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August 2018

52 Poems, Week 35: The Lantern Out of Doors (Hopkins)


Sometimes a lantern moves along the light,
   That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
   I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
   In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
   They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
   What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: Christ's interest, what to avow or amend
   There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kind,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.


Hopkins has a note (written to his friend and editor Robert Bridges I think) about his use of "wind" in this poem:

I mean that the eye winds only in the sense that its focus or point of sight winds and that coincides with a point of the object and winds with that. For the object, a lantern passing further and further away and bearing now east now west of one right line, is truly and properly described as winding.

This kind of precision is typical of him. If you get the Penguin Classics Poems and Prose, you can read selections from his notebooks which are full of extremely detailed descriptions, mainly of nature. I mean extremely. I would quote one, but I've discovered in the process of doing this series that there are a lot of books which it is nearly impossible to lay flat and hold there with some object so that you can see the page and type at the same time.

Hopkins is another one whom I expected from the first to include in this series. But I wanted to do one of his lesser-known poems. I think every Catholic with any literary inclination has probably read "God's Grandeur" and/or "Pied Beauty" ("Glory be to God for dappled things..."). And maybe "The Windhover." I like this one as well as any of those, though it isn't as immediately striking. It occurs to me that this image of a single small light moving through general darkness is not something most of us see very often at all. There are in fact probably millions of people who never have seen it. 

There's an excellent biographical sketch of Hopkins at the Poetry Foundation. I started reading it and realized that although I've been reading Hopkins since I was in college I really knew almost nothing about his life, apart from the fact that he was a Jesuit, and nothing at all about his family and upbringing. 

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Sunday Night Journal, August 26, 2018

I had intended to write about something else today, a couple of somethings else, actually, but was occupied with other things well into the evening, and in any case I would have a very hard time focusing on anything but the letter released yesterday by Archbishop Vigano. Surely you've heard the story. If not, here is what I think is the first report. One of the first, anyway. Naturally the factions went to war immediately, either believing Vigano's assertions and supporting him, or disbelieving them and attacking him. I don't think you need for me to cover the arguments and the evidence and the parties involved. I'm not a journalist, and there are plenty of them, professional and amateur, doing that job, and you can find their work online in an instant. So I thought I would just state my personal reaction.

Then I wrote a thousand words of personal reaction. Then I threw them away. So these two paragraphs are all there's going to be for a Sunday Night Journal this week. I'll say this much: I think Vigano is most likely telling the truth, so at first I was excited to think that rumored facts were finally going to be dragged into the light of day. But the most likely outcome is no real "outcome" at all. Just the further escalation of the factional war and the further deterioration and demoralization of much of the Church. 

52 Poems, Week 34: The Country Clergy (R.S. Thomas)


I see them working in old rectories
By the sun's light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men's hearts and in the minds
Of young children the sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.


R.S. Thomas (1913-2000) was a Welsh poet and an Anglican priest. You can read all about him at the Poetry Foundation. His poems tend to be rather grim--see, for instance, "Evans." Wales, in his eyes, seems to be a pretty grim place. But his is the sort of low-key unostentatious work that appeals to me.

I had planned to post a different poem this week. But first I let the time get away from me and didn't remember till late last night that this post was due. And then, when I started working on it this morning, I discovered that the poem I'd meant to post presents some serious formatting problems, so I decided to do this one instead. I've had in mind from the beginning that I'd include something by R.S. Thomas, and since I didn't have much time to browse chose this one, the first of his I read and the one that made me go out and buy his Selected Poems in the Phoenix Poetry Series, a very nice little hardback which unfortunately seems to be out of print, though used copies seem to be easy to find (Amazon link).

I will admit that I've probably not read more than a third of it. But when I flipped through it just now I found something curious, a little sheet of paper with some scraps of a poem I was apparently working when I was last reading the book. I'm pretty sure that was at least fifteen, perhaps twenty, years ago. The first line on the sheet is:

Assurance that things are well somewhere

That may be an appropriate comment on "The Country Clergy," and a qualification of the general darkness of Thomas's work. 



--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Sunday Night Journal, August 19, 2018

I feel obliged to say something about the latest eruption of sex-related scandals in the Church. I'm not sure exactly why I feel obliged. This blog is not primarily about religious matters, and a great deal happens in that realm that I don't feel any need to comment on. But as it is written by a Catholic and looks at things through explicitly Catholic eyes, it seems to me that not to say something on this extremely important subject would look like evasion. 

I've started to write about it once or twice before but came to a quick halt because any expression of outrage and anger that I might come up with is inadequate to the worst of the crimes. I doubt that I need to describe those here, and I certainly don't want to. They are the sort of thing that leave one physically ill and thinking "How is it possible that a human being could do this?" They are not "failings" or "mistakes." They are monstrous evils. Moreover, I don't think I have anything to say about any of it, either in the way of expressed outrage or of opinions about the causes and cures of the problems, that hasn't been said by someone else, usually many somebodies. 

So I'm going to quote a lot of those others. But first I think it's important, really important, to note that the measures that have been taken since 2002 have certainly reduced the number of crimes against minors, especially children. The whole climate has changed, and situations that were once accepted as good and normal (and usually were) but were exploited by child molesters are in general no longer permitted. I mean situations where a priest is alone with a child for any length of time. Neither parents nor priests in their right minds would allow it now. 

Nevertheless: what the McCarrick and Pennsylvania disclosures have done is to reveal that a culture of sexual, mainly homosexual, corruption, exists at the highest levels of the Church in this country, and possibly in Rome, where reports of McCarrick's sexual misconduct were ignored as he was being made a cardinal. The thing that comes up over and over again in relation toMcCarrick is that "everybody knew." That is, "everybody" knew he carried on a homosexual life which involved preying on seminarians. And they kept it secret, and did nothing to stop it. Rod Dreher has described (repeatedly) being told this in 2002 when he was a reporter investigating the abuse crisis: over and over again people in a position to know told him that "everybody knew," but no one would go on the record. 

Well, you can read all about that elsewhere, and probably have if you're interested. The result, for me and for many, many other lay Catholics, is that the American bishops as a body, meaning principally the USCCB, have no credibility at all. Individual bishops may, and do, have it. But the body as a whole: no. No one can be very confident that its official statements are entirely honest.

People will always commit sexual sins, and some of those people will be clergy. That has to be accepted as a sad fact of life. But what can't be accepted is the presence of a circle of men, quite a large circle, and much of it highly placed, who are committed to serious sin as a way of life, in direct and violent contradiction of their vows and of basic Catholic moral teaching. What we hear over and over and over from most of the hierarchy evades this fact. And the clear inference, supported by evidence (e.g. McCarrick), is that at least some of them are part of it, and even more of them know about it, but for whatever reason don't or can't do anything about it.

At least one bishop, Morlino, of Madison, Wisconsin, is willing to speak plainly:

It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord. 

You can read more of his statement here. It is harsh, and I'm sure he will be charged with "homophobia" (a word I don't consider to be of much use) and of scapegoating homosexuals. But the majority of the abuse cases have been male-on-male, and involved adolescents, not pre-pubescent children. And anyway the situation would not be fundamentally different if heterosexual activity were at the center of the "subculture," if that's the right word.

As you may know, Rod Dreher has been writing frequently about all this for some time. As you also know if you read him, his work reporting on the scandals in 2002 played the major role in driving him away from Rome and to Orthodoxy. His blog draws a lot of comments from smart readers with a wide range of views. By way of illustrating what some lay people are feeling and thinking, here's a selection of comments from two posts, this one and this one. (The posts themselves are worth reading though far from pleasant. If you only want to read one, make it the second, "Traitors In Their Midst.") I don't necessarily agree with everything in every one of these, certainly not with those who have left the Church. But I understand and to a great extent share their feelings. And I'm seeing this sort of thing everywhere I look on the Internet, particularly on Facebook, from faithful Catholics. Many of the laity are very, very angry. (I just copied and pasted these--typos and other errors are left as they were.)

The laity need to bulldog this until 100% of the network priests and bishops are laicized. Laicized. Every one of them.

Mandatory clerical Celibacy was required by the Gregorian reforms to solve problems in the medieval church; now it is clearly creating more problems than it solves. It has got to go.


In the case of the present crisis, more pain is in prospect. Many will lose their faith. The process of decline, already well advanced in places like Europe and elsewhere, will accelerate. A considerable portion of the hierarchy will defect, and in fact has already defected, to the Enemy. There is no way to put a happy face on any of this or dress it up as anything other than the disaster it is.

In short, this catastrophe has considerably longer to run. The Church that rises from the ashes will be smaller in numbers and weaker in the eyes of the world. But She will be purified by fire and suffering. And She will again be the light that Jesus called Her to be.


The worst thing is to feel suspicious of every cleric I encounter. [my emphasis]


I do have concerns that clericalism has in fact colored doctrine both intentionally and unintentionally to protect and promote the self-interests of the clergy. Is that not exactly what they have been doing regarding the sex abuse crisis, so why not many other doctrinal issues as well?

It’s past RICO time. These men are utterly and irredeemably corrupt. Nothing but force is going to protect kids.


I am at the point where you were; staying Catholic but not trusting the clergy. But that begs the question, who should you trust?

No one.

You can’t trust the Orthodox priest, the Protestant pastor or anyone, except hopefully your spouse. I’ll stay with the RCC, but always a bit suspicious of those in authority, never ever letting my kids around anyone, as all parents should do the world over and throughout time.


A big part of this horror is the realization that if it wasn’t for the courage of the victims of the Catholic clergy who came forward, the empathy and hard work of the journalists who listed to them, and the law enforcement agencies who put the law into motion, this evil would remain hidden;

Because of this, the bishops, with a few exceptions, have lost trust and credibility in any objective sense. They are a hindrance to authentic healing, and if they have any shred of honor left in them, should leave.


This numbness of faith I’m feeling is something new for me – I was too young to appreciate what was happening in 2002. It’s as if my limbs are being severed one by one as I watch from a distance, and eventually I’m going to have to return to my body and live in this new reality. I love the Church and weep over her. The only thing that consoles me is the understanding that this is in reality a great mercy. Two months ago nothing was different. The only thing that’s changed is a little bit of light has shined on the ugly darkness. Now there’s a chance for change that didn’t exists before.


I cannot be Catholic any long because I don’t see how I can ever trust a cleric again. I have girls that are teenagers and at least in theory they wouldn’t be targets but nevertheless I would never leave them in the company of any cleric, ever. You can’t live a faith like that.
Unlike you I don’t see another form of Christianity as an answer. I’m just done.


I work for a catholic organization in a chancery building and have for the past 11 years. I am beside myself with anger and disappointment (too weak a word, really). We were all led to believe things were different this time, that all the rot was in the past. Now I feel duped, and worse I feel like my work helped a system that gave cover to awful men and their crimes. I feel a fool for having taken Catholicism seriously when it’s clear so many priests and bishops never did. [my emphasis.] I guess I shouldn’t be entirely surprised, there were indications all along that many did not take the call to holiness seriously especially in sexual matters. Look at the way they were ignored or dismissed from the pulpit and in the confessional. I’m trying hard not to fall into despair but it is very, very difficult when I read about all those children abused and discarded, the ongoing McCarrick slime, and the good men scandalized and chased out of seminaries. The crocodile tears of a predator was worth more to these bishops than the innocence, souls, and physical protection of children and vulnerable people. I’m like a man in a bombed out building, looking around in bewilderment and wondering if there’s any good left that’s worth salvaging.


I live in the Archdiocese of Newark and have had my heart broken by our diocese and my parish over this summer. But what living in this tension with my former friend and what has gone on in my diocese is doing for me is helping me to realize that the Lord will use those broken clerics to consecrate the Eucharist and baptize my babies and absolve my sins. And I am now more aware that I am “a sheep among wolves;” very crafty wolves that sometimes dress in shepherd’s clothes.

Ultimately, I love Jesus and His Church too much to take the steps you and your wife took. I am not bashing you. But my faith isn’t any longer an intellectual exercise, it’s a love between me and my Redeemer.

I’m really angry, though. I’m planning to protest the USCCB meeting in Baltimore in November and we’re not giving ++Tobin another cent until he starts acting like a pastor and less like a CEO.


[This is one commenter replying to another.] "What I’m noticing is that the secular media is repeating the same story from 2002..labeling it a pedophila crisis. Understand: every instance of gruesomeness detailed in the Pennsylvania testimony is diabolical.
But no one is speaking about the demographics of the which 81% are adolescent or adult males."

This. If anything is ever gong to change, and children are truly going to be protected, we have to destroy the clerical lavender mafia root and branch, along with the hierarchs who protect them. Not just in the U.S., but globally. And most of all in Rome.

Every other issue is secondary to this one.


The institutional Latin church needs to be burned to the ground and rebuilt — not destroyed, but gutted and rebuilt. Unless it is totally gutted, the rot will remain. All of the hierarchs need to go, much of the priesthood needs to go, and a good chunk of laity needs to go, and from the remains a new Latin church can be built on firmer foundations which are more moral and more accountable and transparent. That kind of reform, which is needed, will prove to be impossible unless the entire current regime is liquidated.


When men made the temple into a trading house, Jesus flipped the tables and drove them out with a whip. These men have made the Bride into a brothel and their crimes demand action swifter and more severe than committees and letters and Very Serious Discussions.

Drag them bodily from the altars. Tear the vestments from their bodies and cast them from the sanctuary. Hand them over to the police.

Mercy does not mean withholding consequences, forgiveness does not mean returning to the status quo, and frankly, a jail cell is a better place for repentance than a rectory.

As for me, there's no chance at all that I will leave the Church. My commitment is irrevocable. There's no chance at all that I will repudiate the Faith. My commitment is irrevocable. But one effect of this for me has been to increase the frequency and volume of those little questions that are always with me, that in one way or other come down to this one: what if none of this stuff is true? If your physics teacher is a criminal, it doesn't mean that the acceleration of earth's gravity is no longer 32 feet per second per second (I can't believe I remember that). And it can be verified by experiment. But the whole foundation of Christian faith is the testimony of others, nothing that one can verify independently for oneself. If the custodians of the testimony are discovered to be repeating a story that they themselves do not believe, it disturbs one's confidence in their teaching in a way that the physics teacher's sins do not. 

Over and over I find myself asking: do these men even believe in God?

One last note in what is already far too long a post: I think the Church should consider ordaining married men. I know this would have many problems of its own--everyone who grows up Protestant knows the term "PK." And even aside from theological and pastoral problems the practical obstacles are immense and could not be overcome quickly. Maybe it's not a good idea. But it's certain that for the priesthood to be seen as heavily composed of gay men who may or may not be celibate is a catastrophe. You could not come up with a better way to drive normal men, husbands and fathers, from the Church. 


Because of the grim subject matter I wasn't going to include a picture this week as I usually do. But having written the above, I feel a need to see and think about some healthy green living thing. This is another picture from my Ireland trip. It's a small tree that seemed to be of the fir family. I have no idea what it's called. But that yellow at the tips of the foliage is not a trick of the light--the color actually varies that much.


52 Poems, Week 33: Thrice Toss These Oaken Ashes (Thomas Campion)

Thrice toss these oaken ashes in the air,
Thrice sit thou mute in this enchanted chair,
Then thrice three times tie up this true love's knot,
And murmur soft "She will, or she will not."

Go burn these pois'nous weeds in yon blue fire,
These screech-owl's feathers and this prickling briar,
This cypress gathered at a dead man's grave,
That all my fears and cares an end may have.

Then come, you fairies! dance with me a round;
Melt her hard heart with your melodious sound.
In vain are all the charms I can devise:
She hath an art to break them with her eyes.


In case you're wondering, I don't think this is a great poem. It's a conventional love poem from around 1600, relatively slight compared to most of the poems we've had in this series. But it's very well done. And by "conventional" I mean that it isn't a straight-from-the-heart cry of the sort that came in with the Romantics (more or less), but that it's in the courtly love tradition which involved certain conventions in the lover's words to or about the "mistress" with whom the song or poem is concerned. There's a certain detachment involved.

The reason I'm posting it is that Campion (1567-1620) was an accomplished poet-musician whose poems work equally well on the page or with their tunes. I regard him as some kind of ideal in that way.

I usually get a little impatient when someone says that the lyrics of this or that contemporary songwriter can stand alone as poetry. I'm not sure I've ever seen one of which that is really true. I love Dylan's work (a lot of it anyway), but I don't think he should have gotten the Nobel prize for literature. This is not a disparagement of his best work, or anyone else's--and there are a good many songwriters around now who are doing better work than Dylan has done since his early peak. I would in fact be willing to sacrifice some non-essential body part to have written some of their songs. Many of them are so good precisely because the lyrics are brilliant. But they're song lyrics, dependent on their musical settings for a great deal of their power, most of which they lose when read in isolation.

Here is "Thrice Tosse..." sung to the tune Campion wrote for it.

See what I mean? It's as good a song as it is a poem.

I'm actually not entirely sure precisely what the charms in the first two stanzas are supposed to do. The first suggests fortune-telling, the second...I don't sounds like suicide, but maybe something to bend her will to his? I guess it would have been obvious to people of his time.

By the way I have not seen anything to indicate that Thomas Campion was related to Edmund Campion, S.J. Here's his Wikipedia entry.

I promise this is not an attempt to turn 52 Poems into a music series.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Sunday Night Journal, August 12, 2018

Some years ago, probably quite a few though I'm not sure, I read a review of one of Joan Didion's books which said something to the effect that the chief or most engaging characteristic of her work is her sensibility. I may have that wrong, but whether or not it's what the reviewer said, it seems apt to me, based on the fairly small amount of her work I've read: the novel Play It As It Lays, the essay collections The White Album and Slouching Toward Bethlehem. I just finished the last of these, and that notion occurred to me several times during the reading. 

What is that sensibility? Sensitive, intelligent, unillusioned, depressed, neurotic, nostalgic, fatalistic, romantic, cynical, disappointed--the last three are essentially aspects of one thing. All three of these books were written in the 1960s, and it's pretty clear that she was pretty unhappy at the time. I don't know whether things got better for her or not.

I've had Slouching on my shelf for some time, and had read a couple of the essays in it. I picked it up again because the title essay is her report on the Haight-Ashbury hippie culture in 1967, when it came to the attention of the whole nation as "the Summer of Love." I find Didion's perspective on "The Sixties," by which I mean the whole phenomenon which has been so heavily mythologized since it actually occurred, essential. The prevailing myth, subscribed to by most of the social-political left (which means that it's the dominant one in the media, the entertainment industry, and the academy, and therefore dominant in general) is that it was a time of awakening and liberation, and that the summer of 1967 was one of its high (ha ha) points, the moment when a counter-cultural impulse which included political, social, and philosophical revolutions came to flower. The countervailing myth, subscribed to by most of the social-political right, is that it was a time of disintegration and collapse. 

Didion stands somewhat apart from those categories and those views. I take her to be more or less a liberal, but she is, as I said earlier, unillusioned, and she reports what she sees without, as far as I can tell, any ideological filter. She is, in a sense, conservative, in that she seems to suffer from a sort of civilizational vertigo, and to want to hold on to whatever stability she can find. Accordingly, she tends to focus on the crazy aspects of the hippie subculture, which were undeniably there and significant, whether you think it was on the whole a good or a bad thing. I'd say this essay, like its companion, the title essay of The White Album, is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what was going on then. Or wants to understand what it was actually like. Didion's view is not the whole story, but it is a true and important part of the story.

We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum.

She herself seems to be caught out in that vacuum, as the essay "On Morality" shows.

Apart from all that, she is a terrific writer, in both style and substance, and I think anyone who appreciates good prose and deep intelligence would value this book. Not all the essays are of equal quality and significance, but all are at least interesting.

I'm going to quote from one of them, "I Can't Get That Monster Out of My Mind," about the movie industry, because I think it's so striking a picture of the mentality that apparently set in there in the early 1960s, when the decline of "the studio system"--the nature of which has never been clear to me--gave directors new freedom. And is still prominent.

One problem is that American directors, with a handful of exceptions, are not much interested in style; they are at heart didactic. Ask what they plan to do with their absolute freedom, with their chance to make a personal statement, and they will pick an "issue," a "problem." The "issues" they pick are generally no longer real issues, if indeed they ever were--but I think it a mistake to attribute this to any calculated venality, to any conscious playing it safe.... Call it instead--this apparent calcuation about what "issues" are now safe--an absence of imagination, a sloppiness of mind in some ways encouraged by a comfortable feedback from the audience, from the bulk of reviewers, and from some people who ought to know better. Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg, made in 1961, was an intrepid indictment not of authoritarianism in the abstract, not of the trials themselves, not of the various moral and legal issues involved, but of Nazi war atrocities, about which there would have seemed already to be some consensus.... Later, Kramer and Abby Mann collaborated on Ship of Fools, into which they injected "a little more compassion and humor" and in which they advanced the action from 1931 to 1933--the better to register another defiant protest against the National Socialist Party.

She makes a number of judgments about directors which I don't necessarily share, including a negative one about Bergman,  a terrible failing in my eyes. But: "they are at heart didactic." That's still a justifiable complaint. And aren't they self-righteous and self-important about it?

The above is quite inadequate as a review of the book, by the way. I've focused only on a couple of things that happen to especially interest me. There is much more to say of both book and author as seen therein. I might add that her use of Yeats's poem "The Second Coming" in her title and as epigraph were probably not at the time the somewhat tired devices they've since become, when even politicians quote the poem--or at least the one sentence, "The center cannot hold." 


This porch ceiling has been painted a color known around here as "haint blue." I only learned of this recently. Has anyone else heard of it? Here's an explanation.

HaintBlueMost people would just call it sky blue, I guess. 

There is a brewery called Haint Blue in Mobile. I'd like to support them but there is a brewery right here in my town so I usually buy theirs. Haint Blue has an odd beer called Marianne, which is spiced with saffron. You can read about it here. Rather in the "hmm...interesting" than "mmm...wonderful" category to me.

May all these little breweries thrive for generation unto generation. The success of the craft beer movement is a great compensation for living with the craziness of our time. 

52 Poems, Week 32: The "Cynara" poem (Ernest Dowson)


Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    When I awoke and found the dawn was grey:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind,
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.


According to this article in The Guardian the title is from Horace and means "I am not as I was in the reign of good Cinara." 

If you had asked me I would have sworn that the refrain was "I have been true to thee..." And I don't have the excuse that it's been a long time since I read it, since it was no earlier than last winter (I think). Moreover, I think "true" sounds better. So one of us, Dowson or I, has a better ear than the other. I guess it's probably not me.

Dowson is another one-hit wonder. Well, no, two hits. The other one is very short, so I think I'll include it. I'm not sure whether the Latin sentence is meant to be a title or an introductory quotation. The poem itself seems to be an epigraph for the others. It's at the beginning of the edition I have, before the preface, and is in mixed case, whereas the titles of all the others are upper-case. So I'll follow that example. The quotation, also from Horace, according to this article at the BBC, is "The shortness of life prevents us from entertaining far-off hopes."


Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.


A year or two ago I picked up, cheap or free, a nice hardback volume of Dyson's collected poems. I read them all, and there weren't any others as memorable as these two. But I did mark a dozen or so as worth re-reading. I wouldn't argue with someone who thinks that these two, especially "Cynara," are on the overwrought and adolescent side. But I think they're very good, and also that they're among the saddest poems in the English language, though maybe that's partly because Days of Wine and Roses is one of the saddest films ever made. You'll notice several phrases in them that have become part of our culture. Cole Porter has a song called "Always True to You In My Fashion," which I assume borrows the notion from Dowson, but it's a light, silly song. And I think there's a novel title in there somewhere.

I have a little fragment of memory from early adolescence (I think) in which a character in a movie quotes "Cynara." I found it very touching at the time without really understanding why. A few years ago I tried to find out from the Internet what movie it was, but never located it.

Somewhat later in adolescence (I think) I read a book of short stories by John Anthony West called Roses, Roses Riotously. It must have received some sort of favorable publicity because I found it in the fairly small library in the fairly small town of Decatur, Alabama. I remember fragments of some of the stories, and I think they were somewhat cynical, and perhaps they were a bit romantic, too, and I would have found them appealing on both counts. One odd little thing that I recall from them is a character saying to his girlfriend "How many times must I tell you?--there's been no music written since Scarlatti." I'm sure I didn't know who Scarlatti was but I thought that was sort of a cool thing to say, though I think I also recognized that it wasn't intended to make the character look good. Years later when I did know who Scarlatti was I thought the character had half a point.

Dowson was one of the artists counted among the "Decadents" of the late 19th century. He was a mess (see Wikipedia bio), and he died young. He was also a Catholic convert. So even if he was a mess, we can suppose, in absence of reason to think otherwise, that he died in God's grace. And two of his poems, at least, are remembered. One could do worse.

Ernest_DowsonImage from The Poems of Ernest Dowson (London: John Lane, 1905): Public Domain

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Sunday Night Journal, August 5, 2018

This is about language and literacy, and may come across as grumpy old man stuff. I really don't feel grumpy about it, though. Well, all right, I admit I do find it annoying, just a little. But mainly find it amusing, and interesting. Language develops, and frequently the developments are accidental and involve ignorance and/or confusion. And I don't want to sound like I'm coming down really hard on other people's mistakes, because I certainly make enough of my own. In fact this post is probably a trigger or catalyst for me to make a bad one, or have someone point out an old one.

I don't know what the statistics say, but it seems pretty obvious to me that in my lifetime there has been a decline of literacy in several senses of the word. One of these is ignorance of certain words and expressions that were once absorbed from print, seen first and heard later (or perhaps both more or less at once), but are now heard first and maybe never seen at all until some young person, raised on TV and the Internet, has a need to convert them to text. Their general import has been grasped, but the words themselves have been confused with homonyms or near-homonyms, resulting in a mistaken choice for print. And presumably an explanation, also mistaken, has been un- or half-consciously supplied as background. It's that apparent reasoning that I find most interesting. 

I began to notice this some time ago, not only in casual personal communications but in journalism where the writer was presumably paid and standards of some sort ought to apply. I jotted down several of them, by which I mean I wrote with a pen on a scrap of paper, which I have just located on my desk. I thought of  it a few days ago when I saw an ad for a literary magazine on Facebook which invited me to "Take a peak" at their latest issue. 

toe the line -> tow the line

I've always thought the original expression had a military origin, meaning something like "Line up precisely and stay that way." I pictured soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder in a straight line, toes touching a line, real or imaginary, directly in from of them.  According to Wikipedia, that's the most likely possibility, although not the only one. But in any case the word is "toe," not "tow," and the meaning is more or less what I said. That has long been generalized to mean, in a word, "conform." In my experience its most frequent use has been to refer to conformity of speech by members of some organization, especially regarding communication with those outside. This has been helped along because the word "line" has for some time been used to refer to an officially approved and supported idea or doctrine, especially in politics, as in "the party line." "He's not sure this legislation is a good idea but he'll toe the line when he talks to the press."

So if you're a young person who's never done all that much reading you may have grown up hearing that phrase on TV but never have read it. And your young head makes the best sense it can of it: the politician in question will "tow"--i.e. carry, i.e. repeat, i.e. stick to--the official "line." If you have to put the idea into text, "tow the line" is what you write.

defuse -> diffuse

As in "The manager spoke calmly to the angry customer in an attempt to diffuse the situation." This makes a kind of sense: instead of conflict seen as a bomb that needs to be defused, it's seen as a kind of poisonous cloud that can be diffused

moot -> mute

As in "It's a mute point." A "moot point" has a legal origin meaning that the point, whatever it is, has no more legal relevance. We generalized it to refer to something related to a debate or discussion but of little or no consequence to the resolution. "Whether the evidence was enough to convict him is a moot point, because he died before the case came to trial." It's easy to see how one hearing this, not knowing the word "moot," would semi-reasonably think it was "mute"--a point that does not speak to the question at hand.

throes -> throws

As in "death throws." I suppose the image here is more or less correctly grasped as a sort of convulsion. But I find it macabre, and a little funny in a macabre way, because it pictures something a good deal more vigorous: the corpse-to-be actually throwing itself about the place, hurling itself across a room. Or, less morbidly, "He was in the throws of infatuation."

cite -> sight

As in "He was sighted for drunk driving." You know, the police saw him driving drunk, so they arrested him.

site -> sight

As in "Emergency workers are on sight at the accident." We know they are there because we saw them. It's hard to believe that many people don't know the word "site," so this may just be the textual equivalent of a slip of the tongue--something I do fairly often when typing, actually. But I have seen it in news stories.

pique -> peak

As in "It peaked my interest." This makes the original expression, "piqued my interest," a good deal more emphatic: interest brought to its maximum point, not merely aroused. 

I think I've also seen "peek my interest," which makes less sense. I have not seen anyone refer to a fit of peak. Or peek.

apprise -> appraise

As in "You will be appraised of any changes to this policy." As with "pique," this one is probably just ignorance of the existence of the original word, and substitution of one that the person knows. But I guess it's not like the others in that it's just pure mistake, not a plausible use of the incorrect word, except in the vaguest way.

beg the question -> beg the question

This is not exactly the same sort of thing, as it doesn't involve use of the wrong word, but it does involve misunderstanding. It doesn't mean "provoke the question." It's a semi-technical term for the logical fallacy of assuming a conclusion in the premise of an argument. (See Wikipedia.) It's a very understandable misconstrual. And it's a fitting instance for this discussion because, as the Wikipedia article explains, it is itself the result of a misunderstanding like the others I've listed here. Also, someone who encountered it through reading is more likely to know its original meaning. 

foreword -> forward

All right, in this case I am grumpy. This one deserves no mercy. Anyone who is writing about books and has occasion to mention a foreword ought to know the word. But there is a kind of very loose sense to it, as the foreword can be seen as forward of the main text.

If you have other instances of this sort of thing, I'm interested in hearing them. 

The "take a peak" I referred to earlier I'll ascribe (not "subscribe") to straightforward old-fashioned typographical error.


Slightly related. I think I'll keep to myself the location of the book of which this is the cover. It is on public display. I can't believe I'm the only one who ever noticed it, but it seemed to have been there for a while.


52 Poems, Week 31: In the Time of the Tumult of Nations (Samuel Hazo)


We thought that the worst was behind us
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We planned and we saved for the future
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
The crowds in the streets were uneasy
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We murdered our annual victims
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We were fined if we smoked in the cities
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We gave and deducted our givings
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We kept the bad news from the children
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We wakened from nightmares with headaches
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We voted for men we distrusted
    in the time, in the time, in the time,
    in the time of the tumult of nations.

In the time of the tumult of nations
    the ones who were wrong were the loudest.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    the poets were thought to be crazy.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    the President answered no questions.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    protesters were treated like traitors.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    the airports were guarded by soldiers.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    young women kept mace in their purses.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    the rich were exempt in their mansions.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    we waited for trouble to happen.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    we lived for the weekends like children.

Like children we clung to our playthings
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We huddled in burglar-proof houses
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We said that the poor had it coming
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We readied our handguns for trouble
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We tuned in to war every evening
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We watched as the bombs burned the cities
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
The name of the game was destruction
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We knew we were once better people
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We pretend we are still the same people
    in the time, in the time, in the time,
    in the time of the tumult of nations.


I had the great pleasure of hearing Samuel Hazo recite this poem from memory at a meeting of a small Catholic writers group in Pittsburgh. I’d heard his name off and on over the years but had never looked at his poetry until he began attending the group earlier this year, and thus I did not know he was a practicing Catholic whose faith informs his poetry. When I heard this poem for the first time I was struck by the way that its simplicity of form masks its rather solemn profundity – I really like the way that they work almost counter to each other.

Mr. Hazo has published over 30 books of poetry, fiction, essays and translations. Most recently CUA Press published his The World within the Word: Maritain and the Poet, a book Hazo originally wrote in 1957 and the only book about Maritain for which Maritain himself wrote a foreword. Hazo turned 90 on July 19th.

--Rob Grano has a degree in religious studies, which he's put to good use working for a medical laboratory for the past 15 years. He's published a number of book and music reviews and occasionally has gotten paid for it. He lives outside of Pittsburgh, Pa