52 Poems, Week 13: The Universal Prayer (Victor Hugo)
52 Poems, Week 14: There Never Was Time (Byron Herbert Reece)

Sunday Night Journal, April 1, 2018

Easter Sunday

When I was twelve years old, an aunt and uncle gave me two books for Christmas, both part of a series or set called The Looking Glass LibraryThese were The Haunted Looking Glass and The Looking Glass Book of Verse. The first was a collection of classic ghost stories, though of course I didn't know they were classic and didn't recognize names like M.R. James or even Bram Stoker; I think Charles Dickens was the only name I knew. I loved it and read most of the stories several times over the next five or six years. It included "The Monkey's Paw," which is a great story, but also a peculiarly disturbing one. I've sometimes thought I might better not have read it, because it colors my attitude toward prayer. (If you don't know it, suffice to say that it's probably the ultimate be-careful-what-you-wish-for tale.)

The Haunted Looking Glass was edited by Edward Gorey, and illustrated by him. That explains why, years later, in the early or mid-'70s, when there was a sort of Edward Gorey vogue, his work looked so familiar to me. The illustrations are rather brilliant: there is almost nothing at all in their subject matter that's directly frightening, but they manage to communicate a sense that something uncanny is invisibly present and about to act.  

The Book of Verse, however, I don't remember reading at all. I must surely have looked into at least, but obviously it held little appeal for me. I still have both books. Sometime in the relatively recent past--i.e. sometime in this century--I got out the Haunted one, recalling that I had thought the stories very good when I was twelve, and discovering that I had been reading classics of the genre. The other book, though, had been sitting unopened on various shelves as it moved around with me over the years.

One day last week a discussion here about ghost stories reminded me of The Haunted Looking Glass, and that in turn reminded me of its companion, and I wondered for the first time in many years what was in it. I found, somewhat to my surprise, and somewhat to my embarrassment, that it is a very fine anthology perhaps more fit for adults than for children, certainly more so than for my twelve-year-old self. Name any great poet (in English) that you like, and he or she is included here, including some very surprising names like Elizabeth Bishop. 

The editor is someone name Janet Adam Smith, of whom I had never heard, but she certainly had excellent taste in poetry. The biographical note in the book makes her sound interesting: 

...born in Scotland in 1905, [she] is literary editor of the British weekly, The New Statesman. She is also the author of books on mountaineering and of a critical study of Robert Louis Stevenson, and is at present writing a biography of John Buehan [sic--surely that was supposed to be Buchan].

Moreover, this anthology is a revision of her The Faber Book of Children's Verse, made "more suitable for American readers." And the fact that I'd never heard of her says more about my ignorance than her obscurity: here's her Wikipedia entry. Yes, that is supposed to be "Buchan."

Perhaps I would have found the book more interesting at, say, sixteen, than when I received it that Christmas, as by then there was some poetry I liked, but as far as I can recall I never looked at it. I hate to admit that an anthology of this quality was beyond me, though I suppose it was just as much a lack of interest in poetry that stopped me, as there are plenty of poems in the book that would have been accessible and entertaining to me, had I given them a chance. I doubt a similar project done today would be of this quality. And if it were intended for general audiences, it wouldn't contain the explicitly Christian poems that this one does.

All of this is to get around to saying that as I flipped through the book my eye was caught by the name of Christopher Smart, which I was surprised to see. And I read this poem of his, which strikes me as a great Easter piece:

Glorious the sun in mid career;
Glorious th' assembled fires appear;
Glorious the comet's train:
Glorious the trumpet and alarm;
Glorious th' almighty stretch'd-out arm;
Glorious th' enraptur'd main:

Glorious the northern lights a-stream;
Glorious the song, when God's the theme;
Glorious the thunder's roar:
Glorious hosanna from the den;
Glorious the catholic amen;
Glorious the martyr's gore:

Glorious—more glorious is the crown
Of Him that brought salvation down
By meekness, call'd thy Son;
Thou that stupendous truth believ'd,
And now the matchless deed's achiev'd,
DETERMINED'D, DAR'D, and DONE.

Ordinarily I would be put off, at least, by that use of capital letters, but in this case it seems perfect: "a blare of trumpets for the Lord," as one of the Psalms puts it. I wondered at first if they were Janet Smith's doing, as various copies of the poem which I found online don't have it. But it seemed very unlikely that she (or any anthologist) would have taken such a liberty, and such an odd one.  This PDF version from W.W. Norton, though, does have it.

The poem is untitled in the book, and that's because it's only a bit, the last bit, of a much longer poem called "Song To David," which is what you'll see at that link. I wondered who "thou" in the last stanza is meant to be. I thought at first it was the reader, but in the context of the whole poem I think it must be David.

DETERMINED'D, DAR'D, and DONE: Happy Easter.

Christopher ("Kit") Smart, as you may know, was confined to a madhouse for some years because of his "religious mania." Here is what his friend Samuel Johnson had to say about that:

My poor friend Smart showed the disturbance of his mind by falling upon his knees and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place. Now although, rationally speaking, it is a greater madness not to pray at all than to pray as Smart did, I am afraid there are so many who do not pray, that their understanding is not called in question.

And on another occasion:

I did not think he ought to be shut up. His infirmities were not noxious to society. He insisted on people praying with him, and I'd as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else.

 *

Here's a list of all the Looking Glass Library titles. I never had any but the two I've mentioned.

*

We went to the cathedral in Mobile for Mass on Holy Thursday. This was the view when we came out. The whole arc of the brighter rainbow was visible, though partly obscured by trees. 

HolyThursdayRainbow

 

Comments

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I'm sure I had at least one or two of those volumes when I was a kid, and although I'd be hard-pressed now to say which, I think it likely that Conan Doyle's The Lost World was one of them.

Seems to have been a good project. The books are not all that well made physically, though. Mine are a little fragile now.

I would like to read that biography of John Buchan, and I found it on Open Library. I don't know if any of you have ever used this website, but I found it a few days ago. I gather that what you get is actual pictures of the pages, and they have an amazing collection.

That said, if I can get it from the library at the college where my daughter works, I will prefer that.

I couldn't see that second rainbow on Facebook or on my Kindle, but I can see it here (obviously). There is also a little curved arc of white light coming from the top of that building. I wonder what it is. Anyway--nice picture.

AMDG

[A]t the age of five, the young John Buchan had his first serious adventure. He fell out of a carriage and the back wheel went over his head and fractured his skull.

AMDG

!!!

I don't know what that little arc is, either. Almost looks like it could be a very faint and distant rainbow.

Whatever it is, it adds a little something nice to the picture.

AMDG

I wish I could put that picture on my blog.

You're welcome, too.

Janet, I don't recall seeing that little arc, so maybe it's a UFO that the camera picked up but the eye did not.

Wow, that photo. What a glorious thing to see, coming out of Mass.

Yes, it was great.

Happy Easter, everyone!

And likewise to you. Thank you.

I've sometimes thought I might better not have read it, because it colors my attitude toward prayer. (If you don't know it, suffice to say that it's probably the ultimate be-careful-what-you-wish-for tale.)

Well, I don't need to read a story for my attitude toward prayer to be colored in that way. It's not that I fear praying for the wrong thing so much as that I am increasing aware that I have no ability to understand what the right thing might be.

AMDG

That's ok, in fact that's as it should be. The tendency I have to watch out for, and that's definitely not as it should be, is the suspicion that God is going to trick me: give me what I ask for, but in such a way that it's not only not what I wanted, but something bad. That's pathological.

There's a funny X-Files episode where Mulder and Scully meet a woman who turns out to be 500 years old or so, having been granted three (?) wishes and been tricked in that way. Mulder gets hold of whatever it is that grants the wishes and keeps trying to formulate a wish in such a legalistically airtight way that it can't go wrong.

Is it the woman in the carpet?

AMDG

I don't remember a carpet, but could be. I mainly just remember a few scenes, mainly Mulder struggling with his formulations. Also that one of the things the woman had originally wished for was a sack of turnips that never ran out of turnips.

You would remember the carpet. In the one I'm talking about, they found the woman rolled up in a carpet, but now that I think about it, she was the granter of wishes.

the woman had originally wished for was a sack of turnips that never ran out of turnips.

Sheesh! I would imagine it's really hard to live forever with such a limited imagination. I mean, I know there wasn't ice cream 500 years ago, but turnips?

I don't remember this one, which is odd because I watched them all straight through.

AMDG

You knew I couldn’t resist checking about those turnips, right? ;-) Anyway, I found the subtitles for that episode and here’s the part about the wishes:

I was born in 15th century France. And then one day an old Moor came to my village peddling rugs. And I unrolled one that an ifrit had taken residence in.

An "ifrit"?

A very powerful class of genie. He offered me three wishes. For the first, I asked for a stouthearted mule. For the second, uh, a magic sack that was always full of turnips. Did I mention this was 15th century France?

What was your third wish?

My third...I pondered for a great while. I didn't want to waste it. So finally, feeling very intelligent, spoke up, and I said..."I wish for great power and long life."

And thus became a genie yourself.

Gave me the mark of the Jinn...right there. It's forever. Sort of like a prison tattoo. I should've been more specific.

Ah. Must be the same one.

It was the funniest one.

AMDG

Thanks, Marianne.

AMDG

Yes, thanks. Your research skills are appreciated.

Janet, you should know I can't be counted on to remember much.

They were rather unimaginative wishes, but I guess if you were a medieval peasant who rarely got enough to eat....

Wonderful Christopher Smart poem.

I'm fond of Christopher Smart. I have a collection of his poems and although I don't go to it often I find that, when I do, I am always charmed and delighted by what I find. The excerpt you cite is no exception.

Did you know that Benjamin Britten set some of his poetry to music? "Rejoice in the Lamb" is the title of the piece.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMga5xcnY50

Smart:

For the trumpet of God is a blessed intelligence
And so are all the instruments in Heav'n.
For God the Father Almighty plays upon the harp
Of stupendous magnitude and melody.
For at that time malignity ceases
And the devils themselves are at peace.
For this time is perceptible to man
By a remarkable stillness and serenity of soul.

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah for the heart of God,
And from the hand of the artist inimitable,
And from the echo of the heavenly harp
In sweetness magnifical and mighty.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.

That's from "Jubilate Agno", I guess? I want to read that now. Probably anyone who's fond of cats has encountered his completely delightful praise of his cat Jeoffrey.

I was aware of the existence of the Britten piece, may even have heard it some time or other, but didn't know till I was looking for info on Smart while writing this post that it was based on Smart's poem.

"Looking Glass Library" didn't ring a bell, but as soon as I saw their logo on one of those links, I knew I had had some of their books.

AMDG

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