Friday, January 27, 2006

The Marshes of Glynn

by Sidney Lanier

Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven
With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven
Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,--
         Emerald twilights,
         --Virginal shy lights,
Wrought of the leaves to allure to the whisper of vows,
When lovers pace timidly down through the green colonnades
Of the dim sweet woods, of the dear dark woods,
    Of the heavenly woods and glades,
That run to the radiant marginal sand-beach within
          The wide sea-marshes of Glynn;--

Beautiful glooms, soft dusks in the noonday fire,--
Wildwood privacies, closets of lone desire,
Chamber from chamber parted with wavering arras of leaves,--
Cells for the passionate pleasure of prayer to the soul that grieves,
Pure with a sense of the passing of saints through the wood,
Cool for the dutiful weighing of ill with good;--

O braided dusks of the oak and woven shades of the vine,
While the riotous noon-day sun of the June-day long did shine
Ye held me fast in your heart and I held you fast in mine;
But now when the noon is no more, and riot is rest,
And the sun is a-wait at the ponderous gate of the West,
And the slant yellow beam down the wood-aisle doth seem
Like a lane into heaven that leads from a dream,--
Ay, now, when my soul all day hath drunken the soul of the oak,
And my heart is at ease from men, and the wearisome sound of the stroke
          Of the scythe of time and the trowel of trade is low,
          And belief overmasters doubt, and I know that I know,
          And my spirit is grown to a lordly great compass within,
That the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn
Will work me no fear like the fear they have wrought me of yore
When length was fatigue, and when breadth was but bitterness sore,
And when terror and shrinking and dreary unnamable pain
Drew over me out of the merciless miles of the plain,--

Oh, now, unafraid, I am fain to face
    The vast sweet visage of space.
To the edge of the wood I am drawn, I am drawn,
Where the gray beach glimmering runs, as a belt of the dawn,
          For a mete and a mark
            To the forest-dark:--
Affable live-oak, leaning low,--
Thus--with your favor--soft, with a reverent hand,
(Not lightly touching your person, Lord of the land!)
Bending your beauty aside, with a step I stand
On the firm-packed sand,
By a world of marsh that borders a world of sea.
      Sinuous southward and sinuous northward the shimmering band
      Of the sand-beach fastens the fringe of the marsh to the folds of the land.
Inward and outward to northward and southward the beach-lines linger and curl
As a silver-wrought garment that clings to and follows the firm sweet limbs of a girl.
Vanishing, swerving, evermore curving again into sight,
Softly the sand-beach wavers away to a dim gray looping of light.
And what if behind me to westward the wall of the woods stands high?
The world lies east: how ample, the marsh and the sea and the sky!
A league and a league of marsh-grass, waist-high, broad in the blade,
Green, and all of a height, and unflecked with a light or a shade,
Stretch leisurely off, in a pleasant plain,
To the terminal blue of the main.

Oh, what is abroad in the marsh and the terminal sea?
      Somehow my soul seems suddenly free
From the weighing of fate and the sad discussion of sin,
By the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn.

Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-withholding and free
Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the sea!
Tolerant plains, that suffer the sea and the rains and the sun,
Ye spread and span like the catholic man who hath mightily won
God out of knowledge and good out of infinite pain
And sight out of blindness and purity out of a stain.

As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod,
Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God:
I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies
In the freedom that fills all the space 'twixt the marsh and the skies:
By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends in the sod
I will heartily lay me a-hold on the greatness of God:
Oh, like to the greatness of God is the greatness within
The range of the marshes, the liberal marshes of Glynn.

And the sea lends large, as the marsh: lo, out of his plenty the sea
Pours fast: full soon the time of the flood-tide must be:
Look how the grace of the sea doth go
About and about through the intricate channels that flow
          Here and there,
Till his waters have flooded the uttermost creeks and the low-lying lanes,
And the marsh is meshed with a million veins,
That like as with rosy and silvery essences flow
      In the rose-and-silver evening glow.
                    Farewell, my lord Sun!
The creeks overflow: a thousand rivulets run
'Twixt the roots of the sod; the blades of the marsh-grass stir;
Passeth a hurrying sound of wings that westward whirr;
Passeth, and all is still; and the currents cease to run;
And the sea and the marsh are one.

How still the plains of the waters be!
The tide is in his ecstasy.
The tide is at his highest height:
                    And it is night.

And now from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep
Roll in on the souls of men,
But who will reveal to our waking ken
The forms that swim and the shapes that creep
                    Under the waters of sleep?
And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in
On the length and the breadth of the marvellous marshes of Glynn.

* * *

I simply had to blog this, one of my all-time favorite poems, long though it is. Even the purgatory the html put me through to indent it properly was worth it. It's just a beautiful poem, both in sound and in imagery. Sidney Lanier was a flautist, I believe, and that might explain the flutelike deftness and sweetness of his language.

My favorite lines are, "Inward and outward to northward and southward the beach-lines linger and curl / Like a silver-wrought garment that clings to and follows the firm sweet limbs of a girl." The couplet blends a tongue-twisting yet beautiful sound with a striking simile -- you can see a girl dancing in a silver dress in the line of the shore.

The overall feel of the poem is close to my heart too: I have always loved woods and waters that way. In fact, this poem inspired one of the few decent poems I have ever written. (Perhaps decent is an overstatement: but insofar as it was copied from Lanier, it wasn't bad.) The peace that the deep forest brings and the expansion inspired by the ocean, Lanier showed me, are not known to me alone. I do not mind sharing these feelings with others who feel them, so long as I may still enjoy the scenes alone, unhindered by the madding crowd.

Mind you, I like people. I like the madding crowd. But it is only in withdrawing from them that we are able to find a silence in our heart to speak to God alone.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter

by Rikahu, translated by Ezra Pound

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
Played I about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you,
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noises overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early in autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

* * *

I have to pacify my normally anti-modernist sentiments by assuring them that this is actually an old Chinese poem. But I really don't know how much of it is Pound's interpretation.

The amazing thing about this poem is the imagery. Each image is sharp and bright, and lends itself to the meaning.

In the first stanza, the speaker and her future husband are only children. They have nothing against each other. But when he becomes her husband, her Lord, she becomes bashful. She doesn't want to obey this new master in her life. Yet as she grows older, she grows into love with him, and loses her desire to "climb the lookout," which I interpret as her desire to be part of a larger world, outside her home with her husband. And, pace modern feminists, this isn't a bad thing: she doesn't care to go far from home because she loves her home.

He goes away on a journey while she is still young. Five months is a long time at sixteen. Her husband loves her too; he did not want to go away from her. Now he has been gone so long the grass grows over the gate where she longs for him to enter. The "paired butterflies" hurt her because she is reminded that she cannot be with the other half of her own pair. She grows older, because she is still a child. There is a part of her growing up with him that he will miss. She also grows older through sorrow, as sorrow makes one grow. At the end, she shows her willingness to meet him again, even if it takes a long journey.

Never in the poem does the speaker say "I began to love you" or "I miss you now." Yet it is implied throughout, so heavily that one feels it all around without feeling it is too explicit. This would be an example of a poem that does not say directly what it means, and yet is not at all unclear.

Credit and gratitude are due Leah of A Magic Light for giving me the idea of posting this poem.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Strange Music

by G.K. Chesterton

Other loves may sink and settle, other loves may loose and slack,
But I wander like a minstrel with a harp upon his back;
Though the harp be on my bosom, though I finger and I fret,
Still, my hope is all before me, for I cannot play it yet.

In your strings is hid a music that no hand hath e'er let fall,
In your soul is sealed a pleasure that you have not known at all,
Pleasure subtle as your spirit, strange and slender as your frame,
Fiercer than the pain that folds you, softer than your sorrows' name.

Not as mine, my soul's anointed, not as mine the rude and light
Easy mirth of many faces, swaggering pride of song and fight;
Something stranger, something sweeter, something waiting you afar,
Secret as your stricken senses, magic as your sorrows are.

But on this, God's harp supernal, stretched but to be stricken once,
Hoary time is a beginner, Life a bungler, Death a dunce,
But I will not fear to match them; no, by God, I will not fear,
I will learn you, I will play you and the stars stand still to hear.

* * *

A proof that Chesterton really could be passionate. This poem makes my scalp prickle it's so good. And I'm afraid there's nothing I can really say about it -- it's one of those poems that leaves me rather helpless to add anything.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Letters of the Brownings

Robert to Elizabeth, April 10, 1846

[On making up from a disagreement. Elizabeth had taken issue with an opinion of Robert's on duelling. At first he defended himself. She feared her disagreements with him would make him not love her anymore. But then he surrendered, admitting she was right, and then reassuring her that he was not about to stop loving her.]

My election is made or God made it for me,--and is irrevocable. I am wholly yours. I see you have yet to understand what that implies,--but you will one day. . . . What are you given me for but to make me better--and, in that, happier? If you could save my soul, 'so as by fire,' would your dear love shrink from that? But in the matter we really refer to . . . Oh, Ba, did I not pray you at the beginning to tell me the instand you detected anything to be altered by human effort? to give me that chance of becoming more like you and worthier of you? and here where you think me gravely in the wrong, -- one or two repetitions of such conduct of yours, such 'disagreeable letters,' and I must 'leave off' . . .

Can you, now, by this time tell me or yourself that you could believe me happy with any other woman that ever breathed? I tell you, without affectation, that I lay the whole blame to myself . . . that I feel that if I had spoken my love out sufficiently, all this doubt could never have been possible. . . .

May God bless you, dearest -- and show you the truth in me, the one truth which I dare hope compensates for much that is to be forgiven: when I told you at the beginning I was not worthy, was infinitely lower &c, you seemed incredulous! well now, you see! I, that you would persist in hoping better things of, held such opinions as those -- and so I am set far on towards right -- is not all well, love? And now go on, when I give next occasion, and tell me more, and let me alter more, and thank you, if I can, more, -- but not, not love you more, you, Ba, whom I love wholly, -- with all my faculties, all my being. May God bless you, again -- it all ends there -- !

Elizabeth's answer, April 13, 1846

I will not speak much of the letter, as you desire that I should not. . . . Let me say only then, ever dearest, dearest, that I never felt towards you as I felt when I had read that letter . . never loved you so entirely! . . that it went to my heart, and stayed there, and seemed to mix with the blood of it . . . believe this of me, dear dearest beloved! For the rest, there is no need for me to put aside carefully the assumption of being didactic to you . . of being better than you, so as to teach you! . . . ah, you are so fond of dressing me up in pontifical garments ('for fun,' as the children say!) -- but because they are too large for me, they drop off always of themselves, . . they do not require my pulling them off: these extravagances get righted of their own accord. After all, too, you, . . with that praeternatural submissiveness of yours, . . you know your power upon the whole, and understand, in the midst of the obeisances, that you can do very much what you please, with your High Priest. . . .

And now, do you see. It was just natural that when we differed for the first time I should fall into low spirits. In the night, at dream-time, when instead of dreams 'deep thought falleth upon man,' suddenly I have been sad even to tears, do you know, to think of that: and whenever I am not glad, the old fears and misgivings come back -- no, you do not understand . . you cannot, perhaps! But dear, dearest, never think of yourself that you have expressed 'insufficiently' your feelings for me. Insufficiently! No words but just your own, between heaven and earth, could have persuaded me that such a one as you could love me! and the tongue of angels could not speak better words for that purpose, than just yours. Also, I know that you love me . . I do know it, my only dearest, and recognize it in the gratitude of my soul: -- and it is through my want of familiarity with any happiness -- through the want of use in carrying these weights of flowers, that I drop them again and again out of weak hands. Besides the truth is, that I am not worthy of you -- and if you were to see it just as I see it, why there would be an end . . there, . . I sometimes think reasonably.

* * *

As promised, I copied out some of their letters. I feel a little funny reading someone else's love letters, but I don't suppose they'd mind, being (I think and hope) in Heaven. These are beautiful letters. They are an amazing couple. I'm afraid they'll lure me away from my plans to write my senior thesis on the Arthurian legends, and draw me into a thesis about them. But however much I enjoy their story and their words, I don't think I'll give in.

Lovers' quarrels are supposed to be common things, but the Brownings' version is quite different from what you'd think. They each give their opinions on the subject, and find, much to their dismay, that they differ. They answer each other's arguments. Then they suddenly realize that their love for each other is so much more important than the subject of debate, and they drop the disagreement and just go back to complimenting each other (which is what they spend most of their letters doing). If all couples quarrelled like that, divorce lawyers would be out of business.

*Note on the text: most of the ellipses are not mine, but theirs. I didn't distinguish mine from theirs. The italics and dashes and spellings, &c, are all theirs.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sonnets from the Portuguese: XLIII

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,--I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

* * *

Time for another Browning sonnet! This one's probably the most famous, although no one can seem to get past the first line.

First, she talks about how big her love is -- the breadth and depth and height of her soul. Next, how small it is -- it fits in gently with the everday things. She loves him with all the strength of every virtue -- justice, long-suffering, faith. She remembers her "lost saints" -- probably her mother and brother, whose deaths saddened her greatly -- and find that she loves him the same way. All her life is love for him -- and so will the next life be.

The voice of the modern world is plainer, but says the same: "This is true love -- you think this happens every day?" True love is beyond everything -- because all true love is of God.

I've been reading the Brownings' letters to each other lately. They are very beautiful. I'll have to copy out some bits later on.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Wine and Water

by G.K. Chesterton

Old Noah he had an ostrich farm and fowls on the largest scale,
He ate his egg with a ladle in an egg-cup big as a pail,
And the soup he took was Elephant Soup and the fist he took was Whale,
But they all were small to the cellar he took when he set out to sail
And Noah he often said to his wife when he sat down to dine,
"I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine."

The cataract of the cliff of heaven fell blinding off the brink
As if it would wash the stars away as suds go down a sink,
The seven heavens came roaring down for the throats of hell to drink,
And Noah he cocked his eye and said, "It looks like rain, I think,
The water has drowned the Matterhorn as deep as a Mendip mine,
But I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine."

But Noah he sinned, and we have sinned, on tipsy feet we trod,
Till a great big black teetotaller was sent to us for a rod,
And you can't get wine at a P.S.A., or chapel, or Eisteddfod,
For the Curse of Water has come again because of the wrath of God,
And water is on the Bishop's board and the Higher Thinker's shrine,
But I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine.

* * *

This poem is in honour of what I believe is our 26th day of rain here in the Seattle area. Our street, which is here pictured, is under a foot of water in some places. All of what appears to be a lake is actually paved. Behind the mailbox a few feet is our drainage ditch, which is several feet deep but which nonetheless overflowed. Behind that is a marshy area, usually, which currently is a lake several feet deep. I don't know how deep it is exactly, because I don't have a good boat in which to go measure, but I know the marsh grass is two to three feet high and it's all covered.

We're still able to get in and out, although I'm sure it's not good for our car. The mailman has stopped delivering, though, since it's at least a foot at the mailbox. (I know; I waded out barefoot once to check the mail. Brr! Fresh rainwater in January is pretty chilly!) We've been flooded like this for three days or so, and much looking forward to some recession of the water. But the prognosis is for more rain for awhile. We're working on breaking a record for the most consecutive days raining.

Of course, Chesterton was talking about wine more than about water. The sin of Noah referred to is the sin of drunkenness: Noah was the first to grow grapes and make wine, and he made himself drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. It's fairly early on in Genesis. G.K.C's point is that when drinkers become drunk, they lose the privilege of being able to drink at all. Prohibitionists become necessary to make us drink water when we have forgotten how to drink wine with moderation. Chesterton was all for drinking, but this is proof he was not for drunkenness.

The poem is taken from The Flying Inn, a book worth reading, so long as you've already read The Ball and the Cross and The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Of course, if you haven't read those already you're anathema anyway. Go read them.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Jesu Dulcis Memoria

Jesu dulcis memoria
Dans vera cordis gaudia:
Sed super mel et omnia
Ejus dulcis praesentia.

Jesus, sweet remembrance
Giving true joy of hearts:
But above honey and all things
Is his sweet presence.

Nil canitur suavius,
Nil auditur jucundius
Nil cogitatur dulcius
Quam Jesus Dei filius.

Nothing more pleasing is sung,
Nothing more joyful is heard,
Nothing more sweet is thought,
Than Jesus the son of God.

Jesu spes penitentibus,
Quam pius es petentibus!
Quam bonus te quaerentibus!
Sed quid invenientibus?

Jesus, hope of the penitent,
How merciful you are to those who seek!
How good to those who ask you!
But what to those who find?

Nec lingua valet dicere,
Nec littera exprimere:
Expertus potest credere,
Quid sit Jesum diligere.

The tongue does not have power to say,
Nor writing to express:
Experience can believe
What it is to love Jesus.

Sis Jesu nostrum gaudium
Qui es futurus praemium
Sit nostra in te gloria
Per cuncta semper saecula. Amen.

Jesus, may you be our joy,
Who are our future reward;
Let glory be ours in you
Always, through all ages. Amen.

* * *

The translation is mostly mine, with a little help from Wikipedia. (Yes, I know, I'm getting addicted to posting translations. They're so much fun! Do read the Latin, though, even if you don't understand it: it's wonderfully poetic, and I couldn't convey that at all without messing unpardonably with the meaning.) I'm posting this in honour of the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, which I think was yesterday.

As a complement to it, I'm including this other text on the subject of the power of names, this one from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (I saw the movie over the weekend and liked it. But this is from the book.)

* * *

'They say Aslan is on the move -- perhaps has already landed.'

And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some meaning -- either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get back into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly very brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.

* * *

It takes a very powerful person to have his power overflow into his name, so that the name itself has a power of its own. Yet this is the case with the Holy Name of Jesus: "a name above any other name."