Sunday, March 27, 2005

Am I a stone

by Christina Rossetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood's slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon--
I, only I.

Yet give not o'er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

* * *

Christina Rossetti was afflicted with paralysis of the face. It set her face quite literally like flint, so that she could not show facial expressions. This probably inspired the poem.

I feel quite a lot like that, though. It seems I can cry for pain, for sorrow, for homesickness, for disappointment, for any number of things, but I cannot cry at the only thing worth crying for: Christ's suffering.

I was thinking last night, as I tore myself away from the Altar of Repose so as to get home in time, about the time I spend praying. When I was younger, I had loads of time to pray. I even thought it was too much. At boarding school, on Holy Thursday, we had one holy hour together, and everyone got another half-hour in the night, going in shifts. I finally learned to appreciate it the last year I did it.

Now, I want to pray. I am eager to--I wish I had three hours. But now I have no time. I suppose God just gave me the time I had before to teach me how to pray and how to love to pray, and now that I have learned to love to pray, I will make time to pray whenever I can.

Friday, March 25, 2005

O Beautiful Cross!

by Fr. Marcial Maciel (translated from the Spanish)

O blessed Cross, that you, Lord have given me!
With her on my shoulders
I walk the days of my exile,
through the sorrowful way of my great suffering.
And with my head upon her I sleep
in the black nights of the solitude of my pain.
O Cross! my inseparable companion
during these sweet years of my suffering for God!

First I suffered you with patience.
Later I carried you with joy.
Today I embrace you with love . . .

O beautiful cross!
You brought yourself so far down
and nailed yourself to my body;
you have taken me to the greatest depth of my soul . . .
Is it possible that someday you could be separated from me?
And when you leave me, O my cross!
how could I live without you?

Thank you Lord,
because you have given me the cross.
And the cross you have given me
is already upon my shoulders.
And I want to follow you below this weight
in order to be worthy of you,
for the spirit is strong
but the flesh is weak.
But you know, Lord,
that everything is possible for him who believes;
and I trust that you will not deny me
the strength that I need
in order not to weaken in following your path.

* * *

This is one of many beautiful Spanish poems written by Fr. Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi. I don't have an official copy or an official translation: I memorized it years ago and wrote it down in my journal before forgetting it again. But I dug it out for Good Friday, because it's so appropriate.

Fr. Maciel, for many years, suffered from extreme headaches. It became very hard for him to continue with his work as the General Director of the Legion. One time, in a meeting, his secretary began to realize that he was in pain, and started to whisper, "Hadn't you better go rest?" Fr. Maciel kept answering, "Two minutes more . . . two minutes more." He kept saying this every time his secretary asked, until the meeting was over. His work for Christ was far too important for him to call off because of his own personal suffering, but the only way he could get through it was to take it two minutes at a time.

This is such an enormous example for me. Yesterday I had a bad headache, and I kept using it as an excuse for everything I did wrong. I was cross with my three-year-old brother, and I thought to myself, "Well, I have a headache. It's not my fault." But then I realized that Joseph doesn't understand. He doesn't know what jet lag is. He doesn't understand what it means to have to adjust so quickly from college life to home life. Hopefully he has no idea what a headache is. All he knows is that his favourite sister is home, and he has been looking forward so much to playing with her. And how could I disappoint him by being so impatient?

The crosses God gives me, here and there, can be an occasion for me to show my own weakness (as I did yesterday), or an occasion for great grace and growth in holiness. If I accept my little crosses, I could become so much more like Christ, who carried a big cross.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Moment

by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge

The clouds had made a crimson crown
About the mountains high.
The stormy sun was going down
In a stormy sky.

Why did you let your eyes so rest on me,
And hold your breath between?
In all the ages this can never be
As if it had not been.

* * *

This poet was an Englishwoman who lived from 1861-1907. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was her great-great-uncle. I'm afraid that's all I know about her--I found the poem in an anthology.

But isn't it a great poem--at least in terms of meaning? (I do admit it doesn't always scan evenly.) It's just a beautiful description of how a moment can last, in a sense, forever. We can never forget--particularly, I think, we women. People might tell us to forget, that one moment doesn't matter, that it can be as if it never happened . . . but that is not possible. Even the sad memories must be remembered. But if we learn wisdom from them as we look back on them, even the sad memories can be good to remember.

This poem, however, is about a happy moment, I think. Even if whoever it was who looked at her that way never looked at her again, I think it would still be a valuable moment to remember. "Once I was something to someone . . ." A moment like that is one to keep, to fold up in with the linens in an old chest, to hide away in the attic, and to take out on a winter afternoon spent looking over one's treasures. Maybe there is a drop of bitterness in thinking of it--but I think more sweetness.

All right, there I go sentimental again. Sorry, Constant Reader.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Holy Sonnet

by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

* * *

This poem makes me think of Terri Schiavo. (Some people might use this poem's theme as a reason to "let her die." But I think if you could ask Donne, he would be as righteously indignant as I am about the whole thing.) I guess everything makes me think of her these days. I think I'm done ranting now--Friday night I stormed around tearing my hair and raving to my roommate about injustice and corrupt courts and moral justification of shooting idiotic judges--but I think I'm calm now.

I don't know how anyone can think Terri is a vegetable. She can react to her surroundings by her expressions, and she tries to speak. In fact, she cried when she heard they were going to take her feeding tube out, and tried to speak. People in worse states than hers have recovered (see this article by another Christendom student).

I think part of the reason so many people are so eager to have her feeding tube removed is because it opens the way for them to deal with their own elderly and disabled relatives the same way. But for the same reason, everyone should take care that Terri is cared for, because they don't know when they might end up in the same situation.

All right, enough of my ranting. But all my readers who pray (hopefully that's all of you!), pray for Terri. Pray first that she should be allowed to live, and if not, that she be spared some of the great suffering a death by starvation and dehydration entails.

More info about Terri

Friday, March 18, 2005

Home thoughts, from abroad

by Robert Browning

O, TO be in England
Now that April 's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That 's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

* * *

Yes, I know how Browning feels. There is one place for each person where they are happier than they could be anywhere else. I love my home because it's beautiful--but also because it's my home.

But even here spring is showing its first signs. It's still not quite flowery, but there are few little yellow flowers in a couple places, and the trees are budding, if you look closely. And today has been sunny, warm, and bright, with a breeze from the south. (Although last time it did that, it snowed three days later.)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Foggy Dew

by Father Charles O'Neill

'Twas down the glen one Easter morn
To a city fair rode I.
When Ireland's line of marching men
In squadrons passed me by.
No pipe did hum, no battle drum
Did sound its dread tattoo,
But the Angelus bell o'er the Liffey's swell
Rang out in the foggy dew.

Right proudly high over Dublin town
They flung out a flag of war.
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky
Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar.
And from the plains of Royal Meath
Strong men came hurrying through;
While Britannia's Huns with their long-range guns
Sailed in through the foggy dew.

Oh, the night fell black and the rifles crack
Made Perfidious Albion reel
'Mid the leaden rail, seven tongues of flame
Did shine o'er the lines of steel.
By each shining blade, a prayer was said
That to Ireland her sons be true
And when morning broke, still the war flag shook
Out its fold in the Foggy Dew.

'Twas England bade our Wild Geese go
That small nations might be free
But their lonely graves are by Suvla's waves
Or the fringe of the grey North Sea
Oh had they died by Pearse's side,
Or had fought with Cathal Brugha
Their graves we'd keep where the Fenians sleep,
'Neath the shroud of the Foggy Dew.

But the bravest fell, and the requiem bell
Rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide
In the springing of the year;
And the world did gaze, with deep amaze,
At those fearless men and true
Who bore the fight that freedom's light
Might shine through the Foggy Dew.

Ah, back through the glen I rode again,
And my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men
Whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go
And I'd kneel and pray for you
For slavery fed, for freedom dead,
When you fell in the Foggy Dew.

* * *

This is in honour of all Irish everywhere. Erin go bragh!

P. S. This is the version my Irish friends sing. I have not been able to find this exact version anywhere else.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A Confession

by C. S. Lewis

I am so coarse, the things the poets see
Are obstinately invisible to me.
For twenty years I've stared my level best
To see if evening--any evening--would suggest
A patient etherized upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn't able.
To me each evening looked far more
LIke the departure from a silent, yet a crowded, shore
Of a ship whose freight was everything, leaving behind
Gracefully, finally, without farewells, marooned mankind.

Red dawn behind a hedgerow in the east
Never, for me, resembled in the least
A chilblain on a cocktail-shaker's nose;
Waterfalls don't remind me of torn underclothes,
Nor glaciers of tin-cans. I've never known
The moon look like a hump-backed crone--
Rather, a prodigy, even now
Not naturalized, a riddle glaring from the Cyclops' brow
Of the cold world, reminding me on what a place
I crawl and cling, a planet with no bulwarks, out in space.

Never the white sun of the wintriest day
Struck me as un crachat d'estaminet.
I'm like that odd man Wordsworth knew, to whom
A primrose was a yellow primrose, one whose doom
Keeps him forever in the list of dunces,
Compelled to live on stock responses,
Making the poor best that I can
Of dull things . . . peacocks, honey, the Great Wall, Aldebaran,
Silver weirs, new-cut grass, wave on the beach, hard gem,
The shapes of horse and woman, Athens, Troy, Jerusalem.

* * *

I just love Lewis's criticism of modern poetry in this poem. I can't stand those people who seem to think you can't be a poet nowadays unless you're a pessimist and write about ugly things. That's the way the modern poets write (I can't think why) but we don't have to write like that. Someone once told me my poetry wasn't poetic because it was easy to understand. Well, I can think of many reasons why my poetry isn't poetic, but that's not one of them. Apparently you have to write like "The Locust Tree in Blossom" to be a modern poet. Grr! It's the new thing to be ugly, in poetry as well as in music, art, and just about everything else.

Although it is interesting how Lewis's own metaphors are also pessimistic ones: a ship leaving shore, the earth floating in space. Still, although they are sad, they are at least beautiful. It's true, pointing out the ugly has its place . . . but beautiful poetry refreshes the soul, and we need more of it.

P.S. If anyone knows what the French in this poem means, tell me!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Sonnets from the Portuguese XXXVI

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

When we met first and loved, I did not build
Upon the event with marble. Could it mean
To last, a love set pendulous between
Sorrow and sorrow? Nay, I rather thrilled,
Distrusting every light that seemed to gild
The onward path, and feared to over-lean
A finger even. And, though I have grown serene
And strong since then, I think that God has willed
A still renewable fear . . . O love, O troth . . .
Lest these enclasped hands should never hold,
This mutual kiss drop down bewteen us both
As an unowned thing, once the lips being cold.
And Love, be false! if he, to keep one oath
Must lose one joy, by his life's star foretold.

* * *

This is another of those lovely sonnets. Like the one I posted before, it shows Browning's fear that her husband's love for her might not last. However, this one is more about how their relationship as a whole might not last. Maybe, she thinks, it never was meant to be. And if it isn't meant to be, they should both forget everything, pretend it never was. As she adds in the last two lines, she doesn't even want their love to last, if it should take any of Robert's happiness away.

And that's true love, isn't it? to want the other's happiness more even than we want to be with them. The Brownings' true love paid off, though: because they were willing even to sacrifice their relationship to each other's happiness, they got the relationship and both of their happiness. It seems we can never truly enjoy a secondary good unless we have let it go and put the higher good in its place. (The same old paradox: He wishes to save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life will find it.) If we have the highest good, lower goods will follow, but if we set our sights on a lower good, we may lose all. The highest love, good for the other, must be placed first.

How many people forget this nowadays. We imagine that our love is measured by how intensely we want to be with the other person. We forget that although this can be good, even more important is how much we put the other's good above our own.

This is one of the reasons I love poetry so much: it says such deep things in such a crystalized form. If the themes in the poem are true, they seem to ennoble our heart without our even trying.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Swallow, Swallow

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (from The Princess)

O Swallow, Swallow, flying, flying South,
Fly to her, and fall upon her gilded eaves,
And tell her, tell her, what I tell to thee.

O tell her, Swallow, thou that knowest each,
That bright and fierce and fickle is the South,
And dark and true and tender is the North.

O Swallow, Swallow, if I could follow, and light
Upon her lattice, I would pipe and trill,
And cheep and twitter twenty million loves.

O were I thou that she might take me in,
And lay me on her bosom, and her heart
Would rock the snowy cradle till I died.

Why lingereth she to clothe her heart with love,
Delaying as the tender ash delays
To clothe herself, when all the woods are green?

O tell her, Swallow, that thy brood is flown:
Say to her, I do but wanton in the South,
But in the North long since my nest is made.

O tell her, brief is life but love is long,
And brief the sun of summer in the North,
And brief the moon of beauty in the South.

O Swallow, flying from the golden woods,
Fly to her, and pipe and woo her, and make her mine,
And tell her, tell her, that I follow thee.

* * *

This is just me being homesick. Bright and fierce and fickle is the South... well, actually, right now the South is cold and muddy. But they tell me the trees at my nest in the North (Seattle) are in bloom. Easter break is less than two weeks away! and none too soon. I can't wait to be rained on by pink and white blossoms and smiled at by daffodils. There are beautiful places in the world, but I think none of them matches Maple Valley in the spring.

Enid's Song

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (from The Marriage of Geraint)

Turn, Fortune, turn thy wheel and lower the proud;
Turn thy wild wheel through sunshine, storm, and cloud;
Thy wheel and thee we neither love nor hate.

Turn, Fortune, turn thy wheel with smile or frown;
With that wild wheel we go not up or down;
Our hoard is little, but our hearts are great.

Smile and we smile, the lords of many lands;
Frown and we smile, the lords of our own hands;
For man is man and master of his fate.

Turn, turn thy wheel above the staring crowd;
Thy wheel and thou are shadows in the cloud;
Thy wheel and thee we neither love nor hate.

* * *

This poem is in honour of my literature class. We've been reading about fickle Fortune and her wheel in The Consolation of Philosophy (by Boethius, a fourth-century Roman Christian).

Although it might seem rather humanist that we are "the lord of our own hands" and "master of his fate," Boethius would actually agree with Tennyson here. We are not in control of what happens to us, but we are in control of what we do, and it is what we do that decides our fate. And as Boethius points out, our actions also decide our happiness. Our happiness should not be set on the things that Fortune can change--money, fame, power, beauty--but rather on eternal things, and over these things Fortune has no jurisdiction.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Thy Voice is Heard

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Thy voice is heard through rolling drums
That beat to battle where he stands;
Thy face across his fancy comes
And gives the battle to his hands.
A moment, whilst the trumpets blow,
He sees his brood about thy knee;
The next, like fire he meets the foe
And strikes him dead for thine and thee.

* * *

Boy, if I were a man, that would be my life's philosophy. As I'm not, I've got to be satisfied with all the Christendom guys having that as their life's philosophy. And they do!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Sonnets from the Portuguese, XIV

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love's sake only. Do not say
"I love her for her smile--her look--her way
Of speaking gently,--for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day"
--For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee,--and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry,
--A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love's sake, that evermore
Thou may'st love on, through love's eternity.

* * *

Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived a very sad life before she met Robert Browning, so she might well have feared that he only loved her because of pity. But after they were married, her life became much happier, and then she had proof that Browning's love for her could outlast his pity. They had a long and happy marriage.

I love it when poets' stories end happily!

Suffering

by G.K. Chesterton

Though pain be stark and bitter
And days in darkness creep
Not to that depth I sink me
That asks the world to weep.

* * *

Those who know me know I don't put the sentiment of this poem into practice. It takes very little for me to complain. But Chesterton is the one with the right idea here, not me.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Unforgivable Sin

by G.K. Chesterton

I do not cry, beloved, neither curse.
Silence and strength, these two at least are good.
He gave me sun and stars and aught He could,
But not a woman's love; for that is hers.

He sealed her heart from sage and questioner—
Yea, with seven seals, as he has sealed the grave.
And if she give it to a drunken slave,
The Day of Judgment shall not challenge her.

Only this much: if one, deserving well,
Touching your thin young hands and making suit,
Feel not himself a crawling thing, a brute,
Buried and bricked in a forgotten hell;

Prophet and poet be he over sod,
Prince among angels in the highest place,
God help me, I will smite him on the face,
Before the glory of the face of God.

* * *

I like to think of this as the thoughts of a father toward his daughter-- but I know the Chestertons hadn't any children. I wonder if he wrote this to a specific young lady he knew, or whether it was just his general sentiments.

I do know that Chesterton was a great gentleman. He had an enormous respect for women, although he often repeated that he didn't understand us. He carried around a sword-stick to defend ladies with, in case the situation ever required it. "Nor ever failed I to believe / The honour of the house of Eve." Yes, this is one poet who actually lived in his life what he wrote about.

Thank you, God, for Chesterton!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

New Readings

Although the letter said
On thistles that men look not grapes to gather,
I read the story rather
How soldiers platting thorns around CHRIST'S HEAD
Grapes grew and drops of wine were shed.

Though when the sower sowed,
The wing├Ęd fowls took part, part fell in thorn,
And never turned to corn,
Part found no root upon the flinty road--
CHRIST at all hazards fruit hath shewed.

From wastes of rock He brings
Food for five thousand: on the thorns He shed
Grains from His drooping Head;
And would not have that legion of winged things
Bear Him to heaven on easeful wings.

* * *

I'd say something, but I think Hopkins says it all. Thanks to the person who pointed this poem out to me.

A blog is born.

Welcome to Enchiridion, my very own blog. The name is inspired by Alfred the Great, one of my heroes. King Alfred used to carry a little book around with him which he called his enchiridion, or handbook. During his study time every day, he would copy into the book any little tidbits he found interesting: poems, quotations, Bible verses, and so on.

That's basically the idea of this blog. I'm going to post my favorite poems, commentary on them, and any other neat stuff I find. I used to post poems on the door of my dorm room, but no one was reading them, and one of the goals of my life is to get people to read more poetry. And when searching for Hopkins online, I found they didn't have all of the really good poems anywhere on the Web. So I felt it my Christian duty to remedy, at least in part, that deplorable situation.

Therefore, I pronounce Enchiridion hereby my official blog. Long may it prosper! Special thanks to the Baggage Boy to the Cowpope and all my friends at Fiddleback Fever and to Meredith (of Basia Me, Catholica Sum renown). Without all of you I would still not know what a blog is, and therefore would still be stuck posting poetry on my door.

About me:
* I am a student at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia.
* I am one of the Fiddleback bloggers.
* I am from the most beautiful place on earth, the Pacific Northwest.
* I am Catholic (and so should everyone be).
* I am a poetry fanatic, as will soon become, I think, very apparent.

Thank you all and happy reading!