October 26th, 2011
My heart is stilled beside a fallen leaf,
Mirroring sunlight in its drops of rain –
It fell beside a way that only my feet came –
Its passage frail and brief,
And only my eyes have seen this fallen leaf.
I trace its fragile veins You diamonded
And all the golden worlds each diamond holds in view –
For each drop holds the sun, since You
Have traced this fallen thing with all creation’s shimmering.
Utterly still it lies where it has fallen,
Utterly peacefully it holds an hour or two
The mirroring of any light You draw across its skies –
For any eyes that see it in the paths You trace
Across the surface of the myriad of lives.
Let my heart too, frail as I am, and brief,
Fraught over with my years, hold in the quiet
Mirroring of all my grief
In paths where you alone are Guide,
Whatever light you trace
In the still waters of my tears,
For any other heart to walk beside.
November 28th, 2008
From Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village, a little snapshot of a good minister:
At church, with meek and unaffected grace,
His looks adorn’d the venerable place;
Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway,
And fools, who came to scoff, remained to pray.
The service pass’d, around the pious man,
With steady zeal, each honest rustic ran;
Even children follow’d with endearing wile,
And pluck’d his gown, to share the good man’s smile.
His ready smile a parent’s warmth express’d,
Their welfare pleas’d him, and their cares distress’d;
To them his heart, his love, his griefs were given,
But all his serious thoughts had rest in Heaven.
As some tall cliff, that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head.
October 24th, 2008
Two lines from this song:
Y toda mi sangre se puso de pie
Desde el alma hasta la boca se me sube el corazón
What elegant and vivid intensity! Plainly I need to read more Spanish poetry.
May 27th, 2008
I asked the Lord that I might grow in faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know, and seek more earnestly His face.
‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray, and He, I trust, has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way as almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favoured hour at once He’d answer my request;
And, by His love’s constraining power, subdue my sins and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell assault my soul in every part.
Yea, more, with His own hand He seemed intent to aggravate my woe,
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried, “Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“‘Tis in this way,” the Lord replied, “I answer prayer for grace and faith.
“These inward trials I employ, from self and pride to set thee free,
“And break the schemes of earthly joy, that thou mayest seek thy all in Me.”
February 24th, 2008
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales: Prologue
A good man ther was of religioun,
That was a poure PERSONE of a tonn:
But riche he was of holy thought and werk.
He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
That Cristes gospel trewely wolde preche.
His parishens devoutly wolde he teche.
Benigne he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversite ful patient:
And swiche he was ypreved often sithes.
Ful loth were him to cursen for his tithes,
But rather wolde he yeven out of doute,
Unto his poure parishens aboute,
Of his offring, and eke of his substance.
He coude in litel thing have suffisance.
Wide was his parish, and houses fer asonder,
But he ne left nought for no rain ne thonder,
In sikenesse and in mischief to visite
The ferrest in his parish, moche and lite,
Upon his fete, and in his hand a staf.
This noble ensample to his shepe he yaf,
That first he wrought, and afterward he taught.
Out of the gospel he the wordes caught,
And this figure he added yet therto,
That if gold ruste, what shuld iren do?
For if a preest be foule, on whom we trust,
No wonder is a lewed man to rust:
And shame it is, if that a preest take kepe,
To see a shitten shepherd, and clene shepe: soe
Wei ought a preest ensample for to yeve,
By his clenenesse, how his shepe shulde live.
He sette not his benefice to hire,
And lette his shepe acombred in the mire,
And ran unto London, unto Seint Poules,
To seken him a chanterie for soules,
Or with a brotherhede to be withold:
But dwelt at home, and kepte wel his fold,
So that the wolf ne made it not miscarie.
He was a shepherd, and no mercenarie.
And though he holy were, and vertuous,
He was to sinful men not dispitous,
Ne of his speche dangerous ne digne,
But in his teching discrete and benigne.
To drawen folk to heven, with fairenesse,
By good ensample, was his besinesse :
But it were any persone obstinat.
What so he were of highe, or low estat,
Him wolde he snibben sharply for the nones.
A better preest I trowe that no wher non is.
He waited after no pompe ne reverence,
Ne maked him no spiced conscience,
But Cristes lore, and his apostles twelve,
He taught, but first he folwed it himselve.
February 13th, 2008
Here is a quote by Chesterton, which says what Annie Dillard was driving at in other quotes on this blog and also explains how she (and Cicero) could come to say some of the things I’ve quoted.
G.K. Chesterton, Chaucer
There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we ourselves are incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real. It is the fundamental fact of being, as against not being; it is unthinkable, yet we cannot unthink it, though we may sometimes be unthinking about it; unthinking and especially unthanking. For he who has realized this reality knows that it does outweigh, literally to infinity, all lesser regrets or arguments for negation, and that under all our grumblings there is a subconscious substance of gratitude. That light of the positive is the business of the poets, because they see all things in the light of it more than do other men [or they are able to give expression to what they see better than other men]. Chaucer was a child of light and not merely of twilight, the mere red twilight of one passing dawn of revolution, or the grey twilight of one dying day of social decline. He was the immediate heir of something like what Catholics call the Primitive Revelation; that glimpse that was given of the world when God saw that it was good; and so long as the artist gives us glimpses of that, it matters nothing that they are fragmentary or even trivial; whether it be in the mere fact that a medieval Court poet could appreciate a daisy, or that he could write in a sort of flash of blinding moonshine, of the lover who ‘slept no more than does the nightingale’. These things belong to the same world of wonder as the primary wonder at very existence of the world; higher than any common pros or cons, or likes and dislikes, however legitimate. Creation was the greatest of all Revolutions. It was for that, as the ancient poet said, that the morning stars sang together; and the most modern poets, like the medieval poets, may descend very far from that height of realization and stray and stumble and seem distraught; but we shall know them for the Sons of God, when they are still shouting for joy. This is something much more mystical and absolute than any modern thing that is called optimism; for it is only rarely that we realize like a vision filled with a chorus of giants, the primeval duty of Praise.
January 5th, 2008
Spurgeon can be quite unexpected. That he was a gripping preacher, of course, is an historic fact. That he was a great saint with a lively sense of humor is likewise established beyond dispute. But that he was capable of real poetry was a fact I had never suspected, until I came across this in his remarks on Psalm 8 in the Treasury of David
Yet in all these how great soe’er they be,
We see not Him. The glass is all too dense
And dark, or else our earthborn eyes too dim.
Yon Alps, that lift their heads above the clouds
And hold familiar converse with the stars,
Are dust, at which the balance trembleth not,
Compared with His divine immensity.
The snow-crown’d summits fail to set Him forth,
Who dwelleth in Eternity, and bears
Alone, the name of High and Lofty One.
Depths unfathomed are too shallow to express
The wisdom and the knowledge of the Lord.
The mirror of the creatures has no space
To bear the image of the Infinite.
‘Tis true the Lord hath fairly writ his name,
And set his seal upon creation’s brow.
But as the skilful potter much excels
The vessel which he fashions on the wheel,
E’en so, but in proportion greater far,
Jehovah’s self transcends his noblest works.
Earth’s ponderous wheels would break, her axles snap,
If freighted with the load of Deity.
Space is too narrow for the Eternal’s rest,
And time too short a footstool for his throne.
E’en avalanche and thunder lack a voice,
To utter the full volume of his praise.
How then can I declare him? Where are words
With which my glowing tongue may speak his name?
Silent I bow, and humbly I adore.
August 17th, 2007
No, the title of my post is not an indication that going through the Canal we felt queasy: this is in the nature of the case impossible, because we haven’t been through the Canal yet.
In the Middle Ages, pilgrimages to St. James of Compostella seem to have been a frequent occurrence, perhaps particularly for the English. Here are the trials of such a voyage rather gleefully described. Like Satie’s notes on the performance of his pieces, the words in brackets should not be read aloud.
Men may leve alle gamys
That saylen to Seynt Jamys,
Ffor many a man hit gramys [grieves]
When they begin to sayle;
Ffor when they have take the see
At Sandwyche or at Wynchylsee,
At Brystow, or where that hit bee,
Theyr hartes begyn to fayle.
Anone the mastyr commaundeth fast
To hys shypmen, in alle the hast,
To dresse hem [busy themselves] sone about the mast
Theyr takelyng to make;
With ‘Howe! hissa!’ then they cry;
‘What, howe! mate, thow stondyst to ny,
Thy fellow may nat hale the by’ [haul by thee];
Thus they begyn to crake [cry]…
‘Hale now the bowelyne! Now, vere the shete
Cooke, make redy anoon our mete;
Our pylgryms have no lust to ete,
I pray God yeve [give] hem rest.’
‘Go to the helm! what, howe! no nere!’
‘Steward, felow, a pot of bere!’
‘Ye shalle have sir, with good chere,
Anon alle of the best…’
Then cometh oone and seyth: ‘Be mery,
Ye shall have a storme or a pery.’ [squall]
‘Holde thow thy pese! thow canst no whery [?],
Thow medlyst wondyr sore.’
Thys menewhyle the pylgryms ly,
And have theyr bowlys fast theym by,
And cry aftyr hote malvesy [malmsey];
Thow helpe [their health] for to restore.
And som wold have a saltyd tost,
Ffor they myght ete neyther sode [boiled] ne rost;
A man might sone pay for theyr cost,
As for oo day or twayne.
Som layde theyr books on theyr kne,
And rad so long they myght nat se.
‘Allas, myne hede wolle cleve on [split in] thre!’
Thus seyth another certayne…
A sak of strawe were there ryght good
Ffor some must lyg theym in theyr hood:
I had as lefe be in the wood,
Without mete or drynk.
For when that we shall go to bedde,
The pumpe is nygh our beddes hede;
A man were as good to be dede
As smell therof the stynk!
August 16th, 2007
The Female of the Species
When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride,
He shouts to scare the monster, who will often turn aside.
But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.
When Nag the basking cobra hears the careless foot of man,
He will sometimes wriggle sideways and avoid it if he can.
But his mate makes no such motion where she camps beside the trail.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.
When the early Jesuit fathers preached to Hurons and Choctaws,
They prayed to be delivered from the vengeance of the squaws.
‘Twas the women, not the warriors, turned those stark enthusiasts pale.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.
Man’s timid heart is bursting with the things he must not say,
For the Woman that God gave him isn’t his to give away;
But when hunter meets with husband, each confirms the other’s tale–
–The female of the species is more deadly than the male.
Man, a bear in most relations –warm and savage otherwise,–
Man propounds negotiations, Man accepts the compromise.
Very rarely will he squarely push the logic of a fact
To its ultimate conclusion in unmitigated act.
Fear, or foolishness, impels him, ere he lay the wicked low,
To concede some form of trial even to his fiercest foe.
Mirth obscene diverts his anger — Doubt and Pity oft perplex
Him in dealing with an issue – to the scandal of The Sex!
But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame
Proves her launched for one sole issue, armed and engined for the same;
And to serve that single issue, lest the generations fail,
The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.
She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast
May not deal in doubt or pity – must not swerve for fact or jest.
These be purely male diversions – not in these her honour dwells.
She the Other Law we live by, is that Law and nothing else.
She can bring no more to living than the powers that make her great
As the Mother of the Infant and the Mistress of the Mate.
And when Babe and Man are lacking and she strides unclaimed to claim
Her right as femme (and baron), her equipment is the same.
She is wedded to convictions – in default of grosser ties;
Her contentions are her children, Heaven help him who denies!
He will meet no suave discussion, but the instant, white-hot, wild,
Wakened female of the species warring as for spouse and child.
Unprovoked and awful charges – even so the she-bear fights,
Speech that drips, corrodes, and poisons – even so the cobra bites,
Scientific vivisection of one nerve till it is raw
And the victim writhes in anguish – like the Jesuit with the squaw!
So it comes that Man, the coward, when he gathers to confer
With his fellow-braves in council, dare not leave a place for her
Where, at war with Life and Conscience, he uplifts his erring hands
To some God of Abstract Justice – which no woman understands.
And Man knows it! Knows, moreover, that the Woman that God gave him
Must command but may not govern – shall enthral but not enslave him.
And She knows, because She warns him, and Her instincts never fail,
That the Female of Her Species is more deadly than the Male.
[Of course, St. Paul's account has something of a different emphasis.]
August 7th, 2007
From John Dryden’s Religio Laici
[Of the negative results of Scripture being readily accessible]
‘Tis true, my Friend, (and far be Flattery hence)
This good had full as a bad a Consequence:
The Book thus put in every vulgar hand,
Which each presum’d he best cou’d understand,
the Common Rule was made the common Prey;
And at the mercy of the Rabble lay.
The tender Page with horney Fists was gaul’d;
And he was gifted most that that loudest baul’d:
The Spirit gave the Doctoral Degree:
And every member of a Company
Was of his Trade, and of the Bible free.
Plain Truths enough for needful use they found;
But men wou’d still be itching to expound:
Each was ambitious of th’ obscurest place,
No measure ta’en from Knowledg, all from grace.
Study and Pains were now no more their Care:
Texts were explain’d by Fasting, and by Prayer:
This was the Fruit the private Spirit brought;
Occasion’d by great Zeal, and little Thought.
While Crouds unlearn’d, with rude Devotion warm,
About the Sacred Viands buz and swarm,
The Fly-blown Text creates a crawling Brood;
And turns to Maggots what was meant for Food.
A Thousand daily Sects rise up, and dye;
A Thousand more the perish’d Race supply:
So all we make of Heaven’s discover’d Will
Is, not to have it, or to use it ill.
This is not, I think, a topic that one frequently hears addressed in Protestant circles: and certainly it should not be taken as an argument against the dissemination of Scripture. Yet nonetheless, it is as well to recognize the truth of Peter’s words, that Scripture is wrested to the destruction of the wresters. Abusus non tollit usus: this is not a call to ignorance, to neglect of our Lord’s commandment in John 5:39, or a failure to imitate the noble Bereans. It is a call to make a good use of Heaven’s discover’d Will.