Saturday, February 14, 2009

To Althea, From Prison

by Richard Lovelace

When Love with unconfinèd wings
Hovers within my gates,
And my divine Althea brings
To whisper at the grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair
And fetter'd to her eye,
The birds that wanton in the air
Know no such liberty.

When flowing cups run swiftly round
With no allaying Thames,
Our careless heads with roses bound,
Our hearts with loyal flames;
When thirsty grief in wine we steep,
When healths and draughts go free—
Fishes that tipple in the deep
Know no such liberty.

When, like committed linnets, I
With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, mercy, majesty,
And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good
He is, how great should be,
Enlargèd winds, that curl the flood,
Know no such liberty.

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

* * *

A break from our sonnet theme to post a poem that's been floating in my head lately, as I reflect on the notion of freedom. I think we are too accustomed to freedom -- so accustomed to assuming we have it as not to notice when it is taken away. I rejoice in my freedom every day, for I have lived without it -- even without that interior freedom which no one can take from us without our permission.

Yet how often we give that permission! We take dictums and short, easy answers and accept them without thinking. People assume that because we are Catholic, naturally we must just take things "on faith" and not think about them. No! Faith has its basis in reason. We choose to believe because reason tells us the authority is trustworthy. Reason tells us that God can neither deceive nor be deceived. If reason told us otherwise, God could not and would not expect us to believe Him. He allows us to come to Him through our reason.

What, then, should happen when something we take on faith (either faith in God, or in trustworthy men) seems wrong? I may get some objections when I say this, but I still say -- go ahead and question it! If it is true, it can handle the questioning. Go back to the very beginning if you need to -- take the effort you need to go back to square one and prove what you know to yourself. While you're taking that effort, still abide by what you believe, because you believe it, but don't stop there -- examine. If you keep having questions and doubts and refuse to entertain them, they will only grow, until you're years down the line saying, "I guess I doubted even then, but didn't dare say anything." Don't let that happen. Ask the questions now -- trust that there is an answer to every one of them.

If you were in a relationship, and something appeared "off" to you, you would sit down and ask why -- try to discover what it is and whether it's going to be a problem. Otherwise you might find yourself years later saying, "Well, I always assumed it wouldn't be a big deal, but it turned out it was." Instead, you examine the problem, turn it all around and upside down, and once you know it, choose whether to accept it as it is. If you do accept it, you'll know later on that it was with your eyes open, and you will be better prepared to deal with it.

Similarly, if you are in a religious group that you've always assumed you were specially called to by God, and recent events are casting doubt on that group, go ahead and entertain that doubt. It's all right. Don't you trust that the entire basis for your faith in God won't crumble even if you do ask yourself if there might be something wrong?

The truth sometimes hurts, but it will always set you free.

And that is all I am going to say about the recent news. If you know me well, you might know why I'm thinking about it so much ... but I have promised someone that I won't obsess about it, so here's me trying.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The world is too much with us; late and soon

by William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

* * *

Another sonnet. Pay attention to the form. Metrically speaking, it's an Italian sonnet, rhyming abba abba cdcdcd. (Italian sonnets can have a number of different rhyme schemes for the sestet.) But structurally, notice that the volta does not take place at the end of the eighth line, as usual, but halfway throught the ninth line (where the dash is). That may seem a small thing, but for a sonnet, that's a huge innovation. After all, there's not much room for variation in a sonnet. More on that point later. First, we'll do an English sonnet for next week. Stay tuned.