Wednesday, December 26, 2007
This year, though, I think it's been good. After all the bluster had passed by and the presents were unwrapped and the boys had gone to bed complete with visions of sugarplums, I stayed up late to clean up. Around two I decided I'd done all I was going to (this is not that impressive: my dad hadn't even gone ot bed till 12:30). So I turned out all the lights but the Christmas tree and sat looking at the tree and the creche, thinking about Christmas and the immense difference the Incarnation makes. I started to think about how my life needs to be changed by this. And so, by the time I went to bed, I felt that Christmas really had been worthwhile, that it had made a difference.
Still, I know that the whole Christmas season is still before us; there is still time to remember Christ; there is still time to change. I wanted to take the season to give an opportunity for us to rediscover Christmas through poetry. That is to say, I want to have a Christmas poem contest.
Here are the rules:
1. The poem must be written by you.
2. The poem must be about Christmas. It can be about the Incarnation itself, about the shepherds, the Magi, whatever, but it has to be Christmasy, and the real meaning of Christmas too. No Jingle Bells. Gathering together as a family stuff is okay, though. That is part of Christmas, although not the most important part.
3. It doesn't have to be written specifically for the contest. Any Christmas poems will do, no matter how long ago you wrote them.
4. Try to keep it to about 20 lines or less.
5. Each person can submit up to 3 poems, but please no more.
6. The winning poems will be posted on my blog with a link to your blog or website if you have one.
Any form is acceptable, although I warn you I'm biased toward formal verse. However, I have liked free verse in the past, provided it's actually good and not just random. The poems can be funny, serious, deep, whatever. I'll judge them as being good at what they are, not as being more entertaining or more spiritual.
You can email me your submissions at enchirdion1 at yahoo dot com, or leave them in the comment box. If you have other Christmas poems, not written by you but which you think I should post, please email them to me: I'm looking for some.
I hope this contest will help get both our creative and our spiritual juices flowing, and the finished poems will inspire us to think about Christmas more deeply. Let the contest begin!
Last Year's Triolet Contest
Friday, December 21, 2007
My roommate and I at the beginning of the dance. Unfortunately we both look a bit frozen and shiny, but that's life and photography.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
The threefold terro.r of love; a fallen flare
Through the hollow of an ear;
Wings beating about the room;
The terro.r of all terro.rs that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.
Had I not found content among the shows
Every common woman knows,
Chimney corner, garden walk,
Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
And gather all the talk?
What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen star my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart's bloo.d stop
Or strikes a sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up?
* * *
Who knew Yeats could write poems about Mary? On the one hand, it's not how most of us think of her: we mostly picture her calm and sedate, not afraid, and not chatting as she does her laundry. But on the other, wasn't she more like us than unlike, even though she had no sin? St. Luke tells us she was troubled at the angel's greeting.
Our Lady was said to have conceived through the ear, because it was her ear that heard the greeting of the angel. I'm not sure what the "threefold of love" is: probably the love of the the Father for His daughter, the Son for His mother, and the Holy Ghost for His spouse.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was gray:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for thelips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee Cynara! in my fashion.
* * *
Another one by Ernest Dowson. Some people might object to this poem on moral grounds. I don't: I think it makes perfectly clear how unsatisfying is the wild life the speaker is living. Sure, the pros.titute, the dancing, and the wine are pleasant, and yet we see how impossible it is that the speaker could find peace within these things.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
What do you think? I saved the old template, so I can always change it back. You can vote in the poll on the sidebar. (I can't help that the text is so light. :P)
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
by Ernest DowsonCalm, sad, secure; behind high convent walls,
These watch the sacred lamp, these watch and pray:
And it is one with them when evening falls,
And one with them the cold return of day.
These heed not time; their nights and days they make
Into a long returning rosary,
Whereon their lives are threaded for Christ's sake;
Meekness and vigilance and chastity.
A vowed patrol, in silent companies,
Life-long they keep before the living Christ.
In the dim church, their prayers and penances
Are fragrant incense to the Sacrificed.
Outside, the world is wild and passionate;
Man's weary laughter and his sick despair
Entreat at their impenetrable gate:
They heed no voices in their dream of prayer.
They saw the glory of the world displayed;
They saw the bitter of it, and the sweet;
They knew the roses of the world should fade,
And be trod under by the hurrying feet.
Therefore they rather put away desire,
And crossed their hands and came to sanctuary
And veiled their heads and put on coarse attire:
Because their comeliness was vanity.
And there they rest; they have serene insight
Of the illuminating dawn to be:
Mary's sweet Star dispels for them the night,
The proper darkness of humanity.
Calm, sad, secure; with faces worn and mild:
Surely their choice of vigil is the best?
Yea! for our roses fade, the world is wild;
But there, beside the altar, there is rest.
* * *
I'm coming to like Ernest Dowson. His most famous poem is probably "Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae," from which is taken the title of Gone with the Wind. He was a friend of Yeats and rather wild, though he eventually converted to Catholicism. More of his poems can be found here.
I think a wild person like Dowson is the ideal person to appreciate the nuns' choice. He knew how brief were the roses of this present life, and craved the peace and security the nuns had in God.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half-words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.
* * *
I thought of this poem the other day, as it began to snow. It's so short, yet so carefully done, that I don't know if I could catch all the special things it does. The rhythm of the two very short lines to vary longer lines, the repetition of the falling of the snow, and the imagery of the earth growing beneath the snow ... it all adds up to a very striking poem.
As to what it means ... I was asked who the girl is telling her love to. I'll tell you: I don't know. Perhaps she is alone as she sleeps, murmuring to herself. I rather think so, considering the snow. It could symbolize difficult times for her. On the other hand, the snow could just symbolize her sleep, like the winter sleep of the earth.
Friday, December 07, 2007
“Some find me a sword, some
The flange and the rail; flame,
Fang, or flood” goes Death on drum,
And storms bugle his fame.
But wé dream we are rooted in earth – Dust!
Flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower the same,
Wave with the meadow, forget that there must
The sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come.
The words of Death begin the second half of the poem. Indeed, there will be much death in this section. All must come to die, each by different routes. The sword, the flame, fang, and flood are obvious. A flange is an overhanging rim or piece—perhaps the reference is to falling off a ledge where the rim did not hold? I can’t be certain . . . it was probably chosen more for alliteration than clarity. In any event, storms are one way people die, and the howling of the mighty winds speak of death.
Yet we don’t imagine death will come for us. We’re so sure of our securities and plans—yet all these things are dust. Think of the landowner who built bigger barns for himself, sure this would bring him security, and that very night his soul was required of them. All is dust. The suddenness of that word reminds us of the suddenness of it.
Flesh falls within sight of us—see how often we are aware of those we know dying. Nowadays death is so often sterile; we don’t see it with our own eyes, and yet we know it happens. We read on the news of people who walked out of their front doors in the morning, confident in the security of their lives, and met their death the same day unawares. Yet having heard this, we are not moved to think of our own death. We know we are made of the same mortal material, and yet we tend to forget that death will come to us too.
The metaphor of farming fits the stanza well: think of the book of Isaiah: “All flesh is grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of the field.” So when the scythe and the plowshare come to us, bitter as they are, it should not be a surprise. A limited growing season was in our nature to begin with.
On Saturday sailed from Bremen,
Take settler and seamen, take men with women,
Two hundred souls in the round—
O Father, not under thy feathers nor ever as guessing
The goal was a shoal, of a fourth the doom to be drowned;
Yet did the dark side of the bay of thy blessing
Not vault them, the millions of rounds of thy mercy not reeve even them in?
Finally we get down to the actual story of the Deutschland. It sailed out on Saturday from Bremen for America. On board were passengers as well as sailors, women as well as men—two hundred altogether. After that brief bit of fact, Hopkins returns to mysticism, considering the fate of those who died.
The fifth line used to confuse me: I thought it was saying that the Father didn’t know the goal was a shoal. Now I’m pretty certain it was the two hundred souls who, not being “under thy feathers,” i.e. within the heart of God, could not guess what their journey would come to. A fourth of those on board were fated to drown. Doom, by the way, means both fate and judgment—the dooms of a king were his judgments, often his punishments. So when we hear that these people were doomed to drown, we need not think of a faceless fate, but simply of the fact that God had decided this would be the moment of their death.
God chose for them to die—does that mean they are beyond His mercy? No, the wide bay of God’s goodness, His “millions of rounds of” infinite mercy had room for them, even them, who seemed to have been rejected by God in the manner of their death. After all, who could be blamed but God for the storm? Think of Turnbull’s accusation of God in Chesterton’s The Ball and the Cross:
"A man died yesterday in Ealing. You murdered him. A girl had the toothache in Croydon. You gave it her. Fifty sailors were drowned off Selsey Bill. You scuttled their ship. What have you got to say for yourself, eh?"
This is a major point—perhaps the major point—of the poem. It has been answered in stanza six and it will be continued to be answered throughout the poem. The partial answer this stanza offers is that God is not allowing their death to damn them when they die—He has mercy saved for them as well.
(Reeve means to gather, especially to bring together the gathers of a dress, but I suppose it works for gathering souls as well.)
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
[Continued after a long forgetfulness, in preparation for Deutschland Day, which is Friday.]
God, three numberèd form;
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den
Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue;
Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung;
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.
The speaker then addresses God with a passive command, to “be adored.” Not only is he wishing that God might be adored, but he is asking God to make Himself adored by men. He asks God to continue what He is already doing: finding ways to bring man’s rebellion to conversion and worship of Him. The Trinity is referred to (“three numbered form”) first here, and will later be mentioned near the end of the poem.
The rebellious soul needs to be caught and “wrung,” as Hopkins says, a rather violent image. But we can liken it to Donne’s “batter my heart”—the soul needs a harsh chastisement in for its sins in order to be healed, and in its wisest moments is not afraid to ask for this. Pain is better than the misery of solitary rebellion. “Dogged in den” reminds me of “The Hound of Heaven.” The soul is chased into its den by a dogged pursuer—God. The speaker asks that this rebellious soul—his own and others—be finally caught and made to surrender by the force of the storm. The theme of the storm as a mode of conversion has been mentioned before and will be again.
The thought of punishment to subdue the soul is not a pleasant one, but the converse side of repentance follows immediately. Christ is unspeakably sweet; His blows are merciful. The paradoxes of His goodness and apparent harshness are balanced with the phrases which follow: “lighting and love,” “winter and warm,” and the mention of how God is a father to the heart He has punished and is most merciful in His “dark descending,” His chastisements.
With an anvil-ding,
And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring
Through him, melt him but master him still:
Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
Or as Austin, with a lingering out sweet skill,
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau:
Mock on, mock on: ‘tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a Gem,
Reflected in the beam divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking Eye,
But still in Israel’s paths they shine.
The Atoms of Democritus
And the Newton’s Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.
* * *
Typical Blake: doesn't care about atoms or photons, but cares very much about spiritual things. That's a good thing, so far as it goes--though I might add that caring about atoms doesn't preclude caring about scripture. Like any good Chestertonian, I care about both.
I've been reading Derrida, lately, and the poem is apt for him too: he really is throwing sand into the wind. The man makes no sense to me at all. Unfortunately, I've got to make sense, 6-8 pages of sense, out of him by next Friday.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Como una promesa, eres tú, eres tú,
Como una mañana de verano,
Como una sonrisa, eres tú, eres tú,
Así, así, eres tú.
Toda mi esperanza, eres tú, eres tú,
Como lluvia fresca en mis manos,
Como fuerte brisa, eres tú, eres tú,
Así, así, eres tú.
Como mi poema, eres tú, eres tú,
Como una guitarra en la noche,
Todo mi horizonte eres tú, eres tú,
Así, así, eres tú.
Eres tú como el agua de mi fuente,
Eres tú el fuego de mi hogar.
Eres tú como el fuego de mi hoguera,
Eres tú el trigo de mi pan.
* * *
You are like a promise
Like a summer morning,
You are like a sunrise,
That's the way you are.
You are all my hope,
Like a fresh rain in my hands
You are like a strong breeze,
That's the way you are.
You are like my poem,
Like a guitar in the night,
You are all my horizon,
That's the way you are.
You are like the water of my fountain,
You are the fire of my hearth.
You are like the flame of my pyre,
You are the wheat of my bread.
* * *
I don't usually post songs, but this one, by the Basque band Mocedades, is one of my favorites and worth the trouble of translating. I think it is still beautiful, even without the music (which, by the way, is wonderful). Unfortunately it doesn't translate all that well, so if you can piece out the Spanish, you'll get more out of it even if you don't know the language well.
What is so special about it is the imagery. Each image could be the inspiration for a sonnet. Think, for example, about what it means to call someone your horizon, or the fire of your hearth. My favorite might be the "strong breeze"-- how a person can just blow through your life, but not like a damaging wind, but a spring or autumn breeze--strong, but not biting.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I have gone about the house, gone up and down
As a man does who has published a new book,
Or a young girl dressed out in her new gown,
And though I have turned the talk by hook or crook
Until her praise should be the uppermost theme,
A woman spoke of some new tale she had read,
A man confusedly in a half dream
As though some other name ran in his head.
She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I will talk no more of books or the long war
But walk by the dry thorn until I have found
Some beggar sheltering from the wind, and there
Manage the talk until her name come round.
If there be rags enough he will know her name
And be well pleased remembering it, for in the old days,
Though she had young men's praise and old men's blame,
Among the poor both old and young gave her praise.
* * *
Sorry it's been so long since I last posted! I've been working very hard lately on my book. If it's good, I guess you all will get the benefit of it eventually. If not--well, you've been very kind not to complain.
I just got a biography of Maud Gonne, the woman Yeats loved and admired. She seems to have been quite a woman--Yeats was far from her only admirer. As he points out, many have blamed her, and yet her goodness to the poor led to their unadulterated praise. She worked tirelessly to help evicted Irish tenants keep their land, and when this proved impossible, she helped provide for somewhere for them to live. She was not even Irish herself, but English, and at least at first she was still Anglican. But it seems that she could not turn away from such obvious need.
This poem is a twist on a common experience: when we're proud of something, we try to lead the conversation around and get ourselves a little (well-deserved) praise. But Yeats is far more proud of Maud than he is of himself. All he wants is to hear her praised, and not hear people wasting their time talking of other things "as if some other name ran in their heads." No, he wants them to think only of her--as he does.
Monday, October 15, 2007
I have felt sorrow, yes, and fear,
I have been crushed by mortal pain
And somehow smiled through my tears;
And then you came, immortal soul,
Bright-winged, and gloriously wise;
I see you force your smile for me
Beneath your tor.tured, smouldering eyes;
And I know pain, as never before,
I cannot laugh, or smile, or sing;
I can but weep my bootless tears
To see my angel suffering.
* * *
I wrote this for a friend and mentor of mine several years ago, thinking about how sympathy can sometimes be a harder load than personal suffering. (My friend would probably be startled at being referred to as an "angel." I guess that's just how I think of my friends -- of course, I don't mean anyone's literally an angel or even perfect, just that I consider them to be messengers of God to me.)
Now those who have been asking for my poetry must be content, because this little piece is scraping the barrel on poetry written in the last several years that I can bear to post at all.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Oh, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped-up sods upon the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!
To have a clock with weights and chains
And pendulum swinging up and down!
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled and white and blue and brown!
I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store!
I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself,
Sure of a bed, and loth to leave
The ticking clock and shining delph!
Och! by I'm weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there's never a house or bush,
And tired I am of bog and road
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!
And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house--a house of my own--
Out of the wind's and the rain's way.
* * *
For my part, I am weary of my college dorm. The thing I want most when I graduate is a place of my own. I don't understand people who don't want to move out. As for me, I lie awake nights dreaming out a little apartment, or maybe a small house for when I can afford one.
I just got this new anthology of Catholic poetry and am so excited. Maybe the poems I pull out of it will make up for my recent deliquency. (I blame the Venerable Bede for it. I've been translating him all week.)
The love of a home is not specifically Catholic, yet it's something Catholics have always held dear. Maybe it's because the Church believes in private property. Chesterton would have something to say about that, I'm sure. But also, a house means a home, and a home suggests a family to live in it. It means warmth, stability, hospitality, and so many other things. The joy of being able to open one's door to a friend or a stranger is one you can't have without a place of your own. A home is a gateway to a plethora of virtues.
(Delph, by the way, is a kind of Dutch earthenware.)
Sunday, October 07, 2007
White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.
Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain—hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.
Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri's knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunsets and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees;
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.
They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From the temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be,
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,—
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, "Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done.
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces—four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not 'Kismet'; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey at the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth."
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still—hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.
St. Michael's on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes,
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,—
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea,
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.
King Philip's in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John's hunting, and his hounds have bayed—
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.
The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man's house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings' horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign—
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate's sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!
Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)
* * *
Happy Lepanto Day!
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;
To do without, take tosses, and obey.
Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,
Nowhere. Natural heart's ivy, Patience masks
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.
We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills
Of us we do bid God bend to him even so.
And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness? -- He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.
* * *
Have you ever prayed for patience? It's that scary thing everyone wants and no one wants to pray for. Because when you do, God always sends you just those things that try the little patience you've got. If patience isn't found in suffering, it's found "nowhere." I like the image of patience as ivy, growing over the ruins of what we wanted and making them more beautiful.
It kills us to ask for more suffering than we already have, but since we long God to bend our wills to him, we ask for it all the same. And God, of course, is patient; a good thing too, considering how much we try His patience.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
* * *
On Saturday night, Imelda Franklin Bogue, a Christendom alumna, sang a song made from this poem. I thought of it at the time as applying to Christ, but I suppose it could apply to anyone one loved. When we have so little to give, and our heart desires to give only the best, what can we give but our dreams? In the end these may be more precious than the "cloths of heaven."
Friday, September 14, 2007
People tell you all the time,
Poems do not have to rhyme.
It's often better if they don't
And I'm determined this one won't.
Never mind, I'll start again.
Busy, busy with my pen...cil.
I can do it if I try--
Easy, peasy, pudding and gherkins.
Writing verse is so much fun,
Cheering as the summer weather,
Makes you feel alert and bright,
'Specially when you get it more or
less the way you want it.
* * *
Thanks to Meredith for introducing me to Wendy Cope. She cracks me up.
Monday, September 10, 2007
1. Attend 18 hours of class: six classes in all, three of which are in a dead language (2 Latin, 1 Greek).
2. Study for a Greek test on Wednesday.
3. Write about 4 pages for creative writing class, due Wednesday.
4. Interview a professor for the school paper.
5. Review Waking Rose for the school paper. I guess I'll post that here too.
6. Choir Monday, Friday, and Sunday.
7. Call home.
8. Begin researching for English Novel paper.
9. Read texts for Lit Crit paper.
10. Colloquium Latine -- Latin conversation over lunch, Monday and Friday.
11. I'm trying to write a novel. Maybe this one will be a "keeper." The past ones haven't been.
12. Normal amounts of daily reading for English courses, translation for Classics courses.
13. And of course, my social life. Luckily that gets less complicated every year. (Although I hope it's because my friends and I are maturing, and not just because I have less friends.)
So, if I don't blog much this week, you'll understand why. I'm usually not an exceptionally busy student, except for crunch times. I usually have taken a course load well within my capacities, and I don't often have much extracurricular business. Currently, though, I'm taking about one more class than I feel comfortable with, although I'm not sure which class is the extra one, and I'm trying to get more involved in things on campus now that I'm a senior. I think I can handle it -- just not easily. No more goofing around. No more wasting time. And no more hours spiralling down the bottomless drain of the internet! I'll try to blog once or twice a week, but I can't promise anything too long or complicated. Hopkins is still in the works ... but on hold at the moment. We'll see what I can manage. Anyway, I hope to see you all here throughout the semester, as we try to keep poetry as a moment of peace in our stressful lives.
Monday, September 03, 2007
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
* * *
I've always been intrigued by the old story of the fleeing faerie lady who drives a mortal man to search for her all his life. (Another example is Keats, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci.") And the last couplet has always sent shivers down my spine.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The angel declared in the silence
On the world's stony face,
The buildings were silent and listened,
All hail, full of grace.
The travellers paused in the highways
When her answer was heard:
Tell Him His handmaid's desire
Is one with thy word.
And the Word became flesh
In a world full of stone
And dwelt among us
Who had been so alone,
And now these are living stones and streetlights
The roads are exchanged
For rivers of light, full of blessing,
The world has been changed.
It may be the world's stony spirit
Will be flesh again.
Thy grace for the cross and the glory
Pour forth, we beseech Thee. Amen.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Springs the stress felt,
Not first from heaven (and few know this)
Swings the stroke dealt;
Stroke and a stress that storms and stars deliver,
That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by and melt,
(But it rides time like riding a river,
And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss):
This section begins to discuss suffering. Considering all the references later on to the storm’s actions serving God, it would seem that God Himself sent the storm which sank the Deutschland. Hopkins rejects this view, however. The storm did not come from heaven, not from God, but from nature. Since God created nature, though, doesn’t that mean he causes the storm too? It seems that way, but Hopkins still holds, without yet explaining it, that God does not cause evil. The Catholic perspective is that God never wills evil, but he allows evil for the sake of greater good: man’s free will, for example. In cases where nature itself seems to be causing the evil, the case is more difficult, though. I tend to think that original sin did such damage to creation that it causes many “natural” things that God never intended in the original plan of the universe.
The sixth and seventh lines of the stanza are rather obscure to me. I would think the guilt would be flushed—in the sense of the blushings of an awakened conscience—and not hushed. Maybe Hopkins is referring to the mystery of redemptive suffering. A guilty soul welcomes the stroke of suffering in the hope that it will help purge away sin.
In the last line, we see the effect of suffering: it shakes the faith even of the faithful, while the faithless go astray in searching for explanations.
Of his going in Galilee,
Soft-lain grave of a womb-life grey,
Manger, maiden’s knee;
The dense and driven Passion, and frightful sweat,
Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be;
Though felt before, though in high flood yet,
What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay,
Is out with it! Oh,
We lash with the best or worst
Word last! How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe
Will, mouthed to flesh-burst,
Gush! Flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet,
Brim, in a flash, full! Hither then, last or first,
To the hero of Calvary, Christ’s, feet;
Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it – men go.
The origin of the stroke of the storm is not dated to the first sin, but to Christ’s life on earth. The connection, I suppose, is that Christ suffered, and therefore it is fitting for us to suffer even though Christ’s death did not cause our suffering.
Christ’s life in the womb is already referred to as a grave. This connects to the difficulty I’ve always had with T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” when birth is so like death. I can somewhat understand it, though, by realizing what the Incarnation must have been to the Eternal God. What was infinite became finite, what was immortal became mortal—is this not a kind of death? By the first moment of Christ’s conception, He had already set His foot on a road He knew would end in death.
The “discharge” of the Passion—a strange term, but I think it must refer to the blood and water pouring out of Christ’s side. His heart, as yet, was still unknown: though some had felt its love before, and though the love still pours forth today, the telling moment was when His heart burst. The image is of a hunted creature “hard at bay,” turning to use its last weapon. Christ’s weapon is His love, not completely let loose in His death until the moment evil had apparently most triumphed.
So much for His heart. What about ours? We “lash with the best or worst / Word last.” What does this mean? I think it refers to the moment of our death: how we become our best or worst at our last moment. Christ’s heart spilled forth itself in His death; we also pour our ourselves in our death, and whatever we contain within us is revealed at its best—or worst. “Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”
A sloe is a fruit, something like a plum I believe, which has been kept in lush leaves till its moment of ripeness. When the mouth bites it and it bursts, its juice gushes forth, sour or sweet, revealing the true nature of the fruit. Sometimes a beautiful fruit is sour within. In the same way our being pours out at the moment of our death, revealing us as a good or bad fruit. In a flash we fill up the measure of all we have ever been. I imagine a cup that Christ holds out to catch our soul, and we instantly fill it up at that moment with all the good or bad we contain within ourselves.
There is a command, then: come to Christ’s feet, Christ the “hero of Calvary,” by His death. Traditionally a hero would die fighting—but we know that on a spiritual level, Christ was fighting at the moment of His death, not with swords but with His love and mercy. We must come to Christ now, whether we are at the beginning of our lives or the end, because at any moment, unwilled and unwarned, our death may come.
Monday, August 06, 2007
Before me, the horror of hell
Behind, where, where was a, where was a place?
I whirled out wings that spell
And fled with a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host.
My heart, but you were dove-winged, I can tell,
Carrier-witted, I am bold to boast,
To flash from the flame to the flame then, tower from the grace to the grace.
The frown of whose face? I'm inclined to say God the Father. Hopkins fears the justice of a judging God, yet feels himself pinioned between the just God who must condemn him for his sins and hell which seems open to receive him. His choice is to fly to the “Host,” the sacrifice, which is Christ. His heart is like a bird, both a dove and a bird of prey. He flashes from the flame to the flame—perhaps from the flame of hell to the flame of Christ’s love. Towering from the grace to the grace suggests that he moves from the grace of the Father, of the Old Covenant, to the grace to the New Covenant offered by the Son; having lost the first grace of adoption, he looks for the grace of redemption.
In an hourglass, at the wall
Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,
As it crowds and it combs to the fall;
I steady as a water in a well, to a poise, to a pane,
But roped with, always, all the way down from the tall
Flanks or fells of the voel, a vein
Of the gospel proffer, a pressure, a principle, Christ’s gift.
This difficult stanza deals with many metaphors. “Soft sift in an hourglass” suggests the speaker’s limitation: he is not eternal, but constantly sliding toward destruction. The well is another image. Water in a well has the appearance of stability, still within like a pane of glass, but in reality the cause of its stability is that it is constantly fed by rivers from higher up. “Flanks or fells of the voel,” means “sides of the mountain”—voel is a Welsh word for a mountain. “Roped with,” in Hopkins’ usual imagery, suggests a mountainside scored with “ropes” of river. “Vein” also gives the same image, while continuing to remind us of the river’s action in feeding the well. In the same way, the gift of Christ’s grace feeds the soul, keeping something which is inherently temporal, sliding toward oblivion, instead stable and possessing something of eternity.
The readers can imagine the streams of water twisting like silver' ropes down the rocks of the high hill, and then entering into the veins of the lower rocks to replace what is drawn out of the well. (Kimiko Hotta, in this article.)
To the stars, lovely-asunder
Starlight, wafting him out of it, and
Glow, glory in thunder,
Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west;
Since, tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,
His mystery must be instressed, stressed,
For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.
This stanza introduces us to Hopkins’ idea of instress. It’s a difficult notion to understand, considering that the poet never defined it, but it had to do with giving close attention to created things in order to understand their inner essence, or inscape.
Hopkins kisses his hand to the stars, not only because they are lovely (lovely-asunder is a beautiful phrase; it suggests the broken light of stars), but because they seem to breathe out the presence of God. This is not only the idea that creation suggests God or makes the speaker think of Him, but an acute awareness of God’s real presence in creation.
Christ is under the splendor of the world, but that isn’t enough for Hopkins. Instead, he must actually look for Him, giving the presence of God appropriate emphasis and attention. This is so that he can speak to God when he finds Him and offer his prayer of praise for every work of God he understands.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
God! giver of breath and bread,
World’s strand, sway of the sea,
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it almost unmade, what with dread
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.
The “invocation of the muse” of this poem addresses God, of course, Hopkins' inspiration for this poem. Hopkins uses the Anglo-Saxon word “master,” a verb made from a noun, which leads to a more dynamic expression than either “Thou, my master” or “Thou ruling me” -- it combines the sense of the verb and of the noun.
God is the provider of life, as well as of the world's shores and the ocean. The phrases in line 3 seem to be floating, but they are actually objects of “giver of,” along with “breath and bread.” The “strand,” the beach or coastline, and the “sway” (both in its sense of motion and of dominion) of the sea are given to men. The beginning focuses on the ocean to foreshadow its later importance. God is also the Lord of living and dead—both of which will appear in this poem. The moment of transition from one to the other ends up being quite important later.
The account of God's creation of the speaker is written with images of craftsmanship: this is not a God who simply wills the being of man, but who takes care and builds man—-just as He does in the creation account in Genesis, making man out of the clay of the earth. “After it almost unmade” is unclear; it might be a reference to some sickness or danger Hopkins had suffered, although I believe his severe health troubles began much later. In any event, the line shows God's dominion over the speaker, since He made him and can unmake him as easily but chooses to spare him. The sense of “dread” is not one of servile fear, but simply of reverence, as in the phrase used to a king: “my dread lord.” God's actions are worthy of dread, since He can do anything to make or mar us, but that does not mean that we are afraid of Him—-one of the mysteries of the faith. The speaker feels the touch of God—-a frightening thing, but he does not shrink back but instead feels God's touching finger, using God's primary action for his own following action of experiencing Him.
O at lightning and lashed rod,
Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess
Thy terror, O Christ, O God,
Thou knowst the walls, altar and hour and night,
And the swoon of a heart that the sweep and the hurl of thee trod
Hard down with a horror of height,
And the midriff astrain with leaning of, laced with fire of stress.
This next stanza is more difficult: it may refer to actual events of which we are unaware. Perhaps the speaker is projecting himself upon the shipwreck, as though he were there, in that lightning. Whatever the case may be, the speaker affirms his acceptance of God's actions—-he said yes to them and repeats his yes. He “confesses”--an important word when taken in a spiritual sense: think of the “confessors,” those saints who proclaimed their faith, especially in a time of persecution, but who were not martyred. Hopkins realizes that he is a confessor. The grace of martyrdom is not given him, but he never ceases confessing God. Especially he confesses the “terror” of God—his ultimate, fearable power.
Yet God understands the fear the speaker has, and knows about those things that have troubled him. God knows how the speaker's heart swooned in the face of the suffering He sent him. This stanza almost makes God seem cruel and merciless, treading a heart hard down, and yet taken with the rest of the poem, it can't really be understood that way. The speaker simply affirms his sufferings and acknowledges that God knows them. The last line is mysterious: I tend to think of the midriff of the ship, stressed to breaking point, but I really couldn't say.
(Lashed rod, a commentator suggests, may be a reference to the fasces of the Roman consuls: a bundle of an axe and rods, to show the consuls’ power to punish. Lightning, as well as being present in the wreck, is also a symbol of God’s violent power: “Thou art lightning and love.” The speaker "says yes" in the face of these frightening symbols of God's power because he trusts God despite his fear.)
First, it might be a good idea to read the poem, although I will post each stanza as I explain it.
I'd really like feedback on this project, because I'm hoping to improve and expand it with time. If anything I write is unclear, if I left anything unexplained, or if you disagree with my explanations, please tell me!
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Round the cape of a sudden came the sea,
And the sun looked over the mountain's rim--
And straight was a path of gold for him,
And the need of a world of men for me.
* * *
This is the sequel to last week's poem. I never paid much attention to it until I read it in The Virginian (by Owen Wister -- the only Western book I have ever read, but I like it). Here is the Virginian's reaction to the poem. It helps to know that "him" in the poem refers to the sun, and the speaker is the man.
* * *
"That is very, very true," murmured the Virginian, dropping his eyes from the 's intent ones.
"Had they quarrelled?" she inquired.
"I reckon he loved her very much."
"Then you're sure they hadn't quarrelled?"
"Dead sure, ma'am. He would come back afteh he had played some more of the game."
"Life, ma'am. Whatever he was a-doin' in the world of men. That's a bedrock piece, ma'am!"
* * *
The Virginian is right, of course. Lovers leaving one another doesn't mean they are angry, or that all is not well. Sometimes life just takes them apart for awhile -- but if their love is true, this will only bring them closer. Love doesn't keep the man in the poem from living his life -- it gives him a reason for living it fully.
Friday, July 20, 2007
The gray sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!
* * *
Such wonderful description. "Startled little waves" is a neat personification there. And "quench its speed i' the slushy sand" is a slushy-sounding line for sure.
I'll put the sequel to this poem, "Parting at Morn," later.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Contracepting the Environment
For people (like me) who don't like following all the links, this is an article about the effects of contraceptives on the environment. They're entering streams through sewage (which, though well-filtered, misses things like hormones, antibiotics, and steroids) and doing weird things to the fish. For example, in the study mentioned, they found a disproportionate number of female fish to male fish, and many mutant "intersex" fish.
A study in New Jersey discovered hormones and other medications in municipal tap water supplies throughout the state. No one knows what they might do to people, but I might venture a guess that if people are anything like fish, it might be very bad indeed.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
* * *
She's talking about the Statue of Liberty -- the famous sign to immigrants that they are welcome, no matter how much like "wretched refuse" they may seem in their current condition. The poor, illiterate immigrants who arrived to Ellis Island as little as a hundred years ago, often not even speaking English, have had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren who would give reality to their dreams: this is a land of opportunity, and their descendants have proved it by their success.
I posted it because it seems very relevant to the current immigration debate. I know this is a poetry blog and not a politics blog -- because I understand poetry much better than politics -- but I'd still like to hear people's ideas on the subject. I have some opinions, but they're not very well-formed because I lack good information about both sides. I'm hoping people from every side of the issue will comment here and we can have some fruitful discussion on the subject -- not to take down other people's ideas, but to exchange thoughts.
What do you say? Are you for more open borders, or less? How is new immigration to be regulated? Is the good of the country opposed to the good of those who wish to come to it, and if so, whose needs come first?
Saturday, July 07, 2007
But this is all I really have to say: it's online, so read it yourself. (Courtesy of Rorate Coeli.)
The document comes into effect September 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War's annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die.
* * *
It's wartime right now -- though it's easy, sadly enough, to forget about it. The war is so far away and it only affects a few of us.
I still don't know how I feel about the war. On the one hand, war is always an evil. On the other hand, sometimes it's a necessary evil. I do wonder: is this war really worth what we're pouring into it? On the one hand, we couldn't exactly go in to destroy a dictator and then left Iraq in turmoil. On the other hand, is the region getting the least bit closer to stability? The whole thing tends to just upset me, especially when I see many people in my generation -- even people I know -- suffering through separation from those they love because of this war. Mostly, I'm just looking forward to it being over.
My anthology (The Top 500 Poems, edited by William Harmon) tells me that the title for this poem comes from Jeremiah, referring to God's judgment against Babylon, and that it was written during World War I. If it weren't for the simple, unchanginng realities of our lives, the tragedies of war might be too much to bear -- especially for those caught in the heart of one.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Come down, O Christ, and help me! reach thy hand,
For I am drowning in a stormier sea
Than Simon on thy lake of Galilee:
The wine of life is spilt upon the sand,
My heart is as some famine-murdered land
Whence all good things have perished utterly,
And well I know my soul in Hell must lie
If I this night before God's throne should stand.
"He sleeps perchance, or rideth to the chase,
Like Baal, when his prophets howled that name
From morn to noon on Carmel's smitten height."
Nay, peace, I shall behold, before the night,
The feet of brass, the robe more white than flame,
The wounded hands, the weary human face.
* * *
The title of this poem means "Out of (the) Darkness." Oscar Wilde is one of the most famous (or infamous) literary converts, livng a life of dissolution and sin before converting near the end of his life to the Catholic Church.
The poem conveys in many sharp images what it is like to live in sin. This serves as an excellent counter for those who glorify sin as freedom or pleasure: there is really no happiness in it. A sinful soul is full of darkness, and in the end it comes to realize its own misery.
Another voice enters the poem, mocking the speaker with the idea that Christ does not hear him, as Baal did not hear his prophets when Elijah set up his contest with them on Mount Carmel. But the speaker rejects this voice, expressing that he will see "before the night" (perhaps symbolizing death) a Savior who will redeem him.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Feast on wine or fast on water
And your honour shall stand sure,
God Almighty's son and daughter
He the valiant, she the pure;
If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind attentions,
Go and pour them down the sink.
Tea is like the East he grows in,
A great yellow Mandarin
With urbanity of manner
And unconsciousness of sin;
All the women, like a harem,
At his pig-tail troop along;
And, like all the East he grows in,
He is Poison when he's strong.
Tea, although an Oriental,
Is a gentleman at least;
Cocoa is a cad and coward,
Cocoa is a vulgar beast,
Cocoa is a dull, disloyal,
Lying, crawling cad and clown,
And may very well be grateful
To the fool that takes him down.
As for all the windy waters,
They were rained like tempests down
When good drink had been dishonoured
By the tipplers of the town;
When red wine had brought red ruin
And the death-dance of our times,
Heaven sent us Soda Water
As a torment for our crimes.
* * *
For once, I disagree with Chesterton. I am quite fond of cocoa. But I back him about "windy waters:" I really don't like fizzy stuff--fizzy water especially.
I'm posting this poem in honour of the fact that I am now 21 and legal to do most things -- although I think renting a car and being president are still beyond me. But being the legal drinking age is not very meaningful to me. I bought alcoholic drinks when I was in Rome, and besides, I am not very fond of them. I'm more of a water, tea, and cocoa person. Oh well.
Still, I do not disapprove of drinking. I disapprove highly of drunkenness: it seems perfect foolishness to me for people to go out and "get wasted," on purpose, until the next morning they can't even remember whether they had a good time or not. To me a good time is one where your wits are all about you, but you're in good company so that you're not ashamed to cut loose a bit. A little wine or beer won't harm this balance, but a lot very likely will.
Besides, as Chesterton points out, drunkenness dishonours good drink. The reason people tend to be Puritanical about it is because others are busy being Bacchanalian about it. All things in moderation, and we might avoid these two kinds of madness.
Monday, June 04, 2007
* * *
Gerard Manley Hopkins was a poet unlike any other. His peculiarities fall into several different categories. There is the fact of his priesthood within the Catholic Church—rare if not unique among English poets. Then there is his highly unusual system of prosody, involving sprung rhythm and frequent alliteration. In his stylistic innovation, he became a forerunner of modern experimentalism. Finally, there is his rich, meditative spirituality. All of these facets are exemplified within his first major poem and his life’s masterpiece, The Wreck of the Deutschland.
Hopkins was born in 1844 to middle-class Anglican parents. He was a sensitive, reserved young man, eager for friendship but rarely finding companions with whom he shared the level of sympathy he wished. When he was eight, his parents sent him to a good boarding school, where he quickly rose to academic excellence. His high achievement eventually earned him a scholarship to Oxford.
While at Oxford, he met a number of groups with different religious beliefs within the Church of England. Finding himself drawn to a more conservative, ritualist perspective, he began associating with the most High Church Anglicans at Oxford. Slowly his beliefs became more and more High Church, until he finally found they could have no true home outside the Catholic Church. Cardinal John Henry Newman, who had converted a generation before, counseled him in his decision. He entered the Church on October 12, 1866.
Although fully in accord with his spiritual desires, Hopkins’ conversion was still not easy. His parents were strongly opposed, and considered him to be abandoning them. Their disapproval pained him: “I have been up at Oxford just long enough to have heard fr. my father and mother in return for my letter announcing my conversion. Their answers are terrible: I cannot read them twice.”  For a sensitive young man, this was very difficult, but it did not change his mind about converting.
Very shortly after his conversion he reached the determination to become a Catholic priest. It seems to have been his intention previously to take orders within the Anglican church, and with his conversion he soon began considering different religious orders. After considering the Benedictines and Cardinal Newman’s order, the Oratorians, he decided on the Jesuits. Newman approved, writing, “I think it is the very thing for you. . . . Don’t call ‘the Jesuit discipline hard’, it will bring you to heaven. The Benedictines would not have suited you.” 
Hopkins wrote a fair amount of poetry before his conversion, although none of it earned much acclaim. His poems sound like any average Victorian poetry: they are technically well done but unoriginal. Before his entrance into the seminary, however, he destroyed his existing poems (although copies of most remained, either in print or in the possession of friends) and wrote no more for seven years:
What I had written I burnt before I became a Jesuit and resolved to write no more, as not belonging to my profession, unless it were by the wish of my superiors; so for seven years I wrote nothing but two or three little presentation pieces which occasion called for. But when in the winter of ’75 the Deutschland was wrecked in the mouth of the Thames and five Franciscan nuns, exiles from Germany by the Falck Laws, aboard of her were drowned I was affected by the account and happening to say so to my rector he said that he wished someone would write a poem on the subject. On this hint I set to work and, though my hand was out at first, produced one. I had long had haunting my ear the echo of a new rhythm which now I realized on paper. 
This new poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland, will be examined in detail later. It is enough now to say that the poem was the first ever written in Hopkins’ characteristic style, using sprung rhythm, meditative rather than linear order, and a Catholic sensibility. After this, Hopkins began to write poetry again regularly, although he had little time to dedicate to it.
After his ordination, Hopkins worked as a parish priest, and sometimes as a teacher, for the rest of his life. Still, he produced many poems describing nature, spiritual realities, and often his own state of mind. Among the last category are his “terrible” or “dark sonnets,” poems expressing desolation and spiritual anguish. Some critics believe these to be an expression of Hopkins’ loss of faith. However, as Austin Warren writes,
The “terrible sonnets” are not revelations of atheist face beneath Catholic mask. They are the cries of a pious soul undergoing vastation, spiritual dryness, feeling abandoned by God and unprofitable to self or Him. The images evoked are those of Jacob wrestling with the angel, the veiled God; of Job, believing in God but puzzled by the gap between piety and prosperity; of the prophet Jeremiah, from whom Hopkins quotes the epigraph over No. 50: “Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee: Yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?” 
The Catholic Church has always possessed an understanding of the role of spiritual darkness. It is not despair, but an acceptance of the reality of spiritual suffering even in a holy life. In Hopkins’ dark sonnets, he always refuses to give in to despair, despite his apparent temptation.
Hopkins suffered from many physical troubles and sickness, and he died of typhoid at the age of 45 in 1889. His obituary in the Jesuit paper reads, “On the eighth day of June, the vigil of Pentecost, weakened by a fever, he rested. May he rest in peace. He had a most subtle mind, which too quickly wore out the fragile strength of his body.”  His final words, to belie the depression of his later years, were simply, “I am so happy, I am so happy, I am so happy.”  His life contained many spiritual sufferings, and yet he had the joy that his love of life and his Catholic faith gave him.
Hopkins died with none of his later poems published. His poetry was too unusual for his time, apparently, and for this reason his friend Robert Bridges, entrusted with his poems, did not print them until 1918, almost 30 years after Hopkins’ death. Even then they were little appreciated:
The book itself sold slowly. There were 750 copies printed in the first edition in 1918. Of these, 50 copies were given away; 180 sold the first year; 240 the second, then about 30 copies a year were sold until 1927, when the demand began to pick up slightly. The initial 750 copies were finally exhausted in 1928, ten years after they came off the press. 
Only two years later, a second edition was printed. Suddenly the critical opinion that had formerly been completely against Hopkins turned and began to praise him: “Lines quoted in 1919 as errors in taste and style are printed once more in 1931 as examples of excellent verse.”  The modern period of poetry had begun, and now Hopkins’ strangeness ceased to be a disadvantage. Soon his poetry had become an inspiration to the experimenters of the modern age, as well as being appreciated as good verse in its own right.
Hopkins’ first great poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland, however, still presents a puzzle to many readers. Despite its apparent difficulty, it holds in kernel form all the genius for which Hopkins is acclaimed. First, it introduces Hopkins’ new rhythmic style, sprung rhythm, with all the alliteration, assonance, and internal rhyme this rhythm includes. Second, and perhaps most difficult for a new reader, it uses Hopkins’ non-linear, more meditative system of thought. Third, it presents a spiritual meditation on the themes which infuse all of Hopkins’ later poems.
Sprung rhythm is difficult to write, especially according to Hopkins’ complex plans for composing the best musical effects, but the concept is actually quite simple. Instead of counting metrical feet, the poet uses a fixed number of stresses per line along with any number of unstressed syllables. This means that any kind of foot may follow any other, and even two bare stresses may follow one another without any intervening weak syllables. Sprung rhythm leads to a less regular meter, but it often results in much more dramatic rhythms than traditional scansion.
Hopkins defended sprung rhythm on the basis that it was more forceful:
Why do I employ sprung rhythm at all? Because it is the nearest to the rhythm of prose, that is the native and natural rhythm of speech, the least forced, the most rhetorical and emphatic of all possible rhythms, combining, as it seems to me, opposite and, one wd. have thought, incompatible excellences, markedness of rhythm—that is rhythm’s self—and naturalness of expression—for why, if it is forcible in prose to say “lashed : rod”, am I obliged to weaken this in verse, which ought to be stronger, not weaker, into “láshed birch-ród” or something? 
Hopkins adds that his verse is “less to be read than heard,” and this is the reason for insisting on a less regular and more dramatic style. When used with Hopkins’ painstaking care, it leaves room for exciting sound effects impossible in accentual-syllabic verse.
The Wreck of the Deutschland is Hopkins’ first serious effort at sprung verse, yet he already uses it skillfully. The first stanza gives a good example:
Thou mastering me
God! giver of breath and bread;
World’s strand, sway of the sea;
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee. 
Each line of Hopkins’ fixed stanzaic form has a set number of stressed syllables: 2, 3 or 4, 4, 3, 5, 5, 4, 6. This can count as the number of feet, but the types of feet are mixed. The first stressed syllable, “Thou,” is used alone, followed by the word “mastering,” one stress followed by two unstressed syllables, and then “me,” another solitary stress. Two stressed syllables can be used next to one another without weakening either, as in “World’s strand.” The effect is to make the reader slow down and emphasize both syllables equally.
Along with his use of sprung rhythm follow a number of natural sound effects, including alliteration and internal rhyme. Hopkins’ alliteration can be difficult to read, for example the line “Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver” (45). However, the very denseness of the repetition of the alliterating sounds makes for dramatic effects. The same can be said for Hopkins’ frequent use of internal rhyme. These rhymes are not spaced half a line apart, as is common in English verse, but packed close together: “Blue-beating and hoary-glow height, or night, still higher” puts the two rhyming words only one unstressed syllable apart. (205)
After this consideration of Hopkins’ stylistic singularities, the next step is to interpret The Wreck of the Deutschland as a whole. As has been said earlier, the poem was written at the hint of Hopkins’ rector as a memorial for five Franciscan nuns who died in a shipwreck. The leader of the nuns, an especially tall woman, was reported by eyewitnesses to have cried repeatedly, “O Christ, Christ, come quickly!”  Hopkins was deeply affected by the story, and broke his seven years of poetic silence to write an elegy for the nuns.
The poem’s structure is not at all linear. This troubles many readers who expect a simple story or a straightforward thought. Instead, the poem progresses like a meditation: first, a reflection on the glory and power of God, then to the story of the shipwreck, followed by a meditation on the meaning of the nun’s cry to Christ, and ending with more praise of God and a prayer for the conversion of England.  The overriding theme of the meditation is the question of suffering: given the glory of God, how is the Christian to understand suffering? There is no one, simple answer, but throughout the poem Hopkins gives many explanations, from why suffering exists to the ways the tall nun uses her own suffering to bring greater glory to God.
The first section of the poem (the first ten stanzas) has no mention of the shipwreck; instead, it focuses on the praise of God. Already, however, there are hints of the theme of suffering:
Not out of his bliss
Springs the stress felt
Nor first from heaven (and few know this)
Swings the stroke dealt
Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver. (41-5)
The storm which later in the poem destroys the Deutschland and kills the nuns, Hopkins claims, is not of God’s specific sending. This is an example of the allowance of suffering: God allows suffering, but He does not will evil of itself. Hopkins also points out the trial to faith that suffering can be: “Here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss” (48).
Following this stanza is one on Christ’s passion. The mystery of suffering begins here, the poem explains, without making the connection completely clear. Then it moves on to the mystery of death and the particular judgment: men must die and go to their reward, whether good or bad, whether they are ready or not: “Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go” (64). Immediately after this warning, the poem returns to praising God, His chastisement and His comfort:
Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then. (70-2)
This is followed by a stanza about conversion: some, like Paul, are converted in an instant, and some slowly. The speaker prays God to convert all men and “be adored” (80).
The second section encompasses the remainder of the poem. After one stanza about the inevitability of death, the story of the shipwreck begins. The basic facts are described, but throughout the narrative are interspersed short sections of commentary on the tragedy. For example, after the mention that the passengers aboard the ship could not guess their future fate, Hopkins asks, “Yet did the dark side of the bay of thy blessing / Not vault them, the million of rounds of thy mercy not reeve even them in?” (95-6)
Several stanzas follow, painting a bleak word-picture of the shipwreck. Hope is dying for those on board, and lives are “washing away” (119). But in the middle of the crisis, the tall nun begins her cry:
Night roared, with the heart-break hearing a heart-broke rabble,
The woman’s wailing, the crying of child without check—
Till a lioness arose breasting the babble,
A prophetess towered in the tumult, a virginal tongue told. (133-6)
The nun is not simply crying out for her own sake: through the words she utters to Christ, she becomes a prophetess. The theme of the witness she makes to her fellow-sufferers is repeated later in the poem.
For some time, the actual words the nun speaks are not revealed. The next stanza seems to be the question the nun addresses to her own heart, wondering why it must “make words break from me here all alone” (139). The cry she makes does not spring from her intellect, but directly from her heart, so that even she is uncertain of why she speaks. Amid her own tears, she asks her heart, “What can it be, this glee? the good you have there of your own?” (144) Her cry seems joyful or at least hopeful, but her position is still desolate.
Again there is a mention of the effect of her words on the others: one of the nun’s companions speaks, reminding her of “a master, her master and mine!” (146) The tall nun “rears herself to divine / Ears,” directing her words to Christ, but all the men aboard the ship also hear her call. (150-1)
Following this dramatic moment is what seems a digression, but in the non-linear structure of the poem it is simply a further meditation, reflecting on the nuns’ past and the symbolism it has. The nuns are from Germany, and Deutschland (Germany) is the name of their ship. Germany is also the home of Protestantism. Hopkins points out that St. Gertrude and Martin Luther belong to the same town, and Cain and Abel have the same mother. Is it then surprising that the Protestant revolt and the missionary spirit of the Franciscan nuns come from the same place?
The nuns were exiled from Germany and could find no home in England; to the world their fate was an accursed one. To Christ, though, they are martyrs:
Thou art above, thou Orion of light;
Thy unchancelling poising palms were weighing the worth,
Thou martyr-master: in thy sight
Storm flakes were scroll-leaved flowers, lily showers—sweet heaven was astrew in them. (165-8)
To the world, the death of the good seems an evil, but to Christ, this moment of the death of his faithful spouses is a bridal, the moment at which they will be brought to their reward.
Next, Hopkins explores the symbolism of the number of nuns. Five is the number of Christ’s wounds, the “cipher of suffering Christ” (170). The suffering given to the nuns cannot be unfair, since Christ has allowed the same to be done to Him. Nothing is higher than Christ’s sacrifice, so, it is implied, there is nothing shameful that the nuns are allowed to join in the same sacrifice. St. Francis is also mentioned, for he also was allowed to share in the sufferings of Christ through the stigmata. He is enjoined to be glad that his daughters are allowed this special grace of death for Christ.
The point of view of the poem shifts now to Hopkins himself. He was indoors and resting while the nuns were “the prey of the gales” (188). Finally the substance of the tall nun’s cry is revealed: “O Christ, Christ, come quickly” (191). Her cry reaches everywhere: the waves, the falling snow, and the crowd.
Now the meaning of her cry is examined:
The majesty! what did she mean?
Breathe, arch and original Breath.
Is it love in her of the being as her lover had been?
Breathe, body of lovely Death.
They were else-minded then, altogether, the men
Woke thee with a We are perishing in the weather of Gennesareth.
Or is it that she cried for the crown then,
The keener to come at the comfort for feeling the combating keen? (193-200)
Was she just glad to be suffering like Christ, unlike the apostles who could not trust Christ when the storm arose and He was asleep? Or did she want the suffering to be over and her crown won, as soon as possible? The next stanza continues questioning: what might be her heart’s desire—the passing of the storm, revealing the clear sky above? No, the poem answers. She is not asking for an end to her suffering, nor simply meditating on the Passion as she might do in a quiet moment of prayer. It is something else, not yet revealed.
Then there appears a vision in the speaker’s imagination, Christ coming as she begged of Him, ready to “cure the extremity where he had cast her,” relieve the suffering He had allowed her to experience (222). Now the speaker praises the nun for being able to interpret the sufferings she is undergoing and realize their meaning, acting in the role of Simon Peter, who could declare Christ as the Son of God. The nun knows that God has sent her sufferings and will cure them: she has a certain faith in Him. The speaker imagines the feast in heaven when the nun arrives. She has acted in the role of Mary, a stainless woman who, by speaking a word, is able in some sense to give Christ being.
For so conceivèd, so to conceive thee is done;
But here was heart-throe, birth of a brain,
Word, that heard and kept thee and uttered thee outright. (238-40)
The vision of Christ that has appeared, it seems, in the hearts of those who heard the nun’s cry, and therefore she has brought Him to being within them.
All the explanation of suffering is sufficient, then, for the nun. Her suffering is comforted by her triumph. But, the poet asks, what about the others aboard the ship? They are “comfortless” and “unconfessed,” and here one can still question the providence of God to send them to their death as well (244). There is an answer for this too. The nun’s call can act as a call to conversion for them:
The breast of the
Maiden could obey so, be a bell to, ring of it, and
Startle the poor sheep back! is the shipwrack then a harvest, does tempest carry the grain for thee? (246-8)
For the unconfessed souls too, the shipwreck is an instrument of salvation. When the unbelievers hear the nun’s cry, they have the chance to repent before their death. Even this seemingly evil thing, the tempest, is a servant of God and brings Him souls.
The poem concludes with several stanzas more of praise: God’s mastership of the ocean, His mercy for the eleventh-hour penitent, and the kindess of His coming. Finally there is a prayer to the nun, now a new saint in heaven. Since she has died on the shores of England, the speaker prays she may intercede for the return of Christ to England:
Our King back, Oh, upon English souls!
Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east,
More brightening her, rare-dear Britain, as his reign rolls,
Pride, rose, prince, hero of us, high-priest,
Our heart’s charity’s hearth’s fire, our thoughts’ chivalry’s throng’s
Christ is the end of the poem as He is the beginning. As John Picks writes,
For its meaning is Christ: it is the story of the Passion and Redemption working themselves out in the lives of men; it tells how Christ, “the martyr-master”, calls the souls of men to Him. . . . So completely does it affirm the Way of the Cross that it is no wonder that the poet cries out, “here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss.” 
This is a poem about suffering, but it is a hopeful poem, one in which suffering fits perfectly within the larger view of redemption.
The Wreck of the Deutschland, as Hopkins’ first mature poem, contains the seeds of everything he wrote later. In fact, it seems almost the culmination of his work, even though it was written first. It contains the prosodic experimentation apparent in all his mature work. Passages in the poem also show an intense attention to nature, to its “inscape,” as Hopkins would say. The word “inscape” is a philosophical term Hopkins used, defined by Austin Warren:
An “inscape” is any kind of formed or focused view, any pattern discerned in the natural world. Being so central a word in his vocabulary and motif in his mental life, it moves through some range of meaning: from sense-perceived pattern to inner form. The prefix seems to imply a contrary, an outer-scape—as if to say that an “inscape” is not mechanically or inertly present, but requires personal action, attention, a seeing and seeing into. 
In the descriptions of nature in the poem, Hopkins emphasizes the need to “instress,” or fully comprehend the inscape of, nature.
Since, tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,
His mystery must be instressed, stressed;
For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand. (38-40)
Instress is, in a sense, the finding-out of God behind things, along with finding out the things’ true form.
Because of this emphasis on inscape, instress, and praise of God through nature, The Wreck can be likened to Hopkins’ nature poems, like “God’s Grandeur” and “Pied Beauty.” It also contains the same meditative elements as Hopkins’ more strictly religious poems, like “Felix Randal” and “The Bugler’s First Communion.” Finally, in its exploration of suffering without despair, it holds the seeds of the “dark sonnets,” like “Thou Art Indeed Just” and “Carrion Comfort.”
Besides its role as summation of Hopkins’ other poems, The Wreck can be seen as an explanation of Hopkins’ own life. He experienced much physical and mental anguish in his life, but all of it managed to bring him to a fuller conversion and trust in God. He was able to come through the darkness he experienced to end his life with the words, “I am so happy.” These words are not unlike the tall nun’s cry of “O Christ, Christ, come quickly”: they express love and trust even in the face of terrible suffering.
Hopkins was truly a poet in a class of his own. His originality was not, like some other innovative poets, a striving after novelty in itself, much less after poetic fame. Instead, he was a lover of God’s beauty above all, and wanted to mirror that beauty in his verse. Because of this, his Catholicism helped rather than hindered his originality: he knew exactly how broad the truth was, so that he could exercise his freedom within it without wandering outside it. As a result, Hopkins, long after his death, has come into a fame he never expected as a great innovator, lover of beauty, and Catholic poet.
1. Gerard Manley Hopkins, quoted in Robert Bernard Martin, Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1991), 148.
2. John Henry Cardinal Newman, quoted in Martin, 175-6.
3. Gerard Manley Hopkins, in Peter Washington, ed., Gerard Manley Hopkins, Everyman’s Library (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 144.
4. Austin Warren, “Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889),” The Kenyon Critics, Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Makers of Modern Literature (Norfolk, CT: New Direction Books, 1945), 12.
5. Register of the English Province, quoted in Martin, 415.
6. Gerard Manley Hopkins, quoted in John Pick, Gerard Manley Hopkins: Priest and Poet, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 155.
7. Todd K. Bender, Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Classical Background and Critical Reception of His Work (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1966), 10.
8. Ibid., 12.
9. Gerard Manley Hopkins, in Washington, 138-9.
10. Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Wreck of the Deutschland, in Peter Milward and Raymond Schoder, eds., Readings of “The Wreck”: Essays in Commemoration of the Centenary of G. M. Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland” (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1976), page 2, lines 1-8. All citations of The Wreck of the Deutschland will be from this edition and henceforth will be cited parenthetically in the text by line number.
11. Paul L. Mariani, “O Christ, Christ, Come Quickly! Lexical Plenitude and Primal Cry at the Heart of The Wreck,” in Milward and Schoder, 33.
12. Bender, 83-4.
13. Picks, 41.
14. Warren, 77.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Daughters of Time, the hypocritic days,
Muffled and dumb, like barefoot dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bring diadems and faggots in their hands.
To each they offer gifts after his will,
Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky that holds them all.
I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.
* * *
Oh, if only each of us would actually use the time that is given us! We forget our "morning dreams" and just grab something from our day, but not always the thing we woke up thinking we could gain. But when the day stands before us offering so much, we're foolish not to take at least some of the treasures it offers. If not kingdoms, maybe something greater: salvation. So often we wake up thinking of how good we'll be on a new day, and by noon we're already so caught up in life we don't bother to take the blessings and opportunities for grace the day is offering.
Among the things I haven't used my days for: posting on this blog. Bad me. I'm back home and on my slow dial-up connection; that's my excuse. But I'll try to be a bit more frequent all the same.
1. For anyone who was praying for my Lyme disease test, it came back negative. Praise God!
2. I'm looking for a job. I hope I can find one before half my summer's gone!
3. I heard I had a poem published in Gilbert magazine. I haven't seen it myself. I hope it's good, because I can't even remember exactly how the thing went by the time I submitted it!