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September 2018

52 Poems, Week 39: Epistle To Be Left In the Earth (Archibald MacLeish)


...It is colder now,
      there are many stars,
        we are drifting
North by the Great Bear,
      the leaves are falling,
The water is stone in the scooped rocks,
      to southward
Red sun grey air:
      the crows are
Slow on their crooked wings,
      the jays have left us:
Long since we passed the flares of Orion.
Each man believes in his heart he will die.
Many have written last thoughts and last letters.
None know if our deaths are now or forever:
None know if this wandering earth will be found.

We lie down and the snow covers our garments.
I pray you,
      you (if any open this writing)
Make in your mouths the words that were our names.
I will tell you all we have learned,
I will tell you everything:
The earth is round,
      there are springs under the orchards,
The loam cuts with a blunt knife,
      beware of
Elms in thunder,
      the lights in the sky are stars——
We think they do not see,
      we think also
The trees do not know nor the leaves of the grasses hear us:
The birds too are ignorant.
Do not listen.
Do not stand at dark in the open windows.
We before you have heard this:
      they are voices:
They are not words at all but the wind rising.
Also none among us has seen God.
(...We have thought often
The flaws of sun in the late and driving weather
Pointed to one tree but it was not so.)
As for the nights I warn you the nights are dangerous:
The wind changes at night and the dreams come.

It is very cold,
      there are strange stars near Arcturus,

Voices are crying an unknown name in the sky


I can't say that I have the formatting and punctuation of this poem correct. As far as I remember I don't have it in any of my books, and I don't want to take time to search. So I looked for it online, and found several versions. Some did not have the indentation as I have it here, and I vaguely (very vaguely) recall that it looked something like this when I first encountered it in a high school textbook. I decided to use this copy.

I doubt that MacLeish's reputation is very high these days, and I think he wrote a lot of poetry that was mediocre or worse. But I thought this one was haunting and beautiful and fascinating when I read it in that textbook. As far as I can remember I hadn't read it since then and am pleased to find that it's as good as I recall. Maybe better, never mind that it's full of physical impossibilities. I was very much into science fiction at that age, and this is a somewhat science-fiction-y poem. That was certainly some of its appeal for me at age sixteen or whatever it was. I think there is a sci-fi novel called The Lights In the Sky Are Stars

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.


Sunday Night Journal, September 23, 2018

I'm writing this post on Thursday afternoon and scheduling it to be posted on Monday, as I'm going to be out of town for the next few days, and am a bit compulsive about not missing a week. 

I say "writing" but actually I'm mostly transcribing, as I don't really have time to compose anything new. I read this passage from Caryl Houselander in Magnificat a week or so ago, and it really struck me, for reasons I'll state after the quote.

Most people who want to know God and who are outside the Church have just one thing that is precious to them, though to us with our clear-cut definitions, our discipline, and our sacraments, it may seem so vague that it is hard for us to realize how much it means to them. This is their personal approach to God. Very often it seems to be hardly that at all, so vague is it, so closely does it lean to sentimentality. It may be simply a memory of childhood, or a stirring of the spirit when a certain familiar hymn is heard; it may be just a fling of the heart to God, on seeing the first wild spray of blossom that proclaims the spring. But it is quite surely an indication of that individual's approach to God and of his approach to them, and it is as sweet to them as it would be to a blind man if, reaching out in darkness, he touched the garment hem of Christ.

Too often, through our own fault, we give people who are thus clinging to their own personal contact with God the idea that Catholicism would sweep it away. Quote wrongly, we give them the idea that we are not seeking any more, that we have a formula for everything, that we hold feeling in contempt, live only by acts of will, and that there is nothing that we cannot explain.

 Of course this is untrue. We too are always seeking for God, always reaching out by blind fingers to touch his garment, and we are blinded by the very light of the mysteries of our faith, which we can live by but cannot explain and can barely begin to understand.

To the enquirer, our hard, unanswerable arguments, dealt out blow by blow with our sledgehammer of zeal, are all too convincing--the the mind. But the heart rises up in revolt against "apologetics" which may convince against the will and sweep away that lovely touch in the darkness which is at the heart of their lives.

I've had the whole concept of dogma on my mind for a week or two, because I've been writing something about it: whether such a thing can be, how one would come to believe it. It--or to use a related and somewhat less forbidding word, doctrine--is obviously a crucially important part of Catholicism, and for that matter of any serious variety of Christianity. And yet even as I try to frame and express those ideas I'm always conscious that pure intellectual belief is insufficient--necessary but not sufficient, as they say. I think of doctrine as something like the skeleton of a body. It's necessary for shape, structure, and motion. Without it, the body would hardly exist. But the skeleton alone is scary.

I suppose most Catholics, at least those who move in consciously orthodox circles, have met people who fit the description in Houselander's second paragraph--"a formula for everything." Men are considerably more prone to that syndrome than women, especially young men. Defending the faith can become for them a sort of intellectual boxing match. It's not a bad thing in itself, in fact it's a good thing. But it can seem, and sometimes even be, a mistaken and futile attempt to lock up the truth rather than to set it free.

Things have changed a good bit since Houselander's time: I think fewer people are even able to hear arguments addressed to the intellect. How they feel is the only thing that matters. 


Also, something I meant to mention last week: someone pointed out to me a very good discussion of Bergman at Commentary. "Oh Lord, Why Did You Forsake Ingmar Bergman?" Just one or two quick remarks: I was slightly surprised to read that Bergman is not held in the critical esteem that he once was. I shouldn't be surprised, of course, and of course my reaction is "well, so much for critical esteem." And I don't think the Lord did forsake him, exactly. Bergman's case is relevant to my preceding bit about doctrine, in fact: I never felt that he truly rejected God, but rather false and misleading conceptions of God which his harsh Lutheran upbringing gave him. This is more or less directly stated at the end of Through A Glass Darkly. I mean, look at the context of the title's scripture reference. I don't think it could be much more clear that he knew that "fling of the heart to God" (what a great description!). Too bad his mind didn't see the way.

Just a day or two ago I ran across something else on Bergman that looks interesting, "Remedial Bergman" by John Simon,  in The Weekly Standard. I haven't had a chance to read it yet but am posting it in case anyone else is interested.

52 Poems, Week 38: For the Anniversary of My Death (W.S. Merwin)


Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what


I'm excessively busy and don't have time to say anything much about this poem, which is probably Merwin's most well-known, which of course is not saying all that much. Merwin was Poet Laureate at one time, but it's a sad comment on the regard in which that office is held that even someone like myself who's interested in poetry doesn't know who currently occupies it. But I just remembered that I wrote about Merwin three years ago in the 52 Authors series (and that in turn was a reprint from 2011), so you can read what I had to say there. You will observe that I also included this poem in that post. I like it a lot.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Sunday Night Journal, September 16, 2018

Television is a drug, we've been told for decades. It really is. I don't like to think I'm hooked on it, and I can say in a certain sense that I "don't watch television." But that certain sense is what the phrase used to suggest (and I guess still does in many cases)--watching the stuff that's broadcast all day and night on various networks, the original big three and all the others that have proliferated. I never have watched much of that, not because of any virtue on my part but because I don't like it. And I've always found the commercials almost unendurable. 

But if by "watch television" you mean "watch moving pictures on a television screen," I can't deny that I'm hooked. For a long time it was only movies, which I felt entitled me to a certain self-respect--at least I wasn't watching "that network junk." But I can only say that now if I mean only CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox, because thanks to Netflix and other options a great deal of what I watch now was originally made for TV, either here or in the UK. 

My wife and I have gotten into the habit of watching an hour or an hour-and-a-half of some sort of crime drama almost every night. Most of the variations from this have been other made-for-TV productions like Victoria and The Crown. And the majority of them are British. (See this post from two years ago.) One wants to relax at the end of a working day (and yes, mine are still largely work of one kind or another though I am supposedly retired). But one does not want to be bored. And crime dramas provide a mixture of the stimulating, even frightening or disturbing, and the reassuring: for the most part, at least in the ones I watch, there is in the end something close to justice: the murderer is found out and apprehended. The links in the list below go to the Wikipedia pages for the shows, in case you want to find out a bit more about them. I only noticed a spoiler in one of them (noted below).

Midsomer Murders is the least demanding, and the best option for the end of a particularly stressful day. It falls pretty well within the definition of the "cozy" genre.  Predictable, likeable characters (I mean, not counting the killers, with which these little English villages seem to be crawling), and not too gruesome or psychologically creepy. There are a lot of episodes, but I am trying to ration our consumption of them because eventually we will get through them all. And I have to admit they get somewhat repetitive. How could they not?--it's been going since 1998.

Marcella is another entry in what seems to be almost a sub-genre now: the detective with major personal problems. I watched this one alone...oops, I forgot to mention that I frequently watch half an hour of TV on my lunch break--and sometimes a whole hour, if what I'm watching lasts that long and I can't make myself stop in the middle. (But I don't have a problem, really. I can quite anytime I want to.) Anyway, I watched it alone because when my wife and I started watching it the opening promised to be so gruesome that she decided to bail out. Marcella Backland is a police detective in London, and her major personal problems (MPP) involve a collapsing marriage, the death of a child, and blackouts in which she does crazy things which she can't remember afterwards. I guess I'd give it a qualified recommendation. It's produced, directed, and written by Hans Rosenfeldt, who was the guiding hand of the original Swedish The Bridge. Despite that opening scene, it is not extremely gory. 

So, The Bridge: having had this strongly recommended so strongly by Rob G, I finally watched the first season of it a couple of months ago. It's very very good, though sometimes gruesome and disturbing. As you know if you've seen conversations about it here, the bridge in question is the one between Sweden and Denmark, and each country provides a detective. Both, not surprisingly, have MPPs. I haven't watched any of the subsequent seasons, because I can only get them from Amazon for $24 or so each.

The Tunnel is a sort of remake of The Bridge with the Channel Tunnel between England and France in the role of the bridge. The detectives are similar, including MPPs. I didn't like it as well as The Bridge, but it's good. It's also more disturbing. The third and final season was recently shown on PBS to say this without giving away too much? does not have the sort of resolution one expects in a crime drama. In case you're on the fence about watching it. And NOTE: that Wikipedia entry does contain one major spoiler.

DCI Banks is based on what is apparently a very popular series of novels by Peter Robinson. I haven't read any of them so obviously have no idea how the show compares to them, but I like the show enough to be interested in the novels. Banks is, I suppose, a pretty basic police detective in the mold of, say, Inspector Morse: he's got his quirks and his problems and is on the prickly side, but not MPPs to the extent that some of the aforementioned have. Really, if I were to summarize this, it would sound an awful lot like any number of similar shows, but it's very well done, the stories are good (though not always entirely believable, which I guess is not unusual), and the recurring characters, starting with Banks, are sympathetic enough that you care about them.

Case Histories stars...Lucius Malfoy? Yes. I was not a big fan of the Harry Potter books or movies, but when I saw the lead character in this series it didn't take very long for me to go from "He looks familar, I've seen him in something else" to the scary image of Malfoy. I've never been one to be greatly fascinated by movie stars, but over the years I've become more and more impressed by the ability of actors to transform themselves convincingly into utterly different people. It may be hard to believe that Jason Isaacs could be both Lucius Malfoy and the kind, strong-but-sensitive Jackson Brodie, who, as Wikipedia says, "hides a deeply empathetic heart under his tough-guy exterior." This series lasted only two seasons, apparently, and I would have liked to see more. Brodie is, in his basic situation, the classic private eye: an ex-cop who lost his job for exposing corruption, trying to get by on whatever miscellaneous investigative problems happen to walk in his office door. The problems usually meet first Brodie's secretary, Deborah, who is herself a very engaging character, sharp-tongued and quick-witted. Icing on this cake is an intriguing and somewhat quirky sound track. Definitely recommended, along with Banks

The Doctor Blake Mysteries is an Australian series. It falls somewhere between Midsomer Murders and the others mentioned here on a scale that runs from cozy to disturbing. It's not exactly cozy, but on the other hand it's not terribly dark, either. Doctor Lucien Blake is a "police surgeon," which seems to be something like the forensic pathologist who is often a second-tier character in mysteries, in the town of Ballarat. In this case the pathologist is the one who actually figures out the crimes. The stories take place in the 1950s; Blake is a World War II veteran who has returned to Ballarat after certain traumas. He's a bachelor and lives with his housekeeper and a couple of lodgers. I'm not wildly enthusiastic about this show, but I do enjoy it. As with Midsomer, each episode is a self-contained story, but the main characters persist from one episode to the next, and you come to care about them and want to know what happens to them.

Ozark is the lone American entry in this list. I might describe it very broadly as an attempt to do something like what Breaking Bad did so very effectively. It involves a Chicago financial planner, Marty Byrde, whose business partner has been laundering money for a drug cartel, and stealing from them in the process. They figure this out, of course, and arrive to kill both men. Marty talks his way out of being murdered by promising great things in the money laundering line. This involves moving to the Ozarks, where he predictably gets into ever-deeper trouble, with his wife, Wendy, becoming a very capable co-conspirator, and his children being dragged in as well. There are some darkly funny bits where Marty and Wendy lecture the children on honesty and other virtues while lying constantly, deceiving and abusing people in various ways, and causing the deaths of several. There are two seasons, and I'm not quite done with the second. I don't know whether more are planned but I doubt that the story is going to be wrapped up very satisfactorily in the two remaining episodes. I'm not very enthusiastic about this one, but the story got its hooks into me. It's pretty dark and has some especially gruesome deaths. 

All these shows, including the later Midsomer episodes, are filmed in HD, and frequently provide some very beautiful imagery. Banks and Case Histories, set in Yorkshire and Scotland respectively, are especially good in this respect.


I have managed to see a few movies in recent months. Just this past week I watched, for the first time, the classic Western High Noon. I admit that this was sort of a check-off item, as I've wanted to see all the acknowledged classics in this genre. And I've been a little saddened to find that they don't in general have the appeal that they did when I was a child. That wasn't much of a surprise, of course, but some of them have been worse than I expected. This is an exception. It's really pretty good. I guess everybody sort of knows the basic idea from various cultural references if not from seeing the film itself: lone lawman confronts outlaw(s) at high noon. Gary Cooper is the town marshal. The black-and-white cinematography is good and the story works pretty well.

Although I had not seen the film, I've heard the theme song, "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling," occasionally over the years, enough so that I recognize it. I knew that it was associated with the movie, and was always a bit puzzled by that: what does asking your darling not to forsake you have to do with standing up to outlaws? Well, I must never have listened past the first line or two of the song, because it was written for the movie and specifically refers to people and events in it. Marshal Kane has just married his sweetheart, Amy (Grace Kelly). She's a Quaker and a pacifist and intends to leave him if he insists on fighting the outlaws. 

Another movie: Europa, directed by Lars von Trier. It's the only thing I've seen by him, and I know he has a reputation for having done some fairly twisted stuff. I don't know about that, but this is an odd one. Not twisted, not offensive, but...odd. I got it from Netflix semi-inadvertently--for some reason I had it in my head that it was an older work by Godard or Truffaut or somebody of that sort. I have no idea why I thought that, but I had put it on my Netflix queue a long time ago, and it finally bubbled to the top. 

I can't say much more for it than "somewhat interesting." It's about crimes and conspiracies in Germany immediately after World War II, the work of unrepentant Nazis trying to keep their resistance alive, and it involves an American who is drawn into such a conspiracy. That might suggest an action-thriller sort of thing, but it isn't really that. It's shot mostly in a murky black-and-white that looks more like something from the '20s than the '40s, if a period-cinema atmosphere is what was intended. I guess that's appropriate in one way, as that was certainly a murky period of history. If someone wants to argue its merits, I'll listen, but I wasn't impressed.





52 Poems, Week 37: First Ode for a Very Young Lady (Anselm Hollo)


Shamming accuracy
I was going to say
    that she is spherical...

She is not,
she consists of
    two spheres

joined together
by not much of a neck
and six
    symmetrical protuberances
ears, arms, legs--

plus a small knob
in the centre
    of the smaller sphere,
the one on top.

But this
description of her shape
gives you no idea.
    She's round!

She's simply
round, and moves
in a manner
    not unlike rolling--
while remaining seated
very upright

what attracts her
    attention, right now
the silent
    television set;

and there she is,
on the screen--
in full
    though slightly muted

It is
    without question
the best programme
    of the day.

Of course,
I am thirty years older
and so
    our relationship
is deceptively easy:

will follow--

I hope
    they will,
I wish for decades
    of trouble with you
my daughter

wish it
    in the teeth of
        our monstrous days:

that the screen's
daily images
    of incessant war
and destruction

will fade
    and be superseded
by faces and forms
of another degree

worthy of you, your
happy geometry.


Anselm Hollo? Who?! you ask. Well, if you read his Wikipedia entry you will know about as much as I do. He was born in Finland in 1934, lived in England for most of the '60s, then moved to the U.S. and lived here until his death in 2013. 

The time he spent in England is the reason I know of his existence. Back in the '70s I had a Penguin paperback anthology called British Poetry Since 1945. I never did more than browse in it, but I liked some of what I read. It includes dozens of poets, only a few of whose names anyone but a very avid student of 20th century British poetry would recognize. Hollo was one of them, though I don't remember either his name or this poem from that time.

Somewhere along the line that book got away from me. Several months ago I saw a reference to it and thought I'd like to have a look at it again. I was able to find a used copy in very good shape online and have kept it on my bedside table, reading a poem or two or three every night.

This poem is Hollo's only presence in the anthology. I don't think it's a great poem by any means, but it gave me a smile and I marked it as worth returning to. It's that last line that makes it.

If we take the "thirty years" literally, the very young lady was born around 1964, and so is now, if she's still alive, well into her fifties. I hope the countless complications and the possible decades of trouble weren't too bad, and she's having a good life.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Sunday Night Journal, September 9, 2018

In response to recommendations from Rob G and Janet, I recently read Julien Green's Each Man In His Darkness. Well, I guess it wasn't only in response to them. I've run across Green's name now and then over the years in discussions of modern Catholic novelists. It usually turns up toward the end, in an almost afterthought-ish sort of way: "Oh, and there's also Julien Green." I'd always think well I should check him out, too. And then I'd forget about him.

Well, it turns out he's really very good. As a brief much-too-neat but not-entirely-useless one-sentence description, I'd say he's a sort of combination of Greene and Waugh. More Greene, I guess. And not the humorous Waugh but the Waugh of Brideshead Revisited. What this book has in common with Brideshead is mainly the conflict between faith and desire, which of course is equally important in some of Greene's work. It's been a long time since I read The Heart of the Matter, and its plot doesn't bear much resemblance to that of Each Man, but shares with it, at least with what I recall, a grim sense of movement toward tragedy. And the protagonist is somewhat Greene-ian in that he is a Catholic haunted by a faith he'd rather ignore.

I couldn't figure out at first when or where the book is set. If this is stated in the narrative I missed it (which is certainly possible). Green was born in 1900 of American (and Southern) parents in Paris, and he wrote mostly in French. I assumed in the opening pages that the book was set in England (because the family names are Anglo), and in perhaps the 1920s or even earlier, as the protagonist, Wilfred Ingram, is met at a railway station by a horse and wagon. It soon became clear that that was not the case. The book was published in 1960, and I think its setting is meant to be contemporary and American. It may be New York--some large American city, at any rate. 

Wilfred is in his mid-20s, single, and one of a few Catholics in an old and largely Protestant family. He works in a clothing store and spends his nights in what the novel describes, with a word which must have already been somewhat quaint in the 1950s, as "dissipation." That is, he goes out in search of women to have sex with, and he always finds one.

(In passing: perhaps I'm naive, but I'm a little doubtful that even an attractive and charming young man would, in the 1950s, have so reliably and so often found a willing woman, and never the same one twice, as Wilfrid does. Green was gay, and I suspect Wilfred's sex life resembles that of a good-looking young gay man in the metropolis more than that of a straight one.)

In the midst of this he attempts to squelch his Catholic conscience without abandoning the faith altogether. This struggle comes to a head when he finds himself in the grip of an obsessive passion for a married woman. The outcome of that struggle is strongly affected by his relationships with two homosexual characters, who can almost be said to represent the good and evil angels contending for his soul. That's an oversimplification, as the evil one is also Catholic, mostly fallen-away, and is bent on challenging Wilfred's faith to the maximum. And as things turn out...well, I don't want to give away too much. The other homosexual character is Wilfred's cousin Angus, who is in love with Wilfred, and who is, now that I think of it, the most Waugh-ian element in the novel: a well-off, jaded young gay man of no faith, but deep longing underneath a surface cynicism, and an essentially noble and generous character. There is also a decadent old uncle who puts one in mind of Lord Marchmain. 

In short: a novel very much worth reading and placing alongside those of  some of the other names I've mentioned. I'd like to read more Green. He wrote a lot, including nineteen (!) volumes of journals and a four-volume autobiography. Goodness.... Here is his Wikipedia entry.

WARNING: what seems to be the only edition in English of Each Man has an introduction by Giovanni Lucera which gives away the major events of the plot, including the climax. And this is a big deal because the plot is not predictable. So don't read the introduction first. Fortunately it's always my practice, when a novel includes an introduction or preface, to skip it and read it only after the novel itself.


Another recommendation from Rob G: he sent me the link to this piece in First Things by David Bentley Hart in which Hart recommends the English composer George Butterworth. In the past I would have filed this away mentally and maybe followed up on it sometime, or maybe not. But having access to a streaming service--Tidal in my case--which gives me access to some huge portion of all currently available recorded music allowed me to hear some of Butterworth's music right away. I looked for the orchestral pieces, because I have to admit, with some embarrassment, that the art song is not my favorite form of music. 

Well, I found them, and they are exquisite. And I found them on this recording: 


which, according to the review at Arkiv Music, is "very special." I'm always telling my friends who are connoisseurs of classical music that I'm not very sensitive to nuances of performance. But this one really grabbed me. It was the second one I listened to (I don't remember which was first), and it's the one I saved and listened to repeatedly. 

And by the way I liked the work by Frank Bridge, a four-movement suite for strings, as much as the Butterworth. The one by Parry, a suite of dances in the baroque tradition, hasn't made much of an impression on me.

Here's one of the Butterworth pieces, not from the just-mentioned recording, but with pretty pictures.

And here's one of the songs, a link sent to me by another friend, who is probably going to roll her eyes when I tell her that although I love the song (and of course the Houman poem), I sort of wish the singer didn't do that crescendo in the middle. I guess maybe that was the composer's direction. Yes, I am complaining about the singing of one of the world's great baritones, Bryn Terfel. I'm sorry. I really am. 


I've just acquired two more entries for my list of common phrases heard but not read, and rendered innocently according to the hearer's knowledge, or guess:

for all intents and purposes -> for all intensive purposes

of utmost importance -> of upmost importance


I've sometimes thought of starting a collection of Links On Which I Did Not Click. " Like this one: "Is Your Pre-Workout Under-dosed?" I have no idea what that means. 


Less-Than-A-Hurricane Gordon did me a favor. If you read last week's post, you remember I had been trying to direct the creek that flows into the bay away from a course where it was causing erosion. The creek wanders around all the time, depending on wind and water. I had dug an outlet for it straight out into the bay, but the water level in the bay was fairly high and my ditch was filled in overnight. 

NewCreekThe storm dumped somewhere between 7 and 9 inches of rain in 18 hours or so. The resulting flood of runoff down the creek washed a path straight out into the bay, as I had wanted to do. That's the stream you see in the middle of this picture, taken a day or two after the storm, when the very high water had mostly receded, and from more or less the same place as the picture last week of another one of my attempts. Moreover, it shoved a great pile of sand up on the beach and more or less replaced what had been eroded by the creek. I am very pleased by this development.

52 Poems, Week 36: Song of the Ents and Entwives (Tolkien)

Ent. When spring unfolds the beechen-leaf and sap is in the bough,
When light is on the wild-wood stream, and wind is on the brow,
When stride is long, and breath is deep, and keen the mountain air,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is fair!
Entwife. When Spring is come to garth and field, and corn is in the blade,
When blossom like a shining snow is on the orchard laid,
When sun and shower upon the earth with fragrance fill the air,
I'll linger here, and will not come, because my land is fair.
Ent. When Summer lies upon the world, and in a noon of gold
Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves the dreams of trees unfold,
When woodland halls are green and cool, and wind is in the West,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is best!
Entwife. When Summer warms the hanging fruit and burns the berry brown;
When straw is gold, and ear is white, and harvest comes to town;
When honey spills, and apple swells, though wind be in the West,
I'll linger here beneath the Sun, because my land is best!
Ent. When Winter comes, the winter wild that hill and wood shall slay;
When trees shall fall and starless night devour the sunless day;
When wind is in the deadly East, then in the bitter rain
I'll look for thee, and call to thee; I'll come to thee again!
Entwife. When Winter comes, and singing ends; when darkness falls at last;
When broken is the barren bough, and light and labour past;
I'll look for thee, and wait for thee, until we meet again:
Together we will take the road beneath the bitter rain!
Both. Together we will take the road that leads into the West,
And far away will find a land where both our hearts may rest.


There's a lot of verse in The Lord of the Rings. I enjoy most of it but for me it mainly serves a sort of decorative function. This poem, though, really struck me the last time I read the book. I think it stands alone, except maybe for the fact that you need to know who the Ents and the Entwives are. I guess everybody does at least know the Ents from the movies, but I don't think the poignant story of their lost wives made it into those. It's only a few pages in the "Treebeard" chapter, but it's too long to quote here, and too good to quote an excerpt. Suffice to say that the Ents wanted to wander the forests, and the Entwives wanted to tend their gardens, and gradually they lost each other. 

As Treebeard explains to Merry and Pippin, the song was actually made by the Elves:

The Elves made many songs concerning the Search of the Ents, and some of the songs passed into the tongues of Men. But we made no songs about it, being content to chant their beautiful names when we thought of the Entwives....

It is Elvish, of course: lighthearted, quickworded, and soon over. I daresay it is fair enough. But the Ents could say more on their side, if they had time!

I think it's a beautiful, profound, and poignant comment on man and woman and marriage and Christian hope. Not exactly lighthearted, though, except from an Ent's perspective. 

By the way this is the poem I mentioned last week, that I had intended to post but couldn't figure out how to format. I could have just done it the easy way and put the "Ent:" / "Entiwife:" notes on a line by themselves, but I stubbornly wanted to lay it out the way it is in the book. The solution was an HTML table. But the lines didn't quite fit in the text column. So I expanded that column a bit. I'm not sure if that helps or hinders reading normal paragraphs. I may or may not leave it that way. I did it yesterday morning. Has anyone noticed?

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Sunday Night Journal, September 2, 2018

I finally decided to pay a little attention to the Jordan Peterson phenomenon, which I have pretty much been ignoring. I first heard of him by way of this post by Neo-neocon, in which she discusses the video in which Peterson is interviewed by an apparently well-known British journalist named Cathy Newman. I soon realized that Peterson's work in general, and his persona, and this video in particular were becoming famous. And I thought Neo's analysis of the interview was fascinating, as she notes the ways in which Peterson uses (so she says) the techniques of a psychotherapist (which he is) to deal with Newman's hostility and her attempts to paint him as a Bad Person. Newman is fond of the low "So you're saying..." gambit, widely favored in political arguments.

"I think nations have the right to control their borders."

"So you're saying immigrants have no rights."

Both sides do it of course.

"I think we have an obligation to take care of immigrants."

"So you're saying we should let the whole world move in and go on welfare."

I thought it was a good thing that someone successfully countered the bullying of a TV journalist, especially someone asserting reason and fact in the face of ideological-emotional aggression. But I did not actually watch the video. (I don't usually watch news-related videos, or for that matter listen to podcasts. I'm not sure exactly why but it often has to do with impatience--just give me a transcript and let me read it, which will take a lot less time than listening to you say it all.)

I didn't, however, intend to investigate Peterson any further. If a writer of self-help books is writing sane advice in defiance of popular cant, good for him, but a book called 12 Rules For Life is on the face of it not my cup of tea.

Then I saw a piece by Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic  called "Why the Left Is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson." Caitlin Flanagan is usually interesting; she is one of those people who are more or less on the progressive side but don't wear ideological blinders, so I thought I would read the piece. But I had not gotten around to it when I came across a rather fevered attack on Peterson by a liberal Catholic on Facebook (friend of a friend kind of thing). He may be a theologian. At any rate he's pretty knowledgeable on the subject, and went into a vigorous attack on Peterson's ideas as being incompatible with various Catholic beliefs as articulated by various theologians. I thought this was odd: why get upset about a non-Catholic psychologist's deviations from Catholic teaching? I'm not perturbed by Oprah's heterodoxy.

That caused me to go and read Flanagan's piece. Now I understand. I'll let her say it:

The left has an obvious and pressing need to unperson [Peterson]; what he and the other members of the so-called “intellectual dark web” are offering is kryptonite to identity politics. There is an eagerness to attach reputation-destroying ideas to him, such as that he is a supporter of something called “enforced monogamy”.... 

There are plenty of reasons for individual readers to dislike Jordan Peterson. He’s a Jungian and that isn’t your cup of tea; he is, by his own admission, a very serious person and you think he should lighten up now and then; you find him boring; you’re not interested in either identity politics or in the arguments against it. There are many legitimate reasons to disagree with him on a number of subjects, and many people of good will do. But there is no coherent reason for the left’s obliterating and irrational hatred of Jordan Peterson. What, then, accounts for it?

It is because the left, while it currently seems ascendant in our houses of culture and art, has in fact entered its decadent late phase, and it is deeply vulnerable. The left is afraid not of Peterson, but of the ideas he promotes, which are completely inconsistent with identity politics of any kind. When the poetry editors of The Nation virtuously publish an amateurish but super-woke poem, only to discover that the poem stumbled across several trip wires of political correctness; when these editors (one of them a full professor in the Harvard English department) then jointly write a letter oozing bathos and career anxiety and begging forgiveness from their critics; when the poet himself publishes a statement of his own—a missive falling somewhere between an apology, a Hail Mary pass, and a suicide note; and when all of this is accepted in the houses of the holy as one of the regrettable but minor incidents that take place along the path toward greater justice, something is dying.

Another LP from the closet: The Grateful Dead, Live/Dead. This is a live double LP that came out in 1969. I liked it at the time but as far as I can remember had not heard it since sometime around the middle of the '70s, so I wasn't sure whether I still would.
I do. In fact I love it. The first two sides are classics of the jam-rock genre, and among the first instances of it on record (maybe the first?). They include only three songs, "Dark Star," "St. Stephen," and "The Eleven." The first occupies a whole side, and seems to be regarded as the quintessential jam vehicle of the quintessential jam band. I was surprised to learn that it was initially a straightforward under-three-minute song, and was in fact issued as a single. Shockingly, it did not make a mark on the Top 40. But it's on YouTube. 

There is a joyous quality about those first two sides. The other two are good, but to my taste not as. "Turn On Your Love Light," which people of a certain age may remember hearing in Bobby "Blue" Bland's hit version on the radio ca. 1960, occupies all of side 3. Side 4 begins with "Death Don't Have No Mercy," a sort of gospel blues with typically stark lyrics:
Death don't have no mercy in this land
Come to your house, he don't stay long
You look in the bed, see your mama is gone
Jerry Garcia was not the greatest guitarist in the world, but he was very good, and often a very emotionally effective one. Same for his singing. In particular he's not a great blues/gospel sort of singer. Still, both guitar and voice work really well in this song. And in the whole album: his voice has a warm fuzzy-hippie quality about it that fits perfectly with the band's sound and general vibe. And vibe is a big part of the appeal of the album.
The sound quality is excellent, but the mix seems unbalanced. It often seems to be all guitar, bass, and voice. I can hardly hear one of the two drummers most of the time, though maybe that's because he isn't doing much most of the time. To tell you the truth, I've never quite gotten the point of having two drummers. I just get confused if I try to listen closely to them. But I'm not a musician, and especially not a drummer. I've only in recent years come to appreciate drummers.

Say what you will about summer in the South, it does frequently make available the experience of being soaked to the skin by heavy rain but not getting chilled. I had that experience yesterday. There's a creek that empties out into the bay near my house, and it wanders around depending on the prevailing winds and tides. I won't bore you with the details, but its course for most of this summer has been causing some extremely unwelcome beach erosion. So I've been trying to change its course by digging an alternative channel in the sand. I was doing that yesterday when this storm came up.

BayStormI just went on digging for an hour or so in the pouring rain, which was actually preferable to sun under those circumstances. Sand is heavy, and wet sand even heavier.

My channel was working when I left, but filled in again overnight, which I pretty much expected, because the tide was going to be pretty high. I had to try, though. Here is an instance from earlier in the summer where I succeeded. This is the day after the dig--the new channel is fairly well established.


Three or four days later:
The creek is still more or less in this position, though a bit further to the north (right). Better than it was, but I want it to be another fifty feet or so south.