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March 2018

52 Poems, Week 13: The Universal Prayer (Victor Hugo)

I came across this poem because the high school literature discussion that my wife and I run was reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame (otherwise known as Notre-Dame du Paris). I wanted to find some Hugo poem and this one caught my fancy.

It is very romantic, with a wistful nostalgia for the imagined innocence of childhood contrasted with the wretched guilt of adult life.

I like the first part more than the second. His description of an innocent child at prayer is exquisite. And I like the first part of the second more than the second. His description of the unblemished innocence of the mother, though idealized in the manner so cherished by the romantic, is also quite moving. His own request for prayers seems a little overdone to me.

It is, of course, a translation. I don’t apologize, though. It is very good in translation. Notice that the French title is “My daughter, go pray!.” I don’t know how it got the English title, but it surely doesn’t reflect the content.


(“Ma fille, va prier!”)

[XXXVII., June, 1830.]


Come, child, to prayer; the busy day is done,
A golden star gleams through the dusk of night;
The hills are trembling in the rising mist,
The rumbling wain looms dim upon the sight;
All things wend home to rest; the roadside trees
Shake off their dust, stirred by the evening breeze.

The sparkling stars gush forth in sudden blaze,
As twilight open flings the doors of night;
The fringe of carmine narrows in the west,
The rippling waves are tipped with silver light;
The bush, the path–all blend in one dull gray;
The doubtful traveller gropes his anxious way.

Oh, day! with toil, with wrong, with hatred rife;
Oh, blessed night! with sober calmness sweet,
The sad winds moaning through the ruined tower,
The age-worn hind, the sheep’s sad broken bleat–
All nature groans opprest with toil and care,
And wearied craves for rest, and love, and prayer.

At eve the babes with angels converse hold,
While we to our strange pleasures wend our way,
Each with its little face upraised to heaven,
With folded hands, barefoot kneels down to pray,
At selfsame hour with selfsame words they call
On God, the common Father of them all.

And then they sleep, and golden dreams anon,
Born as the busy day’s last murmurs die,
In swarms tumultuous flitting through the gloom
Their breathing lips and golden locks descry.
And as the bees o’er bright flowers joyous roam,
Around their curtained cradles clustering come.

Oh, prayer of childhood! simple, innocent;
Oh, infant slumbers! peaceful, pure, and light;
Oh, happy worship! ever gay with smiles,
Meet prelude to the harmonies of night;
As birds beneath the wing enfold their head,
Nestled in prayer the infant seeks its bed.

(Translation by Henry Highton, M.A.)


To prayer, my child! and O, be thy first prayer
For her who, many nights, with anxious care,
Rocked thy first cradle; who took thy infant soul
From heaven and gave it to the world; then rife
With love, still drank herself the gall of life,
And left for thy young lips the honeyed bowl.

And then–I need it more–then pray for me!
For she is gentle, artless, true like thee;–
She has a guileless heart, brow placid still;
Pity she has for all, envy for none;
Gentle and wise, she patiently lives on;
And she endures, nor knows who does the ill.

In culling flowers, her novice hand has ne’er
Touched e’en the outer rind of vice; no snare
With smiling show has lured her steps aside:
On her the past has left no staining mark;
Nor knows she aught of those bad thoughts which, dark
Like shade on waters, o’er the spirit glide.

She knows not–nor mayest thou–the miseries
In which our spirits mingle: vanities,
Remorse, soul-gnawing cares, Pleasure’s false show:
Passions which float upon the heart like foam,
Bitter remembrances which o’er us come,
And Shame’s red spot spread sudden o’er the brow.

I know life better! when thou’rt older grown
I’ll tell thee–it is needful to be known–
Of the pursuit of wealth–art, power; the cost.
That it is folly, nothingness: that shame
For glory is oft thrown us in the game
Of Fortune; chances where the soul is lost.

The soul will change. Although of everything
The cause and end be clear, yet wildering
We roam through life (of vice and error full).
We wander as we go; we feel the load
Of doubt; and to the briars upon the road
Man leaves his virtue, as the sheep its wool.

Then go, go pray for me! And as the prayer
Gushes in words, be this the form they bear:–
“Lord, Lord, our Father! God, my prayer attend;
Pardon! Thou art good! Pardon–Thou art great!”
Let them go freely forth, fear not their fate!
Where thy soul sends them, thitherward they tend.

There’s nothing here below which does not find
Its tendency. O’er plains the rivers wind,
And reach the sea; the bee, by instinct driven,
Finds out the honeyed flowers; the eagle flies
To seek the sun; the vulture where death lies;
The swallow to the spring; the prayer to Heaven!

And when thy voice is raised to God for me,
I’m like the slave whom in the vale we see
Seated to rest, his heavy load laid by;
I feel refreshed–the load of faults and woe
Which, groaning, I drag with me as I go,
Thy winged prayer bears off rejoicingly!

Pray for thy father! that his dreams be bright
With visitings of angel forms of light,
And his soul burn as incense flaming wide,
Let thy pure breath all his dark sins efface,
So that his heart be like that holy place,
An altar pavement each eve purified!

(Translation by Tait’s Magazine)

VIctorHugoVictor Hugo

—Robert Gotcher is a theologian from Milwaukee, where he and his wife have been raising their seven children, five of whom are out of the house, more or less. He is a recovering Beatlemaniac.

Sunday Night Journal, March 25, 2018

Today begins Holy Week, for Western Christians, anyway...actually I'm not sure how many Protestants use the term--I don't remember hearing it when I was growing up. Instead of rattling on about what I'm reading and current events and such, I'm just going to post a few remarks from Simone Weil. You may or may not remember that I said I was going to read more of her during Lent. I didn't, in the end, read all that much, but what I did read was potent--and also at times perplexing. Most of these are from two essays, "The Things of This World" and "The Father's Silence." The last one is quoted in the March issue of Magnificat, and is apparently from the collection Waiting for God, recently translated anew under the title Awaiting God, but I'm not sure which essay. I'm working from The Simone Weil Reader, which appears to be out of print, though easily found.

One quick item from my own personal current events: last night my wife and I attended the Mobile Symphony Orchestra's performance of Mahler's Second Symphony. It's been some years, eight or ten anyway, since I last heard the orchestra, and I went with modest expectations. (I'm not sure I would even have known about this performance, but our children had given us tickets for Christmas.) The work is so very great that I was excited about hearing it even if the performance left a bit to be desired; there's nothing like a live performance, even if it's technically inferior to recorded ones. But it was excellent. I'm sure someone used to hearing one of the major orchestras, and having a more finely-tuned ear than mine, would have found much to criticize. Whatever faults it may have had did not interfere in the least with my enjoyment. It was a memorable evening. If you ever have a chance to hear this symphony performed live, go. It requires so many performers (a choir and vocal soloists in addition to a large orchestra) that it doesn't get performed all that often, at least not outside the major metropolitan areas. It's a great and massive work. The last time I heard it was roughly twenty years ago, at the summer music camp in Brevard, North Carolina, which one of our children attended for several years. That also was a memorable night. Although I have the symphony on CD, I can't recall having listened to it since then. 

Ok, now Simone Weil:


God emptied himself of his divinity and filled us with a false divinity. Let us empty ourselves of it. This act is the purpose of the act by which we were created.... 

God waits patiently until at last I am willing to consent to love him.

God waits like a beggar who stands motionless and silent before someone who will perhaps give him a piece of bread. Time is that waiting.


God is only the good. That is why he is waiting there in silence. Anyone who comes forward and speaks is using a little force. The good which is nothing but good can only stand waiting.


No saint has been able to obtain from God that the past should not have been, or that he himself should grow ten years older in one day or one day older in ten years, or that.... [Weil's ellipses] No miracle can do anything against time. The faith that moves mountains is impotent against time.

God has left us abandoned in time.

God and humanity are like two lovers who have missed their rendezvous. Each is there before the time, but each at a different place, and they wait and wait and wait. He stands motionless, nailed to the spot for the whole time. She is distraught and impatient. But alas for her if she gets tired and goes away. For the two places where they are waiting are at the same point in the fourth dimension.

The crucifixion of Christ is the image of the fixity of God....

Time, which is our one misery, is the very touch of his hand. It is the abdication by which he lets us exist.


...the one and only liberation is love of the order of the world.

Christ on the cross, the greatest harm inflicted on the greatest good: if one loves that, one loves the order of the world.


One can only excuse men for evil by accusing God of it. If one accuses God one forgives, because God is the Good.

Amid the multitude of those who seem to owe us something, God is our only real debtor. But our debt to him is greater. He will release us from it if we forgive Him. Sin is an offense offered to God from resentment at the debts he owes and does not pay us. By forgiving God we cut the root of sin in ourselves. At the bottom of every sin there is anger against God.

If we forgive God for his crime against us, which is to have made us finite creatures, He will forgive our crime against him, which is that we are finite creatures.


Humility is the root of love. Humility exerts an irresistible power upon God.

If God had not been humiliated, in the person of Christ, he would be inferior to us.


The beautiful is the contact of the good with the faculty of sense. (The real is the same thing.)

The true is the contact of the good with the intelligence.


There are those people who try to elevate their souls like someone who continually jumps from a standing position in the hope that forcing oneself to jump all day--and higher every day--they would no longer fall back down, but rise to heaven. Thus occupied, they no longer look to heaven. We cannot even take one step toward heaven. But if we look to heaven long-term, God descends and lifts us up.

52 Poems, Week 12: Little Orphant Annie (James Whitcomb Riley)


Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at git you
    Ef you

Onc’t they was a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,--
So when he went to bed at night, away up stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wasn’t there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An’ they seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found was thist his pants an’ roundabout—
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
    Ef you

An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’one, an’ all her blood an’ kin;
An’ onc’t, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks was there,
She mocked ‘em an’ shocked ‘em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They was two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
    Ef you

An’ little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parents, an’ yer teachers fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns’ll git you
    Ef you


When I was a girl, I loved poems. I read them a lot. I used to shut myself in my parents’ bedroom with a copy of Best Loved Poems of the American People and sing my way through it. It was at least 3 inches thick, so I never made it to the end.

I couldn’t tell you which poem was my favorite. I had lots of favorites, and Little Orphant Annie was one of them. I’m not sure where I read it, but I think it was probably in my third or fourth grade Voyages in English book. I have scoured the bookshelves for that book, but I seem to have given it away.

I loved—I still love—everything about the poem, but most of all, I love the scariness of it. It used to make me shiver. I didn’t know what kivvers meant, but I thought it was something terrible, and it sent a thrill of terror through my bones. I was an adult before I finally figured out it was only covers. I’m so glad I didn’t know then.

There was a black and white illustration in the book, but it was only the hearth, which was frustrating because I wanted to see Annie! I had a vague image of a poor little girl, and I think I assumed she was black because in the South in the 50s she would have been, but it was never a clear picture.

Today, though, I finally found out what she looked like on Wikipedia.

220px-Mary_Allice_Smith _c_1863

She was a real person who lived with James Whitcomb Riley’s family when he was growing up. Her name was Mary Alice (Allie) Smith. The Wikepedia article says that the poem was originally entitled The Elf Child. For the third printing, Riley changed the name to Little Orphant Allie, but a printing error changed Allie to Annie.

The article also says that the poem was the inspiration for both Little Orphan Annie, which seems likely enough, and Raggedy Ann, which was a surprise. There is a legend that the creator of the the Raggedy Ann doll named her after Little Orphant Annie, and another Riley poem, The Raggedy Man.

The accent, which I never would have guessed, is a 19th century Hoosier accent. If you want to hear what Riley thought that sounded like, you can hear him reading the poem if you scroll down in the Wikipedia article here.

—Janet Cupo is a great-grandmother (and a great grandmother) on temporary (maybe) sabbatical from the workaday world.

Sunday Night Journal, March 18, 2018

 I said last week that the big contemporary corporate or government employer is "not meant to produce free citizens. And it doesn't want them." Later I started thinking about how different our biggest corporations--Google and the like--are from their counterparts of thirty or forty or fifty years ago, and yet how similar. Once upon a time there was much worrying about the organization man and the man in the gray flannel suit who worked for a big company and always wore a suit and tie and lived in a suburb and was crushed into conformity. Then along came the '60s and everything began to change, and we were all set free to wear jeans at all times and express our unique and vibrant individuality. 

But the essential nature of life in a big organization is the same. It's still just as necessary to fit in as it ever was; only the details have changed. The corporate style is more casual and smiley and whimsical now, and Google may try to establish a playful atmosphere for its employees. But under all that, at a deeper level, it may be even more conformist, and most especially at the biggest and most glamorous corporations, as the firings of Brendan Eich and James Damore illustrate. Their ideological deviations are comparable to being discovered to be a communist (Eich) or declaring yourself to be one (Damore) in the '50s.

I worked for a large corporation for most of the 1980s, and I don't think I would have gotten fired for any political or social opinion. "Human resources" (repulsive phrase) departments had not yet become dominated by left-wing political activists, as they seem to be in many corporations now. I suspect that they don't see what they do in that way, but are like many people of progressive views do not acknowledge any distinction between holding and working for those views and the pursuit of the good. Or, to put it less abstractly, basic human decency. 

There's something a bit creepy about the playful surface. You, the employee, may be allowed to build your own desk out of "oversize Tinker Toys," but your utility is in the end the only thing that matters. And the more they put a smiley face on it, the more it makes me think of the Eloi and the Morlocks

And where marketers in olden days may have tried to sell you something telling you that it will help you fit in, they now try to sell you something by telling you that it will mark you as a defiant individualist. But in the end they're still selling status. And it's still more in the corporate interest for people, whether employees or customers, to behave like a herd, and be treated like one.


By the way I haven't bought a pair of jeans since sometime in the late '70s. I remember standing in a long checkout line at the supermarket and noticing that every single person ahead of me was wearing jeans. I had worn them as a symbol of rebellion in the late '60s--I would like to say a gesture of individuality, but of course I was only conforming to a group whose opinion I valued above that of the mainstream. And I obviously still had some of the contrary spirit in me, because I decided at that moment that I was through with blue jeans. Not sure when the last pair wore out. In a hot and humid climate they're not even very comfortable most of the time. 


 Rob G sent me this quote from Augusto Del Noce's The Age of Secularization, which was written in the late '60s:

The so-called 'global' revolution becomes an absurd revolt against what exists. It becomes a form of ahistorical activism that cannot distinguish what is positive and what is negative in the existing reality. It faces the following fork in the road: it can either seek a way to escape reality, becoming practically indistinguishable from the beat and hippie movements, or it can enter into alliances with pre-existing forces in the system it fights against, possibly claiming the role of avant-garde and stimulus, but actually serving as a tool.

The beatnik and hippie movements were actually a mixed bag in that respect: the desire to escape reality was part of them, yes, but there was also a desire precisely to find and encounter reality. On the whole the former has proved more appealing and durable, though. Del Noce's last sentence is a pretty fair assessment of how things turned out.

I think when Del Noce says "revolt against what exists" he means simply the existing social order, but in conjunction with the reference to "a way to escape reality," it suggests to me something that seems increasingly common: a belief that we can simply redefine and reconfigure reality to our liking with very few absolute limits. Certain things may be impossible at the moment, such as "uploading" one's consciousness into a machine, but in time we'll figure it out. Never mind that that whole idea is based on an assumption that has no foundation other than that the people who hold it think it's obvious--I mean the idea that one's very self consists of data that can be stored in some physical medium.

The Obergefell decision strikes me as some kind of landmark in that reality-defying movement. Yes, it came as the logical outcome of a long development, but still, the event itself may stand as the marker of a decisive shift, because it makes the denial the law of the land. Until a few decades ago pretty well the entire human race in all times and places would have agreed that the words "husband" and "wife" (in whatever language) refer to specific real things, based on physical sex, and easily and usefully distinguished from each other in both language and practice. Everyone would have agreed that it is intrinsically impossible for a man to have a husband, or a woman to have a wife. But now that idea has been declared officially and legally false, and anyone who continues to believe it is held to be wicked and inhuman and at the very least to be excluded from the society of decent human beings. 

It's like having the government declare, and most people accept, that there is no difference between a circle and a rectangle. Other denials and absurd assertions follow by necessity: that circles may have corners, for instance, and that a rectangle may have curves. Reality will have the last word, but I don't know how long it will be before that word is spoken.


It's been thirty years, at least, since I read Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter, which I consider to be a great masterpiece. and though I haven't re-read it I see no reason to change that opinion. Around the time I read it I bought her other enormous novel of medieval Norway, The Master of Hestviken, but only just now have I finally taken it up. It's a tetralogy (Kristin is a trilogy), and I've now finished the first book, The Axe. On the basis of that I would say that it's going to be at least as good as Kristin. I will no doubt have a lot more to say as I go along, and will try to avoid giving away too much of the plot, on the assumption that most people haven't read it, but for the moment just this: I have never read a more affecting picture of a person utterly broken by remorse. I don't recall being quite as moved by anything in Kristin as I was by this.


I've also sampled that gum which has come back in style: two episodes of the new Twin Peaks. (The gum is a Twin Peaks reference, in case you're not familiar with the series.) So far my reaction is mixed. Considering that this is truly a sequel, and what happened at the end of the original series, I'm very much hooked already. I have one major reservation: changing standards, and the fact that the new series was not made for traditional network TV, free Lynch (and/or Frost) to include more violence and horror than in the original, and some of that has been hard to take. It's not just the presence of it, but that you feel like it could appear very suddenly at any moment. That isn't going to stop me from watching it, unless it gets very much worse, which I've been told it does not. And of course it's great to see some of the old characters twenty-five years on.



52 Poems, Week 11: Note to J. Alfred Prufrock (Billy Collins)


I just dared to eat
a really big peach
as ripe as it could be

and I have on
a pair of plaid shorts
and a blue tee shirt
with a hole in it

and little rivers of juice
are now running down my chin and wrist
and dripping onto the pool deck.

What is your problem, man?


Billy Collins was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003.

—Beth Thackston Brooks is a retired teacher and beach bum who doesn't appreciate TSE.

Sunday Night Journal, March 11, 2018

After posting Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" a couple of weeks ago, I found myself remembering other bits and pieces of his poetry, so I got out a couple of old textbooks and went looking for them. Principal among these fragments was this, which used to be widely quoted:

Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born.

I couldn't remember which poem it was, so after browsing a bit I resorted to the internet, and quickly found that it's from "Stanzas From the Grand Chartreuse." You can read the poem at that link, though to my taste it's a bit long for reading on the web (250 lines or so). I can't say I think it's a great poem, but it's an interesting one. It's an account of Arnold's visit to the founding house of the Carthusian order, and is a more extensive lament for the passing of the old Christian world than "Dover Beach," which was written fifteen years later. More extensive, and more explicit--and more confused, really, it seems to me. Poor Arnold: intellectually he finds the faith of the monks almost contemptible, and is quite certain that the skeptical modern age is right about that question. Yet he deeply laments its loss.

Let's have the whole stanza ("these" are the monks):

Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head,
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.
Their faith, my tears, the world deride—
I come to shed them at their side.

Later in the poem he hopes that the coming age will be wiser and happier, but asks that for the time being he be left alone with his melancholy. 

It's not "Dover Beach," but it's really a pretty good poem, though it would be greatly improved by the removal of nearly all the exclamation marks, a habit of the 19th century which perhaps did not sound quite the same to them as to us. 

I wonder about that world which was in Arnold's time "powerless to be born." I think I can say without too much oversimplification that he found the skepticism of his age sterile, and he seems not to have had a clear idea of how it could become fruitful, really fruitful in the way that Christian civilization had been, though he thought that in time it must. Has that new world been born yet, or are we still waiting for it?

I feel fairly sure Arnold would have been surprised, maybe astonished, by what would happen to Europe in the 20th century. I know he would have been appalled: unprecedented material progress, unprecedented slaughter. Was that what was waiting to be born? The "rough beast" that Yeats so famously saw stirring? (You know that poem, probably; unfortunately politicians have been quoting it in recent years--unfortunately but also somewhat appropriately, though they usual don't get to that last bit.)

Or are we still in transit to some new and more Godless world? If we are, it promises to be, as far as I can tell, some sort of combination of 1984 and Brave New World. No one wants 1984, but I think there are a good many people who could read Brave New World and not understand that it is meant to depict a dystopia. After all, almost everyone is happy there, and isn't happiness what it's all about? Some of the mechanisms of 1984 would still have to be in place there, some means of insuring that people not only behave correctly, but that they think correctly. Those means needn't be violent; in fact violence, as the history of fascism and communism shows, is in the long run counter-productive because of the resistance it provokes. More likely it simply won't happen. Those who wish to get rid of God are finding the task rather more difficult than the skeptics of Arnold's time might have anticipated. 


Speaking of getting rid of God: a movie based on Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time has just been released. I ran across this commentary on the movie, in which the screenwriter is quoted as saying “I think there are a lot of elements of what [L’Engle] wrote that we have progressed on as a society.” I don't resent the removal of Christian themes in the movie (which, after all, is what you'd expect of Hollywood) nearly as much as I do the suggestion that its removal from everything that counts as real life is a fait accompli, and that the only "we" that counts is composed of those who have removed it from their own lives.

I doubt that I'll see the movie. I'm really not a great admirer of the book. I know it means a lot to a lot of people. But I didn't read it until I was in my thirties, and as I recall it didn't send the meter any higher than "pretty good."


Last week I discussed the culture wars, and in particular the gun control debate, as being in part a conflict between two political visions, the "free citizen" model and the "sheep and shepherd" model. As I said in a comment in the discussion following that, I knew this would seem to be loading the question toward the former, because in our culture the latter sounds demeaning. But I actually do write this journal in a few hours on Sunday evenings, and nothing better presented itself. Still doesn't, actually. There is a great deal to be said for the sheep and shepherd model. It is, after all, the essential structure of the vision contained in Judeo-Christian religion, and in fact is the same image. And it may very well be the most natural and in the long run most effective and durable mode of government. It may very well be that all this self-government stuff is coming to an end, dependent as it was on certain cultural foundations which are not only decaying but the object of active efforts at demolition.

In any case, it is almost self-evident that the vision I attributed to the Founding Fathers, of "a nation of free citizens: farmers, tradesmen, craftsmen, and mechanics," no longer has very much to do with our social reality. The typical or characteristic way of life in contemporary Western societies is that of a wage earner, a condition which is inherently more dependent and less free than that of one who lives by his own direct effort and property. Moreover, the characteristic employer, the paradigm that sets the tone and pattern for all, is a gigantic organization, whether "private" (corporate) or "public" (government),  of the type which in textbook terminology is classified as a "machine bureaucracy." It's not meant to produce free citizens. And it doesn't want them.


While browsing the Arnold section of Poetry of the Victorian Period, I came across a line which I had completely forgotten, but which made me laugh. Someone, either Dr. Eugene Williamson, who taught me that subject, or a critic whom he perhaps quoted, held this up as being astonishingly bad:

Who prop, thou ask'st, in these bad days, my mind?

Well, he was only twenty-seven when he wrote that, and he was no Keats; his best work came when he was much older. Still...that's awful. The rest of the poem (here) is not bad, though. In fact, it contains a phrase which became a sort of byword for Arnold's thinking. I'm not sure, but I believe he himself may have used it in his writings about the necessity of culture: the writers who "prop" his mind "saw life steadily, and saw it whole." That is a rare and important gift in any age.


Well, I've finished The Lord of the Rings, and I repeat what I said last week: if this is not a great work, I am no judge. I mentioned several weeks ago an essay that I'd published years ago in Caelum et Terra that I might dig out and publish here. Turns out I had done that a while back. I read it over the other day and it's still pretty accurate with regard to my opinion of the book. You can read it here


Here, at Touchstone, is another appreciation of the late Billy Graham, one I thought worth passing on.


Here's what I have to put up with at St. Gregory, my Ordinariate (not-technically-a-)parish. In the Divine Worship liturgy, which incorporates various Anglican elements, we are instructed to "rehearse the Decalogue" (quaint phrase) on Sundays in Lent. Fr. Matt explains why. This is really just audio, and the one photo moves around a bit, so I recommend you look at something else and just listen. It's thirteen minutes long.


It's azalea time here. About 85% of them are this color, which is not my favorite, but I included this picture as an example of the way they're supposed to be grown. This doesn't show the entire bush, which is at least fifteen feet wide, and over six feet tall. They're supposed to be big and luxuriant like this.


There's a pale orange-pink color which I like better, also a dark red one which I like even better, but I didn't see any of those on the walk where I took this picture. I did see this nice white one, though. I like the white ones a lot but they very quickly take on a dingy and dilapidated look.


52 Poems, Week 10: Le Roi S'amuse (C.S. Lewis)


Jove gazed
On woven mazes
Of patterned movement as the atoms whirled.
His glance turned
Into dancing, burning
Colour-gods who rushed upon that sullen world,
Waking, re-making, exalting it anew –
Silver and purple, shrill-voiced yellow, turgid crimson, and virgin blue.
Jove stared
On overbearing
And aching splendour of the naked rocks.
Where his gaze smote,
Hazily floated
To mount like thistledown in countless flocks,
Fruit-loving, root-loving gods, cool and green
Of feathery grasses, heather and orchard, pollen’d lily, the olive and the bean.
Jove laughed.
Like cloven-shafted
Lightning, his laughter into brightness broke.
From every dint
Where the severed splinters
Had scattered a Sylvan or a Satyr woke;
Ounces came pouncing, dragon-people flew,
There was spirited stallion, squirrel unrespectful, clanging raven and kangaroo.
Jove sighed.
The hoving tide of
Ocean trembled at the motion of his breath.
The sigh turned
Into white, eternal,
Radiant Aphrodite unafraid of death;
A fragrance, a vagrant unrest on earth she flung,
There was favouring and fondling and bravery and building and chuckling music and suckling of the young.
Jove thought.
He strove and wrought at
A thousand clarities; from his brows sprang
With earnest mien
Stern Athene;
The cold armour on her shoulders rang.
Our sires at the fires of her lucid eyes began
To speak in symbols, to seek out causes, to name the creatures; they became Man.
World and Man
Unfurled their banner –
It was gay Behemoth on a sable field.
In flesh, the ennobled
Spirits carousing in their myriads reeled;
There was frolic and holiday. Jove laughed to see
The abyss empeopled, his bliss imparted, the throng that was his and no longer he.

Lewis’s poetry did not meet with much success in his lifetime, and sometimes it is opined that he was not a good poet. I don’t agree with this at all. I suspect that his lack of success at the time had more to do with reigning poetical Zeitgeist, which he mocked, but later, I think, grew to like a bit more.

Lewis had an exceptionally vivid notion of Creation. I love the passages of Aslan singing Narnia into being, and also this image of Jove which is so alive, and joyful, and shot full of glory. Note that there are six stanzas here as in the Bible there are six days, but the events of each “day” are different.

I love the squirrel unrespectful, and this: Our sires at the fires of her lucid eyes began

To speak in symbols, to seek out causes, to name the creatures; they became Man, and this: the throng that was his and no longer he.

I like to think about that rather stolid, uninteresting-looking man with all this wonder going around in his head.


—Janet Cupo is a great-grandmother (and a great grandmother) on temporary (maybe) sabbatical from the workaday world.

Update 3/15/2018: There's a discussion in the comments about the layout of this poem. Courtesy of Marianne, here's the way it looked when it was first published in Punch in 1947. Click on the image to see it in something like full size.


Sunday Night Journal, March 4, 2018

The world is changing. Those words recur several times in The Lord of the Rings, and they keep recurring to me about these times and this country, and in particular over the past few weeks about the gun control debate. It seems to me that a slow transformation in the way Americans think about their country, especially about its political system, is under way. I tend to think the change is overall for the worse, but perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps when the new order stabilizes it will prove to be, on the whole, an improvement. But it will be different. It may preserve the forms of the Constitution, but the document will in effect no longer mean what it was intended to mean. 

Somewhere in something of Chesterton's there's an observation about the prudent approach to ancient structures. I have no idea which book or essay or newspaper column it's in, so I can only paraphrase the general idea, which is this: The impulse of many people when they come upon something--a fence, for instance--that seems to have no purpose is to say "I don't see the purpose of this. Let's tear it down." But the wiser response is to say "I don't see the purpose of this. We'd better leave it alone until we figure out why it's here." 

After Donald Trump won the electoral college, and therefore the presidency, a lot of people started demanding that we get rid of the electoral college. Most of them seemed to have no idea why the system was designed that way, that it's meant to distribute power more widely and prevent a situation where a few highly populated areas exercise complete control of the federal government. They also seem to have almost no idea at all that the state governments are not simply branch offices of the national government. They seem to see the country as being organized like a huge corporation, with its main office in Washington and every aspect of government, all the way down to your county courthouse, existing to implement the will of corporate HQ. This is not explicit, but it's the picture of the way a large organization works that they carry in their minds. But it's not what the Constitution prescribes.

Moreover, and worse, they tend to see the president as the equivalent of a corporate CEO, whose word, for all practical purposes, is law for as long as he holds the job: in short, as a king. This view has been growing for a long time and it seems to get worse every four years, which is why presidential elections are now so bitter; there is more at stake than there really should be. I think some of these people are genuinely surprised that the president cannot simply order the removal of all guns from private hands. Or, if they do realize that he doesn't have the power, they think he (or she) ought to--which is pretty odd considering that for the most part those who think this would be a good state of affairs also think Donald Trump is a fascist. 

I don't think many people under the age of forty or so really have a lot of knowledge of or sympathy with the old constitutional vision. I get the impression that they are not educated in that way, as earlier generations were. When they speak of democracy they mean an extremely crude version of it--that a numerical majority of citizens, counted nation-wide, should determine every question of policy. They don't mean the careful balancing of powers and interests that the Founding Fathers explicitly intended to prevent the likely result of pure democracy: the tyranny of the majority. 

The Constitution implies, more or less presupposes, and is meant to foster the development of a nation of free citizens: farmers, tradesmen, craftsmen, and mechanics who are free to manage their own affairs within very broad limits, and can be trusted to do it in a reasonably responsible way. The existence of slavery, the many crimes against the Indians, and all the other ways in which this vision was denied do not negate the intention. 

What I see developing now is an entirely different conception of what the nation should be. Instead of the ideal of free and responsible citizenry governed by representatives chosen from among themselves, the new paradigm sees two sorts of people: sheep and shepherds. The vast majority of us are the sheep, of course. We are stupid, ignorant, irresponsible, not knowing what is in our own best interests, at the mercy of the herd instinct--and worse, unlike sheep, always ready to do violence and other sorts of evil if the hand of the state isn't there to stop us. For the good of each of us and of all the other sheep, we need to be guided and protected by the strong hand and sound judgment of shepherds, who are few in number but great in wisdom and power. Many of the sheep class themselves see it this way, which is why democratic means are being used to transfer more and more power to the shepherding class. No one would put it that way, of course; no one wants to think of himself as being of the sheep, and no one who wants to be one of the shepherds would dare to use those words. 

The 2nd amendment makes a good deal of sense in the context of the old vision. Even setting aside the amendment's strong implication that private ownership of firearms is first of all meant to provide a ready defensive militia, its presumption is "Why should a citizen not be allowed to own a gun?" But in the sheep-and-shepherd context the question is "Why should anyone except the shepherds and their agents  be allowed to have a gun?"

I think this accounts for some of the mutual incomprehension of the two sides in the gun control debate. The shepherding party says "You don't need that gun." The free-citizen party says "That's not for you to decide." The shepherding party sees anyone with a gun as being likely to commit murder at any moment for little or no reason. The free-citizen party sees most people as responsible and murderers as being rare anomalies.

The gun-owning citizen also wonders why, given all the other menaces to life and health in this country, he and the tens of millions like him should be held morally responsible and have their traditional rights nullified when one person runs amuck with a firearm. And why this one terrible but rare problem should get more attention and generate far more emotion than other ills. According to Charles Cooke, whom I'm inclined to trust to get the numbers right (he provides a link for the second): 

By the time the clock strikes midnight, an average of 21 Americans will have been killed by drivers aged between 16 and 20. Tomorrow, on average, eleven teenagers will die because they were texting while driving

So if we raised the legal driving age to 21, thousands of young lives might be saved, vastly more than will be killed by lunatics attacking schools. The people who die in this manner are just as dead, and their families just as bereaved, as those murdered in Parkland, Florida. But there is no general public emotion, no journalistic outcry, and few or no calls for government action. Obviously deliberate killing creates more shock and outrage than accidents, but if the accidents are killing far more people, and are (in theory at least) preventable, something else is at work in the disproportionate demand for action against guns. I think what I've said here is part of that something else. 

The change in our conception of the commonwealth, if it is as big and lasting as I suspect, is ultimately a change in the people. The Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means, and in the long run that will be determined by the people. It almost seems inevitable, since the whole drift of the past fifty years and more in our culture has been toward the loosening of all self-restraint. And it's an iron law of human nature that people who cannot control themselves will be and must be, for everyone's sake, controlled by others. 


Apropos of nothing in particular, but before I forget it, here's the funniest thing I've heard anyone say about the president:

Everything Trump says makes sense when you just preface it with, "Donald from Queens, you’re on the air."


Here, via a link at Dappled Things, is an interesting conversation about mystery novels from two Catholic writers of same. One of them, T.M. Doran, I've heard of, and I have to admit it was not an enthusiastic recommendation, but still, it's interesting.


Sorry it's out of focus, but new cypress needles are one of my favorite spring colors, especially when they catch the sunlight.


52 Poems, Week 9: Deus, Ego Amo Te (Gerard Manley Hopkins)


O God, I love thee, I love thee---
Not out of hope of heaven for me
Nor fearing not to love and be
In the everlasting burning.
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance,
Sorrows passing number,
Sweat, and care and cumber,
Yea, and death, and this for me.
And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should I not love thee,
Jesu, so much in love with me ?
Not for heaven's sake; not to be
Out of hell by loving thee;
Not for any gains I see;
But just the way that thou didst me
I do love and will love thee:
What must I love thee, Lord, for then?
For being my King and God. Amen.

In the back of the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours there are poems. Many of them are excellent, and I have read them often. This has always been one of my favorites, but one night when I was reading it during Eucharistic Adoration, it became more than that.

When I was in school, I was taught that a person in mortal sin could be forgiven at the time of death if he prayed a perfect act of contrition, that is, an act that repented for sins, not because of fear of death, but out of love for God and sorrow for having offended Him. Even when I was quite young, I thought, “That’s ridiculous. Who could do that?”

However, that night in adoration as I was reading this poem, the prayer became mine. I felt it, and I knew that I loved God for His own self in a way that I had never comprehended before. I began to understand how in the presence of that love, fear might not be one’s primary motive for repentance.

In thinking about this it occurs to me that this kind of repentance for our hurtful actions is not at all unusual in our daily lives. If I do something that hurts someone I love, especially my husband or children, I might worry about the consequences of that action, but primarily I feel horrible because I have wounded that person. I’m not sure why this doesn’t translate easily into my relationship with God. Maybe it is because I think of His impassibility, or maybe because I was so fearful of punishment when I was younger.

I don’t, by the way, often experience this poem in the way described above. It was a gift for a certain time, and I treasure the remembrance of it, but it was like the Transfiguration. It would be nice to stay there, but that seems to be impossible.

In the breviary the poem is attributed solely to Hopkins, but while looking for the text online, I found that it is a translation of a prayer attributed sometimes to St. Francis Xavier. One source only credits St. Francis with the first few lines. There seems to have been a fair amount of disagreement about the original source, but I think this is the original in Spanish.

No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte
el cielo que me tienes prometido,
ni me mueve el infierno tan temido
para dejar por eso de ofenderte.

Tú me mueves, Señor, muéveme el verte
clavado en una cruz y escarnecido,
muéveme ver tu cuerpo tan herido,
muévenme tus afrentas y tu muerte.

Muéveme, en fin, tu amor, y en tal manera,
que aunque no hubiera cielo, yo te amara,
y aunque no hubiera infierno, te temiera.

No me tienes que dar porque te quiera,
pues aunque lo que espero no esperara,
lo mismo que te quiero te quisiera.

You can hear the Latin version of the hymn here.

If you pray the Liturgy of the Hours and have ever wondered, “How the heck do I find the melodies to all these hymns?” that link is an incredible resource.

It can also be heard sung in a translation by Edward Caswell here.


—Janet Cupo is a great-grandmother (and a great grandmother) on temporary (maybe) sabbatical from the workaday world.