's enjoyment--so I don't advocate walled-off nature preserves no one can go to--but we ought actually to enjoy it. Not just by building little gardens and taming wildlife, either. I like weeds. Weedy greenbelts and backwoods trails are real nature, and you can learn more about the world and about man from a good wander in the woods than hours of reading Aristotle.

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Starlight Night

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

LOOK at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!—
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.

Buy then! bid then!—What?—Prayer, patience, aims, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.

* * *

This is the ideal poem to recite while walking back from the chapel beneath the stars, prayerbook in hand and dewy grass on bare feet . . . one of my favourite things to do.

The images here are so bright, so brilliant: fire-folk, elves' eyes, diamond mines, white flowers in springtime--images piled up one after the other so fast you can barely breathe between them.

The sestet is more confusing, and I'm not quite sure I understand it. But I think that the stars are compared to a great treasure, bought with prayer, stored up like shocked wheat in a barn. Then it seems the stars are the barn, the fence (paling) that holds heaven behind it. Think of the stars as a lattice, barely obscuring the glories of heaven.

Go out! Look at the stars! Isn't it true?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Tears, Idle Tears

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (from The Princess)

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ay, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awaken'd birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remember'd kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign'd
On lips that are for others: deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more.

* * *

This is one of my favourite poems. It seems that Tennyson was able to understand exactly the feelings that I've had so many times. Tears fall, but "I know not what they mean." I know what it's like, but I don't know what it is. And I certainly couldn't tell why I'm upset.

It's just a sad, melancholy feeling, that sometimes resembles sadness only "as the mist resembles the rain," and sometimes is a tumult of emotion. Maybe it's too much listening to "the still, sad music of humanity."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Windhover

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dáwn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rólling level úndernéath him steady áir, & stríding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl & gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, -- the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty & valour & act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wónder of it: shéer plód makes plóugh down síllion
Shine, & blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gáll themsélves, & gásh góld-vermílion.

* * *

I really wish I could explain all of this poem. There's a lot of it I don't understand, or can't express.

The octave is all about the windhover and the way it flies. Anyone who has ever watched a bird soaring in the wind can identify with this. The ecstasy of the flight is brought about, not by the bird alone, but by the bird's struggle with the wind. The clashing together and conflict of the wind ends up being harnessed by the windhover's mastery into smooth grace, like the grace of a skater.

In the same way, as expressed in the sestet, Christ harnesses the outside pressures of His life on earth, His passion, to manifest His own mastery. Hopkins's outburst of emotion about "the fire that breaks from thee" shows his wonder and amazement about that mastery.

The last three lines are more examples of suffering manifesting the glory hidden within things: a sillion (the ridge between furrows) shining because of the difficult passage of the plough through it, and coals breaking open as they fall to reveal their glowing interior.

That last image especially reminds us of Christ's wounds, which do not only show His humanity, but also His immense strength, to be able to bear that suffering for us.

Hopkins has this way with him of showing the true meaning and power of suffering without actually telling what it is. "The Wreck of the Deutschland" is a prime example of this. Perhaps I'll blog that someday.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

from "Song of the Inexhaustible Sun"

by Karol Wojtyla

Forgive my thought, Lord, for not loving enough.
My love is so mind-manacled, forgive that, Lord;
it subtracts You from thought, leaving it cool as a stream,
where you want an embrace of fire.

But accept, Lord, the wonder that leaps from my heart --
as a brook leaps up from its source --
a sign that heat may yet burn.
So, Lord, do not spurn
even that cool wonderment.
One day You will nourish it with a burning stone:
a flame in my mouth.

Oh, do not spurn this wonder of mine, Lord,
which to You is nothing; You are Entire
in Yourself,
but for me now this is all,
a stream that tears at the shore
in muted motion,
before it can declare its yearning
to the measureless oceans.

* * *

I wish I could explain this poem. It seems to me that the Holy Father is humbler than he has to be. If his love wasn't enough, what is mine? Nothing. But this prayer could work for me: my love is cool where it should be hot. There's only a little something there, not enough.

This shows us a side of him we didn't see much. We saw what he did, but this gives us a little glimpse, I think, into his heart. Deep down, he practised more than he preached--he prayed more even than he acted.

Eternal rest grant unto him, Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.


This is my apology for not posting anything about Terri Schiavo's death, or the Pope's. I knew I should--but in Terri's case, I couldn't find a poem to express the hope I have for her, and the anger, shame, and disappointment at the nation that allowed her to be killed. As for the Holy Father, I hope to find a poem of his and put it up soon.

I ask your forgiveness, Constant Reader, and your prayers for these two souls.