Previous month:
May 2018
Next month:
July 2018

June 2018

52 Poems, Week 26: Adlestrop (Edward Thomas)


Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.


[Editor's note: it has been pointed out to me that if there is no intervening discussion between the poem and the byline at the end of these posts, it looks like at a glance like the person who contributed it wrote it. Not so.]

—Paul has been reading the blog since 2008, when Janet drew his attention to a discussion about Brideshead Revisited. He currently trains translators in Brussels.

Sunday Night Journal, June 24, 2018

First it was "the personal is the political." Now it's "the political is the personal." The politicization of everything, as this National Review writer describes it, is bad. But it's not mysterious. Consider these items from that piece:

I fear that we shall go the way of The Nation’s Liza Featherstone, who recently warned an advice-seeker against dating a man who may be (egad!) a conservative and (perish the thought!) a fan of Jordan Peterson....

In 2012, David Graham, writing in The Atlantic, noted a study that showed that a growing number of Americans would be displeased if their children married someone of the other party. 

That sounds bad. It is bad. But if you change the "liberal" and "conservative" categories to "fervent atheist" and "fervent Christian," it makes sense. Even without actual animosity, two people with such seriously opposing views on such fundamental matters ought to think twice, at least, about getting involved in love and marriage with each other.

More disturbing than such views about romance are the instances I've seen of liberals not wanting to live in the same neighborhood as conservatives. Maybe the same thing happens in the other direction, but I haven't encountered it.

Once again I assert that the culture war is actually a religious conflict. I say this not for the purpose of inflaming the situation but of understanding what is actually happening. It's possible--only possible--that if people on both sides were more aware of this they might make more of an effort to tamp down their anger. Or then again it might make things worse, if people recognize that there are irreconcilable differences over first principles, not just policies. Well, even so, I prefer to have a clear understanding, even if that means recognizing that a situation is more dire than I had hoped.


In that long Facebook argument (381 comments!) I mentioned a few weeks ago in which I was taken to task for my comments about toxic femininity, I was criticized for "attempt[ing] to be reasonable" when the other person thought (apparently) that I should be emotional. I almost took this as a compliment, because I think reasonableness is in pretty short supply these days where political-cultural matters are concerned. That was certainly on display this past week in the matter of parents and children being separated when families enter the country illegally.

As I always take pains to say whenever I discuss anything having to do with Donald Trump, I did not support him, and the best I can say about his presidency is that it hasn't been as bad as I feared. But the open crusade waged by the media, the entertainment industry is so disproportionate to what he is actually doing that when some "Oh my God did you hear what Trump just did?!?" story hits the news, which it does at least once a week, I automatically assume that it's exaggerated. I wait several days before even bothering to check it out, because the chances are very good that it will turn out to be either not as bad or not as significant as reported, and sometimes that it's not entirely true. It often seems that the anti-Trump forces never heard the old fable of the boy who cried wolf. Or didn't understand its lesson, and thought that the problem was that the boy didn't scream loudly enough.

The family separations were  (are?) a harsh and unjust practice and well worth objecting to. And so, the thing in question being in fact bad, nothing apparently would do but to ratchet up the emoting even further, and to ignore the legal and practical complexities that led to it. As usual, the only place left to go when you're stretching for a way of describing your enemy as the Ultimate Evil is the Nazi comparison. This requires equating the temporary incarceration of people who have entered a country without permission with slaughtering them. Even aside from the moral blindness of the comparison, its sheer stupidity ought to have kept anyone but Trump-deranged fanatics from making it. Yet a former director of the CIA made it, very publicly, and then defended it. I think Neo-neocon's rejoinder is worth quoting:

So: no, there is nothing familiar, not even vaguely, to the Holocaust, and it is a disgrace to suggest that there is.

I’m not going to go into a long post describing the Holocaust, but it is clear to all who study history that the death camps and even work camps were not refugee detention centers, and the people in them (Jews and others) were not illegal immigrants asking for asylum or seeking to become German citizens (or Polish citizens for that matter, the country where the Germans located most of the death camps).

In Nazi work camps, many people (if relatively able-bodied to begin with) were set to “work” to be starved, tortured both psychologically and physically, and killed in droves by disease and exhaustion because of the terrible conditions. In Nazi death camps they were killed at the outset, although a very small percentage were spared briefly to help with the cleanup of the mass killing in exchange for a few more months of life, or to work at certain other tasks for a while under conditions that would ordinarily kill them rather quickly (within months as a rule). The object was to eliminate them as a group from the face of the earth, and certainly from Europe.

That was the stark reality, and it is obscene to make the comparison so many people are making.

If you want to read some exasperatingly reasonable discussion of the complex immigration situation, try Damon Linker or David Frum. I'm usually not much of a fan of Frum, but I think he's on target here. Damon Linker is often interesting. He seems to consider himself on the left--"center-left" I think is the term he uses--but is willing to take conservative and/or populist concerns seriously and to characterize them fairly, which is unusual to put it mildly.

Well, I didn't intend to write that much about politics. Now I've run out of time for the music-related post I had planned. Next week.


For more than ten years we had a Meyer lemon tree growing beside our front steps. In many of those years it bore more lemons than we knew what to do with. This is a how it looked in its glory days, a picture of a few branches of a tree that was eight feet or so tall. 

image from

When life gives you this many lemons, limoncello, not lemonade, is the appropriate response. Several years ago my wife made a big batch of it, several quarts at least, stored in Mason jars. It's delicious and very potent, made with a base of Everclear. I've been using this neat little bottle to dispense it. LimonCelloIt originally contained two different and delicious liqueurs, brought from Europe (France, I think) by one of our children. I liked the bottle(s) so much that I didn't want to throw it (them) away, and have been using it for limoncello for a while now. A few days ago I poured the last of the limoncello into it and took this memorial photo.  

I call it a memorial because this not just the last of that big batch: it's the last ever from our lovely lemon tree. Several years ago we had an unusually cold winter which had the tree covered in ice for several days. It lost all its leaves and we thought it might be dead, but it recovered, partially, and gave us a few lemons the next year. Then the year after we had another cold spell, not quite as bad as the earlier one but enough to kill back all the leaves, and that was pretty much the end of the tree. This spring only a few living branches were left and we finally cut it down. I'll spare you the sad sight of the stump.

52 Poems, Week 25: When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer (Walt Whitman)

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.


I'm not all that much of a Whitman fan, but I've always liked this since I read it in high school--or was it even earlier? It may have been the first Whitman I encountered.

—Mac is the proprietor of this blog

Sunday Night Journal, June 17, 2018

Speaking of (visual) art: I mentioned that there are some painters whose work I like. At the risk of marking myself as a clod, I will say that Andrew Wyeth is one of them. I can certainly understand that the contemporary art establishment would disparage him. That's all right; I consider it pretty much a certainty that one day in the future that establishment will be the target of vast ridicule for the idiocies it has embraced, idiocies which make those people who admired the emperor's nonexistent clothing look wise.

But I was surprised a few months ago when a piece in The New Criterion, a conservative magazine which gives a lot of attention to the arts, seemed to more or less go along with the despisers. The views of the author, James Panero, seem somewhat ambivalent, but he ends by saying that Wyeth's "compelling images still offer up a voyeuristic escape, all with the timeless stamp of inauthenticity." And in the beginning he quotes the magazine's founder, Hilton Kramer--well, let me just give you the whole passage, which quotes not only Kramer but other critics.

“An image of American life—pastoral, innocent, and homespun—which bears about as much relation to reality as a Neiman Marcus boutique bears to the life of the old frontier,” is how my late colleague Hilton Kramer saw Wyeth in 1970.... Remarking on Wyeth’s “monochrome vision of the world,” here Hilton wondered “if there is not in this art a hidden scatological obsession. How else can one account for the excremental quality of this palette, which censors out anything that might complicate its ‘earthy’ view of nature and human experience?”

Beyond false realism, a near unanimity of critics has accused Wyeth of trafficking, it might be said, in a false consciousness of American life. Wyeth’s images of “frugal, bare-bones rectitude” may be “incarnated in real objects” wrote Robert Hughes in the New York Review of Books, but they have been “glazed by nostalgia . . . which millions of people look back upon as the lost marrow of American history.” A “kitsch-meister” of “dreary vignettes” that “celebrate . . . cultural and social immobility” (Robert Storr), Wyeth painted “formulaic stuff not very effective even as illustrational ‘realism’ ” (Peter Schjeldahl) in a palette of “mud and baby poop” (Dave Hickey). “Not a great artist.” “The press noted when he voted for Nixon and Reagan” (Michael Kimmelman).

A lot of that suggests, or more than suggests, precisely the self-inflicted semi-political stupidity that the magazine normally deplores. Worse, it strikes me as somewhat ignorant. I say that with some hesitation: who am I to claim that these celebrated critics are ignorant? They certainly know vastly more about art than I do. But it reminds me of those naive readers acquainted with only a handful of Robert Frost's more pleasant works who see him only as a painter of quaint New England scenes. 

A little internet searchng shows me that Wyeth was the subject of a Time cover story in the December 27, 1963 issue. This, then, was almost certainly my first acquaintance with Wyeth. I would have been fifteen years old. My grandfather, who lived with us, subscribed to Time, and I frequently read it, which makes me think now of a Garrison Keillor bit about the intellectuals of a small town being the ones who read Time. It certainly was a window onto a different world for me.

I remember very clearly looking at the Wyeth paintings reproduced in the story. I had no idea who Wyeth was. I don't know that I had ever given a moment's thought to painting as an art. But I was instantly captivated by the images. And what captivated me was more or less the opposite of what the critics quoted above seem to see as his appeal. Yes, the paintings were realistic in execution. But it was precisely not their picture of rural America, nostalgic or otherwise, that appealed to me. I was a teenager on a farm in Alabama. I was perfectly well acquainted with rural America as it actually was. What spoke to me in those images was not their depiction of that world, but their mysterious suggestion of another. There was something numinous in them (though of course I didn't have that word.) I think especially of Christina's World and Wind from the Sea. Both of them captured a deep and mysterious yearning, and made me feel it. In spite of, or because of, their carefully rendered detail, they were for me the opposite of a portrait, idealized or not, of the very ordinary world around me. 

For all I know most of Wyeth's admirers see his work as being the same basic sort of thing as the antique advertisements and farm implements on the wall of a Cracker Barrel. All I can say is that it is not that for me. Is the fact that I recall so vividly that experience of 55 years ago evidence of my naiveté or of Wyeth's power? Unlike, for instance, the science fiction I read at that age, Wyeth's work still strikes me more or less as it did then.


Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed and other Catholic-and-or-conservative critiques of the classical liberal project are getting some responses from people on the right who aren't convinced that the current problems of said project are intrinsic to it. (Please note standard distinction between classical liberalism as philosophy and contemporary political liberalism as philosophy and practice.) 

Here is one, a somewhat lengthy one, from Vincent Phillip Muñoz, a Notre Dame colleague of Deneen's, at National Review. He attributes the critique of liberalism in large part to "radical Catholics." Or rather "'radical' Catholics", suggesting that he doesn't consider them radical in fact. I don't know whether that's an accurate description of Deneen or not. I certainly don't think it's an accurate description of me, except in what ought to be an almost tautological sense that I consider the Catholic faith to be at the root of my views about most things. (I'm one of those people who often insist, rather tiresomely, that they just claim to be or want to be Catholic, no preceding adjective needed. But of course the reality is that the adjective often is needed, or at least very useful, in talking about the actual-world-as-it-is. )

Radical or not, I'm more or less in agreement with Deneen about the current condition and likely future trajectory of liberalism. (See this post from last month.) A good part of Muñoz's piece is an argument that Deneen is wrong about the nature of liberalism as it was understood by the American founders. I'm not qualified to judge that. What I can judge is the present state of things, and it certainly seems plausible to me that liberalism, as attractive as it is in many ways, and as successful as it has been in many ways, contains the seed of its own destruction. The absence of a solid metaphysical center may have made it inevitable that eventually liberal man would take that absence to heart--"internalize" it, as they say--and become a law unto himself, with the only seemingly paradoxical result that he must rely ever more on the power of the state.

Muñoz believes that the process is reversible:

If we Americans are no longer sufficiently virtuous, the fault lies primarily with us, not our founding principles. Our political and economic institutions have never been perfect, but (aside from slavery and its legacies, perhaps) they have never been so corrupt that they have made virtuous living impossible. Original sin may make corruption probable, and political liberty may make it possible; but the causes of America’s problems lie primarily in the poor choices we have made.

That means the solution to our problem lies, to a large extent, in our choices. To choose well, we must regain both political wisdom and the character that befits a constitutional people. Reacquaintance with our actual liberal principles and a return to belief in the existence of an obligatory moral law are essential.

The latter may require a reemergence of religious belief, especially among the cultural elite where it has precipitously declined. The necessity of morality for liberal democracy, and of religion for morality, cannot be understated.

I'm sorry, but when I look around at the actual-world-as-it-is, this seems to amount to little more than saying "If things were otherwise, they would not be as they are." The first sentence may well be true. But I see absolutely no reason to hope that the American people at large, and especially its culturally dominant and deracinated class, will regain anything that the founders would recognize as wisdom and character, unless perhaps if forced by some kind of catastrophe to face reality. I don't want this to be true. As I noted in that blog post I linked to above, I would on the whole like to see the liberal order preserved, because I don't think I'd care for most of the likely alternatives. But it seems very improbable. 


Please raise your hand if you have tried to use the search function on this blog and given it up as hopeless. I'm thinking about removing it. I just tried to use it to find that recent SNJ in which I discussed Deneen's book and it failed. DuckDuckGo returned it as the top result. Having a search function that's seriously unreliable is worse than not having one at all. 


We had several thunderstorms during the past week.


And some peaceful sunsets.


52 Poems, Week 24: An Old Man's Winter Night (Robert Frost)


All out-of-doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him—at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping here, he scared it once again
In clomping off—and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and cracks of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned the moon—such as she was,
So late-arising—to the broken moon,
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man—one man—can't keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night.


Apart from being, as one of my grandchildren put it, "sort of old," and being very familiar with the phenomenon of walking into a room and being unable to remember why I went there, this is not a scene I've ever experienced. But this poem makes me feel that I have.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Sunday Night Journal, June 10, 2018

I had a very strange experience last Friday night. Does everyone have the problem I have with "last" and "next" in this context? Today is Sunday. Does "last Friday" mean the day before yesterday, or a week before the day before yesterday? Similarly for "next." Anyway, I mean June 1, a week before the day before yesterday. There are several art galleries and a lot of artists in Fairhope, and on the first Friday evening of every month there's an "Art Walk," which means that a block or two in the middle of town is closed off to traffic, the shops--art galleries and everything else--are open, there are musicians here and there: a sort of fair, in other words, or a street party.

I have to preface this with the acknowledgement that I'm not much of a visual arts person. I'm not much of a visual person in general, as my wife, who is, will confirm: my attempts to describe anything I'm not actually looking at are frequently very inaccurate. Literature and music are my big artistic interests, with the visual arts a distant third. Sure, there are pictures I enjoy looking at, and artists I like, but it's just not something I devote a lot of attention to. And where abstract art is concerned I cross over from lack of interest to skepticism and even philistinism. As a rule the best I can say about abstract art is "Well, that's sort of pretty." (The worst is "Gosh, that's really ugly.")

So: we went to last Friday's Art Walk, the first one for me, though my wife may have been before. And we went into this gallery/shop which was full of what I think of as typical Fairhope art. Since this is a coastal town, there are lots of pelicans and piers and sunsets over the water. Some are better done than others, of course, and most of them are pleasant--I love pelicans and piers and sunsets, and if I could paint, that's the kind of thing I would paint so I don't really mean this as a putdown. I've posted a lot of pictures of sunsets here. And the ones in this gallery seemed well done, but still...just pleasant. I wandered through pretty quickly and found myself in the back of the shop looking at some abstractions.

That's when the strange thing happened: I was moved emotionally. I can't really say exactly what the emotion was. It was very similar to the feelings produced by certain moments in certain pieces of music: not really a specific emotion, but a sort of pleasurably piercing sensation felt definitely in the heart; I mean the physical heart. I was a little shocked. There were several paintings there, and most of them gripped me oddly, but there was one that really produced that sensation:

Christine Linson Gallery: Abstract &emdash; 41 - Red Intersecting

I would not have copied the image and posted it, but the web site provides the HTML for embedding it, so apparently it's okay with the artist. Her name, as you can see, is Christine Linson (the copyright notice you see here is not on the painting itself). This photo of it is just that, and isn't the painting itself anymore than a photo of a person is the person. The textures of the canvas and of the paint are a part of the effect, as is the size--roughly two feet wide, I think. Or maybe more like three?--you see what my visual memory is like.

Anyway...I have no conclusion to draw from this, no larger observation; it was just a new and interesting and very pleasurable experience. As far as I can remember I have never before had an emotional reaction to an abstract painting.

Here's a link to the artist's site.


A postscript to last week's discussion of Pope Francis as seen through Ross Douthat's To Change the Church, regarding the persistence of the "liberal" vs. "conservative" struggle over the meaning of Vatican II:

The bigger picture here is not the half-century-plus since the Council, but the century-plus in which the Church has been dealing with the challenge of theological modernism, by which I mean, very loosely, the skeptical spirit which tends to remove or explain away the supernatural elements of the faith, usually in the name of making it more acceptable to Modern Man. And, widening the view even further, the challenge of modernism in the whole broad sense of the incredulity of all Christian belief in the eyes of that same Modern Man. That struggle is far from over. No one reading this will see the end of it, unless the end of this world intervenes. 

I think this is a much deeper and more mysterious phenomenon than we think. We tend to look at specific ideas and specific people who push those ideas, whether world-view-definers like Darwin whose names everyone knows, or theologians and philosophers like Rudolf Bultmann whose names are familiar only to those interested in the subject. But the really significant thing is that millions and millions of ordinary people who never give much conscious attention to ideas think like them. Maybe that's entirely explainable as the effect of culture and education dominated by skeptical assumptions. But I tend to think there is something more powerful at work here. I don't mean to suggest that I think it's the work of the devil, any more than false ideas always are. It just seems to me sometimes that ideas really do have a life of their own--not a conscious will, but an ability to spread and thrive under favorable conditions.

At any rate I often think of something I quoted several years ago from a comment on Rod Dreher's blog: "No matter what the Church did, [modern man] was done with it." Here's the post where I discussed it.


If you were interested in Douthat's book, but not interested enough to read it, you can get a good idea of its gist from this interview with him. This paragraph is pretty much my own view of Pope Francis:

My provisional view is that the real Francis is what he appears to be — a devout, prayerful, pastoral Catholic who has a certain impatience with doctrinal niceties and who has come around to the fairly common Jesuit view that the Church’s teachings on sexual morality are a great impediment to evangelization and need to be tacitly relaxed. This is not the same thing as having a deliberate grand strategy for transforming Catholicism into Episcopalianism, and there are all kinds of ways in which Francis is not a theological liberal as the term is usually understood.

I keep remembering something I said to my wife within, if I remember correctly, a few weeks of Francis's election: "He seems like someone who would be a great parish priest, but I'm not so sure he'll be a good pope."


A few weeks ago in the comments on that post about Nordic mythology we were discussing the disparity between the hard and violent world of medieval Scandinavia and the seeming mild blandness of contemporary Scandinavia. Marianne suggested a connection between that old spirit and the gruesomeness of Nordic noir. Well. Over the past week or so my wife and I watched the first series of The Bridge, the Swedish-Danish crime drama, and I think Marianne has a point. It wasn't the gruesomeness as such, though that was there, but the hardness. After three or four episodes my impression was something like a cold place full of cold people. There was more to it than that, of course, and the impression changed somewhat. Still, it wasn't altogether off the mark. It was reinforced by the cinematography, which is relentlessly washed out, gray and white, almost monochrome. 

But the cinematography is beautiful, especially in HD. I guess I probably discussed here the British-French knockoff (remake, imitation--whatever it should be called) of The Bridge. The bridge of the original is the Øresund Bridge, which connects Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmö (Sweden), and the story involves a crime that occurs on the bridge and is investigated by two police-persons, a Danish man and a Swedish woman who apparently has Asperger's Syndrome. The British-French version is called The Tunnel, with the English Channel tunnel serving a narrative function similar to that of the bridge. 

I liked The Tunnel, but I liked The Bridge better. The plots are pretty similar, but I thought The Bridge did a better job of integrating plot and character, especially that of the shall-we-say-eccentric policewoman. It does have some very gruesome moments, and one or two fairly explicit and unnecessary sex scenes. I've noticed before that some of these shows "front-load" their most sensational moments, as if they need to draw viewers in with sex-'n'-violence (or in this case violence-'n'-sex) before trusting the work to engage them. In this case it could backfire, as the gruesome scene in the first episode could certainly put people off the whole thing.

I discovered recently in the course of an initially very confusing conversation that there is a third variant on this plot, this one American-made and also called The Bridge, this bridge being one between El Paso and Juarez. I didn't know about it and the person I was talking to didn't know about the original. 


There are several magnolia trees in the woods around my house, but they don't bloom much, which is always a little disappointing to me because I really like these huge sweet-smelling flowers. Besides being delightful themselves, they're a pleasant childhood memory, because we had two large and vigorously blooming magnolia trees. When they were blooming there were often some of the flowers in the house. Apparently they need a lot of sun to thrive. I finally noticed this year that one of the ones near us does bloom at the top, where it gets the sun, forty feet or so up in the air. Yesterday at someone else's house I noticed their magnolia, which stands mostly away from other trees, had a lot of flowers, many within reach from the ground. I was able to experience their scent for the first time in a long time. My wife was laughing at the way I stuck my nose into this one. 


52 Poems, Week 23: The Prophet (Alexander Pushkin)


(translated by Maurice Baring)

With fainting soul athirst for Grace,
I wandered in a desert place,
And at the crossing of the ways
I saw the sixfold Seraph blaze:
He touched mine eyes with fingers light
As sleep that cometh in the night:
And like a frighted eagle’s eyes,
They opened wide with prophecies.
He touched mine ears, and they were drowned
With tumult and a roaring sound:
I heard convulsion in the sky,
And flights of angel hosts on high,
And beasts that move beneath the sea
And the sap creeping in the tree.
And bending to my mouth he wrung
From out of it my sinful tongue,
And all its lies and idle rust,
And ‘twixt my lips a-perishing
A subtle serpent’s forked sting
With right hand wet with blood he thrust.
And with his sword my breast he cleft,
My quaking heart thereout he reft,
And in the yawning of my breast
A coal of living fire he pressed.
Then in the desert I lay dead,
And God called unto me and said:
“Arise, and let My voice be heard,
Charged with My Will go forth and span
The land and sea, and let My Word
Lay waste with fire the heart of man.”

In my effort to read the hundreds of books that have been moldering on my shelves for lo these many years, I am currently reading Have You Anything to Declare by Maurice Baring. Baring was a late 19th/early 20th century author and Catholic convert who wrote plays, novels, non-fiction, and poems. He was also, as you can see, a translator.

Being quite indolent, I looked around the internet to see if I could find Baring’s translation so that I wouldn’t have to type it. I had no luck, but I did find this YouTube video of a Russian reading the translation.

I wanted to compare it to another translation and here is one by A. Z. Foreman.


My spirit wracked with thirst for grace,
I wandered in a gloomy place
Till at a crossing of the ways
I saw a six-wing'd Seraph blaze.
With fingers light as dream at night
He brushed my eyes and they grew bright
Opening unto prophecies
Wild as a startled eagle's eyes.
He touched my ears, and noise and sound
Poured into me from all around:
I heard the shudders of the sky,
The sweep of angel hosts on high,
The creep of beasts below in the seas,
The seep of sap in valley trees.
And leaning to my lips he wrung
Thereout my sinful slithered tongue
Of guile and idle caviling;
And with his right hand bloodied wet
In through my wasting lips he set
A Serpent's wise and forkèd sting.
And with his sword he cleft my chest,
And reft my quaking heart out whole,
And thrust inside my sundered breast
A blazing shard of living coal.
There in the desert I lay dead
Until the voice from heaven said:
"Arise O Prophet! Work My will,
Thou that hast now perceived and heard.
On land and sea thy charge fulfill
And burn Man's heart with this My Word."

And here is another video with an actor reciting the poem in Russia. I found it rather good.

I don’t really have much to say about the poem, except that I wonder how the Soviets managed to suppress all this passion and fire for so long.


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

Sunday Night Journal, June 3, 2018

Impelled by conversations with a local friend and by Craig Burell's review, I decided to read Ross Douthat's To Change the Church, his assessment of the controversies surrounding Pope Francis. I hadn't wanted to; I explained why in this post a few weeks ago, so I won't repeat myself. I've now finished the book. I'm not going to attempt a full-scale review of it. I don't think I need to go to that trouble, since Craig's review is so through and fair. But here is a personal reaction.

I mentioned in that earlier post that I had an uneasy feeling about Pope Francis from the beginning, and by "the beginning" I mean the moment he stepped out on the balcony after his election. I knew nothing about him, and I can't explain the feeling. But I think it turned out to be justified. You may be thinking "Yeah, you had this prejudice, and you've fed it and allowed it to blind you." But insofar as one can ever know one's own motives, I really don't think that's the case. In fact I worked at trying to ignore and suppress that feeling, and to look for evidence that would prove it wrong. 

In John LeCarre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, part of the plot hinges on the fact that the "mole" in the British intelligence establishment knows that the man trying to identify him is fair-minded and will attempt to discount evidence that he can attribute to his own bias. So the mole more or less deliberately does something that he knows will cause the mole-hunter to be prejudiced against him, in the expectation that the hunter will be suspicious of his own suspicions. (The book is arguably the best espionage novel ever written, certainly among the best. In the unlikely event that you have a taste for that sort of thing and haven't read it, do so.)

Believe it or not, I have, at least sometimes, the same sort of scruple as the mole-hunter. I do make an effort to be fair, and I'm usually very much aware of it if my negative view of another's actions or ideas is accompanied by any degree of personal antipathy, and try to take it into account. And as that vague uneasy feeling about Francis persisted, and became a concern that went beyond annoyance at some of his less judicious statements, I tried to attribute it to sheer prejudice. I have, for instance, an instinctive suspicion of anyone who seems to be making ostentatious gestures of virtue and good will. Rightly or wrongly, I reacted that way about some of the things Francis has done and said. And I kept in mind that my reaction could well be totally unfair and totally unjustified. Nor do I say now that my impression was accurate, only that it was my impression. 

I also have had more than one experience, as I'm sure we all have, with people who talked much and passionately about love for humanity but were personally harsh or worse with the people in their immediate orbit, or anyone who opposes them. And there were plenty of anecdotes suggesting that Francis has that tendency. One of my motives, a couple of years ago, in posting a quotation from Francis every day during Lent, was to work against these prejudices of mine. There is no lack of inspiring words to be found in his talks and writings.

Another factor that made me want to resist my inclination was the reaction of many or most politically conservative American Catholics to Francis's statements on politics, economics, and ecology. To be blunt, a lot of these people made complete fools of themselves, revealing that they had linked the Faith far too deeply and closely with their politics, to the point where they were ready to declare apostate or heretical anyone who questioned right-wing orthodoxy on, for instance, the virtues of the free market. Not only did I not want to be one of them, I didn't want to be seen as one of them. I had my reservations about Laudato Si (see this post), but I didn't yell "Socialist!" at it. I didn't want to ride a right-wing anti-Francis bandwagon.

Then came the 2014-15 Synod on the Family, and the controversies surrounding it and the document Amoris Laetitia. It became impossible for me to doubt that the war between for-lack-of-a-better-word-liberal and for-lack-of-a-better-word-conservative factions within the Church was still being waged; that the progressives who want changes which I and many others, including the last two popes before Francis, believe to be incompatible with the Faith were as numerous as they ever had been, and that the pope was in sympathy with them; that the apparent coming-together of the Church around John Paul II and Benedict was an illusion; and that the war not only had not ended but had no end in sight, certainly not within my lifetime, possibly not within the lifetime of anyone reading this today. 

So when all that was combined with the constant use of the pope's words as a stick with which to beat orthodox Catholics (to which I did not react at all well) by 2016 I had ended up at the place suggested by the title of this post: "Ignoring the Pope As a Spiritual Tactic." 

But of course I couldn't completely tune out all the commentary, pro and con. Many of those who scoff at the criticisms of what Francis is doing were not of the progressive party, but simply saw Francis as continuing the work of John Paul II and Benedict. That view can be supported by most of what the pope says publicly, but what he does often seems to tell a different story. And I often had the feeling that I was being gaslighted by the open progressives, sometimes even by the pope himself (as with the Scalifari interviews). Those noises you hear at night from a supposedly empty room are not footsteps. The lights aren't going dim. I really think you may be losing your mind. As Douthat notes, the progressives were simultaneously denouncing those who were concerned that important teachings were being changed, and rejoicing that they were, proclaiming "new paradigms" and whatnot.

So here is Douthat to say, with ample documentation and sound reasoning to support him, that:

  • those who are concerned are not imagining things;
  • there is a powerful faction which wants to change the Church's traditional teachings on divorce and possibly other sex-related (of course) matters;
  • the implications of such a change are enormous and go far beyond the specific questions being debated;
  • the pope is on the side of the changers;
  • conflict is likely to be the state of the Church for many years to come.

Whatever else may be said about this book, it is not frenzied and paranoid. On the contrary, though Douthat's views are clear, he goes out of his way to be restrained, judicious, and fair to opposing views. I don't see any reason to think that his analysis is not accurate. In any case this summary of the simple factual state of affairs seems inarguable, apart from its predictive aspect:

[Pope Francis] will probably not be remembered for achieving the goal that he set in the conclave speech that made him pope--the goal of a less "self-referential" church, a church less consumed with its own internal controversies, a church no longer stuck "within itself" but ready to go outward to evangelize and save the world. Instead the theological crisis that he set in motion has made Catholicism more self-referential, more inward-facing, more defined by its abstruse internal controversies and theological civil wars.

Whatever the pope's real views and intentions are, it is a fact that the mess he says he likes to create is here.

I'm grieved that the Church is most likely going to be torn by factionalism for some time to come, and that the confident outward turn I had hoped for is not going to happen. But there is a certain relief, and a certain serenity, in accepting that this is in fact the state of affairs. If you're wondering whether the vessel is too close to the rocks, clear and unobstructed vision is preferable to fog, whether it shows you that you're in danger or that there's nothing to worry about--though that's not a very applicable analogy, because I have absolutely no control over this situation and there's no action I can take.

The curious papal absolutism which now comes from progressives sometimes takes the form of the question "Don't you trust the Holy Spirit to guide the Church?" (And sometimes it's the direct accusation that you don't.) Yes, I do. 


The pastor of St. Ignatius parish in Mobile has generously allowed our Ordinariate group, the Society of St. Gregory the Great, to use their small and beautiful chapel for our Mass. Today was our first Sunday there, and it's also Corpus Christi Sunday, which turned out to be very appropriate, as you can see from this picture. (Sorry it's not quite in focus.)


In case you can't read it, that's "Verbum caro factum est"--the Word was made flesh. Those might be the most important, exciting, fascinating, liberating words ever spoken in human language. The Ordinariate's liturgy retains a feature that was dropped after Vatican II: the "Last Gospel," the reading, at the end of Mass, of the opening of the first chapter of John. It's like the Creed for me--I never tire of hearing it. The vistas of thought and hope and dream it opens up are infinite.