Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Dairy of a Country Priest

An old post from Disputations:
After the milking this morning, I noticed that Mme. Bessie had remained behind, standing quietly in the shadows by the side entrance. She is a Guernsey, a proud member of a breed my own people have been bred to treat with reverence. Only with great effort did I refrain from bowing my head respectfully as I addressed her, "Git along."
Heh! The Diary of a Country Priest is great stuff, but this parody is so cruelly accurate! A friend of mine once said of the protagonist, "I just want to hug the poor guy and make him eat a bowl of hot chicken soup." I concurred. What he really needed to do was to get out of that carcinogenic little town and go to a parish that didn't hate priests.

I've never met a priest like the nameless curé of Ambricourt, thank God. But I did know a priest who was remarkably like the curé of Torcy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dappled Things - Advent 2008

Get it while it's hot! Make sure you read Saint Catherine's Wheel, Afterglow Candidate, and Absent Friends. There is also a good translation of a poem by Venantius Fortunatus, but you'll have to read it in the print version.

Also see my reviews!

A merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, December 12, 2008

More Latin wordplay!

Verus amicus amore more ore re cognoscitur.

This has been percolating through the Latinteach mailing list. It means, "A true friend is known by his love, his habits, his speech, and his deeds." But no one knows where it came from. If you google it, you will find a surprising number of people quoting it and attributing it to Virgil. It's nowhere in Virgil, though.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's Bad Out There

What's Really Wrong with Poetry Book Contests?

"Nor should we assume that the poet judge is passionate about his or her choice. He has been hired not to discover a great book (that word is frowned upon in professional circles) but merely to choose the best of those presented by screeners who are often inexperienced MFA candidates. Trapped like a spider in a web, not of his own spinning, the judge is a relativist when it comes to taste. He must be satisfied with the juiciest fly that wanders in. Once he’s rendered his verdict and written his blurb, the judge’s commitment to the book, for all practical purposes, ends."

"Imagine what 20th century poetry would be like had Ezra Pound, Mrs. Alfred Nutt, John Quinn, James Laughlin, Barney Rosset, Cid Corman and Lawrence Ferlinghetti been content to be uncommitted contest coordinators rather than passionate editors, publishers, or patrons of the art. Behind The Waste Land, North of Boston, Patterson, Howl, and other landmark books of the last century were men and women willing to risk money, credibility, even imprisonment for poetry that mattered."

Paradise Prosed

Stanley Fish reviews a new translation of Paradise Lost into foolproof, unambiguous English prose. Now, I am fine with translations of Homer and Dante and Tolstoy and Bernanos. Reading the original is always best, but it's better to read a translation than to read nothing because you never got the opportunity to learn Greek or Italian or Russian. But the effort that an English-speaker must exert to read Milton is not so onerous. It means reading footnotes, not taking four years of Latin (although that enhances the experience somewhat). The only benefit I can see in this English-English translation is its potential to teach students about the limits of translation. So much sense lives in the sound of a poem. Stanley Fish shows us this, as well as what happens when you boil off the rhythms, chimes, and syntax:

At an earlier point, the epic narrator comments on mankind’s susceptibility to the blandishments of the fallen angels. Men and women are duped even to the extent that “devils they adore for deities.” The tone is one of incredulity; how could anyone be so stupid as to be unable to tell the difference? But the line’s assertion that as polar opposites devils and deities should be easily distinguishable is complicated by the fact that as words “devils” and “deities” are close together, beginning and ending with the same letter and sharing an “e” and an “i” in between. The equivalence suggested by sound (although denied by the sense) is reinforced by the mirror-structure of “adore for,” a phrase that separates devils from deities but in fact participates in the subliminal assertion of their likeness.

What, then, is the line saying? It is saying simultaneously that the difference between devils and deities is obvious and perspicuous and that the difference is hard to tell. This is one of those moments Davie has in mind when he talks about the tendency of Milton’s verse to go off the rails of narrative in order to raise speculative questions that have no definitive answer.

When Danielson comes to render “devils to adore for deities,” he turns it into a present participle: “worshiping devils themselves.” Absent are both the tone of scornful wonder the epic voice directs at the erring sinners and the undercutting of that scorn by the dance of vowels and consonants.

Or on the phrase, "mortal taste":

By eating of the forbidden tree, Adam and Eve become capable of death and therefore capable of having a beginning and an end and a middle filled up by successes, failures, losses and recoveries. To say that a “mortal taste” brought death into the world is to say something tautologous; but the tautology is profound when it reminds us of both the costs and the glories of being mortal. If no mortality, then no human struggles, no narrative, no story, no aspiration (in eternity there’s nowhere to go), no “Paradise Lost.”

Danielson translates “whose mortal taste” as “whose lethal taste,” which is accurate, avoids tautology (or at least suppresses it) and gets us into the next line cleanly and without fuss or provoked speculation. But fuss and bother and speculations provoked by etymological puzzles are what makes this verse go (or, rather, not go), and while the reader’s way may be smoothed by a user-friendly prose translation, smoothness is not what Milton is after; it is not a pleasure he wishes to provide.

I must admit that this prose Paradise seems especially useless to me because the only thing I like about Milton is the sound his words make. What is left in the prose version? An annoying God, a sexy Satan, angels with cannons, an Eve born already fallen. A mythic-lyric poem distended into an epic. I've always wished that Milton had written an epic about King David. It would have been on the right scale.

High on a Throne of Royal State, which far
Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Showers on her Kings barbaric pearl and gold,
Satan exalted sat, by merit raised
To that bad eminence....

This isn't Finnegans Wake, people!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"I shan't publish it. The journals will think it barbarous.”

Another review of Ron Hansen's Exiles, this one in Godspy.
Though Hopkins scrupled over his love of nature-infused poetry (wondering whether the art was suspect for its worldliness and emphasis on delights of the senses), his instincts were correct. As Hans Urs van Balthasar wrote in Seeing the Form, “The resurrection of the flesh vindicates the poets in a definitive sense: the aesthetic scheme of things, which allows us to possess the infinite within the finitude of form (however it is seen, understood, or grasped spiritually), is right.”

Hmm. That's awfully confident.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Poem in October

A supremely beautiful poem. The best thing is to hear Dylan Thomas himself reading it.

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Father Foster explains it all...

...to Bill Maher. (Listen here on NPR, if you can stand the smarminess. I honestly found it amusing.) While filming his silly anti-religion movie, Maher went to the Vatican and ran into none other than... Reggie Foster, everyone's favorite Latin Lover! Fr. Foster took him up to his office, all the while making scandalous comments and telling "bad jokes in Latin." What really made me laugh was that Bill Maher carried away the impression that all the Vatican clergy are like Fr. Foster! (What a thought.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Happy Birthday, Virgil!

I am reading the Aeneid from the beginning, and I'm on Book Three now. Sorry, Virgil, but I'm glad you weren't able to burn it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dappled Things is out.

I truly believe writing saves the world. Books saved my life when I was drinking: I’m not sure I would have survived if not through what was basically my only connection to reality: literature. - Heather King
Get it right here! I particularly recommend the interview with Heather King. It's like morning air and dew on the grass. Very clear and real. As for poetry, J.B. Toner's sonnet, "Drinking with Lucifer," is blackly funny and has a few great lines: "The absinthe of an abdicated will," oooo... Another sonnet, "That My Kitchen is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Extinguisher," is a highly alarming peek into a bachelor's kitchen, alarmingly bespattered with alliteration and other Hopkinsian flourishes. Joseph O'Brien's "Our Father" is a wonderful sketch of fatherhood as embodied in an Irish cop from Jersey City. And there is a villanelle by Amamda Griswold about the Gaderene demoniac which packs a punch. There's a lot of passion in this issue! Watch out for "The Game of Sean McTeague," though; it made me seasick. Eleanor Donlon took her usual Benson-esque melodrama and grafted it onto "Darby O'Gill and the Little People." The result is utterly ridiculous.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Anti-Muses

A.E. Stallings is on to them.

Like the Muses, they are attracted to talent and promising projects, and the presence of several at once probably means you are on to something big. Still, they can frustrate or even destroy the most inspired tender new poem, and send the poet into despair, alcoholism, or flash fiction. The more we know about them, the better.

My favorites are Tripsichore (She of two left feet) and Hyperbole, goddess of blurbs. May they be far from me!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In Which a General is Kidnapped and Some Horace is Recited.

From Andrew Cusack's blog, a nice interview with Patrick Leigh Fermor - a most romantic figure and still writing, at the age of 93, about his opulent adventures. I am fond of the escapade where he kidnapped a German general on Crete:
In Leigh Fermor’s own account of the abduction of General Kreipe, the climax comes not as the general’s staff car is stopped at night by a British SOE partly dressed in stolen German uniforms, nor as the Cretan partisans help smuggle the general into the highlands and hence to a waiting British submarine; but instead as ‘a brilliant dawn was breaking over the crest of Mount Ida’.

‘We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the general, half to himself, slowly said, “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte”. It was the opening of one of the few Horace odes I knew by heart. I went on reciting where he had broken off… The general’s blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain top to mine - and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: “Ach so, Herr Major!” It was very strange. “Ja, Herr General.” As though for a moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.’

It is an archetypal Leigh Fermor anecdote: fabulously erudite and romantic, and just a little showy. For his greatest virtues as a writer are also his greatest vices: his incantational love of great waterfalls of words, combined with the wild scholarly enthusiasms of a brilliant autodidact. On the rare occasions he gets it wrong, Leigh Fermor has been responsible for some of the most brightly coloured purple passages in travel literature. But at his best he is sublime, unbeatable.

At the recommendation of Andrew, I purchased A Time of Gifts and gave it to my father. I keep reading it in snatches - you can open it anywhere; it's like a Persian carpet - and I think I've read most of it. The brilliantly purple bits are a guilty pleasure, as I am a sometime member of the purple school myself. The 19-year old Fermor is an intellectual glutton, willing to lose himself in wonder at anything rich and strange, and, despite his wide-eyed wonder and his taste for aesthetic sweets, an unnerving escape artist and resourceful bandit, able and willing to mix with anyone and fiddle with any language. But I can't help but compare A Time of Gifts to Belloc's Path to Rome, which I'm afraid does beat it.

Poetry Bailout Will Restore Confidence of Readers

Via Choriamb, another bit of satire.
"As you know, the glut of illiquid, insolvent, and troubled poems is clogging the literary arteries of the West. These debt-ridden poems threaten to infect other areas of the literary sector and ultimately to topple our culture industry."
Whoever read this at the release of Best American Poetry 2008 was living dangerously! The thing is, it's funny because the discrepancy between the economy and poetry is so vast... but it's also vicious, because it's true!


And while I'm at it, here's a link to a relatively recent sbmail wherein StrongBad teaches you how to write love poems.

StrongBad wins extra points for using the word 'Meredithian'!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Merry Michaelmas

St. Michael's on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone....

Monday, September 22, 2008

GK Chesterton strikes again

The men that worked for England
They have their graves at home:
And bees and birds of England
About the cross can roam.

But they that fought for England,
Following a falling star,
Alas, alas for England
They have their graves afar.

And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England,
They have no graves as yet.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Pizza Indult

The last forty years are so much funnier when you think of the Traditional Roman Rite as Traditional Italian Pizza!

Personally I think that this is a great improvement on "The Novus Ordo is like New Coke and the old rite is like Classic Coke."

But now I'm longing for a slice of Quattro Stagioni, or "the Solemn Pontifical Pizza."

Palin Palin Palin!

Okay. I know I never talk about politics here. But ohmygosh Palin! I am having so much fun listening to the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

To one Cintra of Salon, she is a "Christian Stepford wife in a 'sexy librarian' costume," "the White House bunny," a "sheep in ewe's clothing," and other things that I don't want to defile my blogspace with. (By the way, this is the same Cintra who did that smarmy "Passion" interview which was so thouroughly fisked by Secret Agent Man eons ago. Does anyone else remember that post as fondly as I do?)

She cites a theory that "approximately 80 percent of all decision making is done at the level of the limbic system -- our lowest, most colorless, reptilian emotional level." Which is to say: "Republican strategies are consistent with a belief that the voting process, for most people, is full of feelings -- but devoid of reason."

I like that thesis: "approximately 80 percent of all decision making is done at the level of the limbic system -- our lowest, most colorless, reptilian emotional level." It certainly explains Cintra's article!

The various sentences of it are so contradictory that the whole thing seems to have been written not by an honest reptile, but by a foul-mouthed robot. Compare and contrast. Palin is...

Lady Macbeth
"her most beloved child is the antiabortion platform that ensures her own political ambitions with the conservative right. The throat she's so hot to cut is that of all American women."

Compliant Helpless Chattel
"It is a kind of eerie coincidence that Sarah Palin is being sprung on the public at the same time as.... "House Bunny," which features a poster of a beautiful young lady with Playmate-style bunny ears, big, stupid eyes and her mouth hanging open like someone just punched her. Sarah Palin is the White House bunny."

Palin wears...

a "'sexy librarian' costume"


a "virtual burqa"

Palin's problem is that...

She's an old-timey, suborned-to-husband-and-kids housewife:
"She tacitly promises a roll backward into old-fashioned sexual roles -- like Old Testament-style old."

She's a mean-faced modern gal who goes to work and leaves her kids in daycare!
"Sarah Palin is untethered from her own needs and those of her family, which is in crisis, with a pregnant daughter, a son on the way to Iraq and a special-needs infant."

Thanks for sliming us with the contents of your bulimic id, Cintra!

And it all reads very much like that from end to end of the internet. If the Freakish Enemies of the Normal(thanks, Mark Shea) keep this up, everyone who loves babies and sunshine will be so frightened and sickened by the hate that they will reject every candidate that the said Enemies of the Normal promote. When Michael Moore is trying to tone you down... well, maybe you should take the hint and stop spazzing.

And now for a detour that will take us back into the arena of letters. Mark Shea's "Freakish Enemies of the Normal" reminded me, when I first read the phrase, of a passage in "That Hideous Strength." CS Lewis is describing the unintended effect of the brainwashing that Mark's captors inflict on him:

"As the desert first teaches men to love water, or as absence first reveals affection, there rose up against this background of the sour and the crooked some kind of vision of the sweet and the straight. Something else--something he vaguely called the "Normal"--apparently existed. He had never thought about it before. But there it was--solid, massive, with a shape of its own, almost like something you could touch, or eat, or fall in love with. It was all mixed up with Jane and fried eggs and soap and sunlight and the rooks cawing at Cure Hardy and the thought that, somewhere outside, daylight was going on at that moment. He was not thinking in moral terms at all; or else (what is much the same thing) he was having his first deeply moral experience."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

National Endowment For The Arts Funds Construction Of $1.3 Billion Poem

Ah, the Onion!

"America's metaphors have become strained beyond recognition, our nation's verses are severely overwrought, and if one merely examines the internal logic of some of these archaic poems, they are in danger of completely falling apart," said the project's head stanza foreman Dana Gioia. "We need to make sure America's poems remain the biggest, best-designed, best-funded poems in the world."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Tripods Attack!

At the end of his article on Catholic fiction for InsideCatholic, Todd Aglialoro promoted two new YA novels from Sophia Inst. Press. One is sort of "Sweet Valley High" from a mordant, Catholic perspective; and the other is Chestertonian steampunk. Having spent my adolescence hiding (successfully) from Sweet Valley High and (unsuccessfully) from its more genteel, Newberry-stamped cousins, the ones they make you read in school, I chose the steampunk novel as my sample of Sophia's new project. My love of fantasy makes me biased, but I think that the best sort of niche fiction is simply too different to appeal to the mass market, rather than being a Catholic imitation of something that already exists.

So I read the book, probably too quickly, for it was not aimed at twenty-something women but at 9 to 14 year-old boys. However, I did my best to discern whether it would please its target audience, and I decided that it ought to. I gave it four stars on Amazon, and the following review:

Sophia attacks the YA market! - September 3, 2008

I think the 9 year-old boy's review says it best:

"I LOVED The Tripods Attack because there was lots of violence. I liked how it had sadness in the end, like most of the books I read. Finally, I loved how they had the flame thrower and the .45 colt."

The Tripods Attack! is wonderfully bloodcurdling and gruesome, although its dizzy Victorian setting and many in-jokes keep it from getting too dark. Steampunk is a rather Chestertonian genre to begin with, and The Tripods Attack! resembles Chesterton's own fiction in some ways. It helps that Father Brown is a character in it, as well as Chesterton himself and a young HG Wells. But there are other characters as well: the girl "with hair as red as a Welsh sunset" that Chesterton dreams of, who is really a secret agent; and the natty and evil Doctor, who proves remarkably hard to gt rid of. The end of the book is the perfect setup for the next volume, which for all I know has not even been written yet.

This book is full of action - high marks for a scene on a runaway train and for an underground cat-and-mouse chase that is almost worthy of "Alien" - and its fractured fantasy world is vividly described. The writing is always solid and often clever. The messages do stick out, as one reviewer said, but they are never allowed to get pointier than the deadly Martian fangs or the stilettos wielded by Chesterton's rogue secret agent mother. (Did I mention that this book is surreal?) Father Brown is GKC's Father Brown, and he *does* launch into the same theological expositions. McNichol could afford to be less on-the-nose next time... however, the book *works*, and it knows that even though it is a tribute to Chesterton published by a small Catholic press, it is a story, nothing more - and nothing less. Sophia took a real risk in publishing fiction for once, and I hope it pays off for them. I should think that The Tripods Attack! will be most compelling for boys from 10-14, but only an adult reader will catch all the cameos: HG Wells, CS Lewis's Ransom, even Bartleby the scrivener!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Language Panic

I have sometimes wondered about the metrics of Tolkien's elven languages. How are you supposed to scan the poetry? Is it sprung, syllabic, quantitative? Well, someone decided that it was quantitative:
Kirya veasse lirin, Vaiyannar hildion erya
or Valinor marton wilien mí tarmenel auta
Ilmarin, erya ande et Mardellon hortina ráner
tar tuonen, sí vor marien Falmando ter orme,
Silmaril or lumbor kalman, san tultane hildi
an Númendor elen hirien, kala yánen Elenna
tol vingisse ve lóte estáron, tinwe Earendil.

Yes, that is dactylic hexameter complete with elisions and everything. And it's an account of the voyage of Earendil modeled on the Aeneid. (I don't know Quenya, but I recognize enough of the roots to know that the first three words are "A ship [something] I sing.") I started reading it, and my brain went into hexameter autopilot. It was a surprising sensation, closing a linguistic circuit that was never meant to be. Quenya actually goes quite smoothly into dac-hex, but I've never seen it done before. I guess there aren't that many Quenyist/Latinists in the world, sad to say. Sheila is among their happy number, though! Here are her Quenya poems:

Nainie nilden
Linde Noldova

And her Sindarin translation of Tennyson: Lend a dinen

Added: Ask and you shall receive! Two attested forms of elvish metrical verse: the linnod, which is like the second line of an elegiac couplet; and a heptameter line. Still no idea what Galadriel's song is supposed to sound like.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ready, set, write!

Sheila has begun another poetry contest. This time the form is: the cento.

My entry:
The Return
(a Hopkins cento)

I will appear, looking such charity,
It will flame out like shining from shook foil.
Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where springs not fail.
Or ancient mounds that cover bones
Spring, that but now were shut
To the stars, lovely-asunder.

I did say yes
With the sea-romp over the wreck,
And find the uncreated light.
And I have asked to be
Lower than death and the dark,
An ark for the listener, for the lingerer,
For him who ever thought with love of me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Recipe for Happiness

From Laudator Temporis Acti, this eye-opening post on macarisms.

('Macarism' is just Gringlish for 'beatitude.' Which is Linglish for blessedness.)

Take special note of the "paradoxical macarisms"!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The very short mimes of the snow gods

From Works and Days, a Latin tongue-twister and scribal exercise:

mimi numinum nivium minimi munium nimium vini muniminum imminui vivi minimum volunt

Which is something like, "The very short mimes of the snow gods do not wish at all that the very great burden of distributing the wine of the walls will be lightened in their lifetime." The good blogger Orwhalyus adds that it is "virtually unreadable in Black Letter script." I can imagine.

In a similar vein, I've always liked this line from Ennius: O Tite tute Tati tibi tanta tyranne tulisti! (O you tyrant Titus Tatius, what dreadful things you have brought upon yourself!)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Note to self: never sleep in a fairy ring!

This poem by Yeats is a masterpiece of the "parallel" style I tried my hand at in "Roman April." Four stanzas of repeated syntax, words, and images, with rhyme and meter as well. It's as tightly patterned as Celtic knot-work.

The Man Who Dreamed Of Faeryland
WB Yeats

He stood among a crowd at Dromahair;
His heart hung all upon a silken dress,
And he had known at last some tenderness,
Before earth took him to her stony care;
But when a man poured fish into a pile,
It seemed they raised their little silver heads,
And sang what gold morning or evening sheds
Upon a woven world-forgotten isle
Where people love beside the ravelled seas;
That Time can never mar a lover's vows
Under that woven changeless roof of boughs:
The singing shook him out of his new ease.

He wandered by the sands of Lissadell;
His mind ran all on money cares and fears,
And he had known at last some prudent years
Before they heaped his grave under the hill;
But while he passed before a plashy place,
A lug-worm with its grey and muddy mouth
Sang that somewhere to north or west or south
There dwelt a gay, exulting, gentle race
Under the golden or the silver skies;
That if a dancer stayed his hungry foot
It seemed the sun and moon were in the fruit:
And at that singing he was no more wise.

He mused beside the well of Scanavin,
He mused upon his mockers: without fail
His sudden vengeance were a country tale,
When earthy night had drunk his body in;
But one small knot-grass growing by the pool
Sang where -- unnecessary cruel voice --
Old silence bids its chosen race rejoice,
Whatever ravelled waters rise and fall
Or stormy silver fret the gold of day,
And midnight there enfold them like a fleece
And lover there by lover be at peace.
The tale drove his fine angry mood away.

He slept under the hill of Lugnagall;
And might have known at last unhaunted sleep
Under that cold and vapour-turbaned steep,
Now that the earth had taken man and all:
Did not the worms that spired about his bones
proclaim with that unwearied, reedy cry
That God has laid His fingers on the sky,
That from those fingers glittering summer runs
Upon the dancer by the dreamless wave.
Why should those lovers that no lovers miss
Dream, until God burn Nature with a kiss?
The man has found no comfort in the grave.

Yeats wrote this in 1891, when he was 26 years old. I wonder if Tolkien ever read it? It reminds me of Tolkien, anyway - the "gay, exulting, gentle race" on their "woven world-forgotten isle"; the golden and silver light that could be from the Two Trees of Valinor. The man in the poem is afflicted by something like Tolkien's "longing for elves." Every time he tries to get back to his mortal affairs - love, money, revenge, and finally death - he is baffled by a dream of immortality, first elvish and finally heavenly.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tunes for Assumption Day

Once, it is said, on an isle in an age long past,
The sky was very dark at night and the stars shone clear,
And the people looked in holy awe at times
On the lights that turned the high court of the year,
And knew the signs. "It goes to Walsingham", they said,
Hushed, for overhead, chill miles across the sky
The white track, glorious of converging light,
As though showering trees lined a path on the height,
Ran over the road to the shrine of the Lady who does not die.
- Meredith, 16 and drunk on Hopkins

Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!
O Queen beyond the Western Seas!
O Light to us that wander here
Amid the world of woven trees!

- JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Up through an empty house of stars,
Being what heart you are,
Up the inhuman steeps of space
As on a staircase go in grace,
Carrying the firelight on your face
Beyond the loneliest star.
- GKC, Ballad of the White Horse

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Per amica silentia lunae - how do you do these things, Virgil?

"The Medievals were right - he is a magician." So said Belloc (I can't remember where) upon reading a line from Book II of the Aeneid: a Tenedo tacitae per amica silentia lunae. Belloc was right. Virgil is a magician. I was casually poking around in the First Eclogue a few nights ago, and when I read the last lines I jumped out of my chair, trying to say something, trying almost not to cry. I felt like I had to tell someone how awesome Virgil is, and I duly cornered my sister the next day and subjected her to a enthusiastic rant (revenging myself for her rants about Chopin - just kidding, ma soeur!). Virgil can take an idea which amounts to, "When pigs fly..." and give you something spooky and beautiful like this:

Ante leves ergo pascentur in aethere cervi

(Before the light deer graze in the aether)

That's more like Garcia Lorca than like Milton. But it was the last two lines that really took the top of my head off. They hold the very essence of evening.

et iam summa procul villarum culmina fumant
maioresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae.

(And now, far off, from the highest housetops the smoke rises
And greater fall from the high mountains evening's shadows.)

If you have once taken Latin and then let it get rusty, it is worth going back just for the sake of reading Virgil. Get Clyde Pharr's Aeneid, the one with the vocabulary at the bottom of every page. It makes things as easy as possible.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

Oh! well, that won't be hard at all! Argh... One step at a time, though. At the moment I am using as much of my time as I can to read "The Lord of the Rings" again. It's been a while. The surprise and suspense have gone, sadly - I wistfully remember myself at twelve refusing to continue reading for days after Gandalf died, and being nearly too frightened to read through Shelob's Lair. And the incredible rush of joy I experienced when Aragorn unfurled the banner on the black ship! Now, ten years and three oft-watched movies later, I go back to notice things about Aragorn that I never noticed, to savor favorite lines... I'm not entirely sure what I'm looking for. Halfway though the book, I can say that I've learned three things so far: 1. I have never quite appreciated how human Aragorn really is. 2. Everyone on the good side seems almost careless in the way they trust to "good fortune" and signs and the promptings of their hearts... but it works out for them. 3. I'm more of a hobbit than a shieldmaiden. And that's just fine.

(Note: I made the "No Admittance" sign for my grandma's 80th birthday party last week. It was also my cousin's birthday, so we threw a double party at which it snowed food and rained drink. Nobody vanished, though.)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Someone liked Dark Knight...

Status on Facebook today: "[Meredith's friend] thinks that Thomas Aquinus should make Christian Bale the sixth way."

It's better than the Ontological Argument, anyway... uh oh, I hope St. Thomas will save me from St Anselm.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Not one, but two instances of Dr. Who and liturgical robots.

On HWTN:"...in recent Vatican news, Pope Benedict XVI ended speculation about Cardinal Arinze's replacement, announcing the new head of the Congregation for Divine Worship was an invincible Dalek warrior from the planet Skaro. Benedict explained this move would mark the beginning of a new era of decisiveness. When asked his opinion on the future of ICEL, the extraterrestrial prelate responded, 'Exterminate! Exterminate!' Commentators cautioned at reading too much into this statement, considering that is about the only thing Daleks say, until, when questioned about the USCCB, the new prefect responded 'Ineffable! Infeffable!'

And then at Chaucer's blog:

But wait, I heard a rumor that Thomas Usk didn’t actually die, but instead was saved at the last minute by Dr. Hwaet and his beloved companion Wat Tyler? They replaced Usk with a robot that looked like a person but could really only walk and recite basic liturgical formulae.

This CDW robot must be the real deal!

Monday, July 28, 2008

My latest ripoff...

This is the first stanza of Johann Moser's "Winter in Panchavati," which is itself inspired by the Ramayana (a great epic which I have never read):

"Lordly, these forests in the winter, o Rama,
And the Godavari, droning in its deep mountain gorges;
Lordly, these sun-bright uplands and arch-blue skies
And red jungle blossoms nodding in the breeze;
Lordly, all these tranquil days and starlit, frosty nights,
When by the warm brazier we blend the fragrant wine -
And we remembered you, Ayodhya, gracious city of flowers,
Gracious city of the jeweled hills beyond the mountains;
We longed to stand once more at the threshold of your glory."

This stanza has no rhyme and its rhythms are irregular. But the next two stanzas repeat the first stanza's form, placing triple adjectives and formulas and names of cities in the same places. I was struck by this way of giving form to verse, and I tried imitating it last Christmas... but I ran out of interest and put the poem aside until today, when I finally filled in three missing lines. I had made the form harder for myself by adding rhyme, and the poem became very hard to control. The matter of the poem is the Lent and Easter I spent in Rome. ("Morning stations," i.e. the station churches, were the best penance I have ever done because I hate getting up early but once you get to the church, it is wonderful.)

Roman April

Daybreak: the aquaduct pours light, o Roma,
   Bare-headed dawn in the metro waits, lonely and shy.
Daybreak: the streets are empty for archangelic hours,
   And the dark domes rise in rank on the tide of wonder.
Daybreak: everlasting fountains flash like bells
   When we take our morning stations, armed with our youth.
And we remembered you, Zion, quiet city of sunrise,
   Quiet city of perfect waters and white courtyards;
We longed to wake in the sweetness of your gaze.

Afternoon: the slow discordant chime, o Roma,
   And the long walk home, under a silver sky.
Afternoon: the Appian Way walled with antique flowers,
   And the heavy heat come to a head of rose-red thunder.
Afternoon: our fear of judgment wells
   When we feel the April tempest's gleaming tooth.
And we remembered you, Zion, fearful city of lightnings,
   Fearful city of victorious beauty and everything in an instant;
We longed to walk in the triumph of your praise.

Midnight: the Paschal fire shines, o Roma,
  The shades of night are holy where they lie.
Midnight: now awake in every tower
  The bells are dancing over Egypt's plunder.
Midnight: water falls from brazen shells
   When we sing the new-born lambs in their field of truth.
And we remembered you, Zion, espoused city of glory,
   Espoused city of singing gates and gardens of dancers;
We longed to live in the wedlock of your ways.

I like the first stanza best, but as it progressed the poem came to feel rather gushy. I don't think that this kind of complexity is very profitable, and I still prefer complex chiming and other stuff that happens within one line to overarching schemes that aren't readily apparent to the ear. Thoughts?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Exiles and the real Hopkins

Today I caught up with InsideCatholic's discussion of Exiles, which went on for thirteen pages and included Ron Hansen's own comments at the end! Having read the whole thing, I have decided to write a more specific review of the novel than I planned. It will be from my perspective as a student of Hopkins.

I have been in love with Hopkins' poetry since I was 15, and I managed to write a Classics thesis on his Latin poetry. So naturally I ordered Exiles before it was even published. I wasn't sure what to expect, but as I read, I began to understand that Exiles is a novelized biography, not quite a novel. Hansen imposed some very strict limits on his invention, which he summarizes here:
Tackling the subject, various boundaries and limits were ethically imposed. I would never be at variance with the history, insofar as I could determine it. I sought to give life and personality to Gerard M. Hopkins, S.J., while avoiding the harmful and presumptuous conclusion that I had figured him out, which is something I cannot claim for either my family or friends.
This is admirable. There are so many people who love to fill in the blanks in Hopkins' biography with homosexual crushes on the one hand and the dark night of the soul on the other, things which no one really knows and probably never will. Hansen succeeds as a biographer in areas where Norman White and Robert Martin fall short. He refuses to interpret what is ambiguous and unsaid, but he takes the known events of Hopkins' life and discerns an order to them where other biographies find a dull and disorderly progression of largely wasted years, crowned by a meaningless death. Hansen uses the story of the five nuns on the Deutschland to bring out the hidden shape of Hopkins' life.

And yet... this wasn't the only road he could have taken. He could have fashioned a character called "Hopkins" who would fit within the limits of the primary sources, and yet be created from all the imaginative resources at a novelist's command. Just as there is the real Virgil, so mysterious with his reticent biography, and then the "Virgil" of Dante or Hermann Broch - so Ron Hansen could have created his own Hopkins and represented a fascinating inner life, from the inside. In some ways he can't help doing this already. "Why pray?" asks Hopkins when asked why he is writing a poem that he thinks few will want to read. These are not Hopkins' own words. And then there is Hopkins' imagined last confession, where he confesses shutting off the grace of poetic inspiration. Both of these invented scenes reconcile prayer and poetry to a degree which the real Hopkins probably didn't. It's difficult to call them "inaccurate," but they do go a little beyond the explicit facts. In an interview on NPR, Hansen was asked how he reconciles his own belief that writing can be a form of prayer with Hopkins' conflicting and conflicted beliefs on the matter. His answer: "I think Hopkins was wrong." And he says that he thinks Hopkins came to see that he had been wrong... but there it is, an interpretation based on the author's desires. I don't think that this is a bad thing. But it hints at a different kind of novel, a more novelistic novel, and one that I would actually rather read. (Though as I said, Exiles is a good way to learn about Hopkins' life.)

But who in their right mind would feel able to write something like "The Death of Virgil" about Hopkins? The problem for anyone who would write a novel about Hopkins is that he is "Hopkins noster." He is one of those people who can go from historical character to beloved friend and guide once you make his acquaintance. I think of him still as Father Hopkins. And as attractive as a more interior novel about Hopkins would be to me, I think that I would be overcome by shyness and protectiveness, just as I would if someone wrote such a novel about one of my friends. And so Exiles succeeds as a biography. It is the best introduction to Hopkins' life for someone who has been dazzled or bewildered by his poetry, while knowing relatively little about him. Hansen says that he wrote the book with a non-Catholic audience in mind, and non-Catholics have given it some of the most positive reviews I've read.

I actually read Exiles at the worst possible time: just a few weeks after I had turned in my senior thesis on Hopkins. Hansen explains the style of his book like this: "[F]or those familiar with Hopkins, I scattered lines from his poetry, letters, and journals throughout the book as a sort of treasure hunt, while hoping that my own prose would provide the gingerbread base for his candies." These scattered lines are indeed as pervasive as gumdrops on a gingerbread house. And I was too familiar with Hopkins, having immersed myself (and nearly capsized myself like the Deutschland) in the same sources that Hansen consulted. It was too much. I could see every borrowing with my research-crazed x-ray vision. My knowledge of these "scattered lines" suggested some fascinating possibilities, though. The landscapes that Hopkins sees are described in his own words - but so are the landscapes that the nuns see. Sister Henrica writes a poem of her own for Mother Superior, and it's dreadful, treacly stuff - but later Hansen puts one of Hopkins' aesthetic judgments in her mouth:
Under each curl [of wave] shone a bright juice of beautiful green. Sister Barbara asked Sister Henrica how she would describe that color, and she gave it thorough consideration before saying, "Chrysoprase."
Sister Norberta scowled. "What on earth is that?"
Sister Henrica gently told her, "A mineral used for gems. The green of leeks mixed with gold."
Even though Sister Henrica is no poet, she sees exactly what Hopkins sees. Why? This is just one of the many subtle mysteries of Exiles, which are also the mysteries of our still triumphantly mysterious Hopkins.

Learn More:

NPR interview (via America)

Image interview with Paul Mariani, Catholic Hopkins scholar and friend of Ron Hansen whose biography of Hopkins will be published this October.

Reviews of Exiles:

A tortured Victorian and his art, reimagined (TheStar.com)

God's cold, dark waters (Los Angeles Times)

A novel reason for rapture (Washington Post)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Latin in Lexington!

I'm leaving for Kentucky tomorrow morning for UK's Conventiculum Latinum. I'll be speaking nothing but Latin for a whole week.

Last month I was a counselor for Christendom's first Latin Immersion week. Thirty high school students were willing to spend a week of their summer at a little Catholic college, learning to speak Latin. They made a huge amount of progress - at the end of the week we went to DC, and they were chattering in Latin on the metro. (This got us a few confused looks.) Then they celebrated by having a toga party back on campus and mobbing the little convenience store up the road to buy ice cream. The cashier decided that they were speaking Spanish. I'm excited about going to one of these events as just a student, and I hope to get some direction from it as well as a whole lot of Latin. Valete in proximum!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Catholic fiction or fiction by Catholics?

What is "Catholic" fiction? Is it simply fiction written by a Catholic? Must it include Catholic characters and treat distinctly Catholic themes? Does it reflect a "Catholic sensibility," being a product of the "sacramental imagination"? Ought the Catholic reader -- or the general reader, for that matter -- even bother with such questions?
These are the questions that they are asking at InsideCatholic, the weblog of Crisis. I am looking forward to their discussion of Exiles, Ron Hansen's new novel about the wreck of the Deutschland and Hopkins' creation of his great poem (and I am cooking up a review of the book myself). The questions, though... is anyone else tired to death of them? Does anyone else think that they are questions that journalists ask, rather than novelists or readers? Does anyone else mutter, "Didn't Flannery O'Connor tuck these up for the night in the fifties?" Compare them with some questions that Barbara Nicolosi just proposed for a Hollywood conference on storytelling:

- Can a story offer healing to a person/a society and how?

- Ethical questions - What are people reaching for when they show up to get a story? What do we owe them? What does the world need for people to be getting from stories?

- What is a hero in 21st Century storytelling?

- Looking at character choices - irrevocable, visual, active, high stakes - what do these mean and why does the audience need them?

- The Great One: What Did Flannery O'Connor know about paradox in storytelling that we have all forgotten?

- Theme: What do we mean when we say a story needs to be universal? What does structure have to do with theme?

- A brief history of storytelling and where are we know (in terms of structure/theme/method/ dsitribution)? What is coming next?

- What makes for a brilliant/healing ending in a story? (Resolution, Satisfaction, leave work for the audience to do - what do these mean?)

- Considering Developmental needs in stories - what do little kids, adolescents, gen x, boomers each need in their stories?

- Is Aristotle's Poetics still relevant? What is a "cathartic experience of fear? of pity?" What is a "beautiful" story according to the smart Dead Greeks.

- What process do great storytellers use? (Pixar)

- In the Church: Sermon on the Mount (for the disciples) vs. Parable (for the unfriendly crowds). Is there a role for storytelling in the church?

- Darkness & Story- how dark can you go? When have you gone too far?

- Marketability for Christian content- transcendent in storytelling. What has happened since The Passion wave, and what have we learned about shopping a story with transcendent themes?

These questions have a slight Hollywood tilt, but they can apply to any medium that uses storytelling. These are questions that must have useful answers - useful for artists, I mean.

For more context: What happened to popular Catholic fiction? (by an editor for the Sophia Institute press, also on InsideCatholic) and an interview with the Senior Editor of Farrar, Straus & Giroux (by the way, was that you doing the interviewing, Santiago?). It's maddening: the comments on the two InsideCatholic threads add up to this: Catholic presses won't publish fiction and mainstream presses won't publish Catholics; "[Catholics] can't sell the genre fiction to a secular publisher without "taking the religious stuff out of it"...but a Catholic publisher won't take it, either." And the whole occasion for the discussion is Ron Hansen's novel... and NO ONE seems to notice that Ron Hansen, an orthodox and avowedly Catholic author who has seen one of his novels adapted for the screen by Hollywood, is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which is as mainstream as can be! And their senior editor is as Catholic as anyone could want! Di immortales!

I understand that genre fiction (as opposed to "literary fiction") is a different story. But this defeatist attitude upsets me. And then they want to take their MSS to evangelical publishers, who are probably going to be more dogmatically opposed to them than mainstream/secular presses. The worst of both worlds. There's nothing wrong with choosing to write and market to a niche audience, as Regina Doman is doing with the JPII High series. But if you're trying to get published by a Catholic press because you're scared of the big bad secular presses - come on!

Be the best and they can't ignore you. Be a good craftsman and be surprised at how far you can go. If writing is your calling, that should make you confident.

Has anyone read any good fiction/sci fi/fantasy lately? By Catholics or non-Catholics?

Postscript: I can't actually name anyone who has published fiction with a Catholic press because they saw it as a safe, kiddie alternative to dealing with large, mainstream publishers. That was ignorant and insulting. My apologies.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Fit of Grammar Pique.

I am sick of the invasion of body-snatching homophones. I'm also disgusted with the abuse of "lay" and "lie," which are transitive and intransitive respectively and NOT the other way round. Listen while I shout this from the rooftops:

You pore over a book, NOT pour. (What are you pouring?! It's a crime, whatever it is.)

Chock full, NOT chalk full.

Moot point, NOT mute point. (This was the one that set me writing. I had never seen it before today.)

There are a few others which I have forgotten in my wrath. If my readers have some favorites of their own, I would love to see them.

Audible corruptions of words are an entirely different matter! "Sparrow grass" for "asparagus" is darling and I am sorry to see it looking so wilted. Such words are called "folk etymologies" and occur less often than they should nowadays. Simply warping a word to sound like dialect is also fine. There was a little lake near my mother's hometown called (on the map) Punto de Agua, but in Texan it came out something like Poondy Awa. This is also darling. The best place to observe this phenomenon is England, though.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Funniest thing I've read all week.

Al Gore's movie is apparently going to become an opera in 2011. Trousered Ape isn't waiting three years. Here is his libretto for "An Inconvenient Tragedy."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Good reporting... good religious reporting....

Just a beautifully written news story on a woman making her final vows as a discalced Carmelite - from a mainstream source. This is the way religious reporting should be.

“We are thrilled,” said her mother, Ann Gallagher. She said that both she and her husband had at one time pursued religious lives, but ended up getting married instead.

“God had other plans for us,” she said smiling. “I guess he had our daughter in mind.”

* * *
Rev. John Reilly, who taught her theology, recalled watching Sister Agnes transform from a “typical” and “fun-loving college student” into a deeply religious woman. “She wasn’t the one in chapel all the time,” he recalled. “You don’t want to say too much, but she wasn’t a goody two shoes.”

Sister Agnes Marie is a Christendom alumna, and some Christendom folks I know drove all the way to New York to witness her profession. Religious vocations are one of the loveliest things that come out of CC; it can be an ideal place to discern one.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Parodies make me hungry...

This one is by RS Gwynn, a Texan poet. (Via Choriamb.)

Fried Beauty

Glory be to God for breaded things—
   Catfish, steak finger, pork chop, chicken thigh,
        Sliced green tomatoes, pots full to the brim
With french fries, fritters, life-float onion rings,
    Hushpuppies, okra golden to the eye,
        That in all oils, corn or canola, swim

Toward mastication's maw (O molared mouth!);
    Whatever browns, is dumped to drain and dry
        On paper towels' sleek translucent scrim,
These greasy, battered bounties of the South:
                  Eat them.

Oh, how I want some fried okra!

Emily Dickenson as hazing.

Parody from Video Meliora.
"You walk by many of the reading fraternity houses and hear 'Drop and give me 20!' only then you hear the pledge having to recite twenty lines from the Iliad," said Sheriff P. Coltrane, who is investigating excessive reading at many fraternity houses. "It's gonna make these kids go blind, 'cuz they're reading ten, sometimes twenty hours a day in addition to their school work."
I love the photo of the tatoo'd guy reading his Kindle in a bathtub. Thanks Dylan!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Two violins and a crucifix.

I found two good poems in the current issue of Poetry:

Two Violins
by AE Stallings

Instructions to an Artisan
by Amit Majmudar

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Augustine's Confessions - Rap Version

Seen on rogueclassicism.

"Chuck Norris ne porte pas de montre. Il décide de l'heure qu'il est."

I saw this on Facebook. Sic transit gloria Galliae.

Yes, I have Facebook now. It seemed the easiest way to keep up with my Christendom people. I held out as long as I could. -_-

Thursday, May 8, 2008

What Poetry Form Are You?

I am, of course, none other than blank verse.
I don't know where I'm going, yes, quite right;
And when I get there (if I ever do)
I might not recognise it. So? Your point?
Why should I have a destination set?
I'm relatively happy as I am,
And wouldn't want to be forever aimed
Towards some future path or special goal.
It's not to do with laziness, as such.
It's just that one the whole I'd rather not
Be bothered - so I drift contentedly;
An underrated way of life, I find.
What Poetry Form Are You?

Sigh. I so wanted to be a cywydd llosgyrnog.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Free the Ara Pacis!

The new mayor of Rome is gunning for the mod-box museum that currently houses the Ara Pacis (pictures) of Augustus:

Gianni Alemanno, a member of the “post-Fascist” Alleanza Nazionale who overturned decades of centre-Left rule in a run-off election on Sunday and Monday, said bluntly that “Meier’s building is a construction to be scrapped”. He added that this was not his” top priority”, leaving the timing of the demolition unclear.

He said the building, sited next to the ruins of the mausoleum of the Emperor Augustus, was “invasive”, a “disfigurement in the heart of Rome” and “an act of intellectual arrogance against the citizens of Rome”. The Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace, was commissioned by Augustus in 13AD to commemorate his military conquests of Gaul and Spain and the ensuing period of peace, and was previously protected by a Fascist-era structure.

I have walked by the museum once, but I never went in, which I of course regret. The building wasn't egregiously bad, to my eye, but it wasn't Roman. No matter: Zadok the Roman is positive that nothing will happen.

Latin Jabberwocky!

This amazing bit of neo-Latin was composed by Lewis Carroll's uncle:

Gaberbocchus by Hassard H. Dodgson

Hora aderat briligi. Nunc et Slythia Tova
Plurima gyrabant gymbolitare vabo;
Et Borogovorum mimzebant undique formae,
Momiferique omnes exgrabuere Rathi.

"Cave, Gaberbocchum moneo tibi, nate, cavendum!
(Unguibus ille rapit. Dentibus ille necat.)
Et fuge Jubbubum, quo non infestior ales,
Et Bandersnatcham, quae fremit usque, cave."

Ille autem gladium vorpalem cepit, et hostem
Manxonium longa sedulitate petit;
Tum sub tumtummi requiescens arboris umbra
Stabat tranquillus, multa animo meditans.

Dum requiescebat meditans uffishia, monstrum
Praesens ecce! oculis cui fera flamma micat,
Ipse Gaberbocchus dumeta per horrida sifflans
Ibat, et horrendum burbuliabat iens!

Ter, quater, atque iterum cito vorpalissimus ensis
Snicsnaccans penitus viscera dissecuit.
Exanimum corpus linquens caput abstulit heros
Quocum galumphat multa, domumque redit.

"Tune Gaberbocchum potuisti, nate, necare?
Bemiscens puer! ad brachia nostra veni.
Oh! frabiusce dies! iterumque caloque calaque
Laetus eo" ut chortlet chortla superba senex.

Hora aderat briligi. Nunc et Slythia Tova
Plurima gyrabant gymbolitare vabo;
Et Borogovorum mimzebant undique formae,
Momiferique omnes exgrabuere Rathi.

It's in elegiacs, and I'm pretty sure that it riffs on Ovid's version of the fight between Hercules and Cacus:
occupat Alcides, adductaque clava trinodis
ter quater adverso sedit in ore viri.

Notice the little touches like "Tum sub tumtummi," where the Latin lends its own sort of absurdity to the nonsense words. And the mock-epic phrases: "Et fuge Jubbubum, quo non infestior ales" - literally, "And flee the Jubjub, than which no bird is more hostile." And "vorpalissimus" and "snicsnaccans"... what can I say? They make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

There are actually three Latin translations of "Jabberwocky" on the internet. Obviously this was a popular way of wasting time in the nineteenth century.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Seen on Amazon

The Path to Rome for your Kindle! If I had a Kindle, I would buy this...

I'm really looking forward to reading this: "With Exiles, Ron Hansen tells the story of a notorious shipwreck that prompted Gerard Manley Hopkins to break years of “elected silence” with an outpouring of dazzling poetry.... Exiles joins Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstasy (called “an astonishingly deft and provocative novel” by The New York Times) as a novel that dramatizes the passionate inner search of religious life and makes it accessible to us in the way that only great art can."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Latin Lawyer Poem

Exercise from Latin class today: translate Martial. Some of his stuff is not suitable for human consumption, but this one is just snarky:

It's not a case of poison, rape, or slaughter.
You're my lawyer - argue like you oughter.
I'm suing him for stealing my three goats.
A thing you have not proved by endless quotes
From Livy on the Mithridatic war,
And Marius and Cannae and still more,
And cries of "Madness! Punic perfidy!"
And flecks of spit that everyone can see -
Now try and get my three goats back to me.

Non de vi neque caede nec veneno,
sed lis est mihi de tribus capellis:
vicini queror has abesse furto.
hoc iudex sibi postulat probari:
tu Cannas Mithridaticumque bellum
et periuria Punici furoris
et Sullas Mariosque Muciosque
magna voce sonas manuque tota.
iam dic, Postume, de tribus capellis.

New Dappled Things

Ta da!

The poetry isn't as good this time. Paul Stilwell is the best in this issue. Two provocative essays: "When the Eagles Don't Fit in Capistrano" and "The New Jerusalem." I really want to read the rest of the second one.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Last Dash; or, A Hectic Holy Week

Why have I forgotten my blog? I should have warned you all that I'd be gone for a while, but I was so worried that I forgot to do even that. I have been working on my thesis, which is about the Latin poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins - an arcane corner of a rarefied field of study if ever there was one. I have until the second of April to finish the first draft. Consequently I will not be back until some time in April. Believe me, I look forward to that. Prayers would be greatly appreciated if you could spare any. Have a blessed Holy Week - here's an early Buona Pascua! to you all.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Back from the March for Life...

Christendom College demonstrated en masse in Washington yesterday.

This is a poem from my old blog which I've revised slightly since I posted it last year. I wrote it in my freshman year after praying at the PP clinic in DC many times and becoming desensitized... it expresses the horror I feel about that.
"No worst, there is none."

Hell has a paved front walk
And a manicured lawn,
A shade tree that must rustle its leaves
In the hours before dawn,
And a street address.

Hell's clients hardly know
Where they should park -
It's modest as a storefront church.
Not a cry, not a mark
Escapes the white rooms of that sanitary place.

Hell's wedged between a preschool and an embassy.
The babbling children playing tag next door
Attract no baleful notice, it would seem;
Unless harm rains silent, as from a reactor core.
You probably expected to see more.

Even the truth-fast criers-out who come
Day after day to pray and plead in very life's defense
Find their minds grown distant and diffuse
When the honeyed light of Monday afternoons
Warms walls that ooze the blood of innocence.

As I rode home, I was listening to some recordings of Dylan Thomas, and I ran across "If My Head Hurt a Hair's Foot." (Scroll down past the scary poem to read it.) I wish I could post the recording. It's about a mother and her child about to be born, although the language is so bizarre that it takes a couple of stanzas to figure that out. Thomas explained it on the CD:
It is not a narrative or an argument, but a series of conflicting images which move through pity and violence to an unreconciled acceptance of suffering, the mother's and the child's. This poem has been called obscure. I refuse to believe that it is obscurer than pity, violence, or suffering. But being a poem, not a lifetime, it is more compressed.
It's a weird poem, definitely an acquired taste. But it felt right to me on the way back from Washington.

Friday, January 18, 2008


After my friend Sarah found a picture of St. Thomas More with the caption, "Im in ur chancery - messin with ur divorce," nothing could stop me!

(If you are unfamiliar with lolcats, i can haz cheezburger should make the concept self-evident.)

St. Ignatius and Gerard Manley Hopkins

St. Pius X* and St. Panteleimon**

* All errors of spelling, grammar, and usage are intentional.

** St. Panteleimon ('All-Merciful') is known as Pantaleon ('All-Lion') in the West, and his hagiography is just that schizophrenic. The stories about his life are all legendary - including the part where he converts the soldiers who are about to kill him and then forces them carry out the execution so he can be a martyr. There is a phial of his blood in Italy which bubbles once a year, just like the one of St. Januarius in Naples; and Wikipedia claims that he appears to Italians in dreams and gives them winning lottery numbers. He has been hijacked lately by Phillip Pullman, to supply the name of Lyra's daemon in The Golden Compass. I wish we knew more about him. But the lack of reliable information has not stopped people from feeling great affection for him.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Last Semester:

- Intermediate Greek II
- Latin Lyric
- Classical Greek Dramatists
- French 102
- Senior Thesis
- Aesthetics (an audit - I'm not crazy.)

O moi moi.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Auden says goodbye to Christmas...

This is the end of WH Auden's "Christmas oratorio," For the Time Being. The whole thing is worth reading - it's full of weird, startling insights into the events of Christmas.


Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.



He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

Dylan Thomas Random Poem Generator

The webfoot iceberg-white truant boy
Scrubbing by the skylark,
With the mildly spellbound salmon

Drowning while the moonless twilight
On the sixpenny street quietly
Goes to rave against the thin night.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Christmas Poem Contest at Sheila's!

Sheila is hosting another poetry contest on Enchiridion. (Her triolet contest two years ago was a roaring success.) The rules are as follows:

1. The poem must be written by you.

2. The poem must be about Christmas. It can be about the Incarnation itself, about the shepherds, the Magi, whatever, but it has to be Christmasy, and the real meaning of Christmas too. No Jingle Bells. Gathering together as a family stuff is okay, though. That is part of Christmas, although not the most important part.

3. It doesn't have to be written specifically for the contest. Any Christmas poems will do, no matter how long ago you wrote them.

4. Try to keep it to about 20 lines or less.

5. Each person can submit up to 3 poems, but please no more.

6. The winning poems will be posted on my blog with a link to your blog or website if you have one.

Any form is acceptable, although I warn you I'm biased toward formal verse. However, I have liked free verse in the past, provided it's actually good and not just random. The poems can be funny, serious, deep, whatever. I'll judge them as being good at what they are, not as being more entertaining or more spiritual.

You can email me your submissions at enchirdion1 at yahoo dot com, or leave them in the comment box. If you have other Christmas poems, not written by you but which you think I should post, please email them to me: I'm looking for some.

I hope this contest will help get both our creative and our spiritual juices flowing, and the finished poems will inspire us to think about Christmas more deeply. Let the contest begin!

Found in my Rome notebook...

...re-writes of the two most infamous squibs in Modernist poetry, done as I was walking through a thunderstorm in St. Peter's Square.

Ezra Pound:

In a Colonnade of St. Peter's:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet, white bough.

William Carlos Williams:

so much depends

a rash Christendom

struck by light

beside the fat