Commonplace Book: May 2005 Archives



What surprised me
is that you were
surprised at all.
I thought you knew
what men thought. And
then when it (you'll
pardon the pun)
arose in our
discussion and
you said, "It can't
be that way with
all men." It was
my turn to be
suprised and say,
"I thought you knew."
You shook your head
and said, "I don't,
I won't believe it."
What was left for
me to do but
shrug and reply,
"As you wish. . . but
it is better
for you to know
the way things are."
And smiling you
said, "Not if that's
not the way they
are." And you laughed
in certainty.
But watching you
then, demure smile,
shoulders faintly
moving, I'd say,
nay testify
to its iron clad
certainty. If
not all men then
at least me, at
least now. And now
it is my turn
to be surprised.
This time by me.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

The poem probably could do with a little background. As with fiction, it isn't really about the poet, but it was spawned from an experience in a Bible Study class that I hope to relate in more detail in another post. The lines are a strict four-syllable count to attempt to capture the breathlessness with which certain sudden knowledge sometimes leaves us. The nature of that knowledge should be clear enough in the context of the poem, but if not, then perhaps that is for the better--leaving it to the reader to construct the pretext.

Anyway, poems like this are fun to write and can be very effective in limited doses. I think of Jacques Prévert.

Déjeuner du matin

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler
Il a allumé
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s'est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu'il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder
Et moi j'ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j'ai pleuré.

My poor translation:


He put the coffee
in the cup
He put milk
in the cup of coffee
He put sugar
in the cafe au lait
With a small spoon
he stirred
He drank the cafe au lait
and he replaced the cup
without speaking to me
He lit
a cigarette
He made rings
with the smoke
He put the ashes
into the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He got up
He put
his hat on his head
He put on
his raincoat
because it was raining
And he left
Under the rain
Without a word
Without looking at me
And me I put
my head in my hands
and I cried.

There's an effectiveness in these short lines, than longer more descriptive lines would undermine. But it's a trick one shouldn't pull too often.

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Becoming Who We Are

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from A Path Through the Desert
Anselm Grün

A brother asked Abba Agathon about fornication. He answered, "Go, cast your inability before God, and you shall find peace." Agathon 21

. . . Old father Agathon shows us another path. We are asked, simply to throw our inability to come to grips with the secual aspect of our nature before God. Then we will ceas to be dominated by it. We must not accuse ourselves, therefore, of not being able to come to terms with our sexuality. We must not grit our teeth and think we ought to master it completely. Our secuality is a part of ourselve,s and awe cfannot prevent it from raising its head: indeed, we must expect it to do so. But we must not dramtise it: rather, we should accept it as a fact and hold our inability out to God. This will give us peace.

It may be an exaggeration to say that every man in America (possibly in the world) struggles with his unruly nature. (I can't speak for women, not being Teresius.) However, if it is, it is not much of one. I don't think the struggle is all that tremendous in some--that is, there is never any real "danger point" that one would leave one's vowed spouse (more often enough because we keep the object of temptation someone or something unattainable--but also for other reasons). However, the point of temptation is that you cannot know for certain.

As men, we admire the beauty of women. Admiration can stray over the line when those we admire are closer to us than say, Halle Berry or Faith Hill or Shania Twain. We cannot know for certain that it will not happen.

Or, to quote Sponge Bob, can we? Agathon suggests a way to do so--that is, not to pursue the struggle ourselves, but to cast that whole passel of temptations onto the Lord. If we choose to pursue the struggle ourselves, we will unquestionably lose the battle. There will be no hope for us. But, if we choose not to engage in the struggle, to admit the attraction and to admit that the attraction presents danger, then we can offer that to the Lord who will use the sacraments, most particularly the sacrament of matrimony to strengthen our determination to do what is right. If we rely upon our own will power, we will fail. Without question, we will fail.

And this goes equally for those who are single or who are wrestling with other aspects of their sexuality. So long as it is our will power that we are relying on, we will fail. So long as we make this the defining limits of our lives, we will fail. So long as sexuality is our defining paradigm, we create for ourselves temptations and problems that could be abated by casting all these temptations before the Lord and asking Him to take them up. We don't need to constantly redefine ourselve sexually--we don't need to prove anything to anyone. We need to submit to God's will and to give Him everything that strays from His perfect will.

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Psalm 23 (NIV)

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, [a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Psalm 23 (KJV)

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Psalm 23 (NAB)

1 A psalm of David. 2 The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me;
3 you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.
4 Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.
5 You set a table before me as my enemies watch; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.

Just three examples of one of the most widely known of the Psalms to show the difference translation makes.

You are probably all aware that Psalm 23 is prayed at many Protestant funerals. It is prayed as spontaneously as the Lord's Prayer, not because it is used as frequently, but because it falls into a regular rhythmical, if not metrical pattern. The NIV preserves some of this, but the NAB has the bland regularity of most free verse--nothing rhythmical, nothing metrical, nothing really accented. Just pure bland translation--there is no hook to grab you and keep you in the recitation of the psalm.

I suppose part of my contention is that if the Psalms are to be prayed, they should be easily memorizable. I think this was one of the function of Gregorian Chant. The Chant imposed a rhythm on the Latin that makes the words fall into place. The verbal mush which constitutes the NAB cannot possibly flow into a memorizable pattern. Now, this same verbal mush could very well be a much better translation for study--in those matters I am no expert. And I'm not necessarily claiming that the KJV is the very best for these purposes (prayer). However, I am saying that there is a distinct difference in the way things are translated and the use to which you wish to place the particular piece of scripture should govern the translation you use. If one is sufficiently more accurate to encourage clarity in study, then it should be used. If one works better as part of your "internal vocabulary" of prayer, then it should be used. I often find the Liturgy of the Hours a real chore, not because the prayers are difficult, tedious, or unimportant, but because the translation is so leaden it resists any urge on my part to enliven it. The words seem merely words on the page--they do not sing. My feelings about it do not inhibit my continuation of it, but they do make it more of a penitential exercise than it need be.

Yet another reason why poetry matters--God speaks to us in it.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from May 2005.

Commonplace Book: April 2005 is the previous archive.

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