Friday, December 21, 2007

I like my limericks rare and my sonnets well Donne...


I hunger for the taste of hot, fierce art.
Something Yeatsy, with a gut-kick ending;
or Donneish, with a batter-my-heart-fierce-start.
The cool taste rules, and no use pretending:
a common recipe involves the blending
of wry-dry whimsy with refined despair.
Add a pale dash of sweet wist to the ending
and you feel like you just ate a plateful of air!
Give me a Hopkins-like-tongue-searing-prayer!
a sour taste of Hope, or dark seasoned Hardy
meditating life on a cold-stone-stair!
Chili-hot meats from the Devil’s party,
cellar-cold wines laced with cinnamon spice
taste best, like a Yeats-fierce dawn over ice.

- Mark Allinson

I just found this on the "Deep End" forum at Eratosphere. I don't know whether this is the final version, but I couldn't agree more with its exclamations. I share this poet's taste for chili and cinnamon - how do we escape from the "cool taste" that comes so easily just now?

New Dappled Things

The Advent issue is out.

Check out "The Gargoyles Return," by Joseph O'Brien; "Ghetto Sunrise," by Brendan McGrath; and "Parfum," (this one only if you have a strong stomach) by Gabriel Olearnik. Amanda Glass's work appears again, with more success this time, I think.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sonnet Sit-ups

In California

When evening leads the fog from over hill
Then straight struck off are seabirds in the light
Above Filoli where the woods are still
And rills of resin greening on to night.
Eastward, on the hills of sunburnt grass,
The houses all look penitent and blind.
I watch the grimy stations as they pass;
The faces in the train are tired and kind.
White is the hot haze and towers cool as stone
Where Chinese freighters win the Golden Gate.
The city poises central and alone,
And I have come too early or too late.
Where West wants East and would be at accord,
There shines the level Ocean like a sword.

I wrote this today in my spare moments, so I don't feel too guilty about it. I think it's good for an exercise, but I kind of hope that someone will tell me why I'm wrong.

It's full of images of home. The train is running on the BART line between Berkeley and Fremont. The fog-draped hills are the Santa Cruz Mountains and Filoli is an estate with gardens that look like an English Eden in the spring. The seabirds have wandered over from Crystal Springs Reservoir, which is where I have seen them wheeling. And there's San Francisco, of course.

I fly home on the 14th, and I'm very happy about it. Just have to get through finals...

Postscript: While linking to the Filoli article, I stumbled across an image of the very phenomenon I was trying to describe in the beginning of the poem. I love Wikipedia.

Odds and ends

1. I added my email address to my Blogger profile. Most of the people who really want to contact me have probably figured it out from digging up my comments in Haloscan, but I thought there should be an easier way. I don't know why I've never done this before.

2. Now that the movie of The Golden Compass is coming out, Catholic pundits are finally taking notice of Philip Pullman. Finally. After all that rigmarole about Harry Potter. Reading Mark Shea's blog, I found a link to a wonderful dissection of Pullman's literary sins. I once loved The Golden Compass, and I liked its sequel almost as much... and then I read the final volume. It was a crushing experience for a fourteen-year-old. For a whole day, I wandered around in a daze, wondering if my religion were a lie. I snapped out of that quickly - but I've loathed Philip Pullman ever since. This post from Against the Grain rounds up a lot of good Pullman articles, including one that yours truly wrote back in high school.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Saturdaye Nicht Live!

Chaucer is back, and he has his own television network now.

The Privy Seel Offyce: Thys offyce of clerkes and scrybes produceth manye documentz and eek muchel laughter. An hilarious ensemble cast of quirkie folk shewe the dailye japeries and jolitee of roial bureaucracie. The privy seel offyce is run by Michael Scot, who doth gret deedes of magique and yet kan nat conjure good fortune for hymself. Yonge clerk Tristram Canterbury soore loveth the receptioniste Ysolde Beesley, but sche ys to be marryed to an oothir man. Yet Tristrames loue sickenesse preventeth hym not from makinge an ape of the haughtie clerke Gareth de Schrute, who oftymes findeth hys quill and ink put ynto a jello mold. Both Tristram and Ysolde mocke Gareth, callinge hym “Beaumains.” (Ywrit in collaboracioun wyth Mayster Thomas Occleve)

Doctor Hwaet: Thys showe doth chronicle the aventures of a solitarye one who must wander the wayes of water on the rime-cold waves, mindful of miseries, yn a large device ycleped the TOWAERDES (the which ys a grete magique ship disguised as a burial mound) that alloweth hym to travel in tymes to come and also yn the places that ben past and the far landes of fantaysye. Alwey he sercheth out and protecteth a poem ycleped Beowulf the whiche he saveth from a fyre and also turneth yn to several filmes in order that the beautee of Angeline Joly may drawe newe rederes to thys tale. “That ys fanTASTick,” he saith yn the rare tymes whan he ys of good chiere. He fighteth many enemyes, includinge the Cybermonks, the Daneleks, and folk who thinke that “Geats” is pronouncid “geetz.”

Ah, now I have something to watch besides HWTN...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pearls before swine...

This article reminds me of those CDs with titles like "Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music!" After mentioning Anna Akhmatova's magnetic influence in Russia, it goes on like this:

If you grew up in America, it might surprise you to learn that a poet has ever had that sort of impact. Poetry here is best known for the simple, sentimental verses found in Hallmark cards and the lyrics of pop music. The word "poet" probably calls to mind some weirdo in a beret. And poetry's power to influence American politics is, at best, a fizzle--if you heard anything about the anti-Bush anthology Poets Against the War, then you listen to a lot of NPR. The truth is most Americans have lost touch with the best of what poetry is: a record of some of civilization's greatest writers--and wisest people--taking on the questions and emotions that define us.

Then follow three dorky reasons why Americans don't read poetry:
Reason 1: I've never understood it.
Reason 2: I can't get past the whole rhyming thing.
Reason 3: Poetry is for angst-ridden teens, hopeless romantics and the aforementioned weirdos in berets.

I just don't get it. What is the point of articles like this? Sometimes I feel like giving up on American English and learning Farsi or Arabic or Urdu, because that's where the action is right now.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

J.K. Rowling Tells All!

Yes, she put in all that Christian stuff on purpose. Oh, and Dumbledore was in love with Grindelwald.

"Falling in love can blind us to an extent," Rowling said of Dumbledore's feelings, adding that Dumbledore was "horribly, terribly let down."

Dumbledore's love, she observed, was his "great tragedy."

"Oh, my god," Rowling concluded with a laugh, "the fan fiction."

I wouldn't worry much about the slash fanatics if I were her... those people always write whatever they want, regardless of canon. But I think that this revelation helps explain why Dumbledore put on the cursed ring so many years after he was supposed to have renounced the search for the Deathly Hallows. The whole Grindelwald episode was more than just a Gnostic power-trip. It shows Dumbledore trying to create his own reality in more ways than one. Think about it: he was the most brilliant student ever to attend Hogwarts, and he let himself become consumed with pride over this - remember his resentment when he had to stay home with his disabled sister instead of touring the world after his graduation. Then Grindelwald came, bringing his plans for world domination. It would have been ridiculous, if they hadn't been two of the most powerful and intelligent wizards of their age. The occult means by which they were going to effect said domination added another element of private reality. Throw in a disordered affection for Grindelwald, and you can see how Dumbledore thought he could overturn everything, not just the balance of power between wizards and muggles. He was disappointed in all his hopes - his plans for the Deathly Hallows, for the conquest of the muggle world, and not least for Grindelwald (who didn't return his affections). In fact... couldn't that be one of the reasons that Dumbledore was so intent on defeating G.? He had plenty of good reasons, but anger at being rejected would be a plausible addition. Anyway, it's obvious that he didn't magically become a different person after his sister's death and the capture of Grindelwald. He said he had learned the hard lesson that he "wasn't to be trusted with power," but passing up heading the Ministry to become headmaster of the most eminent school of magic didn't exactly remove him from a position of authority. And he kept manipulating people and events, as we all know. He wanted things his way.

So Dumbledore has changed over the years from a sort of cartoon Gandalf into this very tragic figure. I wonder how it will be for the next generation of children to read the series? Because they won't have to wait years and years to read the whole story. They could conceivably get through it all in a year. And I think that one needs to read the first book early on and grow into the last four books, really.

To comment on the first article, I find it interesting that she compares herself to Graham Greene:

"The truth is that, like Graham Greene, my faith is sometimes that my faith will return. It's something I struggle with a lot," she revealed. "On any given moment if you asked me [if] I believe in life after death, I think if you polled me regularly through the week, I think I would come down on the side of yes — that I do believe in life after death. [But] it's something that I wrestle with a lot. It preoccupies me a lot, and I think that's very obvious within the books."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fools, angels, etc...

While poking around on the website of the GMH International Summer School, I discovered this lecture: Gerard Manley Hopkins's Misdirected Faith.

Now, it's only logical that a self-described non-believer is not going to get Hopkins' Jesuit vocation. How could it be otherwise? I can only cite Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard, who said this in Priests Among Men:
To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist.

Hopkins certainly lived his life in this way, and he has been paying for it ever since, as can be seen from this lecture. But ignorance is one thing, and ignorance arrogantly flaunted to an audience is another. It would be fun to fisk the whole thing, but I don't have the time and I don't really want it taking up too much space on my blog. So I'll just go through some of the more offensive statements:

Viewed from the perspective of a non-believer, Gerard Manley Hopkins's unfortunate religious obsession seems responsible for the suppression of one of literary history's great poetic talents and as likely for his early death.

"If only GMH hadn't been Catholic!" No matter what you believe, that's still like saying, "If only Dylan Thomas hadn't been Welsh!"

His outscape, quite literally, would be the way he clothed himself as a priest, even as he wrote like a pantheist and a free spirit.

GMH was most emphatically not a pantheist. His emphasis on the singularity and "thisness" of each thing is diametrically opposed to a view that treats the entire created universe as one undifferentiated God-blancmange.

Compare his duty-ditties for God to his passionate observation of human nature and nature more broadly, and Hopkins becomes the poster-boy for a person in need of deprogramming.

So... which of Hopkins' poems does he consider uninspired "duty-ditties?" The Wreck of the Deutschland? The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo? That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection? I don't need to go on, do I? Then there's the bit about deprogramming, which strikes a rather Stalinist note. The Hopkins I know from poems, journals and letters would not have willingly undergone "deprogramming" - there is a verse of his on the subject which begins "Fawning fawning crocodiles" - and I am glad that Axelrod doesn't flesh out this idea.

Only those blinded by a similar religious indoctrination would say his sacrificing a position of wealth and position in society, for a post as a priest and teacher, was a good decision.... How much longer he might have lived and created if he had lived the privileged life he was born to, we can't know but as likely, he would have lived much longer as a comfortable and famous poet.

Because everyone knows that the essential ingredients of great art are money, privilege, celebrity, and a cushy upper-middle-class lifestyle! Seriously, though - the image of Hopkins as a "comfortable and famous poet" is an impossible fantasy. It was his cross to be perhaps the only English poet who was ever truly ahead of his time. People often say it of poets that they are avant-garde; but that term implies followers, comrades, partisans to join the poet in his charge against convention. Hopkins was not avant-garde. He had no reader, Catholic, Anglican or atheist, who really understood his work. He was unpublishable in his age. Bridges only dared to publish the poetry in 1918, and it only became popular in the 1930's, nearly half a century after Hopkins' death. It is possible, of course, that Hopkins would have become a famous poet in his lifetime if he had been less experimental and less of a papist - in short, if he had stopped hanging out with High Church types at Oxford, let his father find him a job, and kept writing in the Keatsian vein that won him prizes when he was a precocious schoolboy. But he wouldn't be the Hopkins we know.

He made lists of what to give up for lent, but he made poems of what he knew best—the teeming natural settings he frequently visited. A trip to a new location might require his visiting a church but his journals, letters, finest creations were the notes he took observing the landscape, the clouds in a valley, the predominance of oaks and birch.

This is sloppy. It completely ignores Hopkins' intense interest in Gothic architecture, the terms of which appear throughout his notes on trees and clouds and water as well as in his poetry.

His reiteration of religious canon is boring. His poetics are new, fresh, important.

Yawn. More unsupported personal opinions.

Equally.... the case can be made that, but for his indoctrination into an overbearing society, he was one of the English language's greatest practitioners—indeed innovators —of poetry.

Isn't this all pretty much canon by now? Except for the Know-Nothing bit?

I won't flog this any longer, but I think will give Hopkins the last word, since he already had a gentle answer to such patronizing criticism of his beliefs in one of his letters:
It is long since such things had any significance for you. But what is strange and unpleasant is that you sometimes speak as if they had in reality none for me and you were only waiting with a certain disgust till I too should be disgusted with myself enough to throw off the mask.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In Order of Non-Appearance...

This is funny.


Our Mission Statement:
We are dedicated to the non-publication of the best works of the best poets in the English-speaking world. We value diversity and strive to include new voices in our evaluation process. Our goal is to provide a non-venue for all kinds of poetry and avoid the labeling of differing aesthetics. We eschew poetry politics and never let personal relationships enter into our decisions. The bedrock principle of The Futility Review is that any poet, no matter whether accomplished or beginning, will be rejected in the same open-handed manner.

Awards and Honors:
Poems that have gone unpublished in The Futility Review have failed to appear in every Best American Poetry anthology since its inception in 1988, and have been absent from dozens of Pushcart anthologies.

Be sure you click on "Guidelines":

How would you describe the poems in your submissions?

- Confessional Blubbering
- Mostly Whitespace
- Whimsical Anecdotes with Redemptive Close
- Post-Avant Jabberwocky

(Courtesy of Choriamb, of course.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Whatever is fickle, freckled, who knows how...

Two of the poems in Dappled Things really stood out for me this time, for very different reasons. My favorite poem in the issue is Gabriel Olearnik's English Apocalypse, which pleases with alarmingly whimsical eschatology, more Douglas Adams than John the Evangelist - right up until the tiger-pounce of the ending. Very well done. The other poem can't realistically be called good, but when you account for the author's age - 17 - you see that it's enormously promising. Timothy Barr's The Paschal Four is about birth, passion, death, and resurrection. After that, don't ask me what's going on in it. It reads like a bubbling farrago of Francis Thompson and Dylan Thomas, with the grandiose touches that you expect from a high school poet ("Nightish bastion," "My soul rejects the hero’s fate," etc.). But anyone who can write a line as riveting and odd as "Fugues fly from pipes veiled in my spine" is up to something. This aspiring poet has a strong instinct for the harmonious arrangement of vowels and for the feeling of a four-stress meter - although he can't decide on whether it is trochaic tetrameter, iambic tetrameter, or a four-stress accentual meter. Attention and practice will get rid of the metrical awkwardness, and hopefully the clotted imagery will become more vivid and intelligible. One fault that's easy to identify, if not to correct, is the Missing Article. It is apparent from the opening lines: "When in subtle mass I weighed, / Latent boughs kicked fleshy drum." Three nouns here, all without articles. The poet could have gotten away with the first two, but the third is intolerable and it seems to expose the other two epithets to the same sense of surfeit. It's true that Hopkins liked to omit the article, thinking it colorless; but he concealed his art. Here, the lines are so swollen with imagery that the articles have simply been washed out, like water from an overflowing bathtub. But all this aside, "The Paschal Four" manages to be the most intriguing poem in the issue. It is not content to be fashionably plain-spoken and understated. It wants to sing, loudly. So I hope that Barr will keep writing and "brace sterner that strain."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

New Dappled Things!

The Mary Queen of Angels issue is out. I have a very short poem in it, one I wrote while I was in Assisi this year.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Eleven CD's of Dylan Thomas reading his own poetry and other people's poetry. Twelve-and-a-half hours of that wondrous Welsh voice roaring, murmuring, and half singing its way through Shakespeare and Auden and Hopkins and Thomas Hardy. $19.77 on Amazon.

What are you waiting for?!

Extremely Late Dappled Things Review

(In which I put two poems through the wringer and praise another.)

It's always interesting to see what Catholic poets do with their artistic inheritance. Some imitate medieval poets or classical poets. Some of them follow T.S. Eliot and his unique brand of Modernism. Some of them loathe every sort of free verse and stake their poetic success on a strict adherence to conventional English forms and meters. The list goes on; the rationales for the choices are probably just as various. And the last issue of Dappled Things sets out a pretty good sampling of these different approaches.

Amanda Glass has written a few poems I'm slightly familiar with (I have two of her lines floating through my head just now: "Oh give me then a requiem / To start my day out right!"). Her contribution is Of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. She takes the formalist route: iambic pentameter, ABAB rhyme scheme. The ABAB scheme is very emphatic (English poetry tends to prefer the softer ABCB, where you only have to rhyme the second and fourth lines), and combining it with the familiar iambic pentameter makes for a hard-to-handle form. It's like painting with primary colors: it takes a bold but discriminating hand. Let's see what she does with it:

I think our passage cannot be more plain
to eyes not earthly; and I think they smile
in ways which need no lips, when we attain
our little heights of thought, and pause, beguiled
by glimpses of far brighter realms beyond.
Like children in strange countryside, we cling
together, all-confiding, close and fond,
and with the grace of youth and joy we fling
our baubles: pealing laughter, glances clear
and heady, sweet air-kisses born of souls
which meet from shining eyes. For here
and now we can be lavish - time's grim tolls
have not yet wrecked our readiness to give
ourselves without reserve.
we have two ways to go, and each must live
the call which on each heart has been impressed,
and this must be the end of innocence
- or rather, death of childlike liberty.
A child shrinks from a child in self-defense!
I cannot help but take it bitterly
until you speak about the road you'll take,
and I can see its vistas in your eyes.
How could you not all else wholly forsake
for that? (And when will I learn to be wise?)

Some clichés leap out at me instantly: "pealing laughter," "shining eyes," "time's grim tolls." These should have been edited out. There are some awkward enjambments and even some metrical stumbles ("How could you not all else wholly forsake"). The overall theme of the poem is vague; nay, inscrutable. The angels watch us with "eyes not earthly" (one phrase I liked); they understand us and smile at our little epiphanies. Then the poem wanders off into abstraction and bland metaphors: we're all "like children" in a "strange countryside" with an oh-so-interesting vista of "far brighter realms beyond." At first I assumed that the "children" were the whole human race, but then it becomes apparent that they actually *are* children - or young people, anyway. Not little kids. Twenty-somethings. Argh.

Then we find out that there are two roads before each of us. We have to figure out which one we're called to. Up until this moment I had no idea what the two roads were, but now I slap myself on the forehead and realize they are probably the married state and the consecrated life. While you are struggling with the roads, the poem introduces a new character who seems to threaten the speaker. Suddenly the speaker is saying "You... you..." Whoa! Who is she talking to? I am guessing that the new child is a friend or sibling who is becoming a priest or religious. I will conclude by saying that the subject is edifying but its presentation is not very interesting.


This next poem is bad in every way. Indeed, is a pure paradigm of my least favorite kind of Bad Poem. Read it if you can:


I sit in sullen silence
on the sofa, curled up,
at every rustle and stir
from the bedroom
if you are coming
to find me,
so like a child
crouching behind a hedge
in a game
of hide and seek.

A mosquito lands on my arm
and then on my thigh.
I smack at him
repeatedly and
in futility
but refuse to move,
to get under
the net
that surrounds our bed.

-K.K. Adams

This has not the badness of the Tay Bridge Disaster, which is so bad that it is hilarious. If the Tay Bridge poem is bad like a deep-fried chocolate coated Twinkie, "Argument" is bad like a tofu hotdog.

It contains no interesting language. It makes no appeal to the ear. On the metrical level it is free verse, but a very specific kind of free verse, one that has been widely used for several decades. This "free verse" is actually an accentual meter (one that counts stressed syllables while letting the unstressed ones do whatever). This isn't bad. Accentual meter is *truly* traditional to English poetry - Beowulf is accentual. The problem is that this accentual meter has an average of two stresses a line. A large number of lines will have two stresses, and then there will be some lines with one stress or three stresses to mix things up; but it pretty much averages out to two stresses per line. "Argument" has 1.9 stresses a line, according to my count. It's the most low-key meter possible; the flame of meter turned down to its pilot light.

Take a minimalist meter, combined with aggressively plain diction, and apply it to a boring subject (essentially, "I'm sulking. [beat.] I'm still sulking.") - and you will have a perfect storm of pointlessness. Why should anyone bother to read this poem? The only evidence of craft comes from the line breaks, which seem to have been painstakingly inserted to set the words off to their best advantage. Each stingy line is served up to the reader like a single, delectable scallop in its own shell - a presentation that goes very ill with such austerity.

And that's all I'm going to say about that.


It is a pleasure to turn to a poet with a distinctive and interesting style. Here is one of the four poems in this issue by Gabriel Olearnik:

The Builders

Come up and take them.

–Leonidas, king of Sparta, when asked
by the Persian emperor to lay down his arms.
Battle of Thermopylae, 480 B.C.

The gate was almost finished.
In those thirsty hours, a taut rack of earth we raised
With much labor. We packed the soil with shield-butts.
Waist deep in horse-flies, we stretched our lances—
Protean, slender bronze. Our cloaks were red and wet,
The air was old and saline by the end.

The foreman raised the cry. At once we
Scaled the mound and set a fence: women’s heads,
Serpents, chariot wheels, lion’s faces.
Another word and circling, avian spearpoints
Dropped tight against the wall.

Boredom, thighs tensed and rigid, moans of effort
We dredged the final draught of strength
And drew a thread of red gold on the blackness of the pass.
An ox of silk and silver approached to test
The man-stones of our house.

Impact. The charge shook the centre of the line,
Bending the façade back, but this defect
Was long planned by Leonidas, mason, master architect of war.
Our founded sandals took the strain, and each workingman,
Cuirass cushioned by his own mane of hair, pushed.
The ox impaled its trunk on fatal, burnished bronze
And bellowed. Our enemy’s boast of deathlessness
We parlayed down with lizard-killing backhands.

A thousand leagues away, my daughter bides her time
Lays a hand on the table
And opens her palm with a line of blue flint
and the sound of ripping sailcloth.

Envoi. We were what we did. Go, stranger, and say
that Lacedaemon lines are clear. Go, and say
that ruled and parsed law endures.
Go, go quickly.
I fear the thunderbirds of Ahura Mazda.
Their flight will dim the blazing white of day.

This poem does a good job fleshing out the strong governing conceit of its title. I especially liked the image of the warriors as wire-drawers, pulling a strand of red gold through the black draw-plate of the mountain pass. The fortitude and discipline of the Spartans are well honored here. The classical tone reminds me a little of Robert Fitzgerald's translation of the Odyssey, although that ox of silk and silver seems to have wandered in from a Lorca poem. I can't excuse the poem for its occasional carelessness, though. Some of the words don't quite fit ("taut rack of earth"? "we stretched our lances"?) and I think that "circling, avian spearpoints" would be stronger if reduced to "avian spearpoints." The pronouns will not stay put: First it's "We," then it's "I," then "We" returns as the Spartans speak from their epitaph, and the whole thing finishes with another inscrutable "I." Please, decide on third or first person POV already. The fragment near the end ("A thousand leagues away...") does not appear to have anything to do with the rest of the poem at all. I tried very hard to connect it to the Spartans and their battle-craft, but it refused to make sense. The narrative is so short, and the language so ambiguous, that I wasn't sure whether the daughter cuts her hand deliberately or by accident. But even after all these complaints (I can hear you all saying, "Hey, I thought she was going to say something good this time!"), I still like "The Builders." It makes me want to go watch 300.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Now we are Seniors.

Sheila, John, lostnoldo, and all the others are back at Christendom for the last time. This spring we will be celebrating Christendom's 30th anniversary, so we should go out on a high note, anyway.

This fall I'm taking:

- Cicero
- Medieval Latin
- French 101

I'm also going to teach some Latin at a local high school. And I will be singing in the College choir for the first time. We'll see how much blogging I do.
Gaudeamus igitur
juvenes dum sumus...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hear Belloc sing!

On his radio show last Tuesday Karl Keating played some rare recordings of Hilaire Belloc singing his own songs. If you go here, you will find the archived show from August 14. The recordings are more than halfway in. Belloc sings "Tarantella," "Ha'nacker Mill," "The Winged Horse," and a song about Cuchulain. There are also some recordings of a Scottish tenor singing "His Hide Is Covered with Hair," that Christmas carol with the refrain May all my enemies go to hell!, and a few others.

Belloc's voice is fascinating. He has a strong English accent - but his 'R's are French! He was born in France, and I suppose he was never able to acquire the difficult English 'R.'

Even though these recordings are crackly and off-the-cuff, they are a treasure for anyone who loves Belloc. I've been humming "Tarantella" all day.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Home again.

Sorry about that hiatus - I was visiting Sheila and Andreth in their native land of Washington. It was great fun. Sheila and I talked about poetry until 3 in the morning, and Sarah showed me "her" mountain. Here I am admiring the said mountain:

This is me trying to imitate Gandalf at Khazad-dum:

The three friends, after Mass:

Friday, August 3, 2007

Fr. Foster Roundup

Quantitative Metathesis is back from Rome. Welcome home, QM! I loved reading your Roman dispatches, especially the one where you were at San Gregorio ai Muratori and you saw a man come into the chapel from a private door, with a giant dog in tow. (Par for the course with the FSSP in Urbe, I suppose.)

For those who have not yet read QM's posts on her experience with the legendary Fr. Foster, I compile them all below:

The Latin Pedagogy of Father Foster
Other endearing idiosyncrasies:
1. He loves dictionaries. Big, beautiful ones. And he loves reading them.
2. Physically, he’s a mess, and it’s obvious that walking is very painful for him, yet one never hears him complain.
3. He loves deeply, a fact which is very obvious when he sees or speaks of his former students.
4. He’s 100% eccentric curmudgeon.
5. He really would cut off his right arm to teach you Latin.

Consecutio Temporum
Fr. Foster does not like the conventional labels such as “imperfect,” “future,” “pluperfect,” etc. He scraps all of them. Instead, he labels verb tenses by numbers....

Vatican Calligraphy
All the texts for these documents are newly composed by Fr. Foster or one of his five colleagues, then copied out by the calligrapher. It was fun to see Tonino teasing Father about his characteristic verbosity. Apparently they have to use extra-big pieces of vellum for his bulls!

Loca Thomistica

Roccasecca (or Roacca Sicca) is the location of one of the castles of the Aquinas family and the place where little Thomas spent his first years.... his sister was killed by a lightening strike during a storm because his mother didn’t care enough to go check on her (she only checked on Thomas)

Horace's Villa
These two months have changed the way I approach Latin texts and have given me my first real exposure to comfortable, conversational Latin.... And perhaps the coolest thing is that I can now listen to someone speaking Latin and not really notice that they’re not speaking English.

Latin wedding – Two former students of Fr. Foster were married in San Pancrazio today, with Fr. Foster celebrating the wedding Mass (Novus Ordo, in Latin). I got to be part of an 11-member Renaissance choir that sang Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus for the occasion, and the liturgy was laced and gilded with Gregorian chant, which the entire congregation sang. Everything – even the vows and the homily – was in Latin.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

This and that.

Who wants to be a millionaire poet? - Fascinating news from the Arab world.

"Instead of love ballads sung by scantily clad singers, the contestants offered the rhyme and rhythm of a flowery style of the Bedouin poetry known as Nabatipopular in the Gulf but largely forgotten in much of the rest of the Arab world.

"You traitor of the tribe, my punishment to you is that I am sitting on this dark chair," began one contestant in a poem dedicated to Iraq. The audience roared and hooted as he continued. "You want to see me, but I have not yet settled the score."

The cultural rise of the Gulf is analogous to that of the U.S. South in recent decades, as country singers and Southern cooking have become part of broader pop culture. Much like the Southern drawl, the Gulf accent has fast entered the mainstream."


Luna Park - a new blog devoted to reviews of little magazines. Here they put together a list of all the mags they could find in a week. Maybe someone should tell them about Dappled Things; they might review it.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Someone should name J.K. Rowling an honorary Inkling.

Am I allowed to talk about Harry Potter yet? What the heck, I will. SPOILERS!, and all that. Honestly, why would you be reading blogs if you still had two more chapters of Deathly Hallows to go?

I had been losing my enthusiasm for HP ever since the fourth book, when things started getting too convoluted for me to follow and Rowling's style became more uneven. I still cared immensely about the characters, but I was stuck in my nostalgia for the third book, which is still the best, I think. But I always knew that I was going to revert to my 13 year-old fangirl self when the last book arrived. And I did. I actually revisited a message board that hasn't seen the light of day on my computer since I was in junior high.

One thing I noticed in Deathly Hallows is that Rowling is a master of false foreshadowing. I was positive that she was going to kill Ron, especially after this:

"But even if we wreck the thing it lives in," said Ron, "why can't the bit of soul in it just go and live in something else?"

"Because a Horcrux is the complete opposite of a human being."

Seeing that Harry and Ron looked thoroughly confused, Hermione hurried on, "Look, if I picked up a sword right now, Ron, and ran you through with it, I wouldn't damage your soul at all."

"Which would be a real comfort to me, I'm sure," said Ron. Harry laughed.

"It should be, actually! But my point is that whatever happens to your body, your soul will survive, untouched," said Hermione.
I think I just moaned for a while after reading that. Of course it came to nothing. And she also foreshadowed good things that never panned out - Peter Pettigrew was all set up from book three to be a Gollum-like hinge character and to find redemption. He does yield to a tiny merciful impulse, one that helps Harry and Co. escape, but he comes to a miserable end for it, and the whole scene is very anticlimactic. No one can say that he didn't deserve it, of course.

Snape is back to being one of my favorite characters, now that we've found out that he was really the unsung hero of the series. He haunted the happy ending like Shylock or Malvolio, having perished without ever getting anything he wanted from life. The scene where his Patronus leads Harry to the sword is... well... numinous. I liked the whole section where the the trio was wandering through the woods of Britain, actually. Shades of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:

So this rider rode through the realm of Britain,
Sir Gawain in God's service: and to him it was no game.
At each stream and ford that he found in those lands
enemies lurked (unless his luck held) --
vicious, violent, hard to avoid.
Only constant courage and the care of his God
could save him sometimes from certain death.
For if warfare was hard, winter was worse,
when the clouds shed water cold and clear
which froze in the air and fell as sleet.
He lay down half-dead, drenched in his armor,
too many times to bear: and on barren stone
where cold-running creeks came clattering down
and icicles hardened high overhead.
Thus with peril and pain, in difficult plight,
he carried on alone till the Eve of Christmas

I'm glad that Rowling tempered Harry's cavalier attitude towards Voldemort's name. By having him refuse to say "You-Know-Who," she made the excellent point that you should always call things by their right names, and that you shouldn't be cowed by evil - but in the case of spiritual evil, talking about it tends to attract its notice. And in Deathly Hallows, saying Voldemort's name is as good as Frodo putting on the Ring for attracting the Dark Lord's attention. Of course, "Voldemort" isn't his real name either; and it's very satisfying when Harry addresses him as "Tom" during their last battle.

One theme that was present in the other books really came to the fore in Deathly Hallows: the dangers of the occult. (Yes, I'm savoring the irony.) The legendary Hallows managed to lure Harry into a gnostic fever-swamp worthy of Dan Brown, and only Dobby's death pulled him out of it. Dumbledore went far deeper into his obsession with the nasty things and made a right mess of his life. I liked the way Rowling gave us clues to the progress of Harry's discernment: "And yet the fiercer the longing for the Hallows burned inside him, the less joyful it made him." Or again, when he decided to dig Dobby's grave with his own hands instead of with magic: "In the darkness, with nothing but the sound of his own breath and the rushing sea to keep him company, the things that had happened at the Malfoys' returned to him, the things he had heard came back to him, and understanding blossomed in the darkness...." I like the way she ties knowing to doing. It reminds me of how Robert Bridges wrote an angsty letter to Hopkins asking how to acquire faith, and Hopkins replied in two words: "Give alms."

The big "Oh no!" that everyone is talking about is Dumbledore's mishap with the principle of Double Effect. I don't see any way around it: Dumbledore told Snape to murder him. Sure, he thought that he was ordering Snape to perform some other type of action, but Catholic theology clearly defines what Snape was forced to do as murder. O moi moi. Dumbledore just got messier and messier in this book, and by the end he was more enigmatic than Snape; a lot more enigmatic, after we found out what was really driving Snape to protect Harry. The revelation of Dumbledore's youthful misdeeds was less disturbing than his failure to outgrow his flaws, even as he became wiser and more venerable. I mean, Dumbledore was basically a stand-in for Providence throughout Deathly Hallows. But as much as Harry trusted Dumbledore to guide his steps, he realized that his teacher's apparent omniscience was just extremely shrewd psychology. Dumbledore had him figured out. I doubt we'll ever figure out Dumbledore, though. He was so deeply compassionate that he could think of giving Harry the Resurrection Stone for his solace as he faced his death, and he was so coldly detached that he actually sat down and composed that mirthless riddle, I open at the close, and wrote it on the Snitch with his own hand. Setting up Harry's Death by Scavenger Hunt? Cold, cold, cold. Dumbledore is very humble about his faults, but he doesn't number his detachment among them. When he leads Harry to the knowledge that he must sacrifice his life you could call it saintly tough-mindedness, on par with St. Bernard telling his brother to leave his family and become a monk - terrible and harsh, but founded on a burning love of the truth. But when he arranges his own death at the hands of Snape, his detachment is seen to be mere coldness and abstraction. Unless, that is, Rowling approves of his decision - and Harry's reaction to it suggests that she does - in which case the error is not Dumbledore's, but Rowling's. Sigh.

In spite of Dumbledore's worrisome actions, the ending was wonderful. Eucatastrophe all the way. I haven't been so joyful after reading a book since I finished The Lord of the Rings when I was 12. The story keeps its integrity and Harry lays down his life, but he gets it back and marries his true love and sends his own kids off to Hogwarts. Anyone who has read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will catch how similar some of the description is: Harry's walk into the forest where Voldemort waits with his monsters by firelight; his defeat of Voldemort at the very instant of red-gold sunrise. Rowling loves Narnia, so I take this resemblance to be a homage.

And then there was King's Cross Station! How cool was that?

Thank you, J.K. Rowling. For eight years of delightful suspense. For taking up the mantle of the Inklings. For characters that will live in my imagination for the rest of my life.

Long live Harry Potter!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Harry Potter and the... Libation Bearers?"

My thought exactly. I opened the seventh book and said, "Huh? What's Aeschylus doing in here?"

I had no idea that Fr. Z. liked Harry Potter!

Fr. Z.'s post has also reminded me that I need to read David Jones' Anathemata. Catholic High Modernism from a man deeply scarred by his service in the First World War? It will be interesting at the very least...


I visited Marseille in March, and I've finally gotten around to posting some pictures. Enjoy!


Sunset in front of the cathedral

The Old Harbor at night

We caught a noon Mass at this cathedral. Before Mass there was a rosary and afterwards we said the Angelus. All the prayers sounded more vehement in French, which became my new favorite language.

A sign inside the cathedral's entrance - click to read it. If you think there's no one left in Europe who understands, think again. "Gardez la foi!"

The view from the shrine of Notre Dame de la Garde, Our Lady of the Guard.

To get to the shrine you had to cross a drawbridge. How cool is that? The mistral nearly blew me away, though.

Looking back...

The shrine seen from the Old Harbor. Everyone in Marseille loves Notre Dame de la Garde! Her shrine is covered with ex votos. My friends and I were trying to find the way up to it, and this nice old gentleman asked us if we were "looking for the Virgin" (I heard something something la Vierge? anyway), and he told us how to find the stairs.

The cathedral by the sea - a strange mix of Baroque, Byzantine, and Italian Gothic.


Theres a subtle feeling to Marseille. The colors of it are pale and bright - bleached ivory; pink like an ancient dress that's lifted from a trunk all brittle and camphory; pale cornflower; and a tender Easter icing color for some of the shutters, not quite cyan, not quite sea-green. There's something gaunt and forbidding about it, but also a certain feeling I've found in certain poems - say, the last stanza of Louise Bogan's Song for the Last Act. I liked it, and I'd definitely go back. When I was arranging the trip, I read a lot of sources that said it wasn't safe, was full of angry Muslim immigrants, etc. But our experience was good. We were just passing through to Lourdes, but we wished we could have stayed longer.

Note: If you want a really scary French city, try Toulouse. We had to wait there for several hours coming back from Lourdes, and we decided to go and venerate Thomas Aquinas's relics. The poor guy is buried in a desecrated Gothic church known as the "Convent les Jacobins" (!) which was stolen and gutted during the Revolution and gingerly patched up at a later date. It's pretty much a museum. We crawled under a rope and touched our rosaries to St. Thomas' golden casket, and then prayed for our college. We came back through a boisterous rally for Saddam Husein, which involved a large circle of young Muslim men singing loudly, holding banners, and pumping their fists in the air while all the women in their headscarves stood silently to one side. Oddly enough, I got more crap from boorish males in ten minutes there than I did the whole time I was in Italy. If you are a woman, don't be seen outside there, alone, unless you want to be very annoyed.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What am I doing on this blog?!

"July has only four letters so as to prevent us from taking up time to pronounce her name: she would rather we be outside enjoying her." - TS.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ave atque vale.

Last summer I took my first Greek course at UC Berkeley. For ten weeks we did nothing but study Greek, day and night; and we went from not even knowing the alphabet to reading Euripides (propped up at every turn by the Middle Liddell, but still). It was intoxicating. Our GSI led her little phalanx through the Swamp of Accents, over the tricky pass of Conditional Sentences, and across the burning plains of the Athematic Verb, chewing through a textbook the size of a telephone directory. The rank and file loved her, for she was everything a teacher/commander should be. I regretted, afterwards, that I hadn't gotten to know Corinne better - I did the typical introvert thing and hero-worshiped her from a distance, while my more confident classmates became fast friends with her. I did make one lasting friend from the workshop, though. I called her a few days ago to chat. She had to break the news to me: Corinne was dead. She had been hit by a car while she was riding her bicycle in Walnut Creek.

"Only 26 years old, she was obviously a woman of extraordinary brilliance, having graduated summa cum laude from Harvard at the age of 20, while simultaneously being awarded a Harvard master's degree. Having taught at Harvard, I can attest that in this age of grade inflation, Harvard still guards the honor of summa degrees rather closely. The honor is reserved for those who qualify as one of the finest minds of their generation, in essence."

- American Thinker.

Why did I have to learn all of this now? She studied with Fr. Foster when she was in her teens. She gave the Latin oration at the Commencement when she graduated from Harvard. She... It's not that knowing what a prodigy she was changes my feelings about her; it just makes her death that much harder to take, that's all.

On her blog she snarkily described herself as a "pissy feminist Ph.D. candidate and proud." She had a lot to be proud of, and she was making her way in a very male-dominated world, but I've never had a teacher who was more unpretentious. She had a way of explaining concepts as though she had just discovered them herself and was still luxuriating in that "Ohhhhh!" moment. I remember her defining participles as "adjectives with verb superpowers," pausing to think about it, and then saying, "or maybe... 'adjectives on crack'." She called Euboea 'Happy Cow Island' and baked us cookies and she had this cute way of saying "ohhhhhmega." Remember that "Fragment of a Greek Tragedy" I blogged about? I first read it on a handout she made for us. One day near the end of the course, she had us decipher the first page of the Greek translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (which begins Δούρσλειος καὶ ἠ γυνὴ ἐνῴκουν τῇ τετάρτῃ οἰκία τῇ τῆς τῶν μυρσίνων ὁδοῦ, in case you were curious). She could explain the most abstruse ideas simply.

At first glance she was an elfin sort of person, with her short dark hair and glinting eyes. She wore thick black glasses, as if to make herself look fiercer. She was perfectly unapologetic about her California accent, calling it "my dialect." This was encouraging to me, as I am an irredeemable valley girl. (I may use certain annoying particles when I speak <μὲν> , but at least I never employ them in my writing < /δὲ> .) But her slightness and chirpiness were deceptive - she was as athletic in her body as she was in her mind. She was always out cycling, and she was about to win her black belt in karate. (Once she told us about the previous day's ride, through the hills above Berkeley, and how she had wanted to see the "fire goats." With a kind of Chestertonian delight, she told us that she had seen the nimble little αἴγες standing in trees!)

If you click on her cartoon at the top of the post, it will take you to her page on the Berkeley site. I thought I might get to visit her this summer - but no. It's worse for my friend from the program, because she is a regular Berkeley student, and she continued to grow closer to Corinne after the summer workshop. Please pray for Corinne and for her family.

Arturo the Sarabite also learned from Corinne, and he has written a poem for her. He says what I wish I could say.

Music for Buses – V


Arturo Vásquez

For Corinne Crawford

I decided to take the bus
To where it ended-
Beyond familiar stops
And faces of those
Who tread wearily
On newspaper-covered floors.

I decided not to get off
At my stop
But continue to that place
Where I could see worry,
Tiny and shivering,
There below-
And I could guide the sun
With a sigh
And love all
The smallness of things.

I decided no longer to feed
The cares of the day,
But finally to get off
Near the last sign
That meant the flowing of sunset
And the end of the line,

Where waters lap on
Memory’s shore,
And once again you
Fold up the night
Like a note scrawled in affection,
And there, with courage
And gentleness,
Take flight.

I decided to take the bus
To where it ended-
To see you off
As you walked away-
Since you had brightness of heart
That belongs to so few,
May the heavens possess your soul
And the earth lie light on you.

Esto perpetua, Corinna.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

"Drowned Latinesse, lost and lovely and strange — and cruel, we heard..."

Wow. Summorum Pontificum is definitely bringing out the poetry in people:

People my age grew up with a strange wound and longing in their parents: as if we’d all been driven out by flood from a homeland that no longer existed, where on stormy nights, the church bells clanged randomly beneath the waves; and you might hear those who’d refused to leave (and been turned into mermen by some curse or mercy) chanting in their black and golden robes, as strange lights burned in stony caves beneath the sea.

Friday, July 13, 2007

What goes into a "perfect line?"

Sometimes you come across a single line of poetry that is so striking that it has a life of its own. It would still be powerful even if it were ripped from its context, blowing around in the Sahara on a scrap of papyrus. If you like poetry, you have a lot of them drifting through your mind:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

From silken Samarkand to cedered Lebanon

I knew a woman lovely in her bones

Inexplicable splendor of Ionian white and gold

Blogger Nick Seddon raised the old and rather murky question of what makes a line "perfect," but mostly left it to his readers to suggest answers. Dozens of people replied with lines they thought perfect. Many started getting off track and citing whole passages of their favorite poetry. A handful proposed some standards. Someone cited the "golden line" of Latin poetry.

Well, all of this got me thinking, and I thought about it way longer than I should have. It was easy to pick out lines that I thought were perfect, and less easy to say why they were perfect. First off, I decided that perfect is not the same thing as best. Some "perfect" lines I like better than others, but each one seems to inhabit its own little world. After looking closely at some of them, I put together some characteristics of the "perfect line":

1. It has to be complete. The root sense of "perfect" is "finished" (Latin, perfectus), as in "the perfect tense." There can't be bits of syntax intruding from the lines before or after. Look at this line:

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

It comes from a great poem ("The Windhover"), but it is not a perfect line. As a part of the whole, it is flawless; but it can never stand alone. Though a perfect line doesn't need to be a complete sentence. It isn't often a subordinate clause, but very often it's part of a clause: "Or stormy silver fret the gold of day" - Yeats. Usually the perfect line is either a main clause ("The wintry haw is burning out of season" - Heaney) or a single image - that is, a noun with all its pomps and accouterments, but without the slightest hint of a verb. And no need for one. These single image lines seem framed by a contemplative eye, and they don't have to justify their existence:

A rose-red city, half as old as time

A bracelet of bright hair about the bone

These things are sufficient in their own way. They can summon an image in your mind without any help from the rest of the poem. And such images!

2. It has to be strange.
A perfect line stands out vividly from the other lines, like a hologram. It is unique; it pops off the page. The idea must be strange, or the words used must be strange. Look at the last two lines I gave: "rose-red" is an unusual foil for "city," and bracelets are made of many things, but usually not of hair. "Half as old as time" - none of the words are unusual, but the idea is strange. The first line is strange in both ways: its first half uses strange diction; its second half uses a strange concept. The second line, one of John Donne's, takes three pairs of words, each perfectly normal, and then mixes them up. "Bright" and "bracelet" - connected by alliteration and association. "Bright" and "hair" - a commonplace. "Hair" and "bone" - definitely on the same page here. But combine them, and see how the bright beginning slopes down and becomes increasingly macabre, while the entire line retains an overlay of brightness, even at the gruesome ending...

3. It has to be familiar. Mere strangeness isn't enough. What I'm trying to get at is the idea of balance. The line has to strike a golden mean between... well, a lot of things - some of them obvious, many of them elusive. It should feel right somehow. It should have a bit of the primitive, a bit of the artless, to balance its strangeness. It should make you a bit homesick. Look at the Seamus Heaney line again: The wintry haw is burning out of season. It feels like a nursery rhyme or a song. I think of Tolkien: "In Western lands beneath the sun / The flowers may rise in spring..." or this:
When winter first begins to bite
And stones crack in the frosty night -
When pools are black and trees are bare,
Tis evil in the wild to fare.

The line feels like other simple lines that we've enjoyed before, but it stands apart from them with its elegant rhythm and highly tuned language.

4. It's usually iambic pentameter. If it's in English, that is. Why is this? Because I.P. is so widely used. Because iambic tetrameter doesn't finish a thought in one line so often. Because of that balance thing: there's something about those five feet that sounds complete. A four-foot line feels like it wants to keep on going. But here are some that aren't iambic pentameter:

She walks in beauty like the night

Our hearts’ charity’s hearth’s fire, our thoughts’ chivalry’s throng’s Lord.


Now, a whole poem composed of perfect lines is not the ideal. It would be over-intense, as well as disjointed. There is a poem by Theodore Roethke that has an unusual number of perfect lines, and by the last stanza every line is syntactically complete and only vaguely connected to the other lines:

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways.)

Lovely lines, but the lack of cohesion is slightly irritating.

In the end, of course, it's personal opinion that deems a line "perfect." The same line can give one person a charge and leave another cold. And I happen to like these:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;

Low-latched in leaf-light housel his too huge godhead.

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, ' her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

Not where I breathe, but where I love I live

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May

That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

Truth and beauty buried be.

And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

She's all states, and all princes I

Let bone be flute; the music in our marrow

Delphiniums Blue and Vatican Two

Barbara Nicolosi rejoices over the Motu Proprio and then vents:

Read it and weep, all ye liturgical innovators with your Barney music and your leotard ladies and your pita breads and your, "Hi everybody, I'm Fr. Joe, your presider! Welcome to our celebration!!!"

I'm calling to mind just now all the stern-faced, liberal ideologues of my whole ecclesial life - ruthlessly trampling on every aesthetic or reverent impulse in the name of - what the hell was it again? Oh yes - in the name of making me feel special.

Whew. Glad she got that off her chest. There's nothing more infuriating than watching the powers-that-be destroy something beautiful that you love "for your own good."

There's a poem that describes the phenomenon beautifully, and it was written by none other than A.A. Milne. I used to read it when I was a kid, but not very often, because it always turned me into a quivering blob of irrational outrage. When I got older, I found out why...

The Doctor and the Dormouse

There once was a Dormouse who lived in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red),
And all the day long he'd a wonderful view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).

A Doctor came hurrying round, and he said:
"Tut-tut, I am sorry to find you in bed.
Just say 'Ninety-nine' while I look at your chest....
Don't you find that chrysanthemums answer the best?"

The Dormouse looked round at the view and replied
(When he'd said "Ninety-nine") that he'd tried and he'd tried,
And much the most answering things that he knew
Were geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).

The Doctor stood frowning and shaking his head,
And he took up his shiny silk hat as he said:
"What the patient requires is a change," and he went
To see some chrysanthemum people in Kent.

The Dormouse lay there, and he gazed at the view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue),
And he knew there was nothing he wanted instead
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).

The Doctor came back and, to show what he meant,
He had brought some chrysanthemum cuttings from Kent.
"Now these," he remarked, "give a much better view
Than geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."

They took out their spades and they dug up the bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red),
And they planted chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
"And now," said the Doctor, "we'll soon have you right."

The Dormouse looked out, and he said with a sigh:
"I suppose all these people know better than I.
It was silly, perhaps, but I did like the view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."

The Doctor came round and examined his chest,
And ordered him Nourishment, Tonics, and Rest.
"How very effective," he said, as he shook
The thermometer, "all these chrysanthemums look!"

The Dormouse turned over to shut out the sight
Of the endless chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
"How lovely," he thought, "to be back in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red.)"

The Doctor said, "Tut! It's another attack!"
And ordered him Milk and Massage-of-the-back,
And Freedom-from-worry and Drives-in-a-car,
And murmured, "How sweet your chrysanthemums are!"

The Dormouse lay there with his paws to his eyes,
And imagined himself such a pleasant surprise:
"I'll pretend the chrysanthemums turn to a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)!"

The Doctor next morning was rubbing his hands,
And saying, "There's nobody quite understands
These cases as I do! The cure has begun!
How fresh the chrysanthemums look in the sun!"

The Dormouse lay happy, his eyes were so tight
He could see no chrysanthemums, yellow or white.
And all that he felt at the back of his head
Were delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).

And that is the reason (Aunt Emily said)
If a Dormouse gets in a chrysanthemum bed,
You will find (so Aunt Emily says) that he lies
Fast asleep on his front with his paws to his eyes.

I always wanted to beat up the Doctor and find the little Dormouse a nice bed of geraniums and delphiniums where he could be happy. I never could, of course. But now, if Summorum Pontificum works out (Deo volente), the Dormouse won't have to shut his eyes and pretend that the blank wall in front of him is a gilded reredos; and he won't be putting his paws on his ears and dreaming of Palestrina while Marty Haugen blares from a loudspeaker. I have done these things. I won't be doing them anymore!

I still feel like this is all too good to be true.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Christmas in July

Back in my emo phase, which involved writing lots of recusant poetry, shopping for black chapel veils, and listening to William Byrd in the dark, I often thought that this proclamation would never come. But fortunately that was just teenage idiocy, and now we can all party!

Papa Benedict, I just want to say...

Thank you!
Thank you!
Thank you!

I think I wrote something about the Tridentine rite and poetic formation... ah yes. Here. Accounts from Seamus Heaney and Dana Gioia of their experience of the Latin Mass.

Here are a few reasons I love the TLM:

1. The silent Canon. There's something about the way the Sanctus opens like gates of bronze - with those urgent bells - and then everything passes through into Silence. It easily inspires reverence. The consecration is more startling when it finally comes.

2. The ad orientem posture. I like it when priest and people are all facing God in the same way. There's no way to make the mistake of thinking that the priest is just emoting to us and talking to us.

3. The prayers at the foot of the altar. They are beautiful. The refrain of And I will go in to the altar of God: to God Who giveth joy to my youth is very affecting. Look at the way it weaves through the prayer with such antiphonal grace.

4. The Last Gospel. It's just so right.

After forty years, a great many patient people are reaping their reward. I will leave you with something from Eliot's Ash Wednesday:

The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream....

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

(Photo credit: Fr. Z's
What Does the Prayer Really Say?)

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Gazing into the Abyss

One man's escape from the tedious hell of existentialism.
“It is necessary to have had a revelation of reality through joy,” Weil writes, “in order to find reality through suffering.” This is certainly true to my own experience. I was not wrong all those years to believe that suffering is at the very center of our existence, and that there can be no untranquilized life that does not fully confront this fact. The mistake lay in thinking grief the means of confrontation, rather than love. To come to this realization is not to be suddenly “at ease in the world.” I don’t really think it’s possible for humans to be at the same time conscious and comfortable. Though we may be moved by nature to thoughts of grace, though art can tease our minds toward eternity and love’s abundance make us dream a love that does not end, these intuitions come only through the earth, and the earth we know only in passing, and only by passing. I would qualify Weil’s statement somewhat, then, by saying that reality, be it of this world or another, is not something one finds and then retains for good. It must be newly discovered daily, and newly lost.

This essay is so good that I don't know what to say about it. But it sets up modern skepticism, romantic love, death, religion, and poetry - and shows them colliding in one very real life. It's not really an essay, it's more of a confession or an act of witness. I know that I'll be thinking about it for a long time.

The scariest passage in the piece was this unsparing look at the connection between spiritual health and the writing of poetry:
On another level, though, the decision to stop writing wasn’t mine. Whatever connection I had long experienced between word and world, whatever charge in the former I had relied on to let me feel the latter, went dead. Did I give up poetry, or was it taken from me? I’m not sure, and in any event the effect was the same: I stumbled through the months, even thrived in some ways. Indeed — and there is something almost diabolical about this common phenomenon — it sometimes seemed like my career in poetry began to flourish just as poetry died in me. I finally found a reliable publisher for my work (the work I’d written earlier, I mean), moved into a good teaching job, and then quickly left that for the editorship of Poetry. But there wasn’t a scrap of excitement in any of this for me. It felt like I was watching a movie of my life rather than living it, an old silent movie, no color, no sound, no one in the audience but me.

Inspiration is a mystery. It was the subject of Hopkins's last poem - and he, of all people, was complaining about the lack of it. A number of things - now including Christian Wiman's account - are moving me towards the belief that poetic inspiration really is a spiritual event.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Nothing for Ever and Ever

An interesting article on A.E. Housman.

Reading it, I remembered that my favorite Housman poem is not "Loveliest of trees," but "Fragment of a Greek Tragedy." Mysterious reader, if you happen to be a student of ancient Greek and you have never read this parody, you have indeed been gypped.

O suitably-attired-in-leather-boots
Head of a traveller, wherefore seeking whom
Whence by what way how purposed art thou come
To this well-nightingaled vicinity?

I cranked out a number of such horrifically literal translations last summer, and some of them were almost that funny. But just wait until you get to the part about the shipwrecked cows...

Monday, July 2, 2007

Roman Exile

During my last week in Rome I paid a visit to the Protestant Cemetery, where John Keats is buried. It was impossible that I leave without making this small pilgrimage. The place was so lovely that I stayed there for an hour, and I said a rosary for Keats, attempting to give him something in return for his poetry. Here you can see that he is buried next to Joseph Severn, his artist friend:

An admirer had left him this object:

What did it have inside, I wonder? The true, the blushful Hippocrene? Actually, that would be uncivilized... if you're going to offer a libation, you pour it on the ground; you don't leave it standing there going "Nyah nyah!" Maybe the vase was filled with crumpled-up sonnets.

One more picture. This is a far-off view of Keats's grave, and it shows that he is buried in the quietest, most distant corner of the Protestant Cemetery.

It tore me up that Keats only came to Italy when he was dying. Rome is the worst place in which to be living a posthumous existence; when I was there, I often felt a kind of panic that I was going to have to leave without seeing some marvelous thing or other. His doctor kept Keats from visiting the famous sights of Rome, fearing that the excitement would weaken him; and as he fell asleep at night, listening to the plash of Bernini's fountain outside his window, the "warm South" must have seemed as distant as it was in England when he imagined it vaguely as a land of "summer waters":

Happy is England! I could be content
  To see no other verdure than its own;
  To feel no other breezes than are blown
Through its tall woods with high romances blent:
Yet do I sometimes feel a languishment
  For skies Italian, and an inward groan
  To sit upon an Alp as on a throne,
And half forget what world or worldling meant.
Happy is England, sweet her artless daughters;
  Enough their simple loveliness for me,
    Enough their whitest arms in silence clinging:
  Yet do I often warmly burn to see
    Beauties of deeper glance, and hear their singing,
And float with them about the summer waters.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Why this blog?

I love poetry, and I love to talk about it. If I don't start blogging about it, I will continue scribbling solipsistically about it in a notebook, which is of no use to anyone. From now on, I intend to commend my rants, raves, fisks, reviews and theories to this blog. Thanks for lighting the way, Sheila!