Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Poem Contest

I'm afraid every year I get a little less excited about Christmas. It used to be pure magic to me, especially when I was very small, and once I was older it was the one time I could stop worrying about things and just be happy like I had been when I was little. Nowadays it's hard not to let it be just another day.

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

Christmas formal

Christmas formal was a great time this year. I'm always iffy about formals because sometimes they're lots of fun and sometimes you feel like you got all dressed up for nothing. This year I had a wonderful time, despite a lot of unexpected excitement at the end.

christmas formal

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

Mother of God

by W.B. Yeats

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 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

Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae

by Ernest Dowson

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.

The attitude of the poem is one common in the modern age. People seek madder music, stronger wine, more satisfaction of their desires, and we imagine that they enjoy it. Yet often they are only doing these things to run away from their inner emptiness. We can see how little it works. What the speaker really wants are the "lilies," the pure innocence, of his love; the roses of pleasure will not satisfy.

The title means, "I am not how I was under the reign of the good Cynara." It's a quote from one of Horace's odes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Look

Every once in awhile, I get sick and tired of my blog. Rather than give it up, I thought I'd give it a shot in the arm by changing up the template. I've wanted to change to the new templates for awhile, but I just couldn't make it look the same without being able to go in and tinker with the html. So I decided to change the look entirely, to something a bit more updated and less common.

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

Nuns of the Perpetual Adoration

by Ernest Dowson

Calm, 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

by Robert Graves

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

The Wreck: Stanzas 11-12

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

“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

The Wreck: Stanzas 9-10

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

[Continued after a long forgetfulness, in preparation for Deutschland Day, which is Friday.]

Be adored among men,
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.

This stanza summarizes the many routes to conversion. Some convert through suffering, like a piece of metal on a forge, purified through fire. Some convert slowly and sweetly, yet nonetheless coming to submission. Some, like St. Paul, convert once and at a crash; some, like Augustine, take years—yet the “lingering-out” sweetness of his conversion is an interesting touch, as though God was savoring each step He was teaching Augustine to walk. All must come to experience Christ’s mercy, and all must acknowledge Him as Lord. Different ways are taken by each, but Christ must be adored by all. Notice the imperative—the speaker urges God to assert His mastery and lead sinners to adore Him.