Friday, August 27, 2010

it's not poetry or a piggy postcard...

I said I would post Bess's prize soon, and here I have come through with the goods. I think she'll approve. It was between a George Eliot book and this one, and for a minute there I wavered, but then I remembered Bess's love of Agatha Christie and thought this would be better able to satisfy the ol' tastebuds. Graham Greene was apparently quite the talented guy. The Orient Express and The Third Man are known to all, but he also had some plays, short stories and quite a few novels. One of my favorites being The Power and The Glory. Here is a quote from The Power and The Glory. Does it not remind you of a certain George MacDonald or what?

They lay quiet for a while in the hut. The priest thought the lieutenant was asleep until he spoke again. 'You never talk straight. You say one thing to me - but to another man, or a woman, you say, "God is love." But you think that stuff won't go down with me, so you say different things. Things you think I'll agree with.'

'Oh,' the priest said, 'that's another thing altogether - God is love. I don't say the heart doesn't feel a taste of it, but what a taste. The smallest glass of love mixed with a pint pot of ditch-water. We wouldn't recognize that love. It might even look like hate. It would be enough to scare us - God's love. It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn't it, and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.'

Saturday, August 21, 2010

the Lovely Lady Jane

Some are kept a very long time from reading Jane Austen's novels (including D.W. Harding) by the professed lovers of Austen (those that live for the bonnets and balls). Only when it is realized that her books are full of sharp remarks on the very people that set the tone of current admiration, are these cautionarians able to ease into her works. On the other hand, there are those who think of themselves as fans of Austen because they "saw the movie" yet have never read her novels. I read someone who said we would call her dear, dear Jane if we were to meet her at a dinner party. "She would be everybody's dear, dear Jane." On the other end of the spectrum we have Professor Mudrick who believes she should only be admired for her literary achievements - admired but not loved. It is not only possible, it is essential we do both. There is great pleasure in reading this wise woman. She is funny and witty, she delights in the ridiculous. John Wiltshire said she had
the gift of seizing on the pompous ("she is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me"), the pretentious, the cliched, or the transparently self-interested, and turning them to enjoyable effect, as Elizabeth Bennet herself does with Darcy's careless snub.
He points out JA's talent for "precise and economical expression". That she not only "pins down absurdity", but also possesses a "continuous expressive exactness." Those that admire JA for her literary talent are adamant on focusing on her irony (This word is so overused when referring to JA!), her satire, and her use of language. The other "we love Jane!" school adore all the parts where they can imagine themselves at Pemberly, next to tall Mr Darcy, giving Lady Catherine a piece of their mind. (Never mind that they posses none of Elizabeth's qualities.) It is to JA's credit that she really has amusement for this type of person rather than disdain. Which is why she is lovable. She loves Emma not just in spite of her faults, but because of them. She laughs good naturedly at heavy Mrs Musgrove's "large, fat sighings" over a son (Richard) who never "did more than to deserve the shortening of his name (Dick)." (Watch out for even the most innocent sounding sentence!) The two schools of thought are not the only alternative. W.H. Auden stated it well.
Does Life only offer two alternatives: "You shall be happy, healthy, attractive, a good mixer, a good lover and parent, but on the condition that you are not over-curious about life. On the other hand you shall be sensitive, conscious of what is happening around you, but in that case you shall not expect to be happy, or successful in love or at home in any company. There are two worlds and you cannot belong to them both. If you belong to the second of these worlds you will be unhappy because you will always be in love with the first, while at the same time you will despise it. The first world on the other hand will not return your love because it is in its nature to love only itself.
JA's readers wonder how admiration and love can ever be reconciled, how there can ever be a harmony between sense and sensibility, between happiness and moral duty. JA comes to our rescue, rejecting the excesses of both through combining the cardinal virtues with the christian ones, demonstrating that in order to have true happiness you must do your moral duty. (Who was 'happier' in the end in MP, Fanny or Mary?) Showing that without sensibility of any kind, you aren't sensible at all and vice a versa. Showing that admiration and love must be combined for Darcy and Elizabeth, Wentworth and Anne, et al.

The modern assumption is that in JA's novels the heroine's part to play is to get a good husband. (As Mrs Bennet says, "Jane would have got Mr Bingley if she could and nobody can do more than that.") In reality JA's heroines are faced with a much more encompassing issue. That is, "How should I live my life?" All throughout her novels are words and phrases like, self-knowledge, humility, self-command, just consideration of others, principle of right, elegance, propriety, regularity, harmony, peace and tranquility, cheerfulness, good breeding, manners neither shy nor affectedly open, sensible, well-informed, amiable heart, compassion, good-humored, lively, warm, delicacy, upright integrity, knowledge of the world, correct opinion, and sensibility to what is amiable and lovely. JA shows that while practicing the Virtues, one must keep one's head. Take Elinor's comment to her half-brother (who ignored their father's deathbed entreaty to help Elinor, her sisters, and her mother). John Dashwood suggests to Elinor that Mrs Jennings (a friend) may leave them a bequest. Elinor replies, "Indeed, brother, your anxiety for our welfare and prosperity carries you too far." Her femininely gloved hand sure packs a punch. Elinor insults him in the politest possible way without once having a lapse in manners.

JA's sense of moral duty can grate on our modern ear. "What kind of value system puts obedience before love?" As James Collins puts it, "The lesson that it is sometimes right to sacrifice something we want for the sake of our conscience is not altogether misplaced." Knightly said it even better when he tells Emma, when they are discussing Frank Churchill one day, "there is one thing a man can always do: his duty, not by maneuvering and finessing but by vigour and resolution." Collins explains that "Austen means the duty of self-knowledge, humility, and generosity, not the pointlessly self-denying duty required by 'insipid propriety.'"

Round about the time that Austen was writing there was a prevalent thought that females were not rational creatures and therefore not responsible for their thoughts and actions (they simply cannot help themselves, they don't know any better, they are not rational). JA waves this all aside with a smile. The women in her novels who refuse to practice the virtues, who do not do their duty, who do not obey their consciences; women like Lucy Steele, Fanny Dashwood, Mrs Clay, Mary and Elizabeth Elliot, Caroline Bingley, Lady Catherine, Aunt Norris, Mary Crawford, and Mrs Elton are not excused in the least. They are all held to the same high standard as the men, and just 'meaning well' is not enough (case in point, Lady Russell).

There are the JA heroines that never really make any big mistakes or miscalculations (Elinor, Anne, Jane, and Fanny), and the bit more spirited ones that do (Marianne, Elizabeth, Emma, and Catherine). All in all, though, the theme as C.S.Lewis states it is
The hardness is, of course, for oneself, not for one's neighbor's. It reveals to Marianne her 'want of kindness' and shows Emma that her behavior has been 'unfeeling.' Contrasted with the world of modern fiction, Jane Austen's is at once less soft and less cruel.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

the greatest of these

Hop on over to Mrs. Lydia's blog (also known as Ms. Potato Head) and read what she has to say on marriage. Rich stuff, that!


Listen with your ears flapping. The poetry contests are now at an end (finally). I had no idea I had so many poetry connoisseurs among my acquaintance! The last lively round, as you no doubt know, was between a lovely lady in her prime and a competitive young man. (Let's drop the Lydia veil, shall we? Lydia is not known for leaving comments involving the phrase, "self respecting homo sapiens".) I must say, I didn't think it was possible to get these ladies to strive for the prize to quite this extent, but with Drew as your opponent, well, it rather spurs one on.

Dash it! It looks as if I will have to loose a few doubloons to the postmaster. Congratulations, Drew (and Lydia:))! From the collar upward, you stand alone.

Bess, I am reluctantly compelled to hand you the mitten. However, you will receive a 2nd place prize. I don't know what yet, but something between the Poetry and Prose book and the piglet postcard. (I was not prepared for so many winners!) I will post your prize soon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

round 3

Well Anna, nice try, but it looks as if
this third round will be between the family.
For being a winner in the first round, however, you have won this
lovely postcard which reads, "hogs and kisses from Arkansas".

Now, back to business. I must remind my contestants (Lydrew and Bess) no looking stuff up. Now with that said, which one of our poets wrote:

A mirror on the waters, is the mind,
Yet the soul lies beneath, though it may sleep.

Bess, I'm rooting for you on this one. Otherwise, I have to pay shipping. Don't let me down.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

substituted love

Charles Williams on The Practice of Substituted Love:

The denial of the self has become metaphysical. He (Christ) came to turn the world upside-down, and no one's self-respect will stand for that. It is habitual to us therefore to prefer to be miserable rather than to give, and to believe that we can give, our miseries up.
(from his book, He Came Down From Heaven)

poetry contest

So what do you win if you correctly guess the poems besides the smashing title of "poetry scholar"? Isn't that enough? Or maybe "poetry expert" would be more to your liking. With a snazzy description like that, you will fit right in with all of the celebrities putting these types of titles after their names.

Lately, I was thumbing through bon appetite magazine and slapped my eyes on, Gwyneth Paltrow actress, lifestyle guru. Not sure what that means, exactly. Perhaps I could say of my daughter- student, organic gardener. She will be going into the fourth grade, and did in fact coax out not a few watermelons this summer.

But I digress, back to the prize. The proud winner of this contest will receive a lovely blue hardback of English Romantic Poetry and Prose. This gem contains not only quite a few selections from Keats, it also features Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and lots more.

This book has had a previous owner, and therefore has acquired some character all its own. She wrote a note after the title The Sensitive Plant (a poem by Shelley). Her pencil marking reads, is Shelley. So now it says, The Sensitive Plant is Shelley. Am I the only one who thinks this is funny?

There is also a stanza near the back of the book by a Winthrop Mackworth Praed (I don't believe I've had the pleasure.) entitled Stanzas on Seeing the Speaker Asleep in His Chair. Does that not sound great or what?

However, before I get all carried away, I must tell you that there is to be a tie breaker. The winners are, Lydia and Drew, Anna, and Bess. So winners, look over the two poems below and cast your votes again. Attribute one poem to each author or both poems to one. Hopefully, this time to break the tie.

I watched a steady flame up-climb the sky-

(A flame no doing, surely, of my own)
And linger like a sunset in your eye,
(For love it is not possible to own).
If I could climb the jade-bright hills of Mourne,
I might have once wished you forever young
To bring a cup of dew out well forlorn,
For once I wanted beauty, ever sung.
Somewhere twixt a draught of Lethe's cup
'Tween air the honeysuckle tints with sleep,
I caught your sunrise going dancing up,
Now new morn, sleepless nights and days to keep.
I listen for this faerie tune you weave,
Just as you are, the one to never leave.

Time's sea has been five years at its slow ebb,

Long hours have to and fro let creep the sand,
Since I was tangled in thy beauty's web,
And snared by the ungloving of thy hand.
And yet I never look in midnight sky,
But I behold thine eyes' well memoried light;
I cannot look upon the roses dye,
But to thy cheek my soul doth take its flight;
I cannot look on any budding flower,
But my fond ear, in fancy at thy lips,
And hearkening for a love-sound, doth devour
Its sweets in the wrong sense: - Thou dost eclipse
Every delight with sweet remembering,
And grief unto my darling joys dost bring.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

well said...

"I was badly in need of alcoholic refreshment, and just as my tongue was beginning to stick out and blacken at the roots, shiver my timbers if Jeeves didn't enter left centre with a tray containing all the makings. St. Bernard dogs, you probably know, behave in a similar way in the Alps and are well thought of in consequence."
P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster

Friday, August 13, 2010

from St. Aidan's

These short and to the point posts really hit the nail on the head. The 7 minutes (literally) you use in reading them will well be worth it. They are on very different topics, but all three are everyday things.

Family vs. Church

Teaser Quote:
At its heart, the liturgy calls us to “commend ourselves, each other and all our lives unto Christ our God.” While we need to sing those words on a weekly basis, we also need daily opportunities outside of liturgy to accomplish the challenge of our song. We need to establish and cherish those informal, non-liturgical times as God-given arenas in which service to our family can itself become a churchly act, our personal liturgy.
My favorite line is,
"The debate between family and like the relationship of the flower to the soil."
2 minutes to read

Ministry of Suffering

Teaser Quote:
For those who endure chronic suffering, I would say: this is your ministry. Your victory in the smallest of things—getting out of bed, being gentle with a loved one in the midst of the pain—can and will change the lives of those around you more powerfully than the most talented of writers or preachers or missionaries. It was for you above all that God entered His creation. He came to suffer not just for you, but with you and beside you.
My favorite line is,
"The temptation in this line of thinking, of course, is to conceive of chronic suffering as a permanent detour from normalcy. “Real life” is somewhere else, and other people are living it."
2 minutes to read


Teaser Quote:
...vacation cannot be an escape from ourselves any more than it can be an escape from other people. Rather than using time away as a psychological anaesthetic for our personal pains, we might perhaps use it as a magnifying lens through which we can see our hearts more clearly.
My favorite line is,
"Wherever you go, you always bring yourself."
3 minutes to read

Thursday, August 12, 2010

the act of reading

"How does this Fragonard differ from Chardin’s Le Philosophe Lisant? What does the act of reading mean? How would reading Austen (say) be different from reading the latest German novelist in the 1800s?" ~M.C. Smallwood
Posted on May 25, 2009

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A thing of beauty is a joy forever

After watching the movie, Bright Star, I was inspired to revisit the poetry of John Keats. It is rather rummy, but I hadn't read Keats for some 5 years! And he really needs to be kept between Austen and Wodehouse on the close and handy shelf that you walk by everyday so that you can, at the very least, smile and wave.

His poems are dream-like without being too dreamy, classical without being stiffish and droll. They are lovely and romantic leaving you feeling joy and inspiration rather than mush.

He is odd in his way, being a Romantic poet that has a moral code, as opposed to Lord Byron and Bysshe Shelley. While Keats nursed his sick brother and caught tuberculosis from him, Byron and Shelley were loving and leaving women left and right. They were great in their way, but were no John Keats.

Keats lived during the time of Jane Austen (how cool is that!), and if either of them had actually moved in larger literary circles, they might've met and read each others work, or at least had interesting discussions. He seemed to share several commonalities with Jane Austen, including dying young and receiving large recognition posthumously.

I'm not exactly sure how accurate Bright Star is. There is, in any biographical movie, some amount of hypothesis that goes on, but it's pretty solid. (And TONS better than that heretical Miss Austen Regrets.)

Here is something for those of you with sporting blood. Read the three poems below and vote which are by Keats and which are by Von Gladden (that's my man). And NO looking on the internet or elsewhere at "first lines" and such! Not even after you vote, let the suspicion hang in the air until we cut it with a knife. Scout's honor! Code of the Woosters! After all votes are in we'll have a nice ol' chat about which John Keats poems are our favorites.

Nature withheld Cassandra in the skies,
For more adornment, a full thousand years;
She took their cream of Beauty, fairest dies,
And shaped and tinted her above all peers:
Meanwhile Love kept her dearly with his wings,
And underneath their shadow filled her eyes
With such a richness that the cloudy Kings
Of high Olympus uttered slavish sighs.
When from the Heavens I saw her first descend,
My heart took fire, and only burning pains,
They were my pleasures--they my Life's sad end;
Love poured her beauty into my warm veins.

You are closer of me than this sunset
Which tosses pink haze among the cold pines,
Closer than music in the rain I find,
Closer than way birds wing to narrow rest.
Finding always the subtle good not there,
The light that strangely floods an empty scene,
And fills with high hope, the cheer of all seen,
Your music rests beside and over, fair.
I cannot turn from you the thanks to give,
You are the heart of my house and give heart
To beginning, middle, and end of this Art,
This being found by new reasons to live.
Court, count Time with me for we shall go
Down a doubly bright path the round sun goes.

The forest greens I wander easily,
And take their beauty in my roving eye -
How the shaggy trees hang with heavy leaves
Like green rain hung silent beneath Time's sighs.
Yet thee I never shall encapture so -
No, more easily silence the woodlands,
Or steal the sweetened scent there o'erblown,
And all about the clinging vines weave bands.
More easily (all impossible!) chain
Up Thy body's beauty in a painting,
Than teach my mind and soul to overtame
Your pure spirit that leaves no Grace wanting.
The gorgeous hummingbird, Thy body like,
Hovers o'er Thy soul's lilies, ever white.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jupiter: Bringer of Jollity (Gustav Holst)

Now if this doesn't bring you jollity today, I don't know what will! I am especially partial to the middle, but am becoming increasingly fond of the end too. Enjoy!
Thanks, Ruth, for first introducing me to Holst.:)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I don't see that you have a problem

After watching only a few episodes of the popular show, House, you can get a pretty good sampling of how the "religious person" is portrayed in today's TV and movies. A priest that doesn't really believe in God sees a vision of Christ after downing too many glasses of Scotch. A boy who claims to speak with God and claims virginity turns out to have an STD, and anyone claiming to have any faith at all probably won't make it long in this evolved world of reason. At best (which is really worse, but the writers feel they're throwing us a bone) the "person of faith" is weak and insipid, believing in a God that is neither all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-loving, in short- a sappy Jesus who they just wouldn't feel comfortable forcing on anyone. And this is supposed to be the typical Christian that we identify with.

So I was quite surprised (although this movie is older, which I suppose is in its favor in this respect) when watching The End of the Affair (with Deborah Kerr, the newer version is absolute rubbish) that the movie makers actually stuck w/ Graham Greene's spirit of the story! (He wrote the book that the movie is based on.) The priest in this movie who Sarah goes to for guidance is quite impressive for a movie priest.

Looking at the title you might think this movie is about an affair, but that's not quite the gist. It's about hating a God you don't believe in. The affair is the back-drop, the situation that forces the characters to see their souls for what they really are. It all begins with Maurice stating, "This is a record of hate far more than of love."

SCENE 1: A small party at the Miles's to which Maurice in invited. Enter stage left, Henry. Henry Miles, the mild-mannered civil servant who in all likelihood wouldn't hurt a fly. (This most resembles the "Christian character" in House and the like. And in some parts of the story reminiscent of Wilson.) When Henry is pressed by his wife, "Henry, do you pray? Henry, what do you believe?" He responds with, "It's quite simple, really. One does one's best." And there you have it in a nutshell, folks.

The Dr House-like character in this movie would be both Bendrix and Smythe. Richard Smythe is a "soap box orator" that is "mad at God" as Sarah tells Bendrix. (She refers to the air raids, bombs and war, and states that "it seems like a dangerous time to be mad at God".)

Bendrix responds, "Hurling thunderbolts? It's like walking under ladders. Come, you don't really believe all that do you?"
"No, but I don't walk under ladders either."

You can either watch the movie or read the book, but Graham Greene shows how painful and unwelcome a belief in God is for Sarah (and later for Bendrix and Smythe). After his rooms are bombed, Sarah makes a promise that she doesn't want to keep to a God she doesn't believe in. She tells the priest, "I promised that if God gave him back his life, I mean make him not be dead, I wouldn't be with him again." To which the priest responds, "I don't see that you have a problem. If you made a vow to someone that you don't believe in, why keep it?" Sarah tells him, "If there is a God, then he put the idea (of the promise) into my head, and I hate Him for it!"

Not to give the entire story away, but Sarah has a few conversations with said priest. Once she asks him, "God. Always God. Can you priests say nothing else?" He tells her, "There is nothing else."

As I said, you must see it for yourself, but I'll give a bit away by saying that Sarah 'remembers her baptism' and near the end she tells Smythe,

"You helped me to find God. You taught me to believe in Him."
"I taught you?"
"By your hate. Richard, you can't hate something who isn't there."
"It's easy for you to accept the idea of God, you have no complaint. But why should I love a God who let me be born with this?"
(note: He looks a bit like two-face, and that's what he's referring to here.) This is when it dawns on Sarah.
"Oh my dear Richard, your belief is far deeper than mine." (Smythe's physical pain, and reaction to it, puts one in mind of House.)

At the end Maurice has Sarah's diary and reads her thoughts,

"I'm praying to God all the time that He won't be hard. And I've learned that you must pray the way you make love- with everything you have. I believe there is a God. I believe the whole bag of tricks, there is nothing I don't believe. I've fallen into belief the way I fell in love. I've never loved anyone as I love you (Maurice), and I've never believed in anything as I believe now. Maurice dearest, you were on His side all the time without knowing it. You hated in me the things He hates...You are apart of this, Maurice. Just as you are apart of me and we are apart of God."

To read about another priest (though not quite as stellar) of Graham Greene's creation, read The Power and The Glory which is, in fact, more excellent.