Commonplace Book: October 2002 Archives

A Tidbit for the Season


By way of an apology (in the modern connotation of the word, not the formal sense one might find here in St. Blogs). From one of the most wonderful and beautiful of the works by a man whose nearly every work was a marvel. Tell me the tale and the teller and whereabouts one may find it.

 Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves;   And ye, that on the sands with printless foot   Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him   When he comes back; you demi-puppets, that   By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make    Whereof the ewe not bites; and you, whose pastime   Is to make midnight mushrooms; that rejoice   To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid,—   Weak masters though ye be—I have bedimm’d   The noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds,   And ’twixt the green sea and the azur’d vault   Set roaring war: to the dread-rattling thunder   Have I given fire and rifted Jove’s stout oak    With his own bolt: the strong-bas’d promontory   Have I made shake; and by the spurs pluck’d up   The pine and cedar: graves at my command   Have wak’d their sleepers, op’d, and let them forth   By my so potent art. But this rough magic   I here abjure; and, when I have requir’d   Some heavenly music,—which even now I do,—   To work mine end upon their senses that    This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,   Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,   And, deeper than did ever plummet sound,   I’ll drown my book. 

And because I cannot resist one further:

  Now my charms are all o’erthrown, And what strength I have ’s mine own; Which is most faint: now, ’tis true, I must be here confin’d by you, Or sent to Naples. Let me not, Since I have my dukedom got And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell In this bare island by your spell; But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill, or else my project fails, Which was to please. Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant; And my ending is despair, Unless I be reliev’d by prayer, Which pierces so that it assaults Mercy itself and frees all faults. As you from crimes would pardon’d be, Let your indulgence set me free. 
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I tried to post the following three times yesterday. I am sorry for the delay, but I am delighted that it appears I shall be able to post it this morning.

Wilfrid Stinissen is rapidly becoming my favorite guide to reading scripture contemplatively (in the more common sense of that word, and I hope eventually in the more narrow definition of the word). The following passage is just wonderful for understanding what it is to read poetry or Scripture.

from Nourished by the Word
Wilfrid Stinissen

It is typical of poetry, as for all art, that it appeals to the reader's (or observer's) creativity. A poem is no tract where the thoughts are already thought out and have received their definitive formulation. A poem opens a door, often several doors simultaneously, and readers themselves decide which way they choose and how far they will take it. It is, among other things, this combination of guidance and freedom which causes one to thrive in the domain of poetry. One feel respected and taken seriously. We ourselves get to think and interpret and associate, to be fellow creators ourselves.

This concerns also our company with God's word, which has breadth and manifold meanings that purely human words cannot cover. As one free child of God, I get to play in the Bible's paradise. I get to make the old text into a new song which corresponds to my personal experience, my present needs. I can be certain that God approves of this way of playing with the text: "Then I was beside him, like a master worker: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always" (Prov 8:30). When I do so, I attach myself to the Church's centuries long tradition. The Church Fathers read Scripture in this way and the Church does it in its official liturgy. It is truly not psychoanalysis which has invented the act of free association. The Church makes use of it with extreme virtuosity. (p. 56)

Admittedly, one must be very careful to make a distinction here between individual application (which subsequent passages show that Stinissen is talking about) and individualistic interpretation, which is dangerous and schismatic. Everyone has individual interpretations, but as Catholics, those interpretations are guided and ruled by the general teaching of the Church and held in line by our understanding of the Magisterium. The Church has spoken definitively on the interpretation of very few individual passages of Scripture, but we are guided by the various Pontifical Councils on the Bible to understand Scripture as the Church has understood it for two thousand years. So casting aside the possible reading of this passage as meaning run with whatever meaning you happen to get from reading scripture, we are left with application.

Harold Bloom, speaking of the great books, has a wonderful metaphor for this act of application. He refers to the great books as not so much being read as reading us. That is, when we are brought into contact with a great work of literature, we bring to it all that we are and all that we know. Our reaction to the book is more often what it says about us than what we read in it. This is multiply true of Scripture. When we read a passage, the Bible speaks to us where we are.

You have undoubtedly had the experience either of hearing in Church or of picking up and reading a passage from the Bible and saying, I never noticed that before. If you're noticing it now, pay attention--it probably has something to say to you right here, right now in your life. Application of Scripture, contra interpretation, is the act of realizing what is being spoken to you personally and putting it into action. For example at one time in your life you may have read, "Go and spread the Good News to all the lands." Now, we all know we are called to do this, but at one time you may have felt called to the Priesthood, or to some other vocation that would more directly bear on this verse. You may have been called to stand outside abortion clinics and pray, or called to help serve the St. Vincent de Paul Society, any number of possibilities. THAT is application, not interpretation. You hear the message and act upon it.

Stinissen concludes this magnificent chapter with the following observation, which I believe sums up the nature of personal application:

The playful, personal reading causes the Scripture to become a splendid and constant new instrument of the Spirit. The Spirit blows where it will (Jn 3:8), and if we are sensitive to his wind in our lives, he will show us unexpected and hidden meanings in the Scriptures, and reveal many secrets about who God is. (p. 59)

This sounds vaguely gnostic, but I think it is more along the lines of meeting a woman for the first time. You may have heard many talk of her, you know what she looks like, you may even know something of her quirks and habits. This correlates to a superficial acquaintance with Scripture. But, as you meet and continue to meet, and perhaps fall in love, you discover that your picture was only a small part of what there was to know about this person. I think this is the light in which to interpret Stinissen's statement about "hidden meanings" and "many secrets." They are open meanings and open secrets, anyone is welcome to partake of them, but few choose to do so because it requires application and the hard realization that the words of Scripture are intended for each of us.

I cannot recommend highly enough this slender book . It is only 118 pages long, but it is packed with wonderful insights and guides for helping us to understand scripture.

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This little song from the opera Nosferatu which I have never heard nor seen performed, and yet which I would very much like to enjoy is at the tail end of an essay on metrical verse. It is an example of how metrical verse works, and it is also quite a lovely poem in itself.

Vampire's Nocturne from Nosferatu
Dana Gioia

I am the image that darkens your glass,
The shadow that falls wherever you pass.
I am the dream you cannot forget,
The face you remember without having met.

I am the truth that must not be spoken,
The midnight vow that cannot be broken.
I am the bell that tolls out the hours.
I am the fire that warms and devours.

I am the hunger that you have denied,
The ache of desire piercing your side.
I am the sin you have never confessed,
The forbidden hand caressing your breast.

You've heard me inside you speak in your dreams,
Sigh in the ocean, whisper in streams.
I am the future you crave and you fear.
You know what I bring. Now I am here.

For more of Dana Gioia's work, look here. I particularly recommend the very touching "Planting a Sycamore" written on the death of his infant son.

[Note later: I do this every time, so I leave the error here to remind me. The title of the poem is "Planting a Sequoia", now, Steven repeat after me, "Sequoia, not Sycamore" ... "Sequoia sempervivens" ... "Gosh darn it, they aren't even in the same Division of Plantae. . ."

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The Raven--The Grand Finale So


The Raven--The Grand Finale

So now, the end of one of the wonderful narrative poems in English. I'm seriously considering serializing "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" next. Great for our slide toward Hallowe'en. Let me know what you think about "Rime"

The Raven (part 4 of 4)
Edgar Allan Poe

               "Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!--prophet still, if bird or devil!
           By that Heaven that bends above us--by that God we both adore--
                Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
               It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore--
           Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
                       Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

               "Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting--
            "Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
                Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
              Leave my loneliness unbroken!--quit the bust above my door!
          Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
                      Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

              And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
          On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
              And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
              And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
          And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
                      Shall be lifted--nevermore!

What a great dismissal--"Take thy beak from out my heart, and thy form from off my door. . ." Great line for the next Jehovah's Witness or Mormon Invasion of the community.

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"The Raven", Part III


"The Raven", Part III

"The Raven" (part 3 of 4)
Edgar Allan Poe

      Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
  "Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store
      Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
      Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore--
  Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
              Of 'Never--nevermore'."

      But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
  Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
      Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
      Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore--
  What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
              Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

      This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
  To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
      This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
      On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
  But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
              She shall press, ah, nevermore!

      Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
  Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
      "Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee--by these angels he hath sent thee
      Respite--respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
  Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
              Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

      "Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!--prophet still, if bird or devil!--
  Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
      Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted--
      On this home by Horror haunted--tell me truly, I implore--
  Is there--is there balm in Gilead?--tell me--tell me, I implore!"
              Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

Note the tone. Note how the questions seem to change gradually. Charles Baudelaire translated Poe into French. Much of the decadent school of poetry derives from Baudelaire and his school, and thus indirectly from Poe. What a shame he has so much to account for even indirectly.

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"The Raven", Part II The


"The Raven", Part II

The Raven (2 of 4)
Edgar Allan Poe

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore--
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;--
'Tis the wind and nothing more!"

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door--
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door--
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore--
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning--little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door--
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered--not a feather then he fluttered--
Till I scarcely more than muttered "Other friends have flown before--
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said "Nevermore."

Note the internal rhyme in lines 1 and 3 of each stanza. Also note that lines 4 and 5 are often repetitions of the same idea. Something about that recursive rhythm makes this a particularly haunting poem in the hallways of memory.

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Yes, I like "The Raven." In fact, Poe's poetry in general appeals to me. I love narrative verse and Poe's has a strong, some might claim overly strong, sense of rhythm, cadence, and weight. His subject is nearly always the same--a lost love--in this case "Lenore," but in others "Annabel Lee," and "Ulalume." So without further ado, Poe's most famous poem.

The Raven (Part 1 of 4)
Edgar Allan Poe

        Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
    Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore--
        While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
    As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
    "'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door--
                Only this and nothing more."

        Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
    And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
        Eagerly I wished the morrow;--vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow--sorrow for the lost Lenore--
  For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore--
              Nameless here for evermore.

      And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
  Thrilled me--filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
      So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
      "'Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door--
  Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;--
              This it is and nothing more."

      Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
  "Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
      But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
      And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
  That I scarce was sure I heard you"--here I opened wide the door;--
              Darkness there and nothing more.

      Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
  Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
      But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
      And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
  This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"--
              Merely this and nothing more.

At one time I had much of this poem committed to memory--alas no more, merely this and nothing more--I still retain the first two stanzas or so. What I love in the construction of this poem are lines like this one:

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
  Thrilled me--filled me

Poe is so unabashedly over the top with the alliteration and assonance in the line. I treasure that greatly--it seems a sign of great craft, great care, and great time to make a line that unwinds so beautifully to its finish. Yes, the whole thing is rather melodramatic--but then television was not an entertainment available at that time, and the written word needed to include whole realms of things we would dismiss. Come back tomorrow for part II and more thoughts about Poe's dead women.

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Robert Herrick Again


Robert Herrick Again

Robert Herrick is included in both the group of metaphysical poets and the group of cavalier poets--probably one of the reasons he seems to be the center of study of nearly any seventeenth century poetry class. Here is an example of one of the less secular works.

His Litany to the Holy Spirit
Robert Herrick

IN the hour of my distress,
When temptations me oppress,
And when I my sins confess,
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

When I lie within my bed,
Sick in heart and sick in head,
And with doubts discomforted,
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

When the house doth sigh and weep,
And the world is drown'd in sleep,
Yet mine eyes the watch do keep,
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

When the artless doctor sees
No one hope, but on his fees,
And his skill runs on the lees,
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

When his potion and his pill
Has, or none, or little skill,
Meet for nothing, but to kill ;
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

When the passing bell doth toll,
And the furies in a shoal
Come to fright a parting soul,
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

When the tapers now burn blue,
And the comforters are few,
And that number more than true,
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

When the priest his last hath prayed,
And I nod to what is said,
'Cause my speech is now decayed,
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

When, God knows, I'm toss'd about,
Either with despair, or doubt ;
Yet before the glass be out,
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

When the tempter me pursu'th
With the sins of all my youth,
And half damns me with untruth,
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

When the flames and hellish cries
Fright mine ears, and fright mine eyes,
And all terrors me surprise,
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

When the judgment is reveal'd,
And that open'd which was seal'd,
When to Thee I have appeal'd,
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

I can't help but admire the two stanzas concerning Doctors. In his time, and not infrequently in our own, they are too true.

When the artless doctor sees No one hope, but on his fees, And his skill runs on the lees,                  Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

When his potion and his pill
Has, or none, or little skill,
Meet for nothing, but to kill ;
                 Sweet Spirit, comfort me !

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From Rosarium Virginis Mariae One


From Rosarium Virginis Mariae

One thing I find interesting is a constant reference to what appears to be "course correction" or "focus" constantly uttered by the Popes to the faithful. In the course of this letter, there must be dozens of references to the Christological aspects of the Rosary. I'm certain all the readers of things like blogs have the "proper" focus when praying the Rosary. However, I know of people for whom that focus is not so clear, and for whom, in fact, the communion of the Saints is not terribly clear. When St. Teresa or St. Anthony obtains something for these people, one gets the impression that the given saint is granting some gift, no matter how carefully worded the petition. If this is rampant in the total communion of Saints, how much more true for that greatest of Saints. The reiteration of the Christological focus of the Rosary is an anodyne to many of the anxieties about it that come from converts from more evangelical or fundamentalist mentalities. While the Rosary opens the opportunity to see Christ through the eyes not only of a loving mother but of his Chief disciple and primary Apostle, it remains intently, narrowly focused on the Life , Mission, Death, and Glories of Jesus Christ.

With regard to the new mysteries of the Rosary, to put everyone at ease, article 19 clearly spells out the Pope's intent in promulgating these:

from Rosarium Virginis Mariae
His Holiness Pope John Paul II

I believe, however, that to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional lpattern which, while left to the freedom of individuals and communities could broaden it to include the the mysteries of Christ's public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion.

(bold-face emphasis mine)

Thus, clearly delineated for even the most skeptical, our Pope makes clear he is offering new mysteries that do not have to be said. But I know that for me the proposed additions do precisely what the Pope would like them to do , "This addition of these new mysteries, without prejudice to any essential aspect of the prayer's traditional format, is meant to give it fresh life and to enkindle renewed interest in the Rosary's place within Christian spirituality as a true doorway to depths of the Heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and glory."

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Some Notes from Theodore Roethke


Inspired to look once again at Roethke by another blogger, I have selected some pieces from Straw for the Fire, a strange kind of selected bits from thousands of notebook pages. I have to say that while I may not agree with Mr. Roethke in all points, there is some interesting "straw for the fire" in these words.

from Straw for the Fire Theodore Roethke from "The Proverbs of Purgatory"

For him God was always there, like an ugly wife.
Those who almost see are most terrified.
The Devil is intuitive, not articulate.
Surround yourself with rising waters, the flood will teach you how to swim.
God does not like to be asked too violently to step in.
Despair and the most transcendental love of God are inseparable.
The angels ask but never answer.

from” Straw for the Fire"
I need to become learned in the literature of exasperation. In my worst state, once I think of my contemporaries, I'm immediately revived.
I'd like to be sure of something--even if it's just going to sleep.
God's the denial of denials,
Meister Eckhart said.
I like to forget denials
in bed.

And so forth. What Roethke is doing here is thinking and struggling with all sorts of things--his image of himself as poet, his idea of poetry, his idea of God. To read these fragments is to get a sense of struggle against "a sea of troubles/ and by opposing, end them." Roethke is one of the finest poets of the mid-century, a palliative to the endless whining and proto-bad-rap of the beats and their nauseating offspring. He is in line with Plath when she's not too introverted, and has produced some of the most memorable, and perhaps mystical poetry an American poet has to offer. I know vanishingly little of his personal life (always a boon), but sense from the poetry a constant, epic struggle against some form of mental illness--perhaps depression. I could be wrong here, but a line like , "In a dark time the eye begins to see," tends to cue one in to something going on.

Straw for the Fire is at times heartbreakingly beautiful. It is horrifying that this poet tosses away lines that are better than much of my entire work. But then I pause to reflect that these single lines are garnered from thousands and thousands of pages of the same kind of drift that I have in my notebooks. An unbiased observer might be able to go through and cull some gems from that mountain as well. I rather doubt that my work will generate such an unbiased observer--which is quite all right, because the world needs only one such collection to cause future poets some worry.

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More on St. Teresa


Like St. Joan of Arc, our Saint of the day has a propensity for showing up in the oddest places. Witness this:

from Middlemarch "Prelude"
George Eliot

Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa, has not smiled with some gentleness at the thought of the little girl walking forth one morning hand-in-hand with her still smaller brother, to go and seek martyrdom in the country of the Moors? Out they toddled from rugged Avila, wide-eyed and helpless-looking as two fawns, but with human hearts, already beating to a national idea; until domestic reality met them in the shape of uncles, and turned them back from their great resolve. That child-pilgrimage was a fit beginning. Theresa's passionate, ideal nature demanded an epic life: what were many-volumed romances of chivalry and the social conquests of a brilliant girl to her? Her flame quickly burned up that light fuel; and, fed from within, soared after some illimitable satisfaction, some object which would never justify weariness, which would reconcile self-despair with the rapturous consciousness of life beyond self. She found her epos in the reform of a religious order.

Here she is used on the very first page of a massive novel as an example of a vibrant, truly alive woman. A women who took care of a group of (perhaps often cranky) young nuns, founded new monasteries, wrote books, played tambourine and danced, and still found time for prayer that led her to union with God, is certainly an example for all of us. What she could do is, obviously, possible with proper love of God. More than that, it is a desirable way to spend one's life.

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Quote of the Day "It


Quote of the Day
"It is not a matter of thinking a great deal but of loving a great deal, so do whatever arouses you most to love." ~ St. Teresa of Avila

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For La Madre


For La Madre

Perhaps more appropriate for the Feast of the Transverberation. Nevertheless, offered here for your delectation.

"The Flaming Heart Upon the Book and Picture of Saint Teresa"
(As she is usually expressed with a Seraphim beside her.)
Richard Crashaw

WELL meaning readers! you that come as friends
And catch the precious name this piece pretends;
Make not too much haste to admire
That fair-cheeked fallacy of fire.
That is a Seraphim, they say
And this the great Teresia.
Readers, be rul'd by me; and make
Here a well-plac'd and wise mistake
You must transpose the picture quite,
And spell it wrong to read it right;
Read him for her, and her for him;
And call the saint the Seraphim.
Painter, what did'st thou understand
To put her dart into his hand!
See, even the years and size of him
Shows this the mother Seraphim.
This is the mistress flame; and duteous he
Her happy fireworks, here comes down to see.
O most poor-spirited of men!
Had thy cold pencil kist her pen
Thou couldst not so unkindly err
To show us this faint shade for her.
Why man, this speaks pure mortal frame;
And mocks with female frost love's manly flame.
One would suspect, thou meant'st to paint
Some weak, inferior, woman saint.
But had thy pale-fac'd purple took
Fire from the burning cheeks of that bright book
Thou wouldst on her have leapt up all
That could be found seraphical;
Whate'er this youth of fire wears fair,
Rosy fingers, radiant hair,
Glowing cheek, and glistering wings,
All those fair and flagrant things,
But before all, that fiery dart
Had fill'd the hand of this great heart.
Do then as equal right requires,
Since his the blushes be, and hers the fires,
Resume and rectify thy rude design;
Undress thy Seraphim into mine.
Redeem this injury of thy art;
Give him the veil, give her the dart.
Give him the veil; that he may cover
The red cheeks of a rivall'd lover.
Asham'd that our world, now, can show
Nests of new Seraphims here below.
Give her the dart for it is she
(Fair youth) shoots both thy shaft and thee.
Say, all ye wise and well-pierc'd hearts
That live and die amidst her darts,
What is't your tasteful spirits do prove
In that rare life of her, and love?
Say and bear witness. Sends she not
A Seraphim at every shot?
What magazines of immortal arms there shine!
Heav'n's great artillery in each love-spun line.
Give then the dart to her who gives the flame;
Give him the veil, who kindly takes the shame.
But if it be the frequent fate
Of worst faults to be fortunate;
If all's prescription; and proud wrong
Hearkens not to an humble song;
For all the gallantry of him,
Give me the suff'ring Seraphim.
His be the bravery of all those bright things,
The glowing cheeks, the glistering wings;
The rosy hand, the radiant dart;
Leave her alone, the Flaming Heart.
Leave her that; and thou shalt leave her
Not one loose shaft but love's whole quiver.
For in love's field was never found
A nobler weapon than a wound.
Love's passives are his activ'st part.
The wounded is the wounding heart.
O heart! the equal poise of love's both parts
Big alike with wound and darts.
Live in these conquering leaves; live all the same;
And walk through all tongues one triumphant flame.
Live here, great heart; and love and die and kill;
And bleed and wound; and yield and conquer still.
Let this immortal life where'er it comes
Walk in a crowd of loves and martyrdoms.
Let mystic deaths wait on't; and wise souls be
The love-slain witnesses of this life of thee.
O sweet incendiary! show here thy art,
Upon this carcass of a hard, cold heart,
Let all thy scatter'd shafts of light, that play
Among the leaves of thy large books of day,
Combined against this breast at once break in
And take away from me my self and sin,
This gracious robbery shall thy bounty be;
And my best fortunes such fair spoils of me.
O thou undaunted daughter of desires!
By all thy dow'r of lights and fires;
By all the eagle in thee, all the dove;
By all thy lives and deaths of love;
By thy large draughts of intellectual day,
And by thy thirsts of love more large than they;
By all thy brim-fill'd bowls of fierce desire
By the last morning's draught of liquid fire;
By the full kingdom of that final kiss
That seiz'd thy parting soul, and seal'd thee his;
By all the heav'ns thou hast in him
(Fair sister of the Seraphim!)
By all of him we have in thee;
Leave nothing of my self in me.
Let me so read thy life, that I
Unto all life of mine may die.

The poetic transfiguration of St. Teresa into a Seraphim is really quite nice. And I'm uncertain that there are any lines in relgious poetry quite so powerful as:

"By all thy brim-fill'd bowls of fierce desire
By the last morning's draught of liquid fire;
By the full kingdom of that final kiss
That seiz'd thy parting soul, and seal'd thee his; "

I'm certain there must be, but most certainly not on this day. St. Teresa of Avila is one of those saints you can't help not only admiring, but once you come to know her, really liking. To show this two small anecdotes:

Writing to her Foundations and advising the young nuns there St. Teresa of Avila said something to the effect: "If you believe you are having visions, you need to eat more."

Upon arriving at an important interview with a local Bishop, she dismounted and stepped or fell into a puddle of mud, upon which she raised her eyes to heaven and said, "If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few."

May this day be a blessing upon all of you and through the intercession of La Madre, may your prayers and your prayer life improve today and each day that you turn your heart to God.

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On Evangelical Poverty


The following paragraph is one of the most convicting that I have ever come across. It is thoroughly frightening because of its uncompromising straighforwardness. Think of this entry as the companion to "Religion without Sacrifice" below. Because, make no mistake, evangelical poverty to which all are called, is a life of sacrifice.

from Happy Are You Poor Thomas Dubay

Words are cheap, actions costly. The world is full of people who talk about "community." Dressed in the latest styles, men and women, religious as well as lay, are eloquent in their grand statements and convention resolutions about securing justice in the world. We see on television screens and in news magazines pictures of babies who are not much more than skin-covered skeletons, and we solemnly pronounce how wretched and tragic it all is. Ye we continue with our energy-consuming cars, our extravagant amusements, expensive vacations, unneeded traveling, lavish wardrobes, elegant drinking and dining. (p. 62)

Okay, after I catch my breath, I can continue.

I'm guilty. And the problem with my guilt is that even as I read the words I struggle to justify in some sense the things that I do have, and I am left wondering, where does the demand for evangelical poverty stop. For example, I own a computer. I spent a good sum of money on that computer and there is little that it does that could not be done in some other way--not as efficiently, but people have lived for thousands of years without them, and they do cost a great deal of money. Yes, I own a car and living where I do am subject to some fairly extravagant amusements. The only one of these that I cannot really claim is an "extravagant wardrobe," and even there, by world standards my five white shirts and five pairs of black pants are pretty extraordinary.

What can I reasonably possess without dispossessing others? What are the limits to the concern about evangelical poverty? I have a house full of books (literally full, every room has some). I could go down a long list of meae culpae, but to no real purpose. I know that I live extravagantly by any standards other than those of the few who live even better than I do. I live in the most privileged country on Earth and so partake of some of the extravagance of that advantage.

It is said by Erasmus that St. Thomas More never drank anything other than cold water; that when he attended a banquet he would only touch his lips to the wine as a courtesy to his host, we would not drink it. Is this the kind of poverty we are called to?

Most Americans eat too much. We eat far more than is necessary to sustain life and we eat far more higher up on the food chain than most of the rest of the world. The diseases of our old age reflect this way of living. Extravagance is also costly.

Later in the book, it appears that there is a checklist of items to help decide these issues. But decision is exactly the problem, because I know what Dubay has presented thus far is true and correct. (You would have to read the book to be convinced of the argument yourselves, but please accept for the moment that my statement above is true and valid). How do we answer the following statement by John Kenneth Galbraith, quoted in the books?

"what is called a high standard of living consists in considerable measure, in arrangements for avoiding muscular energy, for increasing sensual pleasure and enhancing caloric intake above any conceivable nutritional requirement." (p. 102)

Now, I am not really trying to convince anybody of the correctness of what Dubay is saying. But I find myself in the position of the wealthy young man who asks how he might serve the Lord and is told, "Go and sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me." Now, raising a family, I know this injunction is not in its fullness meant to me--but then neither am I allowed to completely ignore it. As I read through the book I shall, from time to time, share my convictions--but convicted I am on two counts--lack of detachment and lack of humility, because as Dubay points out, these are two essential ingredients of evangelical poverty.

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Poem du Jour


Not a spectacular poem, but a nice introduction to what may become a theme for the next few days as I read Fr. Thomas Dubay's superb book, Happy Are You Poor. Holy Poverty is, in a sense, the ideal tonic for nearly all that ails me spiritually. And it has consistently been a calling that I stubbornly resist. Perhaps because I don't understand it, or perhaps because I undertstand it all too well. Anyway, we draw up the curtain on the theme with this poem by Evelyn Underwood, noted writer on spirituality and particularly Mysticism.

The Lady Poverty
Evelyn Underhill

I MET her on the Umbrian hills,
Her hair unbound, her feet unshod:
As one whom secret glory fills
She walked, alone with God.

I met her in the city street:
Oh, changed was all her aspect then!
With heavy eyes and weary feet
She walked alone, with men.

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There is something about this poem that always struck me as very autumnal. Though the imagery is not, they seem to be autumn thoughts--a gentle sort of melancholy and then recovery. The entire poem is over two-hundred lines long so I could not post the whole thing, so it came down to selection. Here is what I offer from one of those glorious, beautiful, and sometime overwritten Romantic era poems:

Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
William Wordsworth

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
  The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
                Hath had elsewhere its setting,
                  And cometh from afar:
              Not in entire forgetfulness,
              And not in utter nakedness,
  But trailing clouds of glory do we come
              From God, who is our home:
  Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
  Shades of the prison-house begin to close
              Upon the growing Boy,
  But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
              He sees it in his joy;
  The Youth, who daily farther from the east
              Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
              And by the vision splendid
              Is on his way attended;
  At length the Man perceives it die away,
  And fade into the light of common day.

The theme of the entire poem is that while young we seem to have more direct access to the beauties and virtues of heaven. But as we age those things that once stirred us to great heights of emotion--love, devotion, delight, no longer seem to hold the same power over us. Read the entire poem for the resolution--it is truly one of the delights of 19th Century Poetry, and one of the poems that shaped much of the poetic landscape after it. Delight in Wordsworth at his very best.

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Josemaria Escriva on Humility


A reader who is very dear to my heart, asked about Escriva's writings on humility. I have this list tacked up on my wall at work.

from The Furrow Blessed (St.) Josemaria Escriva


Allow me to remind you that among other evident signs of a lack of humility are:

—Thinking that what you do or say is better than what others do or say;

—Always wanting to get your own way;

—Arguing when you are not right or — when you are — insisting stubbornly or with bad manners;

—Giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so;

—Despising the point of view of others;

—Not being aware that all the gifts and qualities you have are on loan;

—Not acknowledging that you are unworthy of all honour or esteem, even the ground you are treading on or the things you own;

—Mentioning yourself as an example in conversation;

—Speaking badly about yourself, so that they may form a good opinion of you, or contradict you;

—Making excuses when rebuked;

—Hiding some humiliating faults from your director, so that he may not lose the good opinion he has of you;

—Hearing praise with satisfaction, or being glad that others have spoken well of you;

—Being hurt that others are held in greater esteem than you;

—Refusing to carry out menial tasks;

—Seeking or wanting to be singled out;

—Letting drop words of self-praise in conversation, or words that might show your honesty, your wit or skill, your professional prestige ... ;

—Being ashamed of not having certain possessions ...

I hope this was helpful. It turns out that a better search term is "lack of humility."

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from October 2002.

Commonplace Book: September 2002 is the previous archive.

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