July 20, 2002

The Metaphysical Poets--John Donne I

The Metaphysical Poets--John Donne I

There are any number of writings that have deeply influenced my experience of the reality of God's Presence in life. From time to time I'd like to share some of these. For some reason the poem that comes to mind today is John Donne's "Holy Sonnet 14"

Holy Sonnet 14
John Donne

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

This is so much a poem of contradictions. That I may stand, God must overthrow me. Reason, which should defend me, proves untrue. I, like a town taken over by alien forces seek to let God in, and yet can do almost nothing by myself. (Surely, the act of asking is a very small step--we don't want to descend into quietism). But my favorite lines are the concluding couplet. The sonnet follows a highly unusual and powerful rhyme pattern ABBA, ABBA, CDCD, EE ( a more usual configuration of this rhyme scheme ends with a pair of tercets CDE,CDE, or variants thereof). And the EE couplet makes for an usually for profound effect. I can't think of another sonnet that packs quite the wallop of these two lines. "[For I,]/ Except you enthrall me, never shall be free/ Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."

These two lines speak in so many ways and foreshadow Chesterton's fascination with paradoxes. It is impossible for me to be free unless I am God's slave. (Enthrall is a wonderful word because it has gained such a patina of meanings through time, but the original and powerful meaning is to make someone a thrall--a person held in bondage.) Unless I am God's slave, I am unfree. And if I am not completelty ravished by God's Love, I can never be chaste. Chastity depends upon grace and my will cooperating with grace. It is only possible when we love something or Someone more than we love ourselves.

Forgive me belaboring the point, but the poem is such a magnificent combination of images that it really stands as a stark reminder of the power of the Metaphysical poets--a group that wrote before we truly developed some of the mind/body dichotomy that is sometimes a mark of more rigid puritanism. (This dichotomy serves today to create an almost schizophrenic personality in many moderns.) "Holy Sonnet 14" serves as an example of what a poet truly in tune with and listening to God can produce. I would look to Donne as one of my examples when thinking of writing about the mysteries of Grace.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:40 PM | Comments (0)

Flos Carmeli

Flos Carmeli
O beautiful flower of Carmel,
Most fruitful vine,
splendor of heaven,
Holy and singular,
Who brought forth the Son of God
Still ever remaining a pure Virgin,
Assist us in our necessities.
O star of the Sea,
Help and protect us.
Show us that you are our Mother.

(as prayed at each monthly meeting of the Lay Carmelites)

Members of the Carmelite order are to have a special devotion to Our Lady. As a convert to Catholicism, this has to be one of the great hurdles I have had to leap ( I am a member of the Third Order of Carmelite, ancient observance). I am still not where I would like to be, but it is only by the grace of God that I have been brought to my present stage. Through continued prayer and continued grace I am certain that I will grow in the love and embrace of Our Lady Queen of Contemplatives, Mother of Carmelites.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:52 AM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2002

Comment on The Widening Gyre

Comment on The Widening Gyre

Okay, so I promised more on The Widening Gyre. and more particularly to the link at this point. While I have no comment to make regarding Mr. Yeats's spirituality (having no intimate knowledge of what he believed, and finding that, more often than not, such knowledge tends to distract me from enjoying the sheer beauty of the poetry and language), I must take some exception to comments regarding the poem itself. While I'm certain that there may be allusion to Viconian cycles and other absurdities of ancient historiography and philosophy of history, I find that I take exception to the characterization of the poem. While it certainly uses Christian imagery, perhaps because it would be commonly accessible to his readership, I don't know that it so much represents a "predictive" poem as a "look what's happening now poem." A minor disagreement, I acknowledge, but one worth noting. After all, Mr. Yeats and the rest of the world had just been through what they had considered the most apocalyptic conflict ever to have occurred on the face of the earth.

And frankly while there are innumerable things that could be read into the poem, it is best appreciated for the sheer power of imagery and language. As with all great poetry, the rewards of the simple literal reading (preferably aloud) are far more profound than anything that scholarship would presume to wrest from the work.

In addition to this magnificent addition to the oeuvre of modern poetry, Yeats also gave us the wonderful poetic gifts of "Leda and the Swan," "Sailing to Byzantium," "The Wilde Swans at Coole," and "The Lake Isle of Inisfree," just to name a few. His spirituality may have been confused, but grace often enters human confusion and gives a poet language to express what he himself has only misconstrued.

Another note: Viconian cycles as a historical phenomenon may be out of fashion, but they have given us that remarkable beginning (here citing from memory, so please forgive any missteps)

riverrun past eveandadam from swerve of shore to bend of bay brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation to Howth Castle and Evirons. . . (first portion of first sentence of Finnegan's Wake, by James Joyce)

Look out--Here Comes Everyone!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:38 PM | Comments (0)

Introductory--"No! I am not Prince Hamlet nor was meant to be"

Well, I've already had my first unpleasant encounter with Blogger having erased an entire carefully considered, deeply thoughtful, and supremely self-revealing post. I reconstruct it here knowing that it can be merely a pale imitation of the original (for which everyone should probably be truly thankful).

I had a very difficult time coming up with a title for this site. Two spectacular names (The Widening Gyre--about which more later--and Dappled Things). I toyed with "A Good Blog is Hard to Find" and "Love Among the Blogs" and even "The Heart of the Blog" or "The Power and the Blog" or was it "The Blog and the Glory" all to honor favorite authors. But the only real contender came from Dante reflecting another of my profound interests (nonlinear dynamics, chaos, and fractals) "Her Changes Change Her Changes Constantly." When I learn better what I am doing here, I will endeavor to add the subtitle. Don't count on it any time soon.

So what might the visitor expect to find here? I think the title kind of gives it away. While I profoundly admire those with the wisdom, wit, precision, and incisiveness of thought to consider the theological implications of the Wall Street Crash, I'm afraid this is far beyond my meager capabilities. Here I follow the cautions of the psalmist (Ps. 131: 1 RSV) I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. So while I may often refer you to the insights of others in the blog world, I expect my primary occupations will be with issues of spirituality and most particularly the road to Union with God through contemplation. Yes, like Merton, I am a would-be contemplative who needs to drive out some ghosts before I can get on with the wonderful business of the Ascent of Mount Carmel. Michael Dubruiel often shares profound insights from the Benedictine Tradition and serves as example and mentor in the blog world. So you may find insights from those who have helped me considerably in understanding the contours to the landscape and the shape of the road: Jean Pierre de Caussade, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Richard Baxter, George Fox, John Woolman, John Wesley, Roger Williams, Stanley Hauerwas, Thomas Traherne, Robert Southwell, William Law, John Flavel, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Thomas More (a personal hero) and others.

In addition, Mr. Dubruiel's better half (Amy Welborn) shares another interest of mine--Literature in general and Catholic Literature in particular. I have conducted a class for nearly two years at my Church on the Catholic Novels. We have read a good many Catholic works and some profoundly good noncatholic works. Silence, A Good Man is Hard to Find, The Power and the Glory, Love Among the Ruins, Memento Mori, Brideshead Revisited, Mariette in Ecstasy, Atticus, The Chosen, Byzantium, and The Great Divorce have been among the works we have read to date. On our list for the future are works like Resting in the Bosom of the Lamb and perhaps part of the "Harmony" Series by Philip Gulley. One of the more interesting works we have indulged in was Torgny Lindgren's magnificent short novel Way of a Serpent. I hope to spend a good deal of time talking about this compact and powerful little work by an author of some of the strangest Catholic fiction since Walker Percy.

Finally, outside of Spirituality and Literature, interests in Science (particularly paleontology in which I hold an advanced degree--hence my selection of templates) and higher math--chaos, fractals, and nonlinear dynamics--may occasionally find their way into these reflections.


Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:46 PM | Comments (0)