Commonplace Book: March 2003 Archives

A Puritan Poem


Today a Puritan Poem of rare loveliness. Edward Taylor has nearly completely vanished from the poetry scene in any course you might take. One leaps from Anne Bradstreet, or more likely Phillis Wheatley to Freneau and William Cullens Bryan without so much as a toe dipped into the richness of the Puritan poetic tradition, and it is a shame for such lovely lyrics to be lost because we're afraid of a bit of that "old-time religion." So without further ado:

"Prologue" from Preparatory Meditations
Edward Taylor

Lord, Can a Crumb of Dust the Earth outweigh,
     Outmatch all mountains, nay, the Crystal sky?
Embosom in't designs that shall Display
     And trace into the Boundless Deity?
     Yea, hand a Pen whose moisture doth guide o'er
     Eternal Glory with a glorious glore.

If it its Pen had of an Angel's Quill,
     And sharpened on a Precious Stone ground tight,
And dipped in liquid Gold, and moved by Skill
     In Crystal leaves should golden Letters write,
     It would but blot and blur, yea, jag, and jar
     Unless Thou mak'st the Pen, and Scrivener.

I am this Crumb of Dust which is designed
     To make my Pen unto Thy Praise alone,
And my dull Fancy I would gladly grind
     Unto an Edge of Zion's Precious Stone.
     And Write in Liquid Gold upon Thy Name
     My Letters till Thy glory forth doth flame.

Let not th' attempts break down my Dust, I pray,
     Nor laugh Thou them to scorn but pardon give.
Inspire this crumb of Dust till it display
     Thy Glory through't: and then Thy dust shall live.
     Its failings then Thou'lt overlook, I trust,
     They being Slips slipped from Thy Crumb of Dust.

Thy Crumb of Dust breathes two words from its breast,
     That Thou wilt guide its pen to write aright
To Prove Thou art, and that Thou art the best
     And show Thy Properties to shine most bright.
     And then Thy Works will shine as flowers on Stems
     Or as in Jewelry Shops, do gems.

c. 1682

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Today's Offering of Poetry


From George Herbert, whom I do not like so well as some of his contemporaries, but for whom affection increases with each successive reading.

Love (I)
George Herbert

Immortal Love, author of this great frame,
Sprung from that beauty which can never fade,
How hath man parcel'd out Thy glorious name,
And thrown it on that dust which Thou hast made,
While mortal love doth all the title gain!
Which siding with Invention, they together
Bear all the sway, possessing heart and brain,
(Thy workmanship) and give Thee share in neither.
Wit fancies beauty, beauty raiseth wit;
The world is theirs, they two play out the game,
Thou standing by: and though Thy glorious name
Wrought our deliverance from th' infernal pit,
Who sings Thy praise? Only a scarf or glove
Doth warm our hands, and make them write of love.

Talk about the cold, closed, tight nature of the human heart--all the glory of creation around us and "Only a scarf or glove/Doth warms our hands, and make them write of love." Not love itself, which we reject by a myriad of motions and notions, but cloth which we manufacture. Love lights no fire in us and we trudge along obediently seeking to serve, but not really seeking to love.

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From Basho, Some Relief


From Basho, Some Relief

As with Poe, who when disturbed by thoughts of his terribly young cousin/wife, whom he gave the name Lenore, I too go to my books for surcease of sorrow. And in this case here is what I found:

from The Narrow Road to Oku
Matsuo Basho

Station 33 - Echigo

After lingering in Sakata for several days, I left on a long walk of a hundred and thirty miles to the capital of the province of Kaga. As I looked up at the clouds gathering around the mountains of the Hokuriku road, the thought of the great distance awaiting me almost overwhelmed my heart. Driving myself all the time, however, I entered the province of Echigo through the barrier-gate of Nezu, and arrived at the barrier-gate of Ichiburi in the province of Ecchu. During the nine days I needed for this trip, I could not write very much, what with the heat and moisture, and my old complaint that pestered me immeasurably.

The night looks different Already on July the sixth, For tomorrow, once a year The weaver meets her lover.
The great Milky Way Spans in a single arch The billow-crested sea, Falling on Sado beyond.

The whole work is available via the link in the left-hand column.

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Mood du Jour


This encapsulates it well, please pray for me.

from The Merchant of Venice Act I scene i
William Shakespeare

[Antonio speaks]
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.

And just in case you were curious this is not the explanation:

"Your mind is tossing on the ocean;
There, where your argosies with portly sail,—
Like signiors and rich burghers on the flood,
Or, as it were, the pageants of the sea,—
Do overpeer the petty traffickers. . ."

To use Shakespearean terminology--would that I had argosies to fret over. Or to paraphrase Tevye, "Would it harm some grand eternal plan. . ."

But that's not the cause either.

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Coventry Patmore has never been a favorite of mine. I started reading him when some critics mentioned that he was one of the great Catholic Poets of Victorian times. That may well be true, but if so, it speaks to the meagre production of Catholic Poets, or the generally sing-song quality of Victorian Poetry. I find Patmore sometimes to be little better than greeting card verse--rhythms too heavily sustained, rhymes to strongly regular. One would think these hardly faults, but they are when you are looking for music.

But then, I have a harsh ear when it comes to what I like, and it is often better for me to return time and again to things I have not cared for, looking at them with a careful eye for what may be there. And Patmore does have some fine work.

Magna Est Veritas Coventry Patmore

Here, in this little Bay,
Full of tumultuous life and great repose,
Where, twice a day,
The purposeless, glad ocean comes and goes,
Under high cliffs, and far from the huge town,
I sit me down.
For want of me the world's course will not fail:
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.

I sat for a while with this small poem and wondered what it was all about. And it occurred to me that it might be a response, in part to Matthew Arnold's great poem of despair, "Dover Beach". And if ever a poem needed the response of ringing faith--"Dover Beach" is the one. Now, I don't know relative dates of composition, etc, so I cannot claim this as truth. However, I have noted that certain eras have a zeitgeist to which many artists direct their attention all at once. And around this central feeling much of the great art of the time may be oriented.

So I offer this small poem with the thought that it is actually a breath of faith in a wind of wondering and despair that was beginning to pervade the modern age.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from March 2003.

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