26 October 2006

Priceless

Our cameras stopped rolling immediately after the blast; the humor of the situation suddenly gave way to a run for survival as huge chunks of whale blubber fell everywhere. Pieces of meat passed high over our heads, while others were falling at our feet. The dunes were rapidly evacuated as spectators escaped the falling debris and the overwhelming smell.

23 October 2006

Catching Up

I had a delightful chat with the most hated man in American poetry, my former mentor, last night. Although we'd kept in touch off and on via e-mail, it had been over a decade since we'd last heard each other's voices. I had a chance to tell him how much I was enjoying The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin (2005 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism), particularly his introductory remarks, which included a critique of academia and its infatuation with theory--the deconstruction of texts in light of politics, power, oppresser vs. oppressed. I was a philosophy major as an undergraduate, so I know all too well the role such theory plays in modern learning. Students are glutted on postmodern interpretations of literature, philosophy, art, (pick any subject) and told to look beneath the text to find the true motives: racism, gender inequality, homophobia, etc. rather than fed on the great works, the classics, and taught to savor them as they are (yes, naive as it may sound, it is possible). I heard it once said, and aptly, that postmodern theory is "the hermeneutics of suspicion."

In any case, I told him of domestic life and my occasional attempts to write, and he told me of his current crop of students, the appalling grammar of some (how well I sympathize with his frustration; there was a time when a bachelor's degree meant something. In this most egalitarian of times, when everyone presumes a college degree is his right, the plain and simple truth remains that some are simply not meant for higher education--and there's no shame in the fact. See Russell Kirk for details), and very kindly offered advice on poetry submissions.

15 October 2006

The Proof

Shall I love God for causing me to be?
I was mere utterance; shall these words love me?

Yet when I caused his work to jar and stammer,
And one free subject loosened all his grammar,

I love him that he did not in a rage
Once and forever rule me off the page,

But, thinking I might come to please him yet,
Crossed out
delete and wrote his patient stet.

--Richard Wilbur

14 October 2006

Friday's Child

(In memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred at Flossenbürg, April 9, 1945)

He told us we were free to choose
But, children as we were, we thought--
"Paternal Love will only use
Force in the last resort

On those too bumptious to repent."
Accustomed to religious dread,
It never crossed our minds He meant
Exactly what He said.

Perhaps He frowns, perhaps He grieves,
But it seems idle to discuss
If anger or compassion leaves
The bigger bangs to us.

What reverence is rightly paid
To a Divinity so odd
He lets the Adam whom He made
Perform the Acts of God?

It might be jolly if we felt
Awe at this Universal Man
(When kings were local, people knelt);
Some try to, but who can?

The self-observed observing Mind
We meet when we observe at all
Is not alarming or unkind
But utterly banal.

Though instruments at Its command
Make wish and counterwish come true,
It clearly cannot understand
What It can clearly do.

Since the analogies are rot
Our senses based belief upon,
We have no means of learning what
Is really going on,

And must put up with having learned
All proofs or disproofs that we tender
Of His existence are returned
Unopened to the sender.

Now, did He really break the seal
And rise again? We dare not say;
But conscious unbelievers feel
Quite sure of Judgment Day.

Meanwhile, a silence on the cross,
As dead as we shall ever be,
Speaks of some total gain or loss,
And you and I are free

To guess from the insulted face
Just what Appearances He saves
By suffering in a public place
A death reserved for slaves.


--W.H. Auden, 1958

13 October 2006

St. Edward the Confessor, ora pro nobis



Today in 1163, the incorrupt body of this king of England was transferred by St. Thomas Becket in the presence of King Henry II.

He is the patron saint of kings, difficult marriages, and separated spouses. Edward was named patron saint of England until 1348, when he was replaced by St. George. He remains the patron saint of the Royal Family.

12 October 2006

Oddsfish!

I spent the last trimester of my pregnancy devouring the historical fiction of Fr. Robert Hugh Benson. Superb. They are set in England during the periods of greatest tumult for the Catholic faith, beginning with King Henry VIII and ending on the death of Charles II. Although there are a handful of fictional characters, in the main Fr. Benson attempts historical accuracy. I can't remember the last time I've been so enthralled or inspired by fiction; each novel invariably contains romance, intrigue, treachery, heroism, and, in most, martyrdom. Fr. Campion makes a cameo appearance in Come Rack! Come Rope!, and Mary Tudor is given a sympathetic portrait in The Queen's Tragedy. Oddsfish! (a frequent exclamation of Charles II) remains one of my favorites. It revolves around the King, and most of the more intimate scenes are pure speculation, but it ends in triumph (in the Catholic sense of the term, anyway). There's also The King's Achievement, whose main character, a monk, experiences firsthand Henry VIII's pillaging of his monastery, and whose brother is in the service of Cromwell. By What Authority? focuses on the reign of Elizabeth, and the fate of a priest who crosses her through his fidelity to the Pope. All worth reading.

Michael

He was born on the Vigil of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. (This explains, by the way, my long and unceremonious absence.) As a secular Discalced Carmelite-to-be, this held special significance for me. Carmelite spirituality seems interwoven into my life; my daughter's baptism happily coincided with St. Therese's birthday, and I had profound conversion experiences after acquainting myself with Story of a Soul and with Bd. Elizabeth of the Trinity's writing (especially her last letter). St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila also had their parts to play.

In any case, is he not a cherub?



Or perhaps, an archangel?

There is no debate.


The thirties and forties were the best decades in fashion.

10 October 2006

Civilization, Heresy, etc.

A European people or individual is, other things being equal, more civilised in proportion as it or he is more Catholic.
-Hilaire Belloc

Pelagian Drinking Song
Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn't believe
In Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
Ti-oodly-ow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall --
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Ti-oodly-ow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Ti-oodly-ow
Especially barley brew!

09 October 2006

Under Construction

After a long absence, I'm back. Rejoice.